Stop Discerning And Just Date


Stop Discerning And Just Date

I met the tall, dark, and handsome (albeit somewhat scruffy looking) man who would become my boyfriend two summers ago. Joe was groomsman in the wedding of a college friend and I guess you could say we hit it off pretty well — we took the dating plunge the following January. At the time I was completing my senior year of college in Kansas and he was holding down a job near San Francisco. We were long distance from day one.

A few months later while I browsed and applied to summer internships, Joe suggested I look for something in the Bay Area (aka near him). I was open to the idea—and God provided.

Needless to say we were ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to finally spend a good chunk of time with the person on the other end of the internet comics, extensive Spotify playlists, and late night phone conversations.

Oh, so you’re going to California to discern

My best friend was thrilled for us, too. However at one point, in a burst of glee, she excitedly told someone that I was “Going to California to discern.”

The word was dripping with meaning that alarmed me. What did it even mean? Is that was I was doing?

Days later when I passed along the news to a guy friend he grinned and, winking, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you came back with a ring by the end of the summer.”

Wait, what? Really? Because I sure would!

Maybe I didn’t really understand the whole dating thing. Maybe I was being too casual about it. Joe and I hadn’t discussed marriage in detail yet. Should we have? How does one “discern”? Should I be expecting a ring? Is there a timeline or guidebook I missed? Some sort of master class?

The final straw happened when another well-meaning friend posited, “You should know by about the 6 month mark.”

Well that doesn’t leave me much time…


Before sending myself into a mental tailspin I took my concerns to spiritual direction where I was met with this guidance,

“The process of dating is threefold: fun, learning and growing, and discernment. In that order. If you’re in the first stages—don’t feel the need to jump to the third.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This explanation quelled my fears and matched what I knew. Saint John Paul II in his famous work Love and Responsibility remarks that love begins as an attraction and matures as emotions become “simpler and soberer.” Gradually, the relationship “will not only survive but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots.”

This is not to say that our relationship didn’t require work (with intentionality and pursuit of virtue at the heart) but we had no need to rush the process. Joe and I were free to grow at our own pace – and even to have fun while doing so!

As emotions grow 'simpler and soberer' a relationship 'will not only survive but grow stronger and sink deeper roots.' - Saint JPIIClick To Tweet

It’s silly to attempt discernment before dating

While being Catholic has been the greatest blessing in my relationship (and my life in general), the Catholic dating culture comes with its own counter cultural pressures, both hidden and overt.

My director helped me realize I felt the need for discernment before dating, as if I needed to figure out if Joe were my future husband first, and then I would be free to date him. This came from fear on my part—the fear of commitment and vulnerability relationships demand. If I knew he was the one beforehand, there would be no risk or putting my heart on the line.

I wanted to avoid “dating for fun” to the point where I was afraid to even have fun while dating—that’s not how Catholic’s do it, right? Wrong.

Not only should dating be fun, my director remarked, it can lead to more growth than almost any other factor. It’s so real. And as you share life, the Lord can reveal more about yourself, your values, your friends and family, your faith: through the other. There is resistance, times of painful growth, but ultimately immense potential for sanctity.

I could have missed all the Lord had in store for me if I focused on “discerning the future” instead of assessing the present and meeting Him where He was meeting me!

The process of dating is threefold: fun, learning and growing, discernment. In that order. Click To Tweet

The crux of long distance difficulties

Unfortunately for Joe, my imagination often gets the best of me.

It is especially easy at a long distance to imagine things about the person on the other end of messenger that are simply not true. We tend to build up a person in our minds to be a certain way (whether virtuous or otherwise); I would argue this is the source of the old adage “distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

When I focused too much on discernment, possibilities, and “potential-future-husband Joe” I could not see Joe for who he truly is. While I had my eyes on the future, I forgot about the present and my imaginary version got in the way of the real version. My heart grew fonder of a daydream.

