The Restoration I: Dating

This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of The Four Marks in the regular column "The Restoration." "The Restoration" is a monthly column dedicated to restoring Christian ideals in our modern culture. To learn more about the newspaper, or to subscribe, please click here.
Throughout the years when I’ve talked to clergy and laymen about how different the Church was prior to Vatican II, somewhere in the conversation I’ve reached a moment where I would be transported back to the described situation: a packed to the gills church on a Sunday – the Traditional Mass a norm – people voting and living as Catholics.
However, when it comes to dating in the Post Vatican II era, I am often the adult explaining to my older friends and family that this isn’t my grandma’s, or even my mother’s, courtship anymore.
Things are radically different. Yes, there are no longer packed Sunday churches – a prime spot to find a future spouse. Churches are much smaller, and filled with an interesting array of mismatched puzzle pieces – people like myself who came over from the Novus Ordo and are considered “staunch” because we’ve been on the other side and won’t have anything to do with the New Religion and its works and pomps; people who have been raised their entire lives in the Traditional Mass, who are sometimes lax and often incapable of grasping just how deep the problem is outside of their chapels; and all sorts of people in between. Yet one unifying sentiment that runs through all of these single people is – I want someone who satisfies x, y, and z, among other things, on “my list.”
After a decade of dating, I’ve come to realize that the dating situation is a lot like our priestly situation. Bishop Dolan recently told me in an interview: “If this were ordinary times, I wouldn’t be a bishop. I have no illusions about that.” He has grasped that because we are in extraordinary times, he doesn’t get to do what he would have wanted to do, which is be a simple parish priest – or even earlier – a simple Cistercian monk.
I would exhort my fellow single Trads – from 18 to 40 – in the same way. These aren’t normal times – you can’t have your knights in shining armor or your courtly ladies of times past. Now, I’m not one to advocate, as some imprudent people do, that if you are a man and you find a Catholic woman who will marry you, that that is all you need for a successful marriage. I am just reiterating that the “unconditional surrender” attitude regarding finding a spouse which many of us have been infected with vis-à-vis the modern world is simply NOT a Catholic attitude. It wouldn’t be a Catholic attitude even in the packed parishes of the 1920s or earlier.
To seek perfection (at least in your own notions) in a future spouse is to misunderstand the very basic point of marriage. Marriage is not about “compatibility” or about “being fulfilled” or “finding your soulmate.” These are all great things, and extremely attractive, and totally unavoidable to anyone who walks around our world today. It is supremely ironic that the world that peddles such “requirements” for marriage is so unsuccessful in marriage. Is its advice really what we want to take?
So, instead of referring to the simplistic and insipid lists that most of us write out, like “good looking, sense of humor, blah blah” (incidentally, has anyone ever wondered about how silly it is to put “sense of humor” on your list? What, like there is anyone who doesn’t want someone with a sense of humor?), let us re-examine our lists by looking at the endgame first. Here is what Pope Pius XI listed as the fruits of matrimony:
2. In order, however, that amongst men of every nation and every age the desired fruits may be obtained from this renewal of matrimony, it is necessary, first of all, that men's minds be illuminated with the true doctrine of Christ regarding it; and secondly, that Christian spouses, the weakness of their wills strengthened by the internal grace of God, shape all their ways of thinking and of acting in conformity with that pure law of Christ so as to obtain true peace and happiness for themselves and for their families.
(Casti Connubii, PP 2)

Marriage is really much simpler than we moderns make it. If the fruits of marriage are what are listed here by Pope Pius XI, then what is considered normative is to find someone of the Catholic Faith. That’s requirement #1.

