Catholic Millennials in the digital age: How do I date?!

Therese Aaker

Catholic millennials struggle with dating.

Somewhere between trying to avoid an aggressive “hookup culture” – short-termed casual flings focused on physical intimacy without the commitment – and dating with the intention of finding their spouse, their challenges are uniquely nuanced from previous generations. Where their parents or grandparents married at younger ages, this generation finds itself marrying much later, if at all.

Generally, well-formed Catholic young adults try to avoid “hooking up” but find themselves unsure of what to do instead. So, often a dating paralysis sets in, where single men don’t ask women out and both men and women passively wait for someone to magically fall from the sky.

Finding a spouse has always been simple (not to be confused with easy) – and it may have been simpler in the past. But if young people are willing to overcome their dating challenges, good and holy marriages can and do happen.

Going online

One problem this generation faces is meeting other like-minded people. While meetings still happen, balancing time between work and relationships plays a factor into the dating culture, and for some, the solution can be online dating.

But this in of itself proves a challenge for Catholic millennials, too. There’s still a nostalgia of having a romanticized story, and meeting someone online doesn’t sound all that idealistic. Online dating also has a stigma: some perceive turning to the worldwide web in the search of someone to love as desperation.

“It shouldn’t have the stigma that it does. We do everything else online, and if you’re not in college, you’re not around like-minded people your age as much. Meeting people is hard, and meeting at a bar kind of falls in with the hookup culture,” said Jacob Machado, who briefly used the online dating site, CatholicMatch. “If we’ve discerned our vocation and we’re confident in it, we should be actively pursuing it. But even knowing that, I still feel uncomfortable.”

Just a tool

Annie Crouch, who’s used CatholicMatch, as well as other dating apps, thinks that it can be either a good tool or a frustration, depending on its use.

“I think it’s good. [But] it can be used poorly, it can encourage non-commitment, and you can start to see them as not a person…if we’re not careful,” Annie said.

“There are two types of people at young adult Catholic events: people who are looking for their spouse, and people who aren’t honest enough to admit that they’re looking for their spouse.”

One of the cons, Annie said, is that it can become too easy to de-humanize people online with the availability of so many options for matches. She admitted that it’s become so easy to filter through matches without even reading their bios, “reducing people to their looks” – but being aware of that tendency helps counter it.

Jacob also agreed that the perception of too many options to choose from can paralyze people from committing to relationships. With so much at our fingertips, browsing for a date online can indeed become “dehumanizing.”

“It’s not inherently bad, it’s how you use it,” Jacob said.

Make the leap

Another challenge millennials face is making the jump from the digital sphere to human interaction. While it’s really easy to strike up a conversation with someone online, and even feels less risky so that more people are comfortable doing it, “at some point, you have to be intentional and make a move,” Jacob said.

Annie agreed that media can only go so far to help relationships.

“[I think it’s important] to realize that it can only go so far, and not using it as a crutch…make sure you’re not replacing [in-person interaction]. Follow through and go out with people, and put yourself out there,” Annie said.

Embrace your desire

But even in-person interactions seem to suffer from a similar paralysis. Both Annie and Jacob recognized that many Catholic singles seem to be ashamed of or shy about their desire for marriage and a family, which stunts young people from asking each other out on dates.

“There are two types of people at young adult Catholic events: people who are looking for their spouse, and people who aren’t honest enough to admit that they’re looking for their spouse,” Machado said.

Many men and women desire their vocation – so what’s the holdup?

Close up of a man using mobile smart phone

In the digital age, some Catholic millennials struggle with dating. (Stock photo)

“The big opposition with dating is that guys don’t ask anyone out, or a guy asks someone out and everyone thinks he’s weird,” Annie said. “We’re afraid of coming off too strong…we’re embarrassed to admit that we want marriage and children. That adds a lot of pressure.”

Still, despite a seeming lack of Catholic singles with a courageous dating mindset, good marriages are still being made.

