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Young Catholics Dating in 2020: Now, Gents

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

Part 1

Part 2


I have four sons, I have four brothers, I have a father, and I am married to a pretty terrific guy.  Some of my best friends have been boys.  I went from a home with a bunch of boys, to being roommates with one of my brothers in college, to marrying my husband one week after college graduation.  I like dudes; I get them.  I basically have been surrounded by them my whole life.  I have a ton of experience and variety of observations about the male gender.

And, still, I was impressed by how much I learned from the guys who responded to my survey on dating in 2020.

Let’s dig in.

The Traits

What are guys looking for in a girl, you ask?  They have a few things in mind.

Not surprisingly, since this was a group of young Catholic men, their overwhelming response to the question was:  Faith.  These guys mostly all wanted to find a woman who has the qualities of: “virtue,” “holiness,” “loves the Lord,” “prayer life,” “Catholic,” “good morals,” and “religious.”

But, that wasn’t all.  Tying for second place as most popular trait: “honesty” and “intelligence.”

I was intrigued by the popularity of “honesty.”  This word wasn’t one that the women used nearly as often.  They did use it, but just not to the degree the guys did.  I wondered why.  I am going to do some interpretive work here. . .so, what follows here is my personal insight.

It is a common stereotype, regardless of the underlying truth, that women can be manipulative.  So, I would contend that when men say they are looking for women who are “honest” I think it is less a matter of lying vs. truth telling.  Perhaps, instead, it is a desire for women to be more open and straightforward with them.  One guy clarified that even when he perceives that a girl isn’t necessarily trying to be manipulative, she is often too subtle for his sensibilities.

This is just my take, but I think the guys’ desire for “honesty” isn’t so much a “don’t lie to me, woman” thing but more of a truth in advertising appeal for girls to be themselves.  In this day of “best selfies” and social media facades, I think this is a fair desire for guys especially if it isn’t so easily found or perceived by them.

I like how “honesty” dovetails with an equally desirable trait in women to be “intelligent” or, as one guy puts it, “intellectually compatible.”

Among these men, there seems to be an inclination for girls who are inquisitive, thoughtful, and capable of engaging conversation—not just a pretty face (although, we’ll get to that).  I think that the more open women are in their interactions with men, the more men are able to truly appreciate the feminine genius in all its glory.

Another trait that surprised me was the mention of “marriage” and “motherhood” material.  Whoa.  That one really impressed me.

I supposed that the women were more focused on long term prospects in looking for guys to date, but I was wrong.  I think, perhaps, these qualities showed up in these answers probably because it was a selective group of young Catholic men active in the Catholic faith which actually and emphatically teaches the importance of marriage and openness to life.  These guys are in tune here both with the natural progression of dating relationships and with Catholic teaching.  Good on you, gents.

The big difference, however, between what the men reported looking for in women and what the women were looking for in men was the mention of physical appearance.

A quarter of the men mentioned things like “beauty” and “chemistry,” while the women made no mention of it at all.

I do not think we should moralize that value for the guys any more than we should generalize that women don’t care what guys look like.  I think it is fair to simply accept that men are often more visual creatures and this trait is higher up on the list for these guys.

These things matter to them and it is good to be aware of it.

The Obstacles

The guys were actually pretty varied in their opinions about the obstacles they are facing in dating.

They mentioned things like:  technology, the pandemic, finding someone, faith, sex, pornography, hook-up culture, and (again) honesty.  There wasn’t really a landslide winner in the obstacle department for the guys.

But, if we combine some of the overlapping or related things, we can see that at least two themes are most prevalent.

For instance, a few guys mentioned “technology” as an obstacle.  A few other guys referenced “pornography” as a problem.  Those two can easily be grouped together to create a very clear and dominant issue regarding the over-use and abuse of technology.

One young man observed, “Phones and social media have made communication almost instant, perpetual, and watered down, not to mention some of the horrible things done over these platforms.”  Another suggested the same problems with “texting instead of talking [and] the constant subversive messages in media about sex.”  Still another offered that “constant comparing of ourselves to social media” poses for him a huge obstacle in feeling adequate and finding a girl.

Similarly, a handful of men pointed to the culture’s views on “sex” and “hook-up” culture as problematic for them.  Another group cited difficulty in finding a girl with compatible faith and moral standards. One guy said that it was hard to develop a relationship with woman who is “down to live a Catholic marriage.”  I think those two groups of guys are basically saying the same thing, too.

Combining the complications of a hook-up culture and finding someone with shared values seems to be the biggest obstacle for these guys.

They, like the women, are definitely trying to reconcile the culture in which they are living and their desire to pursue holiness in a dating relationship.  (I think that’s great news, by the way!)

The Rules

A larger number of guys than girls reported having “no rules” for dating.

But, for those who did have rules, the number one rule for the group dealt with chastity and physical boundaries.  One man said plainly, “No sleepovers, no premarital sex.”  Another, “No being alone in a closed room.” And another, “Gradual physical contact.”

In a culture that is so sex saturated, these guys seem pretty aware and on guard.

Those are not the only boundaries that were of interest to them, though!  There were multiple mentions of “emotional chastity” and “emotional boundaries.” Now, in some Catholic circles, “emotional chastity” is a word with lots of baggage, but I think if guys are talking about it, we should be listening.

One man explained that he has a rule of “not over sharing personal details before defining the relationship.”  It seems to me that what a lot of these guys are saying about “emotional chastity” is not so much a fear of intentional dating, but an interest in prudence and pacing in a relationship.

The Parents

The guys answers about parents or family of origin being influential in matters of dating were excellent.  I was surprised by how descriptive and open they were about this question.