Secondly, is there a mutual attraction? This is much more basic for men than it is for women. Some younger Trads have not yet figured out that men love directly and immediately, and that women love indirectly and holistically, but that’s for another article. Suffice to say, there must be, at base, a mutual physical attraction. Requirement #2.
Finally, do both of you know and love your Faith and desire to give that knowledge and love to your future children? Requirement #3.
If those Three Requirements are fulfilled, my friends, I really think you have what is necessary for a successful marriage, with the grace of God. In the Western world we seem to have a bias towards a sort of romantic sentimentality regarding love before marriage. Archbishop Djajasepoetra of Jakarta, a Council Father, objected to the new notions of marriage promoted in Gaudium et Spes:
The schema is too Occidental…You in the West find it quite natural for those in love to marry. But you are the exceptions if humanity as a whole is considered. Our people love one another because they are married, which is not quite the same thing. We differ from Westerners in that our marriages are contracted not out of love but by the will of parents or tribe. We marry to continue the race.”
Now, I’m not saying we should dump our Western culture – but in the shipwreck of today, don’t our attitudes demand re-examination? Perfection is in heaven, not here on earth. If you are looking for perfection in your future spouse I assure you that most of you will either be disappointed in the person you marry, or as is the fate of many “uncompromising” Trads these days – marry very late or not at all.
I started this article with an analogy to the clergy – those who are called to the most important vocation. I will end with an analogy to them. Bp. Dolan said that because of the times, he is a bishop. God asked of him something that would not have been asked of him in normal times. So too I exhort my fellow single Trads. Perhaps in another time you could have had everything you wanted on your list – if that were even possible and if that were even the Catholic thing to do – but in this time God needs clergy and God needs Catholic families – not your selfishness, stubbornness, and complacency with your single lifestyle. I, too, stand guilty of these charges, at (many) times.
So get on with it already.
How to meet? Through informal social networks – I propose that 5 or 10 or 20 married women form an informal private facebook or Ning or email group in order to facilitate matchmaking. Single people could send in a simple one page profile about themselves and this group could act like an executive board and help arrange for introductions. Again, you wouldn’t be responsible for making people get married, only for making an introduction. It seems that our good-hearted Catholic men are shy and could use a hand up so that they can perhaps discover this inactive part of their manhood. If you are sincerely interested in helping with this, are internet-capable, and can work within the framework I’ve listed above, please email me.
This is in addition to facebook, occasional youth gatherings, and our ordinary parish life (an option unavailable to many eligible single Trads).
In all this, the most powerful weapon we have is prayer. Be persistent and ask Our Lord to reveal His Will to you – and perhaps your future spouse too.
St. Raphael, pray for us.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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18 Responses

  1. Cowardly article. Then again it is a blog. I’ll wager that you will never get married unless you find a desperate woman.

  2. No. Cowardly is signing a comment without a name so that you don’t have to be accountable for a conversation. Grow up.

  3. What come on you have to be strong if you find love!

  4. Le Chouan says:

    Mr. Heiner,

    I’m inclined to agree, both with your article and with your response to this ‘Black Fox’. I’ve come to many of the same conclusions. Incidentally, may I save a copy of this?

    Yours faithfully in Christ the King and Mary our Queen,
    Daniel Gillman
    ‘Le Chouan’

  5. Never have so few have had so much to say about so little to so few. ~ Winston Churchill on Blogging

    I’d never seen this, as I do not waste my time with blogs, except it was brought to my attention by a friend who was abhorred, rightfully, by it.

    Your ad hominem attack is of interest, and I hope you continue them on into your very gray and lonely years ahead. They clearly will ensure a widening circle of friends.

    So tell me, did you approve my comment before or after you conceived a witty response which totally shut me up?

    I’m not going to delve into your article, I am ashamed already I gave you enough notice to comment in the first place. I’m embarrassed to think that you are, if you are, a member of my sex.

    Ironically, my friend told me today you had posted and replied to my comment, and I accurately predicted you’d have pompously told me off in whatever your response might be. I see that you have not failed to disappoint.

    See here, however, I will give you something to expound on instead of engaging me in a who needs to grow up more debate. I used to feel similar to what you are saying here. Yet, that was when I was in college before I actually did grow up and see that the solution here is not to tell the opposite sex they are in error, but to be a knight in shining armor, something that came naturally when I focused on progressing and not sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

    Naturally, I don’t mean you should run around in a cape and felt boots and bow down on one knee whenever you pick up a date, but I have not met a mature woman yet who does not appreciate and realize how different and traditionally normal you are if you are just that. Quite simply, be a considerate gentleman, with good habits. That is all any woman today is looking for, the only fact is that society generally has few such specimens, so those lacking, women often settle for less. Women not willing to settle and sell themselves short and date you are holding out for responsible and kind-hearted men like me. Hence while I’m yet young and not married, I have the honor and privilege of taking many a fine young woman to the symphony or a nice restaurant for dinner, or perhaps even a simple yet lovely country drive in my BMW 7 Series. I have, yes, have had girls approach me and ask me to take them out because I am known to be a good and pleasant date.

    I do not at all hold the opinions you do, thankfully, and I lead a happy, progressive but very Catholic life for it.

    Frankly, you shall know me as no more than The Black Fox, as many of my friends know me by this anyway. Unlike you, I have no desire to paste my name all over the internet, much less associated with you or your article. Cowardly? No. Cautious? Yes.

    Tell me, in all honesty, how many young attractive single women you think would read your article and agree with it? Or who, upon hearing you thus lecture on a first date, would wish for a second? Riddle me that, if you will.

