Of Dating & Dumping


Of Dating & Dumping

Well, I’m on my way to the National Catholic Singles’ Conference in Florida. At least I hope I am – there’s a blizzard dumping snow on Denver, and I’m praying pretty hard that the airport will be clear by take-off time!

I am, God willing, going to give two talks down there. So I’m collecting my thoughts. I haven’t completely figured out what I’m going to say, but I’m pretty sure – I know this is a stretch – that I’m going to talk to the single Catholics about dating. Imagine that!

Seriously, dating is tricky for everybody, but I think it’s far trickier for Catholics – and for anybody who takes their duty to “love one another” seriously. Because at the heart of our faith is the tenet of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” and the idea that real love means always looking out for what is best for the other person. But in dating, the whole idea is to spend time with someone to decide if this is a person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with. And if you don’t, you’re supposed to dump ‘em.

How exactly are we supposed to reconcile the two?

As Christians, it’s been drilled into our heads that we’re not supposed to hurt people. And yet, so much about the dating process is hurtful. It hurts to care about someone and not have that affection reciprocated. It hurts to be “dumped.” It can even hurt to be the one doing the dumping.

What we really want is a way of dating that completely avoids hurting anyone – a sort of “pain free dating.” Thinking about it rationally, it seems a pretty unlikely feat to pull off. But that doesn’t stop the more tender-hearted among us from trying.

The first way people try this is what I call the “early out” approach. Two people find themselves attracted to each other, and they start dating. At first, of course, it’s all about the show, the chase. Sure, they’re getting to know each other. But they’re also putting their best “face” forward. They’re out to impress, to prove to themselves that this attractive person will find them attractive.

But then, at some point, comes the uh-oh moment. One or the other of them realizes that it’s starting to work. This person is indeed interested – getting attached, even. And that’s scary. The wheels start turning. “Oh, no, she might really like me. If this doesn’t work out, she might get hurt. And it might not work out. I’m not sure of anything yet.” And those of us observing from the sidelines want to say “Well, duh, of course you’re not sure. You’ve known each other all of what, 45 minutes? A few weeks?” But to someone who’s nice, tender-hearted, and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, it’s very scary.

I wrote the above paragraph from the masculine perspective because I believe that, while there are no hard and fast rules, men tend to be more likely to find themselves in this particular situation. Early in a relationship, men are much more likely to be the pursuers. The woman who is the object of this pursuit is often holding back, keeping him at arm’s length while she figures out exactly how interested she is. Which of course makes the guy work even harder. And when she finally decides she is interested in seeing where this might lead, the guy says uh-oh. And the scary part starts.

Women know the “scary” that happens early in a relationship, when we suspect the guy could be hurt if we bail out. And I’m sure plenty of women opt for the “early out” approach to pain avoidance. But I think we tend more to err at the other side of the relationship, when we realize that it really isn’t going to work out. There comes a time, in the course of dating and getting to know somebody, that it becomes clear to one party or the other that marriage is definitely not in the cards. That, my friends, is when it’s time to break up.

But wow, can that be tough! By this time, real feelings have often developed. Christians aren’t supposed to hurt anyone, much less the people they have really come to care about. How could it possibly be okay to inflict this kind of pain on someone?

And so we wait. We stall. We tell ourselves “maybe it can work out.” Maybe that drug addiction will change. Maybe the porn addiction is just a phase. Maybe if I just work hard enough, I can transform this person into my ideal marriage partner, and then nobody will have to get hurt.

I call this the “delayed release” approach.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that neither of these approaches work. Neither helps us with the purpose of dating, which is to find a spouse. And neither is really looking out for the best for the other person.

Look at “early out.” It doesn’t give two people enough time to really get to know each other, to discern where God is in their relationship. Of course there’s going to be uncertainty early on. The process is just beginning. Bailing out too early deprives both people of the opportunity to figure out if they might have a future together.

Of course, there often comes a point of certainty – certainty that this is not the person you want to marry. That might happen on the first date. It might happen six months later. Either way, that is the time to end it. Even though it hurts. Because delaying is most definitely not looking out for what is best for the other person. It is depriving them of the truth, depriving them of the freedom they need to find the one they will be with forever.