Just ask the girl

Newlyweds Mark and Brianne Westhoff, who met in college but didn’t start dating until several years after, struggled with dating paralysis before reconnecting with each other.

“This was something I experienced…I don’t know what else to call it beyond over-discernment…because [the vocation] is so important, people can become paralyzed,” Mark said. “At least for guys, they’d say, ‘Should I ask her out?’ and then wait six weeks and pray novenas. They ask God before even asking her. The order should be, trust God’s movement, then I’ll respond, see what I learn and see what changes.”

Brianne, like many other Catholic single women, was hardly asked out before Mark. The paralysis, they both agreed, stems from Catholic millennials not working with what God puts in front of them.

“[A big challenge for millennials] is not being in touch with reality. There’s a lack of trust that what is happening is reality,” Brianne said. “We don’t see reality as an actual, concrete thing that is good for me.”

The answer to this inactivity? Two parts, acting and trusting. Relationships can’t be forced, but singles also shouldn’t wait around passively, either.

“Ask her out on a real date,” Mark said. “If it’s not good, then that’s fine. You’re not asking her to marry you by asking her out.”

“Be hopeful and understand that God acts and that we can’t force it,” Mark continued. “But don’t be paralyzed by that…we have to act ourselves as well. And trust. Trust whatever is happening in reality and act on what is in front of you.”

COMING UP: Be weird. Be simple. Be one.

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The only meal you need to plan at a Catholic wedding.  Photo uploaded to flickr by Prayitno.

While much of the chatter over “Amoris Laetitia” has focused on divorced and engaged couples, the Pope also had an urgent plea for the engaged: Be uncommon. Have a simple wedding.

“Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances,” he said.

According to the popular wedding planning website “The Knot”, the average American wedding costs $32,641. That number increased $3000 in six years. And it’s not that people are inviting more friends and family–the average number of guests has actually decreased. Couples are just spending more money per guest. In fact, they’re spending over $14,000 on the average reception venue, over $5000 on the ring, and $68 per person on catering. Compare that to the $1,901 spent on the ceremony site.

Paying the officiant didn’t even make the list.

The average American wedding costs over $30,000. Most of that money is spent on the reception. Pope Francis has voiced his concern that this may discourage couples from marrying.

The average American wedding costs over $30,000. Most of that money is spent on the reception. Pope Francis has voiced his concern that these costs may discourage couples from marrying.

In “Amoris Laetitia“, Pope Francis worries that the rising costs of weddings may deter people from marrying.

“The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take. The same kind of preoccupation with a big celebration also affects certain de facto unions; because of the expenses involved, the couple, instead of being concerned above all with their love and solemnizing it in the presence of others, never get married,” he said.

This deterrence is tragic, because the Catholic Church views marriage as a very, very good thing. In fact, it’s the foundation for society. That’s why we made it so easy for Catholics to get hitched.

For Catholics to get married, only a few things need to happen. They need to give their vows freely. They need witnesses to the vows, and it should ideally take place within the context of a liturgy. It’s ideal for them to receive a blessing. At no point does Canon Law require them to have orchids and a groom’s cake.

The only meal you need to plan at a Catholic wedding. Photo uploaded to flickr by Prayitno.

The only meal you need to plan at a Catholic wedding. Photo uploaded to flickr by Prayitno.

However, the simplicity of a bare bones Catholic wedding is in contradiction with a standard Western one. That Princess Di-esque wedding gown? That tradition came to the West via Queen Victoria in 1840. Before then, the bride simply wore her best dress. That monarch also brought us a whopping 300-pound wedding cake, which is an evolution of the ancient Roman custom of breaking a loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility’s sake. All this to say, an American Catholic can feel free to incorporate traditional American culture into their wedding, but there’s no need to lose site of the sacrament in the stress of planning the reception.

“Short-term preparations for marriage tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes, the party and any number of other details that tend to drain not only the budget but energy and joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take,” Pope Francis wrote.

Cindy O'Boyle and Mike Degitis are eschewing some the more expensive wedding traditions to keep their wedding simple. Photo provided.

