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Can classic courtship make a contemporary comeback?
BY BARB ERNSTER
Gina Zaccagnini laughs at the thought of her first
date. She was in high school. Her little brother had to come along to the
the 25-year-old college grad appreciates her parents’ protective measures. They
helped her navigate the insecurities of teenage dating — and steer clear of the
college “hook-up” scene that’s par for the course on so many campuses today.
saw plenty of this as a student at Colorado State University. And, she says,
it’s more of the same at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she works
as a campus missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. The
hook-up mentality is most prevalent among the hard partiers, she points out,
and it goes hand in hand with binge drinking.
I went to school, a guy would call a girl he met the night before and invite
her to a party or a bar. That was considered a date,” she says, adding that men
don’t take women out on courtship-style dates like they once did.
not-so-subtle message co-eds get, she adds, is that men reject women who don’t
“give them something.”
made chastity one of her unshakeable morals at an eighth-grade retreat and has
kept that promise. In college, when her dorm mates started calling her “Virgin
Gina,” Zaccagnini recognized that her friends’ sarcasm largely stemmed from
regret over their own poor choices. Envy, after all, often expresses itself as
she held fast to her mother’s wise words of encouragement: “You could easily be
like them, but they can never be like you.”
mother was smart, says Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatric-adolescent specialist and
counselor in Traverse City, Mich. A mother of three grown daughters and one
teenage son, Meeker has appeared on numerous national TV shows to talk about
her best-seller Strong
Fathers, Strong Daughters.
have far more influence on their kids than the culture, says Meeker. And, contrary
to conventional wisdom, kids want guidance and boundaries.
tells parents to talk about dating with their kids before they start dating,
particularly since they are going to have friends who both date and talk about
it. She urges parents to allow only group dating until the teen is at least 17
attention seeking is really big among girls,” she explains. “I tell girls to
focus on male friendships and not even to date until after high school. That
helps them relax.”
are a whole lot of fun, Meeker stresses. Once romance comes into the picture,
the fun tends to fade. “Be his friend first,” she advises, “then you see all
sides of him.”
Prepared for Pressure
need guidance, too. Girls are using suggestive language at earlier ages, says
Meeker, and many boys don’t know what to do with this. “They either respond (in
kind) or run fast the other way. This might be happening to our boys at an
early age, and we don’t know it.”
to your boys about the fact that some girls are more aggressive and they’re not
necessarily the girls they want to date,” she adds, noting that the pushy girls
are often “looking for attention from anybody — not just your son.”
her practice, Meeker has frequent discussions with teens. She says boys are
more sensitive and emotionally connected than most people realize. High school
boys who have broken up after long-term relationships say they regret their
premarital intimacy, memories of which now bring pain.
“Assume that your kids want to go in the right
direction and want your help,” says Meeker. “Help them stay away from
situations where they can get in over their heads.”
life isn’t any easier than high school for most, and freshman year is the
toughest, says Meeker. She’s often called in to help young people deal with the
unfortunate results of the hook-up lifestyle — depression, anxiety, an
ever-expanding slew of communicable but easily avoidable diseases.
your kids to be hit with a culture that is experimenting, and then help them
learn how to handle it,” she advises. “Get them to think it through before they
get there. Encourage them never to drink so much that they’re out of control.
And don’t be afraid to read them the riot act.”
True Love Commits
Spellman, 23, a graduate student at Boston College, didn’t date much in high
school or college, but says he also didn’t get much direction on the subject
from his parents. After joining Opus Dei while at the University of Notre Dame,
he received some good formation on dating and started thinking about
met his fiancée, Cassandra Miller, on CatholicSingles.com.
realized what dating was all about, and I think that was the biggest influence
on me,” he recalls. “Dating really is for marriage, so it can’t just be about
having fun and not going anywhere.”
24, a student at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester,
N.Y., says too many people think the physical aspect of the relationship will
foster love, but it’s the emotional and spiritual relationship that really make
do believe that if people knew the message of chastity and what their
experiences could be like, that’s what they would do. But the cultural messages
are so contrary to chastity,” says Miller. “If the person doesn’t share your
values, you have to be willing to wait and sacrifice until God does bring the
right person in your life.”
God at Work
the face of ubiquitous sources of pressure urging young people to go along with
the cultural flow, God is working very hard on college campuses. That’s the
observation of Zaccagnini.
fact, she suggests, a new-fashioned but rightly ordered form of courtship might
be making a comeback among Catholics.
UC-Boulder, she sees men waking up early to pray the Rosary for the women and
vice versa, along with dating couples attending Mass together, and
faith-centered activities and relationships. She knows several women from a
former Bible study group who went on a six-month dating fast and met their
husbands soon after.
her own part, as part of her first year as a missionary, Zaccagnini was on a
dating “fast” and says it has been one of the best experiences she’s ever had.
been able to give my whole heart to God, and I thought I had done that
already,” she says. “If God doesn’t have my whole heart in the first place, no
man will ever be able to have it.”
Barb Ernster writes from