There may be other remedies but this is where, for me, intentional communication and frequent short phone calls became important. No matter how built up my daydream becomes, hearing Joe’s voice melts away my phony vision and I remember the real person 1700 miles away from me. Praying for him daily also helps immensely; Christ knows him better than I ever will.

And ultimately, asking God’s will to be done and having patience. Or begging for it.

There is a time for everything

Obviously there is not a one-size-fits-all model for dating. We all “do it wrong” at some point. But don’t let fear of the future get the better of you while you’re muddling through the initial stages. Pursue virtue and trust the Lord.

Joe and I are not at “stage three” yet, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m okay with that. Quite frankly, long distance moves slower than your typical relationship. Some days I love it, some days I hate it. But this person that I get to know and love (even at a distance!) has his own unique struggles, interests, habits, friends, traditions, feelings, opinions, and preferences that I am learning. We are growing together.

And as Scripture reminds us, “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.”

When we make it to the discernment part it will be because the Holy Spirit has led us there not because we have decided that it is the proper time. Pray for us! And ultimately, His will be done.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all model for dating. We all 'do it wrong' at some point. But you can't let fear win.Click To Tweet



  1. Diane-1312802 May 9, 2017 Reply

    You have to discern sometimes if you can tell right away the person isn’t right for you, There’s no point in in wasting either of your time and would end up hurting the other person. They aren’t going to change.

  2. Blessing I. May 9, 2017 Reply

    I don’t support the idea of dating for fun rather I will say that one should have fun while dating. A good and healthy relationship has loads of fun in it and most times that’s what keeps the memory alive.

  3. P M. May 9, 2017 Reply

    I’m 60 and a practicing Catholic. I pray a lot each day and yes I wondered about this “Discernment stuff” Thanks for this article because it really helps! I started dating this girl a bit more than a year ago…For me, dating has never been last relationship was 30 years ago…just a few years out of college…each day I submit myself to God’s will…In any event, this girl and I share interests that I’ve never shared with anyone before. I don’t know if we will eventually marry but I am content to know that this is in God’s hands…so I don’t worry about it!

  4. Blessing I. May 9, 2017 Reply

    Wow am thrilled to go through all your comments. You all said right but you all talked based on your country.

    Nigeria where I am from, most atimes it’s important to discern a relationship before going into it because what most guys do here is go into relationship for fun cos they hardly value that term “commitment”. Even though if it’s not for marriage one should get to know what he or she is getting into to avoid wasting your time, energy and even resources with the wrong one.

  5. Gregory-1082518 May 9, 2017 Reply

    I understand we’re at different points in life – but if I’m moving across the country, it’s gonna be for “stage 3” dating.

    • Sydney Giefer Author
      Sydney Giefer May 9, 2017 Reply

      I think that is very wise! We were blessed with the opportunity for an extended visit (over the summer before I returned to KS for my final semester) so we could continue growing together and reach that stage 🙂

  6. Declan R. May 7, 2017 Reply

    Dating for fun and having fun while dating are not the same thing. Don’t date for fun. I would never recommend this article to anyone. The only good points seemed like common sense (e.g. Don’t discern marriage with someone you haven’t dated yet). Everything else seems like it’s bound to cause problems (e.g. Putting off discernment (aka thinking about it) until you’ve been dating for awhile).

    • P M. May 9, 2017 Reply

      Declan, You know when I was in my twenties I expected things to be different myself. God knows what is good for each of us far better than we do. When you pray, submit yourself to God’s will asking that he will direct you in the ways that are best for you:)
      Each person has his or her own path! Good luck!

