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Single Living

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: You start to date someone. At first you’re all excited, counting the minutes ‘til you see each other again. A little voice starts whispering in your head that this could be “the one.”

And then, gradually, another voice starts whispering. It says, “What if there’s someone even better?” You start to wonder. And you kinda start to look around. If she’s tall, you start to notice short girls. If he’s blond, you start to notice dark-haired guys. This person’s opposite suddenly seems fascinating to you. And so, you conclude that this person couldn’t possibly be right for you, and therefore the Christian thing to do would be to break it off immediately, because you obviously don’t care enough about this perfectly nice person who might get hurt.

Happened to you? Welcome to the human race. It happens to all of us.

Last month I wrote about how we nice Christian kids have a difficult time with dating, because we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And since the drainage ditches alongside Dating Road are constantly clogged with crumpled little hearts, we aren’t entirely sure how we’re expected to behave. We’re starved for answers. So starved that there were those among you unwilling to wait even a month for the next installment.

But the magazine only comes out once a month and I only get around 1000 words each time. Dating, as we all know, is a big topic. And there are a lot of nuances I don’t want to miss. I’m thinking we’ve got enough material here to spend several months chewing on those answers.

So let’s forge ahead.

We can start with the scenario above, which I touched on briefly last month. It has — of course — happened to me. It happens to all of us. I just talked to a good friend who’s dealing with it right now.

And then I read about it in John Gray’s book Mars and Venus on a Date. (Which I highly recommend, provided you can look past the decidedly un-Catholic advice on sex.) He says that when we meet someone we really like, we naturally go into what he calls the “uncertainty phase,” where we start to question our original attraction. Apparently it’s normal – because who could live with all of the heart-thumping infatuation for long without suffering a coronary event or an aneurism or something? That first attraction phase is riddled with un-reality. It’s all about daydreams and visions and perfection and stuff like that. When that inevitably wears off, we’re left with reality. And, if we’re at all prone to issues with commitment (which of course couldn’t possibly be true for any of us, right?), we’re left with reality plus an undefined fear that can sometimes border on terror.

Welcome to the uncertainty phase.

Apparently the more someone is really suited for us, the more intense this phase is likely to be. Probably because of the whole fear thing. Because as much as we may say we long for marriage, we’re all well aware that forever is a really, really long time. There would probably be something wrong with us if we weren’t a little scared.

The problem is that we’ve bought into the decidedly modern notion that our emotions are the only real true gauge of whether we belong with someone or not. Granted, our emotions play a role – you wouldn’t want to marry someone you have no feelings for just because a computer printout said you were compatible. But many people somehow expect to exist on Cloud Number Nine at every moment of their perfect relationship, and if their euphoria slips for a day or a week or a half-hour, they see it as a “sign” – a bad sign.

Human emotions just don’t work that way. Our emotions don’t offer command performances. They often show up when we least expect them. And they leave just as quickly. C.S. Lewis, in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, wrote about how emotions like joy and love generally appear when our attention is focused somewhere else – like the object of our affection. When we shift our gaze inward and try to analyze or “find” our emotional responses, they disappear.
Combine that with the Christian phobia of hurting anyone, and we find a lot of would-be suitors prematurely heading for the hills.

So what are we supposed to do? The problem is that most of us, when we’re in this situation, tend to think, “I either have to get out now or I have to decide to marry this person no matter what.” I know, it seems silly right now. But I swear, isn’t that what happens? Dave Barry wrote one of the most hilarious articles of all time about this very subject, and the men who take off after a good date because they “know” the only option left is marriage and they can’t possibly risk another date because they might have a nice time and then a clergyman would suddenly appear and aaaaaaugh!!

The thing to do when you’re in the uncertainty phase is to, as a good friend once told me, “lean into it.” You don’t panic and run. Nor do you put our common sense on hold and decide to ignore any real red flags because you’re committed, dang it!

Just keep spending time together. Remember you’ve got plenty of time. Get to know each other. Don’t focus on your feelings. Focus on this person. Learn the truth of who he or she really is. That truth – the real truth – is only revealed with time. If you see things that trouble you, don’t talk yourself out of them. Watch. Pray. Discern. And then end it when and if a real deal breaker comes along. Sometimes that’s clear on the first date. Sometimes it takes a few months to emerge. Either way, that’s when you end it. Not because your feelings took a break for lunch.

I know this means ignoring the “but what if there’s somebody better?” voice for while. That isn’t always easy. Nobody is perfect, everyone you date is going to have flaws, and you’re going to be curious about people who don’t have that particular flaw. But they’ll have other flaws, and then you’ll wonder if there’s someone who doesn’t have that flaw . . .

