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Young Catholics Dating in 2020: Ladies First

This is the second in a 3-part series on a survey of young Catholics dating in 2020.

Part 1 

Part 3


Young Catholic women today do not have it easy.  If you are a young Catholic woman and you just read that, I understand that you may need a moment for your eyes to return their normal state, having rolled them a little too emphatically back into your eye sockets after reading that understatement.

I hear you, girls.  Guys, please tune in—lots of good girl intel coming up!

I want to be honest with you.  I did not date a lot.  Many did not go well.  On one first date, the guy overtly asked me if I would like to change to his religion (missionary dating much?).  On another date, I was taken to a look-out to see the lights in the city.  When the car stopped, he looked at me and said, “Speaking of lights, would you like to see my Indiglo?” (Please note, Indiglo is a Timex watch that debuted in the ‘90’s. . .but still, a guy asking me to see his anything in a parked car threw up all the red flags I had).   I declined; he immediately drove back down the mountain and took me home; we never went out again.  To this day, I am convinced that this was 100% the right answer.

I really have an incongruent amount of bad stories for the amount of dates I had in high school and college.  But, I also had some really good ones.  Once I was asked out on a casual date by a friend.  He said there was a cool band playing downtown and thought I might like to go.  I accepted.  Once we got there, however, we realized that it was a 21 and over place after 8pm and we were both underage.  So, he asked the management if they would set up a table outside the door and prop the door open for us to listen.  They did.  It was delightful, uncomplicated fun.  It wasn’t a love match, but I always admired that boy’s kindness and thoughtfulness in making that date a really good one.

The truth is that I seriously dated exactly one guy in my whole life and I married him.

I am hardly an expert in the dating department.  But, still I get asked by other women and girls: “how do I find a guy?”  I get it.  I certainly don’t have that answer, but I have observed some of my dearest loved ones date a lot (and not date—a lot) with varying degrees of success.  And, girls talk.  In fact, one of the markers of the feminine genius, in my mind, is our ability to communicate.

So, I am pleased to give you some of the key communications that I received from my survey of young Catholic women about dating in 2020.

The Things

First, I asked these ladies what things they were looking for in a guy to date.  My word cloud analysis prioritized the words:  virtue, honesty, driven, passionate, personality, trustworthy, kind, intelligent, good morals, faith, respect, Catholic, fun, funny, religious and smart (in no particular order).

But, I like order. . .so, let’s break it down.

By far, the majority of women responded that they were looking for a guy who shared their same values. . . that translated into words like “Catholic,” “faith,” “virtue,” and “good morals.”  One young woman said, “Someone who is at least willing to practice their faith.”  I think that means that even if a guy isn’t Catholic, this young woman (like so many others I know) is really just looking for someone who takes his (and her) faith seriously.

Yet, perhaps they are not looking for guys who take everything so seriously!

Behind values, “humor” and “fun/funny” came in second for most desired traits.  Basically, these women like men who make them smile—which is convenient because men tend to like women who smile.  I think the mention of this trait and its place of popularity among the others is important because it somewhat betrays a common stereotype that guys are the ones dating for “fun.”  The girls want it, too.  They want to enjoy spending time with the opposite sex without being so serious about it all, all the time.

Some of the other popular responses, to a far lesser degree however, were pertaining to intelligence, work ethic, and leadership in the relationship.  I would not suggest that young women are uninterested in these things, based on their low mention.  But, I do wonder if less emphasis on them is more in line with contemporary women who, perhaps, are looking more for companionship and mutuality in a relationship than the traditional leader and provider.

This trend may not be unexpected, perhaps, even within Catholic circles.

Not ignoring the Biblical mandates and ontological realities relating to men and women, Pope St. John Paul II spends gobs of time and energy realigning the Church’s understanding of mutual self-gift.  He evangelized a new generation of young people to realize the dignity, genius, and (dare I say it?) power of women in the world and in our relationships.  In doing so, he enabled both sexes to take a second look at the essential truth of complementarity of the sexes which doesn’t always fit neatly within historical gender roles.

