Ask Mary: Dating and Discernment

Question:

Hi Mary!
I’m 16, and discerning. At the moment, I feel God wants me as a
sister, but I’m still unsure. There’s a guy I know who has expressed
his interest in me, and I feel the same way. I’ve asked several people
if it would be wrong to date if I felt drawn to the religious life.
They all said it would be perfectly okay, since dating is part of my
discernment. But I feel like dating someone just to see if I have a
vocation to marriage would be using them. No one has given me an
answer about that- would you be able to clarify? Would it be a good
idea to date in high school if I’m in no place to marry soon? I’m
really at odds with both of these questions, and I want to pray and
discern in case the guy asks me out. (Which I’m pretty sure will
happen- he’s making it really obvious he likes me). Thank you so much
for reading, and answering. I love your blog, and what God is doing
with it. Have a blessed day!

Answer:

Hi there! This is a great question!

Something that really helped me with the big discernment question as a young person was learning that the vocation to marriage isn’t discerned in a vacuum.  My theology teacher put it this way: No one is called to “marriage” in the abstract.  God calls you to a specific person!

In this way the call to marriage is similar to the call to religious life.  Religious life, as I’m sure you know, isn’t just a set of rules and disciplines by which you decide to live.  That’s only part of it.  Religious life at its core is a calling to be united to the Person of Jesus Christ here on earth in a uniquely wonderful way.

So the bad news is that unless you’re called to marry this specific guy, you probably still won’t know for certain whether you’ll be called to marriage later in life if the two of you do date and end up breaking up. But this may help you to answer your answer-less question.  I don’t think it is “using” someone if you date him or her and then later decide you’re not called to marry him or her, because all that this means is that you’re not called to that person—not that you won’t be called to marriage with someone else.

I think it’s great that you’re discerning religious life at such a young age.  Have you gone to visit any orders?  Most will offer a “come and see” day or weekend for you to get a feel for what life is like in that specific order.  It’s never a bad idea to check it out, and you’re never too young to “date” Jesus :) (but remember, not liking one order doesn’t mean you’re not called to another!).

As for dating boys right now, I won’t tell you not to date in high school (that’s your parents’ job!).  I will tell you that I wish I hadn’t.  Not because there was anything wrong with the boys I met, but for precisely what you’ve said: I was nowhere close to being ready for marriage at 16 (despite my dreams of meeting the right guy on the first try and marrying right after high school—a wonderful blessing for those who do meet their spouse young, but unfortunately becoming rarer and rarer as our culture trains us, as well as any prospective mates, to put off growing up until after college).

Realistically, I know it seems crazy to tell a 16 year old with a crush who has mutual feelings for her to “just be friends!” “It can wait!” “If he’s the right one he’ll be around in a few years!” because, honestly, I probably would’ve laughed in the face of that advice at 16.  I had the mindset of: Why wait if there’s a chance that he could be the one?  But really  I think that the better question is: Why rush into anything when there’s a chance that he’s not? 

Statistically speaking, you’re way more likely to break up than you are to get married.  And, on the slight chance that this first guy is the one, that will bring with it its own challenges.  Since marriage would be at the very least a few years off, that’s a few YEARS of struggling to preserve the chastity that single people are called to with someone you love and care for very deeply.  It would be a great struggle.

So ideally, I’d recommend you to put off dating seriously until after high school. Cultivate real friendships instead—with both sexes (but do beware of the unhealthy guy-girl “friendship”).  Hang out in group settings.  Have fun!  There is really no rush to be in a relationship.  Guard your precious and innocent heart and seek to grow in virtue.

If you do decide to date in high school, the rules are the same: guard your precious and innocent heart, and seek to grow in virtue (I recommend putting off serious relationships because these tasks can be much harder for a young person in a romantic relationship).  But there is no sin in dating, so long as you’re making good decisions (Check out my recent post on the “How Far is Too Far” question).  And if you do make a mistake, know that you are still so precious and infinitely valuable in the eyes of your Heavenly Father, and run to confession to accept the love He wants to shower upon you.

I gave you my opinion and my reasons for it.  It’s up to your own prudential judgment to decide what God is asking of you here.  I do know that He loves you very much, and desires your happiness above all else.  Spend time daily in prayer.  Ask Him where to go, and trust in where He leads you.

I will be praying for you!  God Bless!

mary-sig