The bottom line is that dating hurts. I’ve been trying and trying to come up with spousal selection system that doesn’t involve pain, but I’ve concluded you can’t eliminate the pain without eliminating the possibility of rejection, and once you’ve eliminated rejection you’ve basically eliminated free will, and you’re left with either arranged marriages or some sort of lottery system. Neither of which particularly interests me.

So how do we date as Christians? How do we handle the hurt? Can it be minimized?

I believe we’ll discuss that next time.



  1. Dana-15463 November 1, 2009 Reply

    Mary Beth is always so straight forward and practical in her thoughts. This is an excellent article for those who are thinking or recently ended a relationship.

  2. Cherie-466896 November 2, 2009 Reply

    I loved the talks you shared with the 'single' women at the NCSC. I felt like I was in my own living room and there was some wise advice! I hope to hear you in the future. God Bless.

  3. Jim-149694 November 7, 2009 Reply

    This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As always Mary Beth is right on target. Since my annulment I"ve had several relationships with otherwise wonderful Catholic women. But, my gosh, the way they handled breaking up was appalling! Brrrrr. Cold stuff! Definitely more thought has to be given the end game in Catholic circles.

  4. Jim-397948 November 8, 2009 Reply

    The positive thing about being dumped is that I pray that my ex finds someone better than me and that God Protects her.

  5. Daniel-94599 November 9, 2009 Reply

    Hello everybody,
    Why don't we use the term "letting go" instead of "dumping"? The dump is where you put trash, isn't it? This dumping word is a harsh word. It is loaded with lack of charity. It maintains also a business' view on relationships. As Children of God of the Church he founded, let's me an example kindness, courtesy and class. We can use our imagination. We can say "bringing to an end", "closing it" etc.

  6. Angela-129084 November 9, 2009 Reply

    This article is spot on! I have friends that are experiencing this as I write. I believe it is important for the party to be BOLD with the Holy Spirit in mind. Christ did not say there would be no suffering, but often with the suffering, there will be joy that comes to be. We never want to hurt those we care about or love, but the truth will set us free. To lead someone on is even more painful as Mary has mentioned. Be Bold with love of neighbor and know that you are doing a positive thing by not dragging things along if you know that you are not compatible with one another for marriage.

  7. Peter-44842 November 11, 2009 Reply

    This restates common sense. We are called to be honest (sooner than later) and seek others' well being and our own. That will occasion distress, which no one wants but is inevitable. One is obligated to be tactful but 'pain free' dating is like eliminating discomfort from exercise, character, or calculus.

  8. David-144970 November 18, 2009 Reply

    Excellent article; I look forward to the next instalment- the 'how' part- soon! One of the hardest experiences I had was of the rejecting woman not being honest with me as to her reasons for ending; when I finally dragged them out of her she said that she hadn't mentioned them before because 'she didn't want to hurt my feelings'! Thank God we never married if that is her communication-style.

  9. Shannon-421066 November 18, 2009 Reply

    I believe in true friendship. That being said, I pick and choose who I associate with very carefully. I do not date for the sake of finding a life long partner. I invest in life long friendships and in those friendships I am open to the possibility of something more. Now on occasion there may arise an impromptu encounter with someone who bravely and courageously asks me out on a "Date". I am an avid believer in very politely giving consideration to all those who venture to do so but only accept the invitation under this condition – "Friendly Acquaintances Going Dutch". This strategy has kept me from being hurt or from hurting anyone. I constantly pray and strive to live through the Holy Spirit and when I'm successful, pain is never involved. It is impossible to mislead or to be mislead if your intentions are filled with the Holy Ghost. It is only when we are dishonest with ourselves and those around us that pain and hurt come into the equation. My friends know my heart and if I ask them out on a "Date", they know exactly what that means and how I feel about them. There is no question.

  10. Maureen-462033 November 19, 2009 Reply

    I agree that this is the most sensitive part of living….almost to the degree that some would just as soon 'opt out'! The hardest part is the fact that it is very difficult to find others who are willing to be open and honest from the very beginning. That is actually the only way to avoid this sad situation.