Interestingly, for women, every single one of the data pieces pertained to personality.  There was not one mention of physical appearance among the women’s responses.

These young Catholic women all seem to be looking for just a really good guy.

They want intentionality, respect, and—get ready for it—marriage material. Not all of them, so don’t freak out about the “M” word! But, enough of the respondents referred to the potentiality of marriage in their open responses that I would be remiss not to mention that most girls think about this stuff.  It’s not scary obsession, gentlemen—it’s just natural processing for many women (we’ll see if the same holds for the men later).

The Obstacles

Then, I asked them about obstacles to dating in 2020.  The ladies had some thoughts on that, too.  The most popular answer in identifying an obstacle to dating was simply “finding a guy” to date.  It was kind of a vague answer to pin down at first, but it was said enough that I dug a bit deeper into their answers to understand what maybe they were actually meaning.

I think it’s this:  dating is hard.  It’s scary because it means you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable.  Being “available” and “open” requires being okay releasing control.  In uncertain times and in circumstances of transition or newness (like newly on your own as an adult, in a new environment, or meeting new people), nobody wants to be too vulnerable.

You can get hurt and embarrassed when you are vulnerable.

It truly is difficult to find someone who has the self-esteem, confidence, courage, and selflessness to reach out to another person who could reject him.  One girl offered, “Boys are scared to ask girls on dates. People are stuck in the ‘talking’ phase for too long with different expectations about where their relationship will lead.”

So, “finding a guy”, I think, means finding a guy willing to take the risk to go on a date or be intentional about a relationship.  This was the biggest obstacle the women observed.

The second and third most popular responses regarding obstacles to dating were commitment and sex—in that order.

Many of the women talked about their observations regarding the word “commitment.”  Some said that men were simply afraid of commitment, so dating wasn’t happening.  Others remarked that men thought that the mere act of asking a girl on a date meant a commitment.  Either way, the women felt like the idea of taking the relationship from the “talking phase” to actual dating was a step that men were not willing to take and that was a big problem.

One woman put it like this: “people ‘talk’ without actually dating which eventually leads potential relationships to just die out.”

Sadly, these same women also identified a demand for sex or an expectation of a physical relationship to be another big hitch in the dating scene.  So, while guys may be stagnant on asking girls on dates, there is strong implication that “hooking up” is still in play for some guys.  Can it get more confusing than that?

Many of these women feel like they are dealing with dudes who aren’t really interested in dinner because it’s kind of a big deal, but who are interested in sex—no biggie, right?

One woman reflected:  “It seems like there is no middle ground between religious people who want to get married and have kids right out of college and for whom a first date feels like an engagement,” versus the other end of the spectrum which is “the prevalent hook up culture of college.”  The women also mentioned the challenges of technology (from texting to online pornography) as additional obstacles to dating today.

The Rules

The majority of women responding had one big “rule” that they held as important in dating—no sex before marriage, or chastity.  This ties pretty well into the one of the big obstacles to dating being the perception of an expectation for sex.  There seems to be a real tension in this area for most of the women I surveyed.

How do young Catholic women navigate the pursuit of chastity in the uneasy waters of the hook-up culture?

The second rule among these women was one of shared faith or, at least, an attempt at holiness and virtue.  One woman said that in terms of addressing Catholic teaching on certain things, “If my boyfriend or I have an issue with something, we should talk about it as soon as we can.”

Sex and the parameters of Catholic morality seemed to be the key “rules” for these Catholic women in dating.  But, even among this group of Catholic young women, a few reported “no rules,” maybe signaling that some women are really more flexible or ambivalent about the logistics of dating.

The Parents

I also asked them about their parents’ influence in their own dating practices and philosophies.  Since so many of these women mentioned faith as an important factor in looking for guys to date and in setting “rules” about dating, it follows that the majority also reported that their parents, who presumably raised them in the faith, were very influential.