You need to remember that everybody hears that voice, and if you keep listening to it, you’re never going to be able to spend the time it takes to discern whether the person in front of you is the one God has in mind for you.

I also know there’s more risk of hurt this way. And we all hate that. Of course that risk can’t be eliminated. But we can mitigate it.

Next time.


(This post has been read 2,269 times)

61 Comments

  1. Tiffany-66114 December 3, 2009

    Good one. Thanks.

  2. Jose-391164 December 4, 2009

    Good article…well sorta sounds like the other real secular world…they must hear two voices….though….and must not care whos heart they break…my two pennies

  3. Edward-436466 December 5, 2009

    Thank you so much. I really needed to read this today.

  4. Daniel-66493 December 6, 2009

    Especially important if the voice is coming from friends or family, who may not want this change to happen.

  5. Joanne-475325 December 6, 2009

    Excellent! Very important the idea that emotions don't need to be on high C for us to find the right someone-I like that alot.

  6. Alicia-481430 December 7, 2009

    So true! Can't wait to read the next article!

  7. Tom-345034 December 8, 2009

    Wow…sometimes I feel like God wanted me to come across an article…Praise Jesus!

  8. Martin-14179 December 9, 2009

    Fantastic piece, Mary Beth. Thank you!

  9. Derek-484872 December 9, 2009

    Great Article.. i enjoyed reading it.. i can identify, and i actually have done what you suggessted and the Lord always takes care of things :) You said:That truth – the real truth – is only revealed with time. If you see things that trouble you, don’t talk yourself out of them. Watch. Pray. Discern. Beautiful, God Bless to all and Merry Christmas!!!

  10. Sara-480807 December 11, 2009

    Just what I needed to hear, thank God :)

  11. Robert-275324 December 12, 2009

    Thanks for another great article. So true…kind of like our minds constantly remind us, "hey, this girl's a 10 but you should hold out for an 11!"

  12. Alexandra-357353 December 13, 2009

    After reading all the commentaries, I guess you really hit the mark, Mary Beth. First I read your break up article and thought maybe that's were I'm heading…but it didn't feel, right. This article is exactly how I've been feeling but thought there's something wrong…now I know it's not, that it's all part of the process!!! My heart's sooo much lighter!!! You're articles are always thought provoking and inspiring. Thank you and God Bless!!!

  13. Author
    MaryBeth-278310 December 14, 2009

    Thanks for the nice comments! I've been asked about the Dave Barry column I referenced in the article. You can see it here: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19960101&slug=2306906. He writes it from the point of view of guys who freak out, but I think it can work both ways!

  14. Ginny-55385 December 14, 2009

    Wonderful insight!

  15. Joe-497349 December 15, 2009

    Up front, unblocked, & quite out there ____common…..sense.

  16. Stacey-101742 December 15, 2009

    Great Article , because its so true for everyone . Not only do we have to sit back and listen to God and observe as you say but probably a good idea that while we do that , we take a good look at myself (ourselves) too , and ask questions like , how are my good qualities and not so good qualities able to bless this person , can I be a blessing ?? Or might I be a road block ?? Taking the time to actually see how the personalities meld together , does take time . Thank you for this thoughtful article .

  17. Maclean-483042 December 16, 2009

    Thank you for the great Article so uplifing. God Bless!

  18. Charlie-494323 December 17, 2009

    I think the women I run into listen to that voice IMMEDIATELY lol

  19. Peter-44842 December 19, 2009

    "the drainage ditches alongside Dating Road are constantly clogged with crumpled little hearts,"
    the angel of purple prose is weeping…

  20. Author
    MaryBeth-278310 December 20, 2009

    Even I knew that line was a little tortured. I just liked the image of the drainage ditch . . ."

  21. Beth-359689 December 20, 2009

    Wow! Thank you so much for this article it's like God led me here to read this. I needed to hear all of that.

  22. James-519028 December 21, 2009

    You article is well written and offers sound advice. But, I must ask, why have you chosen to emphasize Christanity, such as your phrases: "the Christian thing to do," "we nice Christian Kids, "un-Catholic," and "Christian phobia." It is rather sanctimonious don't you think? Does one really have to be Christian to do the correct thing? Would someone of Jewish fatith or other religions behave differently in these situations? Isn't it more adapt to simply say that it is the right thing to do to treat others with respect, kindness, and as you would like to be treated?