  11. Elizabeth-508126 November 22, 2009 Reply

    I speak for those who have been hurt, it is not easy. I had several red flags, but I was blind. I was in denial for a long time and felt that i was in a nightmare. If the person deciding to"break up" is not honest and truthful, it makes everything so complicated. I just think if its an early or later approach it should be done with honesty and respect for that love that you once had. Remember what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!! :)

  12. Jon-387698 November 22, 2009 Reply

    Real, long term relationships evolve over time. They change, hopefully for the better. With every one, hopefully you learn something along the way, with no bitterness or regrets. While openess and honesty may have their place, to get to that stage with someone, one needs to be cautious, but at the same, be willing to take a chance, and not have many pre-expections.

  13. Robert-3483 November 23, 2009 Reply

    If more Christians were aware of the Gentleman Saint and Church Doctor's writings on friendship, including mixed gender and holy friendship, both greater support and reduced trauma would result through God's grace. See: Introduction to the Devout Life: Part 3 (The Exercise of Virtues). The chapter on Society and Solitude is also useful. Unfortunately, a lot of "devout" people falsely shun their practicing catholic neighbor for fear of jealousy, excitement, etc. — http://catholic-lifetime-reading-plan.blogspot.com/search?q=courtship

  14. Ricardo-511407 November 26, 2009 Reply


  15. Ricardo-511407 November 26, 2009 Reply

    I must agree with Elizabeth-508126 , "Remember what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!! :)….But it hurts so much when you know the cause of breakup was yours.. I hope that I learn and be stronger from this…single after a 6yrs relationship..:(

  16. Michael-507786 November 29, 2009 Reply

    There is a pretty big difference between acting with malice to hurt someone emotionally and acting with integrity with the result that someone feels emotionally hurt. Christianity warns against the former, not the latter. The "when" and "how to" break up is important, but both parties need to accept that the relationship will end in pain — of widow(er)hood, or sooner. For all that, 'tis better to try.

  17. Serain-506581 November 30, 2009 Reply

    I can really relate to this. I have been on both ends and there is no easy way to handle it other than to be up front and honest about yourself and what you are looking for. For now I am sticking with my sixth sense in addition to being upfront and honest. When I feel that something is not right, I need to listen to it instead of ignoring or making excuses for it.

  18. Tony-91219 December 9, 2009 Reply

    A gloomly perspective; however, rather than focusing on the pain of either rejection or attachment, how about focusing on the positive outcomes, which include personal growth, development, and maturity.

  19. Clare-245300 December 10, 2009 Reply

    I think the best way to try to avoid pain on both sides is the move slowly, to refrain from getting involved physically, which in the end I think hurts woman more than men after a breakup (perhaps it hurts men equally, I dont know), and to end the courtship if it's not working. I think the emphasis has to be on courtship, which allows one to slowly discover or rather discern if the person is the "right" one, without giving away one's heart. I know this sounds old-fashioned, but I learned from experience. I am looking forward to the next installment.

  20. Tony-91219 December 11, 2009 Reply

    The quote: "Dumping someone is painful and seems to run counter to our Christian obligation to love thy neighbor. But Mary Beth Bonacci says its an essential …" suggests that ending a relationship is counter to our Christian obligations – but I disagree – being a Christian and a loving person means that we also have to take responsibility and do what is right – which, in some cases requires us to assert ourselves and do things that are unpleasant, but nonetheless, necessary. Fortunately, Jesus was a great role model in this regard –

  21. Mary-285153 December 14, 2009 Reply

    true Tony, doing the right thing isn't always peaches and cream for often the person doing the action or saying the words but just as often it can be unpleasant for the person on the receiving end. and that doesn't make it any less Christian or conflicting in duty to "deal out the blow" so to speak.

  22. Matt-37721 December 16, 2009 Reply

    Like a deacon in Fort Wayne, Indiana once said, "If you're not ready to get dumped, you're not ready to date."

  23. Esther-466158 December 30, 2009 Reply

    Some really great input here from Elizabeth, Donald, Clare and everyone else. God Bless.