    I posit you are inept and are calling for women to lower their expectations and accept you, instead of rising to the ideal. If that is how you want to go about life, having the standard lowered to your level… well that is your business. Personally, I want to see the standard then raise it double.

    Being a gentleman is key. And quite simple. And easily successful. I don’t even employ it as a strategy, because I too, adhere to an ideal. Crazy, huh? But it is worth it. I am not handsome, nor fit, nor I believe attractive in any way. However, I can be good company and polite, or at least I try. It seems to be likeable. Give it a shot.

    Be dashing. Chivalry is not dead, just uncoded.

  6. Dear Sir

    You managed to completely misread my article.

    As to the first point, it didn’t take much to respond to your first comment on here, because you didn’t really say much. Satis there.

    As for women who responded, all I’m sure who hate themselves and thought my article was a call for women to settle, said things like:
    Impressive. There are a couple of points I’d be interested in exploring further and maybe even challenging you on, but I think you did a decent job of striking a balance. Talking about that topic is never easy, because none of us can ever really step away from the POV our gender provides us or step totally into the POV of the other gender. And, no, gender is not the only factor in the topic, but it is a factor. And, um, this may be the longest wall post I’ve ever written. 🙂 LOL!
    That was written by a cowardly, “gonna settle for an non-gentleman” girl who I obviously cowed, right?

    Here’s another:
    99% good Stephen! From both married and singles. The “we don’t marry because we love, we love because we are married” quote no one agrees with that I know, understandably. A rarity and not something which I would enter into. 🙂 I still like my idea 🙂 – “Dinner for 8”. 🙂
    Again, obviously this is a woman who is a spineless jellyfish, who I manipulated into thinking this?

    From a married woman, lest you think I just write about single women:
    Read your article in the FM about dating; pretty good. Though I would argue that though as you say compatibility, finding your soul mate are not requirements to marriage, that they would fall under your requirement of #1 and 2 to be a practical Catholic & find a practical Catholic. As well I would add them as requirement #4 in the sense to increase happiness in marriage.

    Sure, they are not "required" for marriage, but to have them, they make a good marriage and to not have them.. they tend to be those wedges that drive a couple apart. I am speaking from experience of course.

    What are common causes of incompatibility? Different socio economic background, different culture, different likes and dislikes, different interests in lifestyle, problems with in laws. All the Catholic marriage manuals I ever read the priests always encouraged that for a happy marriage, aside from the top 3 requirements you gave to strive to find a like minded compatible spouse.
    One more single woman:
    Stephen, your article is spot on. Bishop Dolan is absolutely right when he says that we are in extraordinary times. For those who seeking marriage, helping each other strive for heaven in ALL adversity and working together to raise Saints for Christ’s Church is the #1 priority.
    Your idea of women forming a match making group is an excellent idea for many of us ladies are not wanting to be in any way perceived as feminists in contacting the gentlemen first and the gentlemen might be a bit shy as well.
    I would be interesting in helping introduce people and being a match maker from time to time if there are other singles who would like to collaborate.
    To say nothing of the fact of your totally irrelevant comment about blogs seeing as this was simply a reproduction of a published article in a newspaper whose editor is a WOMAN.

    I don’t know what article you read, but it wasn’t mine.

    My key point was that there are numerous trads out there who are unmarried because they are perhaps too worried about the unimportant things.

    Here are two key questions for you, let’s see if you can answer them:

    1. Which of my three requirements do you find unacceptable? The one about being Catholic, the one about being attracted to each other, or the one about wanting to raise a Catholic family?

    2. What standards did I ask people to abandon? I said that people have this emotional notion of a “knight in shining armor.” I didn’t say gentlemen should not be gentlemen. I said, let’s abandon emotional expectations and get back to what people have been doing for thousands of years before compatibility tests, eharmony, Cosmo, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and whatever else the world foists on us.

    Excuse me if I find it difficult to believe that 4 women, all living in different parts of America, and one living in Australia, didn’t find my article quite so fecal as you did, and hence made up those quotes to make me feel good.

    While I respect your wishes for caution, I don’t really share your fear of being attacked either in person or on the internet by someone who disagrees with me, nor do I care if people know what I think. That’s what happens when you’re a published author. People find out what you think one way or the other. Might as well be on my terms.

    I’ve never resorted to the ad hominem attack you started with in the very first line of our internet acquaintance. If you are the model for Catholic civility and gentility, no wonder we are in such a mess.

    Good night, and good luck.

    PS I don’t need a 7 Series to go on a date, nor am I insecure enough to have to advertise that to someone who I don’t even know.

