Photo Courtesy Scott Schwartz and Christian Tauber
Dating in the modern age presents a laundry list of challenges. What used to be a basic form of etiquette can now be misunderstood as “old fashioned” or “strange”. What is the norm when the norm keeps changing? Do you call them on the phone or text them until late in the evening? Do you still wait a day to contact them first or will that label you as “uninterested”? Is a dinner date too formal for a first date?
What about the big questions? When do you talk about your views on marriage? When is a good time to bring up your faith? Do you bring up God immediately, or do you not want to scare them off and come across as a bible-bumping zealot? What is the line and where do you draw it when it comes to the importance of the soul?
When I was in my teenage years, it didn’t matter to me what the person I was dating did every Sunday morning. At the time I considered myself fairly open minded. My logic was “So long as the person I am dating doesn’t interfere with my belief in God, I will have no problem dating them. I won’t push my beliefs on them, as I wouldn’t want them to push theirs on me.” Looking back on it, this was an incredibly selfish mindset. By not involving God at all in my relationships, I was facing repeated failure on finding a person that I was compatible with.
Towards the end of my teenage years, I ended up dating a girl who was more of a “born again” Christian. I was happy to be with someone who shared my love for God! However, I learned that imposters of true Christian faith tend to turn hostile when you explain that you were already baptized under the Catholic church. Something did not click in our relationship. In the end, our beliefs ended up clashing and we chose to go our separate ways from there.
Once I was in my early 20’s, I had experienced several interactions where I couldn’t get past a the first conversation on religion with a girl without the entire thing going up in smoke. Occasionally I would meet women who were also part of the Catholic church. Unfortunately, it would turn out that they would go out of habit and not feel much of anything after Mass. Or, even worse, they would only go on major holidays. At the time, I thought that this was a good start, but in the end there was still that critical belief factor that we were missing out on.
I didn’t know what to do, so at this point, I figured “I should just not talk about it, maybe then I can find someone who checks every other box.” This thought process was incredibly naive, and it landed me in my first long term relationship.
She had presented herself as an Agnostic. She didn’t know if there was a God, or if He even loved her. I kept my thoughts to myself. I thought “Who am I to bring God into someone’s life who had already made up their mind?” As time went on, the random talk of God grew more and more hostile. I felt like I was stuck, that I had already invested so much time into this that I had to make it work or die trying. Then, one night when I was praying for guidance, something finally clicked.
I realized that my unhappiness with dating all of these years was due to the one factor I kept leaving out- the mutual understanding of the Holy Spirit. When you’re in a relationship with someone that should be your soul mate, you should agree that there is a soul at stake inside each of you. If it was the husband’s mission to get his family to Heaven, shouldn’t it be the same goal in the relationship preceding marriage? The mutual understanding of Heaven, Hell and all things in between was something that I was missing out on. I realized that this knowledge was not something that I should compromise or sacrifice for any human being, and that this was something that was a part of my soul, which I had already given to God.
It was at this point that I had decided to make God the deciding factor in my relationships. I was told that when you find the right person, you’ll know. And I had decided to leave it to God to tell me when the right person had crossed my path. I developed my “warning signs” on dating, a list of things that I would not move on and rules that I would follow to ensure that I would not go down this path again. This was my “Crucifix shaped wall” that I had put up, and to quote Gandalf the Grey- “You shall not pass!”
With this new “nip it in the bud” mindset on dating, I went through a period of wandering. I went on plenty of dates, and I made it a point to talk about God on every first date. I wanted to see how women in their mid-20’s reacted when it came down to Catholicism. There were many women who were vehemently against Catholicism. I even had one woman say “Ah, so there’s the catch!” as if I had told her that I was a serial killer or a drug addict.
I started to feel jaded at this point. I felt that I would be cursed to bounce around hitting the Crucifix shaped brick wall that I had planted in front of me with every relationship. With the growing rise of Secularism, God seemed to fall in the ranks of importance with most of the women that I was meeting. I started to fall into depression. I felt alone, and I felt that the idea of meeting someone who shared the same core philosophical beliefs was unattainable.
Eventually, I learned to endure these short term struggles. The Lord has a great way of helping you realize how small simple adversity can be. After all, if Jesus could endure 40 days in the desert while the devil tempted him with everything and more, I could endure a few terrible dates and some loneliness. I felt revitalized, and I was ready to come back strong.