  24. Dan-394762 January 1, 2010 Reply

    I agree with Clare, in moving slowly and not getting invovled physically because that blurs your objectivity and then your emotions rule you. It is a tough situation because God came to save our souls and build us up in him. He dosen't want any of us to be continually hurt someone or be hurt. That is why it should be slow and not over indulge in even affection. Maybe a little more prayer and a lot of discernment and build the friendship. For the man we need to work on the communication.

  25. Ann-499912 January 4, 2010 Reply

    I really liked the article. I rather dump than be dumped though. dumped is a crude word. maybe let go with love.

  26. Susan-531325 January 17, 2010 Reply

    Great article! I think the "early out" comes too often. My experience has also been that men just take the easy way out and stop calling altogether with no explanation. Everything seems to be going fine and then the bombshell – no contact. I can't explain it. If you can't be man enough to break up, then don't get into a relationship.

  27. Jude-76391 January 19, 2010 Reply

    Awesome article!!!! Makes plenty of sense.

  28. Jim-397948 January 24, 2010 Reply

    Good News..I just got dumped!!! I feel sorry for her, I treated her too well…I hope she finds someone better!!! She quit on a fine relationship

  29. Liza-234534 January 24, 2010 Reply

    Nice article and thanks. Always break up in person whenever possible…..never on the phone or in a letter. Just not respectful to end it in such an impersonal fashion. Best of luck dating in 2010 !!

  30. Melinda-536794 January 25, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for posting this; I needed to read this. I needed to hear this from an impartial source. I feel much better about the recent relationship that just ended. Thank you.

  31. David-346559 January 27, 2010 Reply

    Great article! I think we try our best to be the perfect person in a relationship. I also agree with breaking up in person. Over the phone is an easy way out. I think if there's a problem in a relationship, the two of you need to sit down and really discuss what's going on and how we can fix the problem!

  32. Barbara-444142 January 28, 2010 Reply

    I agree with many of the comments–particularly Susan: Great article! I think the "early out" comes too often. My experience has also been that men just take the easy way out and stop calling altogether with no explanation. Everything seems to be going fine and then the bombshell – no contact. I can't explain it. If you can't be man enough to break up, then don't get into a relationship.
    and Liza Nice article and thanks. Always break up in person whenever possible…..never on the phone or in a letter. Just not respectful to end it in such an impersonal fashion. Best of luck dating in 2010 !

  33. LisaMarie-536949 January 31, 2010 Reply

    I like what you've said, Its nice to not feel like th only one who thinks this

  34. Joseph-355416 February 4, 2010 Reply

    I don't know why the idea of arranged dating is so abohorant, it may be superior to our current online meetings!

  35. Rod-34918 February 5, 2010 Reply

    Super article, Mary Beth! Holy Spirit continue to guide you!

  36. Mary-95651 February 6, 2010 Reply

    Definitely good timing for me. I, too, was in a relationship that ended recently, and I've been struggling with just forgetting the entire idea of dating or trying once again. It is extremely painful.

  37. Kevin-258970 February 6, 2010 Reply

    When I was seventeen and less than six months out of high school, I met, and became quite smitten with, a Catholic girl whom I thought was the answer to my prayers for "the one" (I was a committed evangelical at the time). We met at a bible study, traded phone numbers that night, and for the next few weeks, she was the one bright spot of light in my otherwise dark life. In the physical affection department, she made the first move. After a few weeks of long phone conversations, lengthy good night kisses after being with mutual friends, but no real dates, I expressed an interest in more one-on-one time with her (she "hemmed and hawed"). I even invited her to meet my parents (she balked). Two nights later, she dumped me on my birthday (she threw the party to catch me off guard), and celebrated that little coup by going to the musical we were supposed to see with a good friend of mine who just happened to be a homosexual. She never hesitated to show me her new-found enjoyment of treating me like something she'd scraped from the sole of her shoe, and belittled me when her hurtful behavior hurt. My lone fond memory of her is the time she called me and pathetically begged me not to hate her (she must not have found someone new as quickly as she thought she could, LOL)
    I never prayed for "the one" again. I eventually stopped believing in God — after all, I had what looked to me at the time proof of His insensitivity if not His total incompetance. Oh, I dated, and eleven years later I had a fling with a seventeen year old. We broke up when she went to college and decided the ninety minute drive was "too much" distance between us. I haven't had a steady girlfriend since.
    More recently, I've begun to heal. I even became a Catholic, and decided to give this site a try.
    I may find someone, I may not, but don't ever tell me that it always hurts to dump someone. It simply doesn't.