  7. I disagree with point 2. Putting so much importance on physical attraction is a foolish and dangerous thing to do. Physical attraction will grow with respect and affection. I’m sure we’ve all realized that homely people are beautiful when one realizes their inner beauty. On the other hand, the most gorgeous man in the world will seem repugnant if a woman does not respect him. If a woman cannot respect her husband, a good marriage is impossible, because they will not reflect the important head-heart relationship instructed by St. Paul.

    It would be much better advice to say that Catholics should find someone they can admire for many truly good qualities. A woman will be miserable in marriage if she cannot respect her husband, and a man will be miserable in marriage if he cannot respect his wife. The certainty that one is married to a good man or a good woman, though, will endure and grow through many difficult times, unlike pure physical attraction, which can fade in an instant.

    I’ve known many good Catholic couples who have gotten married, and not a single one of those wives would say that her husband was not her knight in shining armor. The men to whom they referred were usually not particularly extraordinary, but a knight in shining armor doesn’t have to be extraordinary, at least to an outsider’s point of view. Rather, these men are polite, prudent, self-controlled, and worked hard to put their wives first. These apparently ordinary requirements are what makes women see these men as extraordinary.

    Though I have never noticed a dirth of marriages in traditional Catholic circles, even if there were I would not encourage women to lower their good standards. Even in the most difficult times, people should never marry someone they could never be friends with and respect.

  8. Emily

    I don’t disagree with you that we shouldn’t place so much emphasis on physical attraction. But, truly, I said in the article that there must be *some* physical attraction. I alluded to this in the piece but women think about this issue very differently and perhaps I might address that in a follow up piece.

    I ask you the same question as the unnamed Black Fox character, where did I imply in my article that a woman NOT look to a husband as a knight in shining armor? My point was that certain sorts of unrealistic expectations furthered by the world lead us to emotionally tie on to “lists” that have superfluous things on them.

    Do you *truly* believe I am advocating for marriages where men treat women with disrespect, or women don’t respect their husbands, or women don’t love their husbands and see them as their “knight in shining armor”? This wasn’t an article addressing behavior among married couples, this was written to singles who have unrealistic, unattainable expectations which *the world*, not Christ, has foisted upon them. The qualities you allude to are not unreasonable. Hence we don’t disagree.

    I was trying to make the point that sometimes, less is more. Some people did not get that point.

    My parents have been happily married for 33 years and they thought my article was “back to basics” which is what I was shooting for.

  9. I was just able to read the article and all the posts.

    First of all, Black Fox never said at first what he found wrong in the article; and it truly was uncharitable for him to say that Stephen will never be married unless he is desperate.

    Second, I am the married woman that Stephen quotes in one of his comment posts.

    I will add after reading everything that I agree with Black Fox and Stephen both. I agree with Black Fox that women do want a Knight in Shining Armor and I agree with Stephen's comments in his articles but don't see how his requirments don't have to include that indirectly.

    A true Catholic would be a Knight in Shining Armor. He would be willing to go to his death for his bride and his faith! So, if he has requirement number one of being a Catholic; that would include being a practical Catholic ie.. being one who follows their Faith.

    I do remember Stephen's little jab about Darcy.

    I remember thinking that courtship usually does involve a little romance unless it is an arranged marriage.

    I will leave this quote here from a priest about Chastity that is fitting if we want to think about what is necessary for marriage aside from Stephen's points:

    This priest points out that attraction and romance are a part of courtship that leads to marriage.

    from CHASTITY, A Guide for Teens & Young Adults by Gerald Kelly, S.J.

    "We always encourage reserve in kissing and embracing and that is a good thing, even for engaged people; but the lack of the inclination would be a bad sign from the point of view of marriage.

    And finally, do you feel a growing tendency to a oneness of life; do you want to take complete possession of the beloved and give yourself completely? If these inclinations are present, then the necessary element of sex attraction is present, and all that is needed is to keep this attraction of your heart from running away with your head. But if the love of the head is also present, and you are both old enough, and other circumstances of time and place and finance are favorable, then, as the old saying goes- let the wedding bells ring out."

    (Earlier of course he talks about the other necessary conditions that Stephen addresses in his article.)

  10. Hi Stephen,

    I found your article very interesting and thought-provoking. I definitely agree with your point that we shouldn’t approach courtship and dating with a “checklist” mentality that objectifies the other person. You are right that the idea of a list over-simplifies the complexity that is another person, made in the image and likeness of God.

    Indeed, all the more will it not work to approach another person with a barebones checklist in one’s mind (Catholic? Check! Handsome? Check! Love of Faith and desire to raise Catholic children? Check!)–there is simply too much to the totality of the person to reduce him or her even to these essential traits.