  23. Author
    MaryBeth-278310 December 21, 2009

    James, I chose to emphasize Christianity because I'm writing for a Catholic web site. That's the audience the article is written for. Do you really think it's sanctimonious to acknowledge our Catholic faith on a Catholic site?

  24. Richard-10502 December 22, 2009

    What if you're looking for someone really specific? I'm not taking about someone made to order, but I'm looking for someone who's devoutly Catholic and philosophical. I've only found a handful of girls like that, and alot of women I end up dating don't have those specific qualities. Should I compromise?

  25. Francisco-522025 December 26, 2009

    'thank you for telling it like it is and setting our feet down to earth far from movies and impossible romance.

  26. Shannon-110514 December 27, 2009

    Thanks for writing this article. MaryBeth! We all need to stop sometimes and really look at what is reality versus what we see each day in movies and on television.

  27. Zhi-16063 December 28, 2009

    I guess I am culturally far from the book or the article quoted.
    I just can say one thing my feelings are:
    " Focus on this person.
    Learn the truth of who he or she really is.
    That truth – the real truth – is only revealed with time "

  28. Megan-21150 December 30, 2009

    James,
    The assumption is that a REAL Christian/Catholic would treat others with kindness, respect, etc. That's not to say if you are a Jew, a pagan, a Scientologist, etc., etc. you can't be a good person. However, this IS a Catholic site so OF COURSE things will be written within the context of the Catholic faith.

  29. MiguelAngel-397497 January 1, 2010

    Focus on this person.
    Learn the truth of who he or she really is.
    Si ella es la perfecta para ti, lo sabras en un segundo :)

  30. Lucia-458264 January 2, 2010

    Wow, this article truly came when i needed it the most. Its so true, how we expect perfection, its almost as if when we become scared of commitment, we try to find all the little things that we dont like about the person and unconsciously or consciously start saying things that push them away.

  31. Bob-428176 January 4, 2010

    Interesting article, but no one has asked the really pivotal question…is that John Cusack?
    (And thus a metaphor?)

  32. Amy-528305 January 5, 2010

    This article is so true. Yes it is. It is a picture from the movie "Must love Dogs".

  33. Sara-392857 January 8, 2010

    it is very true… and the real red flags become the scary ones. when to trust your head when your heart wants another route. i think 5 times with the same issue and the escalation each time is probably a red flag not to be ignored though. help me friends…

  34. Whitney-500497 January 13, 2010

    Wow…how come the good advice only seems to be there AFTER…great article…

  35. Maclean-483042 January 14, 2010

    This is very true learn the truth about the person so that you can accept him/her with his/her strength & weakness, very interesting article…..

  36. Jim-397948 January 16, 2010

    This article gives me someting to pray about.

  37. Janet-531858 January 18, 2010

    Thank you for sharing your insight, as sometimes I have wondered if it is only me that sometimes thinks this way. I will be more prayerful going forward! Great article!

  38. James-521481 January 25, 2010

    Thanks for your article it was great and right on target. I have caught a few of your shows on Relevant Radio and you have so much to offer. Keep up the good work.

  39. LisaMarie-536949 January 26, 2010

    Very insightful. Great article

  40. Phil-511883 January 31, 2010

    Very good article. I think we are all guilty at times of these fears. (Myself) I appreciate you writing about this subject and helping me realize a few things about myself. Keep up the good work. Phil

  41. Sean-474568 February 6, 2010

    Wow that is so true, and makes alot of sense. Thank you MaryBeth.

  42. Don-531928 February 11, 2010

    Thankyou MaryBeth for your help.

  43. Francis-405735 February 12, 2010

    Great article Mary Beth can't wait for the next installment.

  44. Joy-447534 February 12, 2010

    Thanks, this made my day…watch, pray and discern:)…this is so true!

  45. Claire-537906 February 13, 2010

    Thank You Mary Beth. This advice is wise for any age. Looking forward to your other Articles. Claire

  46. Kathy-544290 February 15, 2010

    So what do you recommend when the person you've been dating has gone into that phase of "maybe there's someone better out there". That's how I got to this site. I found out that he'd put up a profile on catholicmatch.com, but hadn't talked about wanting to meet other people (and wouldn't admit to wanting to meet other people with a profile posted). Now I feel I can't trust him.

