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Dr Philippa Martyr: Be careful who you date – and why

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Getting to heaven – not marriage – is the goal of Christian living, says Philippa Martyr, so start by seeking the Kingdom first. PHOTO: 123RF

Not so quick on dating advice

A Catholic Weekly contributor begs to differ with her Catholic sister Jo Hayes – in some things – on dating and relationships

A trifecta of Public Service Announcements to my younger Catholic sister Jo Hayes and all other Catholic single women in their 30s.

1. Do not live your 30s as though it’s a race to the altar.
2. Learn to stop dating eventually.
3. Buy real estate now and be careful who you share it with.

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You’re welcome. Yes, this also isn’t typical Catholic dating advice, but it should be. As someone who’s got a good 20 years on Jo, and who has never married, I thought I’d weigh in.

I agree about chilling out in the dating game when you’re younger. But you’ll also need to do it in your 30s. Especially if you’re a woman. That biological clock thing? That’s real. And in your late 30s, you can go slightly bonkers and marry Mr Wrong out of desperation, only to repent at leisure.

Having listened to my own older sisters in Christ who married later in life, they assure me: it’s hard to live with another person after you’ve enjoyed your freedom. Your spouse has also enjoyed his freedom. Think about that for a bit.

And my long-time married older sisters in Christ have also let me in on other secrets, like, “Marriage can get much harder as you get older,” “Nothing prepares you for teenagers,” and “My husband and I no longer talk to each other.”

It can get much harder to keep your faith as you get older and remain single.

I suppose if you’ve always lived a life of purity and modesty, with wisdom and Godly living, it might not be quite so hard.

But for those of us who haven’t, the long walk back to chaste celibacy is – all by itself – a real gift from God, and a sacrifice of praise.

Most of those Catholics who make that long walk back are still hoping to get married.
Dating for them is going to be a real trial.

It’s a tentative and delicate process of finding out just how damaged your date is by the sexual revolution, and of letting him – in time, if appropriate, and if it looks like he’s serious – know how damaged you are.

I’m not sure that everyone can prayerfully discern a vocation by the time they’re 30, and then relax and enjoy yourself. God may have a different timetable for you.

I and a whole bunch of other Catholic people I know certainly didn’t discern any vocation to be single. Some of us wanted to marry but never met the right person.

Some of us can’t get married easily because of physical or mental disability, or because we’re caring for people with disabilities.

Some of us are same-sex attracted, but we’ve chosen God over the lifestyle.
Some of us are broke and still living with our parents because we went through terrible stuff that almost cost us our lives.

But all of us are still in church, and we still love God. And all of us have learned the hard way to say, “Fiat Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word”.

So, to the above PSAs:

1. Do not live your 30s as though it’s a race to the altar

Oh, the number of women I have witnessed do this because they’ve realised that the existing pool of halfway decent practising Catholic blokes is shrinking fast.

And the number of women I have witnessed make poor choices in dating/men/marriage, to be married before the big FOUR-OH.

Yes, God may be calling you to be CEO of an African elephant charity before you get married.

But this presupposes that marriage is a sort of magical finishing line for Catholic life: you fall across it, exhausted but triumphant.

Yes, you can get married later in life and still have children. But single case studies based on family fertility surprises are not the most reliable guide for everyone else. And if you or your spouse have made the long walk back from a life that included sexually transmitted infections, it may be harder still.

Yes, you can get married later in life and still have children. But single case studies based on family fertility surprises are not the most reliable guide for everyone else. Photo: 123RF

But I can also assure you that the biological clock switches off from around your early 40s.
And then the most amazing thing happens to both married and single women: it’s like waking up from a long sleep.

The mummy-brain powers down. It feels weird, but it’s also thrilling to discover what version of you might be waiting in the wings, ready to erupt on the stage of life.

Like Jo, I’m incredibly grateful to God that I’ve been able to do all the things I’ve done in life, even though I have never married or had children. I have yet to fulfil my childhood dream of being an astronaut, but I can probably let that one go.

2. Learn to stop dating eventually

I realised one day that I had to stop dating. Yes, I learned things about myself – but I also learned some super-scary things about the rest of humanity.

One thing I learned was that you need good people around you who can identify red flags and teach you about them. Or at least direct you to websites that can help you.

One tip I must pass on is that you may meet a super-Catholic guy in his 30s who is unmarried and has all the qualities you want. It’s thrilling to think that he must be called to the altar, just like you.

And he is! Be sure to get him something nice when you attend his ordination six years later.

An increasing number of your older suitors will be divorced, with or without annulments. These men can be great – but they may be carrying deep wounds from their first marriage.

They may be better established in their careers – but they’re also more likely to be renting and paying child support.

Your date may also be very wary of the whole wooing thing. He did that with his first wife and look how that turned out. And as for deeper and more stimulating conversations:

bonus points if he likes conspiracy theories and is very angry at the Family Court. I have learned to replace dating with friendships. It’s not always easy to be friends with a man. With time, respect, courtesy, and very clear communication, it’s manageable.

Most men don’t want this with a woman, so I only have a few single male friends who I’d be comfortable spending time with, one on one. Instead, I’ve learned to socialise in groups, and with families.

And I have also learned the true value of friendships with women – married and single, older and younger. Younger women tend to discard or lose friendships with other women when they marry, but you are going to need them desperately later on.

3. Buy real estate now and be careful who you share it with

There’s nothing like having a roof over your head that you (or the bank) own to give a single woman in her 30s confidence and security.

Buy that home. Even if it’s a tiny one-bedroom flat somewhere – if that’s what you can afford, buy it. Your future husband may have frittered away his cash on global travel in his 20s and is now hoping to marry a woman with her own place.

He may also have been struggling along in a series of low-paying jobs and paying massive rents in an expensive city, leaving him with net savings of around a thousand dollars. And he needs that to pay for his car repairs.

If you can get yourself a place, even if you’re renting, share it with another Catholic lady. Flatmates are among the best preparation for marriage a Catholic woman can ask for.

You’ll be living daily with someone inconsiderate and annoying, who you don’t have any romantic feelings for, and who always leaves their shoes in the entryway where you can trip over them. But don’t share it with a man (for obvious reasons). Also, don’t share it with a flake – someone who won’t pay the rent, steals your stuff, and brings unusual friends of their own into your house when you’re not there.

God simply isn’t that cruel – to ‘destine’ you for someone and then hide them from you. Or worse, you meet them, and you don’t like them at all, let alone love them.

I am increasingly less convinced that anyone is really ‘destined to get married’. Lots of lifelong single people have felt ‘destined to get married’, and it’s never happened. This blows a fairly big hole in this theory.

God simply isn’t that cruel – to ‘destine’ you for someone and then hide them from you. Or worse, you meet them, and you don’t like them at all, let alone love them.

But I increasingly believe (and St Paul confirms) that God allows us a great deal of latitude and free will as to whether we marry or not, and whom we marry. This free will is very precious and shouldn’t be abused by people who tell you that you could have gotten married if you’d only [fill in the unflattering blanks].

I always wanted to be married. Most human beings – including nuns, priests, and religious – also want this on some level, and think about it from time to time. It’s written deeply in all of us.

But this is not necessarily a sign of a ‘call’ to marriage, or an IOU from God. No one is owed a spouse by God. No one is owed anything by God.

Marriage is not the goal of Christian living. Getting to Heaven is the goal of Christian living. But I think both Jo Hayes and I would agree that the main thing is to seek the Kingdom first, and you’ll get all the other stuff as you go along.

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