And then, there was hope. I was sitting in church one Sunday, and I felt something I had never felt in my entire life. I felt this compelling need to look to my left, and I saw her. Sitting at the other end of the church, with the light shining on her face and her mind deep in prayer, the girl that became known as “Church Girl”.
Now, in my mind, Church Girl was an enigma. Never in my life has someone captured my attention quite like this. She became all that I thought about. Every Sunday I would walk up to the pew by the portrait of Divine Mercy, I would kneel adjacent to her, and I would pray. I would pray every week “God, please give me the strength to say something to this woman.” and every week we would make eye contact and I couldn’t speak. I had no idea why, but something held my tongue and said “not yet”. My best friend even mentioned that she was probably praying next to me “God, why won’t this guy just talk to me already?” He would hassle me every week to talk to her, and every week I would be unable to find the words.
One weekend I had decided that this was to be the day. I was going to talk to this girl, because for the first time in my life a girl wasn’t leaving my mind. I didn’t even know her name, but I knew that I had to talk to her. So I went to church, sat down, went up to the same pew I had prayed on for a year- and she was gone. She had stopped attending that church for some time. So, I prayed to God and acknowledged that it must not have been meant to be. But I still craved that feeling that I had felt when I saw her every week.
That feeling lead me straight into my last short-term relationship. On paper, it seemed to check every box. We could talk philosophy, and at the core I thought that she showed an open mind to coming around to The Church! I was so excited, that I forgot about my set of rules and red flags.
The devil has a way of making a bad idea seem like the best idea you have ever had. The “Oooh! Shiny!” form of temptation could apply to an expensive house that you could never afford, a high paying job that sacrifices your morality, or (in this case) a woman in her 20’s who seems to be a catch. This charm was a strong one, I even looked past her Agnosticism! But, eventually, the shine started to fade. I realized that this was just a mirage of what true companionship should be. On top of all of this, I still thought about Church Girl every single day. Everything came full circle one day while we were walking by an old church and I started to walk in. She stopped walking and firmly said “I’m not going in there.” This was enough to break the charm, and show me how dull this supposedly shiny relationship truly was.
This lead me to the greatest point in my life, the turning point. The point where I truly and fully turned to God. I went to church one weekend, I got down on that same pew, and I prayed for Church Girl. “Whoever she is” I prayed, “Please, God, let her be happy.” I stopped praying for my own strength, and my own wants. I prayed, instead, for this complete stranger who captivated my attention in complete silence.
God has a funny way of answering your prayers when you pray for the right thing. One day, our paths crossed. I won’t go into the personal details, but the end result was “Coffee?” “Yes.” And we talked. We talked about everything. We talked about our mutual belief in God, and our commitment to the Catholic Church. We talked about what brought us to the church. We even talked about when we first noticed each other.
To clear things up, she did label me “Church Guy” to her family, she was praying that I would actually talk to her, and she loved The Lord with all of her heart. She was the first woman in my life to walk up to the Crucifix shaped wall, open the door, and walk in. She understood the power of God, the importance of faith, and all around spiritual well-being.
When you place God in your relationship, the expression “when you know, you know” starts to make sense. That is because you do know. You hear it when you speak to them. You see it when you look into their eyes and see their beautiful soul. You feel it when you are sitting next to them in church and praying on the same pew for once. Everything starts to make sense, and you start to want to be a better person. Not for the vanity of being the best you can be, but because you want to be the best you can be for your partner and for God.
I started working hard, and praying harder. I started including God in every decision in my life, and accepting that sometimes things just aren’t in his plan for me just yet. We would be hit with adversity, and we would overcome it. Because when you and your partner have God at your side, you can get through anything that life will throw your way. By praying together and praying for each other, we both found our lives to be substantially fuller.
Eventually, I asked Church Girl to be my Church Wife and she said yes. In nine short months, I will be standing at the end of the aisle with my bride, and we will take part in one of the biggest sacraments in our life. With God at our side, we will exchange our vows and begin our life together. I have no fear of what our future holds for us, because I know that whatever life may throw our way- we will always overcome it through the power of God.