  47. Diane-481644 February 16, 2010

    I can so relate to that. I think everyone is just afraid of making a mistake. With the high divorce rate and the things that we see everyday with people cheating on spouses, that just adds to the fear of it all. And, also, everyone's afraid of rejection. It's a tough thing to deal with, but it happens to everyone at some time in their life. That's how you find the right one and grow stronger. Just be who you are and let nature take it's course. Never try to be someone that you're not to impress a potential mate. Thanks for the article. Nearly everyone who read it is probably relieved that someone posted it.

  48. Joyce-542853 February 20, 2010

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is heaven-sent for me as I'm so there now. I am so in the stage of uncertainty and part of me is so afraid. The guy is just so "bello uomo" (beautiful human being) that part of me is wondering if I could be so lucky. :) Okay, at least I know I'm doing the right thing to just continue communicating. Thanks again, Ms. Mary Beth! God bless you!

  49. Karen-425115 February 20, 2010

    This article hit home for me. I hate to hurt anyone and sometimes I have known immediately that the date was not the right one for me. Other times I was so uncertain and dated them for awhile but felt that the person did not have all the traits I look for. Thanks Mary Beth this has helped me clear up many thoughts I had.

  50. Sean-478356 February 26, 2010

    When you have been hurt very bad though, you have a much harder time with trust.

  51. Cathy-553744 March 5, 2010

    I believe God has a partner for everybody out there and he will show you one day, however long it takes.

  52. Lisa-525896 March 6, 2010

    soMETIMES WHEN YOU SEE A RED FLAG AND YOU HONESTLY BRING IT UP AND TALK ABOUT IT. tHE OTHER PERSON DOES'NT WANT TO HEAR. IT. iT TAKES A GREAT PERSON TO LOOK AT THEMSELVES AND SEE IF
    THEY ARE REALLY DOING THE RED FLAG BEHAVIOR OWN I T AND THEN SEE IF THEY CAN CHANGE IT.

  53. Lucia-551179 March 6, 2010

    The uncertainty is definitely a struggle but it's not something to be ignored either. The last time I struggled this way I realized how unhealthy the relationship was and got out. We had the initial attraction stage but it lasted maybe three dates and before you knew it the relationship became stagnant. I am usually faithful but things were so bad not only was I wondering if there was anything better I was looking for it. When I got sick before a party we went to a bunch of red flags just crawled out the woodwork. His actions there was my last straw. My friends ended up validating what I knew all along: He was wrong for me. I'm still dealing with the residuals but not letting that stop the pursuit of my dreams. I hope the right person will not only go through this process with me but be able to support me as I do him. Relationships are challenging but it should also bring the couple strength in hard times.

  54. Savannah-523906 March 8, 2010

    Thank you, Mary Beth. Just so in time at this stage of confusion and the voice within is actually yelling at me. So yeah, there's no rush, there's plenty of time.

  55. Jesus-537178 March 13, 2010

    COULDNT OF SAID IT BETTER MYSELF….

  56. Carlos-167015 March 14, 2010

    Very good article and very true. But what happens when youre picky? ;0)

  57. Maggie-444207 March 14, 2010

    This ability to discern is essential…but another obstacle is age…in my case I'm 64 and my, real clock, is ticking…I need a checklist of what would make me a great husband..and how do I know that he is the ONE God has meant for me?

  58. MaryBeth-382377 March 17, 2010

    I believe it's important to have a logical idea of what you are looking for in a partner. Then you evaluate if that other person is in the same space as you — if they want the same thing. Next, you need to see if there is chemistry/attraction — besides all the practical things needed for a relationship, or whatever it is you are both desiring. It's a matter of timing as well. Finally — enjoy dating and the actual moments together!

  59. Cindy-460927 March 26, 2010

    I bought Mary Beth's book Pizza Love at a talk she had with my sons in attendance. Never imagining that I would be back in the dating arena and looking for advice. I know I am an expert in first dates.

  60. Josie-422855 April 10, 2010

    I think that…when you grow up hearing those phrases….Don't settle or the other side….what makes you think he will be interested in you……these things are what makes most of us making the wrong decisions. This is my first time on this site and I really enjoyed reading your article…Thank you

  61. Rosa-271196 April 11, 2010

    HI! i think your are right . it happened to me once. i broke with my engagemet two months back. and now im regretting about it. why i listened to them. why i didnt do my best to win back the man i love.now at the age of 38 i lost my chance to be married and to be with the man i love. now im living in sadness and despair. i couldnt turn back the time anymore.because i listened to the voices saying maybe therell be more good guys out there…just sharing my experience.. i love my ex bf. coz he is a responsible man as a bf and as a fututre husband, due to some misunderstanding our pride ruin our love..

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