Again, I am a mother of boys—boys only.  I do not have much experience in the mother-daughter realm (except being the daughter of a mother myself), so I do not know how or if my experience here is particular to boy moms.  What I do know is that my boys do not come to us and say: “Tell me what you think about X,Y, and Z.  Let me learn from your wisdom, my beloved parents.”

In my experience, guys like to figure stuff out for themselves.

The guys I surveyed reported that even if they may not have enthusiastically solicited advice on dating and girls from mom and dad, they were learning it from them anyway.  Well over half of the guys said that their practices and philosophies about dating came from their parents—for better or for worse.

There was lots of “for better,” for the record.  Many of the guys reported that their views on chastity and saving sex for marriage are derived from a family ethic.  They identified their parents’ relationships as models for their own in terms of compatibility, chivalry (like intending to pay for dates they initiate, holding open doors for women), appreciating family culture, and value for faith.

Still, some of the guys, however, felt like their parents were either detrimental to their understanding of girls and dating or of little influence.  And, they were very descriptive about it.

One guy said, “I would say my personal faith influences how I date more than ideas from my parents.”  Another was more negative in his reporting, “The fact that they haven’t given me any advice on dating has made my dating life awful and I’ve had to go through many terrible relationships to learn lessons that could’ve been told to me by someone wiser.”  And still another, “They were utterly useless and I had to learn on my own, the hard way.”

Whether through example or explicit conversation, it seems like all the guys did in fact desire (even if they didn’t receive it) the positive influence of their parents in terms of learning about dating.

For me, a parent of boys, that was hugely informative.  Even if they aren’t asking. . .keep talking!

The Tells

I asked the same questions of the men as I did the women, so they both were posed with the questions of 1) how they prefer to the opposite sex to let them know he/she is interested and 2) how they themselves prefer to let others know they are interested.

The men, like the women, generally preferred a direct approach when a member of the opposite sex is interested.

And, curiously, in statistically similar proportions.  Approximately two thirds of both sexes prefer to be told directly—either by overt conversation or a date invitation—that someone fancies them.

One guy put it like this: “I’m a guy, so you have to literally put it on a bright billboard, tell me to look up, read it to me, confirm it is from them, and then affirm they are sure.”  Another reiterated, “straight up tell me. . . Guys cannot pick up hints. Many guys are scared to assume that someone likes them because they don’t want to make things awkward if that is not the case.”  That sounds right, right?

I think it is probably the same for both sides, but it is always good to consider that everyone is afraid of making it weird.

One of the men observed from his own experience that honesty is the best policy in starting new relationships.  He explained, “Honesty goes a long way here. The best relationships have been the ones where they were honest about their feelings from the beginning.”  As much as the ladies like guys to be straightforward, the guys also appreciate a lot of clarity or some “big hints.”

For those guys who didn’t say “be direct,” they did offer other options to a girl who might be interested in him.

Guys also like flirting, for instance.  “Playful touching and frequency of one-on-one, intentional conversations (i.e., deeper topics, reciprocating questions) are usually good indicators.”  Or, “make compliments about genuine aspects of a person’s character, like how they think it’s cool you understood the strategy behind a board game.”  The men almost universally reported liking the exclusive attention of a woman.

A couple of the men, however, seemed partial to more traditional gender roles.

One of those said: “a straight up, ‘I like you’ would be a little awkward,” but conceded that, “if handled well wouldn’t be too bad.”  While another said,  “I don’t want to be explicitly told something right away” and that he would prefer “a signal me to make a move and ask her out.”

So, for girls, there are actually a few good ways to let guys know you are interested—depending on the guy.

Now, the final question for the guys:  What is the best way you know of to let someone else know you are interested in her?

All but one of the guys said they would tell her directly or ask her on a date. Which is good news, of course, because this is exactly what women want.  If only it were that easy. . .

Though the vast majority of the men offered the direct approach as their top option, they also had other ideas that they employ to let a girl know they are interested in her.

Several of the guys, about a third in fact, said that listening, asking questions, and giving girls undivided attention are other ways to show they are interested in dating.  One said that he likes to “intentionally offer to help somehow or invite them out with/introduce them to my friends.”  And another said that he tends to “invite them to a group activity first.”

Dates in 2020

And while the guys mostly seemed on the side of asking girls out explicitly or being direct in expressing interest, there was some interesting disparity in the dating data between these men and women that seems worthy of noting!

I asked one other question that I haven’t addressed yet.

How many dates have you been on in the past year?

The average number of dates for the guys was 17.  The average number of dates for the girls was 5.  Two of the 16 guys reported having been on ZERO dates this year (one said he was on a “dating fast”), while almost half of the 31 girls reported ZERO dates (none indicated fasting from dating).

I don’t really know what to do with that data.  I’m just putting it out there.  I’m not a social scientist and readily admit that this and all of my data may be skewed or scientifically imprecise. I’m okay with that, because I really want this to be more of a conversation starter.

What do you think that means?

The Challenge

I think one of the guys summed it up for both the boys and the girls very nicely, “The best way to let someone know you are interested is always to have a private conversation with them and tell them straight up. It is difficult and usually kind of awkward, but it is worth it because then you get a straightforward answer of yes or no and can move forward regardless.”

Great advice, I think.

Dating is kind of awkward.  It just is—it always has been.  The effort is worth it, though.  There is always something to be learned in the process.  Men and women need to be up for the task.

“Love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman, it is always at the same time a ‘task’ on which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends up on the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.” (Pope St. John Paul II)

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Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle writes from Nashville, TN.

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