  7. Elizabeth-1203348 May 6, 2017 Reply

    But guys, I have a legitimate question, I’m not trying to be vain or anything, this is just me as a person and what God has perfected for my path in life. I don’t believe in ‘going through the motions’ and ‘Trial and error’, because of what God has blessed me with my whole life. According to my mother, I didn’t “pull up” and stumble and TRY to walk as an infant. I just got up and walked after a seemingly delayed amount of time. I literally skipped that step in development. I also was not potty trained. I just started using the bathroom, on my own, no accidents whatsoever, at three because I told my mother I was ready for it. I only had an accident once in my entire life, at 14, with the flu. That was literally it. I was held back in Kindergarten, but then graduated from High School “Early”. Trial and error has never been a part of my life. It’s always been “right the first time.” So I’m kind of scared. Am I doing this to myself, or is this what God wants to continue as my life? Am I approaching dating the way I am because I’m scared or because it’s been that way my entire life? I understand that there’s also a first time for everything, but I can’t shake my hunches because that’s how I came to be. I can’t help but feel like that this is going to be a “Right the first time” deal like my car and my home. I know there are other people out there that have gone through life like this, right? I just don’t think this is some kind of fear. I think each person goes through life differently and not everybody has to go through trial and error.

    • Well, consider that “the first time” doesn’t come until you both (and God) say “I do.” Consider dating for the first time not as some kind of entertainment that blows sticks around or away forever, but that is coincidental with dating for first time and may or may not remain until you decide. And which, as you will discover the longer you involve yourself, puts less pressure on making the right choice.

      You might not never make a mistake again, but they should become less frequent and less serious the more you marinate in the process of a courtship.

  8. Samantha-1255285 May 3, 2017 Reply

    Sydney! Thank you so much for your post.
    What an absolute relief! My most recent dating experience left me wondering if I am too casual and that the next person should be scrutinized closely from day one to determine marriage potential.
    I can breathe again. So greatful for your confirmation. Yes it is supposed to be relaxed fun in the beginning.

    Bless you !

  9. Simon-380492 May 3, 2017 Reply

    Brilliant article Sydney. Thank you

  10. Peg-1431148 May 3, 2017 Reply

    Excellent article especially for someone just getting back to it after 35 years. I appreciate all of the insights.

  11. Stephanie-1368834 May 3, 2017 Reply

    Thank you for this article. It renders me an insight of what Catholic ‘dating’ is and isn’t. I’m green in terms of dating; I had my first only only several months ago. Certainly dating can be fun, but I also hope that I and the guy I’m dating are honest with each other about our expectations from the get-go. That being said, it would be wise to seek God’s guidance in the dating stage.

  12. Patrick-341178 May 3, 2017 Reply

    My feeling is do whatever works for the two people involved and not over-complicate it. So many of us on this site are perpetually single because we overthink things way too early and that leads to thing not going anywhere. Give it a little while before you need to have all those serious conversations, although, don’t wait too long. Perhaps that was a lesson learned in my most recent relationship…

  13. Joel-1364361 May 2, 2017 Reply

    Very good article. Yes, we often try to determine if it is a fit or not a fit without even getting to know the real person. If we do not step outside our comfort zone and get to know people and who they really are then we might just miss the one that is meant to be. We cannot marry the dream.

  14. Darin-1415639 May 2, 2017 Reply

    Let me start by saying: Awesome article! I need to throw in that so that the rest of what I write isn’t construed to mean any less.

    And now… I’m a little reluctant to agree that the primary purpose of dating is fun.

    I can understand how someone might feel like calling the primary purpose fun, especially to people who look overly stressed, so that people relax and show generosity to each other, avoiding disruptive tension… But in reality, accurately speaking, I would say the primary purpose is more along the lines of: promotion of God through mutual giving between two members of opposite genders (including via compromise).

    Catholic dating rocks. It should help people form, very possibly frequently, sans long-term commitment. I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily discerning marriage in dating. It is probably more that in dating we are discerning WHETHER (or not) to discern marriage.

    • Tobias-1103924 May 2, 2017 Reply

      I can see “fun” as the primary purpose of dating in the sense that the primary purpose of *a* date (pronounced how Wayne says “*a* gun” in the movie “Wayne’s World) is to have fun. If the primary purpose of dating were simply to discern marriage, it probably would not involve dates as we know them. I’d say, there’s more to a relationship than dating.