    Nor is it fair to condemn as selfish those who, in God’s mysterious plan, may simply not have found the right person yet. If it’s a romantic notion to think that God has created a “soulmate” or another person tailor-made to be compatible with you, it’s just as romantic to believe that you yourself have been made by Him as a special and unique creation. His omnipotence and love is equally capable of both.

    Perhaps one of the reasons for the strong response to your article as a call for women to “settle” is that, amazingly, with all their intuitive knowledge of the other person, women are more likely to do just that. The pressure to find a spouse is felt much more by those who are all too aware of the proverbial biological clock ticking in their ears–and the youth-obsessed culture doesn’t help us much here either! Young Catholic ladies need to be told to wait patiently and prayerfully for their knight in shining armor. I’d be interested to know what exactly you mean by “unrealistic, unattainable expectations” in this regard.

    Moreover, though Denise Michelle has given a charitable and wide interpretation to your requirement #1, actually in none of your requirements do you say that the parties should be mature, that they should be able and willing to practice sacrificial love, or that they treat the other sex with respect. I have known several men who, though lacking these qualities could fall under the #1 and #3 categories.

    In the end, though, the struggle to find a spouse in today’s difficult and insidious culture, doesn’t reduce to any list of qualities. Sometimes a reminder of the most important things, such as those mentioned in your article, is very useful. Nevertheless, as you point out in your closing, overarching trust in God and persistent prayer must prove the ultimate grounding for one’s search. God bless.

  11. I read the first 3 paragraphs of this article.

    My response is only three words:

    God will provide.

    Therefore, let not the pious devotion of the faithful neglect what the wise foresight of our predecessors has transmitted to our age; what God has given man as an inheritance, let man strive and work with all eagerness to attain. When this has been attained, let no one glorify himself, as if it were received of himself and not Another, but let him humbly render thanks to God, from Whom and through Whom all things are, and without Whom nothing is. Nor let him conceal what has been given in the cloak of envy, or hide it in the closet of a grasping heart. But, repelling all vain-glory, let him with a joyful heart and with simplicity dispense to all who seek, in fear of the Gospel judgment on that merchant who failed to restore to his master his talent with added interest, and, deprived of all regard, merited the censure from his master's lips of being a wicked servant. For, as it is wicked and detestable for man in any man to strive after, or take by theft, what is forbidden or not intended for him, so, to fail to strive after what is rightfully his and an inheritance from God the Father, or to hold it in contempt, must be put down to laziness and foolishness.

  12. Annie says:

    I found this article to be true, humble, and refreshing. And, as a woman, Mr. Fox, I can tell you that putting other men down is not attractive at all. Nor is bragging about one's car.

    Also, in addition to those listed in the article, if you pray to do God's will, I believe you can trust that on your wedding day you are choosing a mate that God intends, and with whom you can be happy.

    well done, as usual, Stephen.

  13. Catherine says:

    Late to the party, and more so because my first comment got deleted while creating a google account. Well, it's never too late to say….

    "Tell me, in all honesty, how many young attractive single women you think would read your article and agree with it? Or who, upon hearing you thus lecture on a first date, would wish for a second? Riddle me that, if you will."

    You, sir, are an ass. (giggle)
    And Stephen is one of the most brilliant, courageous, and amazing men of our day.

    A Young Attractive Woman Who Thinks Youre a Big Stupid Idiot and That Stephen Is Amazing and That This Is Worth Mentioning Even Though you Will Never Read This
    : )

  14. Dear Catherine

    How do you distinguish between "Stephen" and "the author" of this piece?

  15. Catherine says:

    I suppose you refer to the fact I quoted "The Black Fox" without, erhem, actually quoting him, I notice?
    My quote was from his previous post and all my "you"s are directed at him. He is the one spoken to, you are the one spoken of. Which is why I said "you" will never read this, meaning him.

    I hope I interpreted your question correctly.

    Or do you mean how do I personally distinguish between them, as in one is an ass and one is not? Lol.

  16. Catherine

    I better understand you now. Thank you for your kindly defense 🙂

    Are you a Catherine who is a FB friend of mine, or another Catherine in the Traddy universe? 🙂


  17. Catherine says:

    I recently deleted my facebook account, but we were friends. I didn't discover your blogs and various works and writings until a little while ago, even though we met more than a few years ago in Cincinnati. I didnt know you were such a celebrity at the time, I should have gotten your autograph! However, being 18, I guess I didnt really know much of anything. : )
    Catherine Galvin