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“Ask a Priest: What If My Best Dates Have Been With Non-Christians?”
Q: I’m a convert in her early 20s. I joined the Church out of a desire to obey God, to serve him and demonstrate my love for him. I know I am called to a married life. You see, most women dream of a man who sweeps them off their feet and romances them in every way possible. I dream of being patient, supportive, tender to my husband, providing him with a home to rest in and to be his helpmate in every area of life that I can. I dream of building a Godly home where our children are taught about faith and truth and raised to attend church and believe in God and the sacraments. But I struggle so much. I recently started going on dates. My problem is this: I go on a first date, and then I never see the guy again. What’s worse, the Catholic/Christian guys I’ve dated have been TERRIBLE. First, there was a gay man trying to use me to convince other people he was straight, then one guy repeatedly stood me up and blamed me for it. Another guy sold drugs and lied about it, another guy had a porn-and-dishonesty problem, another guy couldn’t use appropriate language or talk about appropriate topics with me, ever. And in general, they tend to act as if I’m not something or someone to be cherished at all — let alone a sister in Christ or a fellow person made in the image of God. Christian guys don’t even act like they want to pursue me at all. A few guys have been remotely decent, but their faith isn’t very solid. Or while they’re devout about acting Catholic, for them Mass is just something you do, not something that has significance or real meaning. Moreover, for various health reasons my biological clock is ticking away twice as fast as anyone else’s. So I moved home and joined the largest parish in my area. The Theology on Tap group for the city has six unmarried women and 10 married couples. I’m the only 20-something practicing Catholic attending my parish. So I can’t meet good men through Church. I started online dating, and I was introduced to a number of good young Christian men — all with the above terrible results. Then I got involved with an atheist. He was wonderful. He asked me questions, he put a sincere effort into getting to know me — truly to get to know me — and on our date, he was a perfect gentleman. Add to that the excellent conversation, and the date was amazing, easily the best I’d ever had in my life. He and I didn’t last long. But a week ago I went out with a Muslim man I met through mutual friends … and he topped the experience. He was better than the atheist, and by extension, he was better than all the Christian/Catholic guys I’ve ever dated. Now I’m in between a rock and a hard place. I probably shouldn’t have gone out with either of these young men, but to be fair, I don’t really believe I deserve to be treated the way pretty much every other Christian guy has treated me. It’s appalling to me that the young men who have treated me the best aren’t Christians at all. The Muslim man wants to see me again. He’s really very nice and decent, but I know I can’t keep seeing him. I’ve created quite a bit of a mess with this. I’m just a bit frustrated and have many questions. Why don’t Christian men treat me with the respect and dignity they know they ought? Why do non-Christians treat me so much better? Do I need to settle for someone who doesn’t treat me well to have a God-honoring relationship and eventually a marriage? Or did God give me desires and dreams, but there’s no intent for him to ever fulfill them? -S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I am deeply sorry to hear about your plight and your inability to find a man with whom you can share your faith and your life’s aspirations. Your situation, unfortunately, is not uncommon today. Character seems in short supply. So where does this leave you?
I won’t pretend to offer any easy answers – and certainly there are no guarantees in the area of romance and marriage. That said, perhaps a few observations could help you keep things in perspective.
First, you were made for a perfect love. That is the good news. The sobering news is that none of us will find a perfect love in this world. We would find it only in heaven. There is only one perfect Man for you, and that is Jesus. In him God gives you ultimately the fulfillment of your desires. So the key thing would be to cultivate that most important relationship. That is something within your grasp. Make time for prayer and the sacraments. Get to know Jesus in the Gospels and the Eucharist. This will help even if you find someone with whom you want to enter marriage.
Second, it is sad to hear that some of your worst encounters have been with ostensibly Catholic/Christian men. That can be the downside of online dating services. It might be good to pursue the alternative, that is, to screen men through networks of acquaintances and friends. This is where it helps to get involved in volunteer work – perhaps helping out in the pro-life cause or visiting shut-ins. This might put you in touch with people with a genuine faith and apostolic zeal who in turn might put you in touch with like-minded folks.
Third, notwithstanding the pleasantness of the non-Christians you have met, there is a built-in risk. The Church in its wisdom doesn’t encourage marriages between Catholic and non-Christians. Experience has shown that there are lots of deep-seated differences that can make for rocky unions. Think about it: If Jesus really is the most important person in your life, won’t it become a more and more unbearable burden if you can’t share that faith with your spouse? Wouldn’t you want to be able to share the deepest part of your soul with your spouse? The Catechism dedicates some passages to addressing this issue. Here I will quote some of them:
No. 1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.
1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise. […]
1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband.” It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this “consecration” should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion. [end quoted material]
Although the Church would hope for the conversion of a non-baptized spouse, this has proven to be especially difficult in marriages involving Muslims. So you would want to proceed with great prudence and realism in your current relationship.
To return to that earlier question: Where does all this leave you? Well, stay focused on your relation with Jesus. As long as that relation is OK, everything else works out one way or another. Putting Christ first will also help you evaluate the other relations that come along. A husband who would try to dissuade you from following Christ wouldn’t be much of a husband.
Getting involved in charitable work will help you use your energy for good things. There is no need to put life on hold while you are looking for a spouse. Being generous with others will be blessed by God, it will allow you to channel your maternal instincts, and, again, it might bring you in touch with better marriage prospects. Remember, too, that although you met some unsavory Christians, not all baptized men are like that.
And stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She will intercede for you. I hope some of this helps. God bless.