"Maybe it’s time to stop being so picky."
On the list of well-intentioned remarks married friends and relatives make to single Catholics, that sentiment is among the most oft expressed. It’s also among the most misguided.
At least, it can be … depending on what people mean by "picky."
If they’re telling us to throw out the list we’ve been carrying around since high school, enumerating all the qualities we want in a spouse, then they’re right.
If, however, they mean we need to lower our standards, then they couldn’t be more wrong.
What’s the difference?
Lists are what we take to the grocery store. They remind us to buy garlic, eggs and chicken. They’re helpful when shopping for food. Less so when dating.
You see, although we may think we could only be happy with a man who’s six-feet tall, looks like Tom Welling, reads C.S. Lewis and goes to daily Mass (or a woman who’s 5-feet-2-inches tall, looks like Brooklyn Decker and prays like Mother Teresa), God probably thinks otherwise. He knows what we need far better than we do, and what we need rarely matches up with items on a checklist.
That’s the problem with lists. People are more than the sum of their parts, and reducing them to a list of qualities can confuse us about what we want and blind us to what we need.
Standards, however, are a different matter. Like lists, standards come in handy when grocery shopping. They tell us not to buy moldy garlic, rotten eggs or hormone-laden chicken breasts. That’s what standards do. They help us evaluate the quality of what we’re seeing.
The same holds true in dating. Standards are what help us assess whether or not the potential mates we meet are capable of becoming good and loving spouses.
That’s why standards are non-negotiable. That’s also why they’re universal. In other words, all Catholic singles — men and women — should have the same set of standards and hold fast to them. At least we should if a happy, holy marriage is what we’re after.
And what are those standards?
First, the would-be mate should understand that love means never asking someone to commit a mortal sin. More specifically, they must be up for saying Yes to chastity and No to contraception.
Second, they should be willing to raise children in the Catholic faith and grow in love and virtue alongside us.
Does this mean we can only date people who can quote the Summa?
But it does mean we can only date people who respect our faith, admire us for our beliefs, and are at least open to learning more about Catholicism and practicing it themselves. Simply being okay with the fact that we go to Mass on Sundays is not enough.
Well, honesty is important. So is kindness, fidelity and the ability to work hard. Attraction matters (although a person needn’t be a model to meet that requirement). Compatibility matters, too: There should be genuine interest in the other and the ability to enjoy one another’s company.
And that’s pretty much it. Nothing unreasonable or fancy there.
Unfortunately, finding people who meet those standards isn’t all that easy anymore. Hence, why so many Catholics now find themselves reluctantly single.
But compromising standards is never the answer. For the last half century, that’s exactly what people have done. And the results? Wounded women. Wounded men. Wounded marriages. Wounded culture.
Healing those wounds depends upon grace. Preventing more wounds depends upon faithful singles planting our flags in the sand and refusing to compromise what we know to be right.
Easy? No. Necessary? Yes.
Because until more singles start expecting more, less is all most people will get.
Emily Stimpson is the author of
The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years.