As one woman said, “My family’s Catholic faith has definitely defined my idea of what dating relationships should look like as preparation for marriage.”

Another respondent reported, “My parents are very open about the struggles they have and had in the past as well as what they think they could have done better.”  Two of the women identified as a child of divorced parents and also confirmed that this experience was a major influence in dating relationships.  One said, “My parents are divorced, so when I’m dating someone I’m really trying to make sure that if we were to get married one day in the future that it would stick.”

And, even when prospective marriage is not the consideration, the majority of the other respondents said that their parents’ influence was massive in encouraging high standards, boundaries, and relationship expectations.

Still, some women said that their parents had little to no influence on their dating.  It was a small minority—5 out of the 31 women, to be specific.  But, significant enough to mention because it showed that at least some women do not feel that their family of origin shaped their ideas around dating.  That leads to a good follow-up question (which I was not able to ask). . . “what or who has influenced you?”

The Tells

The last two questions I asked in my survey pertained to how young people show each other that he or she is interested in dating.  This is important because it is at the heart of effective communication.

Young women with whom I talk, in real life (not in survey format), often say that it is obvious that men are interested in sex, but not so obvious that they are interested in dating.  Sadly, for them, dating is just too confusing, complicated, or infrequent (if at all).

That is a terribly hard situation for women, especially those who are trying to cultivate virtuous relationships with the opposite sex.

So, I asked very straightforward questions to distill the two sides of the same situation: how to know someone likes you AND how to show someone you like them.

Almost all of the 31 women surveyed said that they would prefer that guys “be direct.”  Guys, I’ll let them tell you that directly. . .

“Tell me in person.”

“Ask me out face-to-face.”

“Ask. Me. On. A. DATE.”

“Tell me! Directly! In person! No ambiguity.”

“Just straight up tell me.”

“Be Bold”

“Be open with your intentions.”

“Use the word ‘date’.”

Even among those few who preferred a more indirect approach, there were certain “tells” that they were looking for from guys: invitations to events (even if it wasn’t an overt date), texts, messages, phone calls, intentional conversations, one-on-one attention. . .even notes and flowers were mentioned.

Basically, what I gathered, was that if you are a guy trying to date a girl, your best bet is being as clear and direct as you can handle.  These girls are not looking for a marriage proposal nor are they even expecting “define the relationship” status after the first or fifth date.  But, they are asking for exquisite clarity, boldness, and intentionality for a date.  “Use the word, ‘date’.”

In the complicated world of boy/girl relationships, however, what is good for the gander isn’t always good for the goose.  For the most part, it is, though.  That means that when asked how the women prefer to let guys know they are interested in dating, still a large number (two thirds exactly) of the women felt the “direct” approach was appropriate.  A couple of women even said that they had no problem being the initiator of a date.

But, this direct approach in this instance was not universal for the women.

One woman said, “I’m more of a ‘wait on the guy’ person. If you’re both ready and willing, the guy should initiate. So I guess I would drop loads of hints.”  She was not alone.  Even those women who were fine with being the initiator also suggested a lot of “hints” that they employ to let guys know they are interested.

These were hints like:  physical signs of interest (smiling, subtle gestures like a tap on the shoulder, standing nearby, lots of eye contact), flirting with exclusivity (not with every guy in the room), asking questions, expressing interest in things they do and enjoy.  And, not surprisingly from this Catholic crowd, “go to Mass when he goes to Mass” and “sit near him at Mass.”

Gentlemen. . .you might start looking around you at Mass.  Hint.  Hint.

Another woman expressed difficulty in the whole process, “As a woman it is hard to find a balance in allowing yourself to be pursued while also taking the initiative to let a guy know you are interested.”

It certainly is hard—and always has been.  There is more art than science in dating, perhaps.

These thoughtful women reflect so well the current culture’s complications and trends in the dating department.  Tomorrow, we will let the men have their say!

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Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle writes from Nashville, TN.

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