  38. Estelle-510966 February 8, 2010 Reply

    I believe breaking up is an important part of DATING. However, when people consider marriage an extended part of dating it becomes the most painful. So often in today's society, people believe that if a marriage doesn't work, they can just break it up. They don't even consider trying to talk it out and find out what is wrong. It was easy when they were dating people to just breakup, so why not just call it quits on the marriage. Sooner or later people will get over it, right?
    We as Catholics, must walk a fine line as to how we choose a partner. We not only have to discover our own feelings for the person, but we cannot assume that they have the same morals as we do.
    I have been in the position of feeling obligated because I could not hurt someone else. I then accepted all faults, even before marriage, after all they were a part of his personality and I could not change that. I assumed he accepted my faults alike and God knows we all have them. 26 years went by, and we raised a family of two. We built 6 different homes together and struggled through a Military Career. We had a good marriage, a successful marriage. However, he could not be satisfied with life outside of the fast lane and money that is what he always longed for in life. We had it, but we were not millionaires, and he envied those who were. He was not raised with any religious and moral upbringing. He was raised with the philosophy that if you are not happy then get out of the situation, and if you leave because you are unhappy you don't have to explain, you just do it that is your right. He left with no explanation except his actions, he left for a millionaire widow who had lost her husband 4 months earlier. She was 15 years older than he was. A woman who was widowed once before that, when she met the man who had just died who was the heir to millions and ultimately her source of her money.
    Don't assume that people have the same morals that you do. It may take you 26 years to find that they do not

  39. Nick-47295 February 9, 2010 Reply

    It is upsetting when you get your heartbroken by someone you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with. However, over time you find out this person was NOT at all who you thought they were. You meet them on, just for fun we'll say Catholicmatch..com, were they put in their profile that they believe in the 7 out of 7 on the church's teachings. You fall for this person. The person they are, their family, their faith, everything that makes them the person you love. Then they break up with you and never want to see or speak to you again. Only months later you find out that they are having a child (a girl) out of wedlock with someone they hardly know. Continuing to delve deeper into this paradox by moving in with this person, but to ultimately make it right by getting engaged to them. Cause that always works out. However, the lesson you learn is one in that people are not all they seem and the only one you can put your full trust in is God.

  40. Eileen-542678 February 13, 2010 Reply

    Good article and I've enjoyed reading the posts here. It took me a long time to realize it's not my job to "fix" someone else's faults. I used to think that if I loved them enough or cared enough, it could cause the other person to reform. After a lot of pain, I know that changing is up to the other person. I don't want to hurt anyone, so it's hard to break up a relationship with someone who wants more than I do at a given time. I'm coming to see that may be the kindest thing one can do–free them to find what they are looking for….and freedom for me to do the same.

  41. Jim-543550 February 16, 2010 Reply

    HI MARY,

  42. Cheryle-531905 February 26, 2010 Reply

    The acual selection process of this whole web site seems "early outs" from the beginning; of the 21 matches found form me, I had one person that I have actually met. We met for coffee at a bookstore. I had not even gotten home but I had received an e-mail from him that there was no "spark"…after 30 minutes of conversation! How can he have really known enough about me to write me off after 30 minutes of conversation! Cheryle

  43. Kathleen-76518 February 27, 2010 Reply

    Mary Beth,
    Good advice. There is a lot of room for kindness that does not involve marriage. We shouldn't confuse the two. Although it seems unkind to tell someone you cannot marry them, and even more unkind if you are on the receiving end of it, this is where our faith has to kick in and remind us that God chooses our partner. The God who made us would not expect us to stay with someone who is not suited to our needs and temperament. There is always the possibility that His will for us does not include marriage at this time, or ever. I am content to be open to the possibility of marriage or single life and enjoy each day as it comes. I wasted too many of my single years between the ages of 17 and 28 looking for a partner, when I should have been looking for a purpose.

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