      I think this is why some people insist on the term “courtship,” even thought that’s mostly a precious, loaded term.

    • Sydney Giefer May 7, 2017 Reply

      Darin! Thank you for your comment!

      Part of the orginal article was misleading and not what I (nor my spiritual director!) intended to mean. I would never (intentionally) call fun the primary purpose of dating so I understand your reluctance to do so. Thanks again!

  15. Robert-834944 May 2, 2017 Reply

    I can see the point of remembering to have fun… but I don’t think one should date just “for fun” in the sense that you’re willing to date anyone when you know they have a deal-breaker trait where nothing further is possible. When I think of dating just for fun, I imagine the idea of dating someone just because it might be fun when I know very well it would never work out from get go (usually because of different values). If I date a girl I think is cute even though I know she is vehemently against a critical Catholic value I hold dear, then what’s the point and what is my end objective? So while I don’t think one has to discern if the other person is THE future husband or future wife before dating, I don’t think all discernment should be abandoned to the point we lose sight of what the objective is. For me, I don’t need to know someone is my future wife before dating. But I need to know she is eligible and has the values I’m looking for before dating.

    Also… I agree on the issue of LDRs. I’m totally for them, but one of the risks is that it’s easier to build up a vision of that person in your head that isn’t entirely accurate. This can lead to great disappointment for both parties when they finally meet.

    • Darin-1415639 May 2, 2017 Reply

      “… I don’t think all discernment should be abandoned to the point we lose sight of what the objective is.”
      THE objective? There are many objectives, including just the plain and simple learning to communicate effectively and pleasantly toward the opposite gender. When we get rejected 9 times out of 10 by these women whom we know for fact have the right Catholic values, we’re not required to starve ourselves of any chance to meet any other dating objective, like simply being more optimistic that we’re worth something in some women’s eyes, even if we cannot comfortably marry her right away.

      “I agree on the issue of LDRs. I’m totally for them, but one of the risks is that it’s easier to build up a vision of that person in your head that isn’t entirely accurate. This can lead to great disappointment for both parties when they finally meet.”
      She’s met him, and quite honestly, this is a risk whether we communicate with someone in person or not. We cannot ever see the person’s soul, just because we see the person’s skin. Skype and other electronic methods give us LOTS of info. Sometimes in fact we learn things via electronic methods that go beyond what we learn in person.

      • Tobias-1103924 May 2, 2017 Reply

        “Sometimes in fact we learn things via electronic methods that go beyond what we learn in person.”

        Right, like their credit score . . . But seriously, I agree with Darin’s point here. Even a fore-doomed fling might prove instrumental in helping someone mature to a point where “serious” relationships are more realistic.

      • Robert-834944 May 3, 2017 Reply

        “There are many objectives, including just the plain and simple learning to communicate effectively and pleasantly toward the opposite gender.”

        I am not going to lead some woman on for the sake of learning how to “communicate effectively” if I know for a fact it will never get anywhere due to her values. At that point, I’m only using such a woman for selfish purposes. I’m not saying you have to decide if you will marry a woman before dating, but some discernment should be at play before you decide to flirt with a woman where it would obviously never work out.

        • James-1062561 May 3, 2017 Reply

          Exactly. I personally wouldn’t feel right about it, since it would just be me trying to get some experience.

        • Michele-114189 May 4, 2017 Reply

          Amen, Robert! Plus if people date so casually without any deeper discernment of the long-term, they often let the physical (even the little things like hand holding and kissing) in over and over and over with various people, until it looses much it’s meaning. I for one prefer some serious discernment before letting that kind of stuff in! The plus side is my future husband gets someone who hasn’t gotten too close with too many people 🙂

    • Judith-1100609 May 3, 2017 Reply

      I totally agree with you. Plus it is very helpful for me to hear the male side of this question/idea. Thanks for your input!!

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