Cindy O’Boyle and Mike Degitis are eschewing some the more expensive wedding traditions to keep their wedding simple. Photo provided.

Cindy O’Boyle and her fiancée, Mike Degitis, came to this conclusion when they got engaged last year. The couple met when O’Boyle served as a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary on Degitis’ campus. She now works for Bella Women’s Clinic, and he is a high school math teacher. She said they both took some advice from her boss to heart, and decided to focus on making their reception an expression of hospitality, instead of a statement.

“My boss said that she thought the ceremony is the most important thing for the couple. The reception is to honor the people who got you there. I love that mentality,” she said.

O’Boyle found a brand new wedding dress at a consignment shop. Her bridesmaids are wearing $40 dresses from Kohl’s. She and her mother made the wedding decorations themselves. They’re bringing in Famous Dave’s for the catering.

After a simple wedding shower, O'Boyle enlisted her family to help her make decorations for her wedding. They used her mother's old canning jars. Photo provided.

After a simple wedding shower, O’Boyle enlisted her family to help her make decorations for her wedding. They used her mother’s old canning jars. Photo provided.

“Just be hospitable in the best way you know how. Don’t live in should land, like you ‘should’ have a three tiered cake. I think I’m going to have cookies from Costco,” O’Boyle said.

Not that they’re going to take the simplest road on everything. Since O’Boyle is from Montana and Degitis is a Colorado native, they wanted time for their families to meet. So they rented houses in Longmont for the week before the wedding, so that the families can get to know one another. They plan on holding their rehearsal dinner as a backyard barbecue at her future in laws’.

“When two people become one, your families do as well. We love our families so much, and we want them to love each other,” she said.

O'Boyle and Degitis said they want to focus on the sacrament and bringing their families together. Photo provided.

O’Boyle and Degitis said they want to focus on the sacrament and bringing their families together. Photo provided.

After all, that’s what marriage is: A covenant. It’s a bond between two parties established by an oath. In the Old Testament, people would cut animal sacrifices in half and walking between the halves. In a marriage ceremony, the couple divides their friends and family in half and walks down the middle. Then they typically join together for a meal to celebrate.

Jodi Lieske, the sacrament coordinator at St. Thomas More parish, has helped with hundreds of weddings. She says that while the wedding doesn’t necessarily need to be inexpensive, she is always encouraged by weddings that focus on the sacrament.

“I think large, elaborate weddings can be beautiful as long as the perspective is kept. As long as we’re not losing the integrity of the Mass or the sacrament, that’s what’s important,” she said.

O’Boyle said she and Degitis do this by praying together, and making sure they discuss their marriage preparation classes outside their meetings with the priest. They also keep their sacramental preparation separate from wedding planning.

“They’re two totally different things,” she said.  “Marriage prep is like digging into our relationship. It’s hard work in a good way, because we’re learning a lot and going deep. We’re having difficult conversations that need to be had, and it’s beautiful. We’ll talk for hours after a marriage prep meeting. Planning for the wedding has been a fun way to enjoy time together.”

Degitis and O'Boyle shortly after the proposal. They are trying to keep their wedding simple, which has included eschewing some traditions. Photo provided.

Degitis and O’Boyle shortly after the proposal. They are trying to keep their wedding simple, which has included eschewing some traditions. Photo provided.

All of this fits perfectly with what Pope Francis called for in “Amoris Laetitia“. He said that couples should pray ” together, one for the other, to seek God’s help in remaining faithful and generous, to ask the Lord together what he wants of them, and to consecrate their love before an image of the Virgin Mary.”

 

Ways to pray as an engaged couple

Spend time in Adoration together

Attend Sunday Mass together

Find the style of prayer that works best for you as a couple (spontaneous prayer, rosary, Scripture meditation, etc)

Consecrate yourselves to Mary together (try reading some of St. Louis de Montfort’s books)

Share spiritual reading, such as “Three to Get Married” by Venerable Fulton Sheen

Learn about the lives of married saints and blesseds