I’ve heard more often than not that the dating culture at Notre Dame, or “Notre Dating”, is unusual. I disagree though, I think the dating culture is strange in our generation, that this is a not a problem isolated to Notre Dame. The fact that we have single sex dorms, that many students identify as Catholic, or at least religious, and that we have an entire department related to gender relations may give the perception that our culture is atypical, but I’d like to offer a different conclusion: that our entire generation has lost its understanding of what it means to date.
Growing up in society today, young men and women are taught that we must go to the best college possible, focus on our careers, be leaders within our clubs or dorms and everything in between. Peer pressure teaches us that we must look like we are having a great time on the weekend, that we have to be up to date on the latest music, TV shows, celebrity scandals and make sure we have at least a couple of Instagram and SnapChat -able moments throughout the week. Young women have the added pressure of being up to date on the latest fashion trends and young men must finish the newest X-box or PlayStation game and know every possible fact about sports. Oh yea, and don’t forget about classes, you need to get straight A’s. All of this adds up to a lot of pressure, little time for sleep and even less time for relationships; it’s no wonder that we no longer know how to date, we don’t have time for it!
This mountain of pressure and stress, however, does not have the power to overtake our natural desire to love and to be loved. Instead, the pressure allows this desire to manifest itself in a way that is entirely unhealthy. Our generation has managed to replace traditional dating with hook-ups and one night stands. We have been trained to not get attached, check our emotions at the door and allow our physical desires to rule. In some ways, I would argue that we are not responsible for this mindset. We have grown up in a culture in which half of all marriages end up in divorce, we are constantly bombarded with messages from the media that relationships ought to be casual and that we are not worthy of love until we have attained bodily perfection. Yet it is childish to suggest that we are not responsible for our own actions.
In many ways you can argue that this atypical dating culture is because so many of us have grown up in broken homes or witnessed friends struggle with their family. While I think there is a prevalent misunderstanding of marriage that attributes to this culture, I also think there is a prevalent misunderstanding of dating and the goals of dating. What does it mean to date? At what point are we ready to date? And what does dating entail?
These are questions that I’ve heard professors speak about, that I’ve had discussions with friends about and that I’ve struggled to understand myself. To me, dating must have a goal, without which it loses its purpose. The goal of dating seems obvious in my mind, to find the person you are going to marry. But does this mean you have to be ready to get married before you start dating someone? I don’t think so. Marriage is the complete union of two people, it is not something that you can prepare for by yourself and so it makes no sense that you would be ready for marriage before you find someone to marry. I do think, however, that you have to be open to the possibility of marriage in the next few years before you start dating. I’ve heard a professor tell students that dating can only end two ways: in heart break or in marriage. Following this logic, we ought to be mature enough to consider the idea of marriage, otherwise we are simply on a self-destructive path. This goal, this understanding of why we want to date, seems so lost in college life today. I have heard many people say that they want a significant other and yet it seems like we don’t consider what this commitment may entail, and whether we are even ready for commitment. While there is no perfect answer, it is certainly something worth considering and taking an introspective look at, as well as a conversation worth having with friends and family, or someone you are considering dating.
This Wednesday night, Campus Ministry’s event Theology on Tap provides the perfect atmosphere to have this discussion in a relaxed atmosphere with friends and classmates. Join Bree Haler at 8pm at Legends as she discusses the two different extremes of trends in today’s romantic relationships. (All ages welcome).