Amy A. W. Bonaccorso is the author of How to Get to ‘I Do’: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women. Born of experience, it’s a practical and generous read. Now married, Amy wants to help — with grounded help from John Paul II, naturally.
Men are supposed to make the phone call? Isn’t that so not-feminist of you?
If a woman wants a man to eventually propose (no matter what is on TV, most of us do), it’s good to figure out if he is willing to initiate early on. Most women I know still want to be with a man who can steer a relationship. Allowing a man to take the lead also ensures that he really wants the relationship to begin with. If he’s lukewarm, he won’t have the staying power to work through issues when they arise.
At the same time, I encourage women to be creative about expressing their interest in feminine ways. Men find it helpful when women show interest by maintaining eye contact, smiling a lot, giving compliments and basically encouraging them along. It takes courage to ask a woman out on a date, and a woman can make it easier on the guy by subtly reassuring him that her answer will be Yes.
Another way that a woman can coax a shy man along is to say, “I am going to get a coffee. … You are welcome to join me.” That way, she’s going about her normal business and simply saying that it is fine for him to tag along if he wants to. At some point, though, he should make a phone call or request a date in person if he wants a relationship.
I know some women are more assertive than others. I was probably one of the most adventurous women out of my crowd when I was dating, but I would still never ask a guy for a formal first date. No way!
How has dating become a test?
It’s not as easy anymore, and finding the right person can take strategy. Society isn’t pushing people to marry as early. It’s easy for young professionals to lose time to college and their careers. Quaint introductions among friends and family don’t always happen.
It takes bravery and a lot of energy to date in the modern world. It’s challenging enough for some people that they may be tempted to give up, throw in the towel and passively choose perpetual singlehood. Dating can be an endurance test. Can you persevere until you find the right one?
In your book, finding a husband is likened to finding a parking spot in New York City. Really? That hard? Because I assume there are no expensive shortcuts — parking garage — options here?
Father C. John McCloskey gave me that line at the Catholic Information Center on K Street in Washington, D.C., when I told him that I was worried about never finding a husband. I was starting to think that it was hopeless. It is very hard if you are an observant Catholic woman and looking for a man who shares your values but is also compatible in all of the other ways. I thought Father offered a good metaphor, and it made it to the back cover of the book!
Money can help with expensive shortcuts, I suppose. I never had the funds to think about a matchmaker, but I guess Patti Stanger’s Millionaire Matchmaker show would be the equivalent of a pricey Manhattan parking garage for some people!
Is that the same dynamic for men?
Frankly, I think it’s easier for Catholic men to find observant Catholic women to marry. I say that just because I met so many young, beautiful single women with strong faith who wanted to marry and have children more than anything in the world. I didn’t meet as many men who were wired that way, but they certainly had a lot of pretty ladies to choose from.
You mention that “test” word in the context of explaining why you wrote the book: because you “got tired of watching women go through the test that dating has become and then ride away into the sunset once they found their husband, leaving the rest of us to figure it out for ourselves.” Are women terrible at mentoring one another? Are we bad sisters?
I think that sometimes women get caught up in the excitement of getting married and might be so focused on their own goals that they forget their single girlfriends. Maybe they don’t realize how valuable mentoring is or that they could offer it. But you don’t have to be a super charismatic extrovert or hold a Ph.D. to casually mentor someone in a meaningful way.
Not everyone has a wise mother, a mature sister or a close cousin to confide in. And not everyone requires a psychologist when they hit bumps in the road.
Sometimes I think that we don’t ask married Catholics to mentor or contribute enough in nonmonetary ways. I know that when I was Protestant more married couples were involved in Bible studies and discussion groups. The singles would occasionally ask them questions about their marriage, how they met and all of those little things they were curious about. The married people got something from the interactions, too.
Chastity is hard in this culture, isn’t it? Do you find women — and men — really want it though?
Chastity is very hard in this culture. Sometimes two chaste people can find each other and, other times, one person is committed to the chastity concept and the other is not. No matter what people want, emotions and hormones can mean that the chastity ideal is unintentionally lost or compromised.
In all honesty, I found Catholic men who said they were committed to chastity but whose actions said something different. Maybe they said they were chaste just to get a date.
I find that Catholic women are more serious about chastity, in general. If they can’t find a chaste man, dating can be a very upsetting experience for them.
Overall — you’ll meet a few couples who manage to make chastity work, but many more who have tried and failed. It’s a very hard thing to attain these days, especially because people typically wait longer to get married than in years past.
Has it been made all that much harder by the sexual revolution? Can you even answer that, having never been able to date before that?
It has to be harder. I occasionally hear older people lament that “things used to be so much easier!” I believe them, even if I wasn’t alive to see it.
Life is getting harder for young American women with traditional values, in general. They have to make strategic decisions and life choices to attain their dreams. It’s not assumed that women will be able to stay home with children or even work part time anymore. I notice that older men of previous generations tend to have more of an instinct to “take care” of their wives. These days, the wife could be earning more money. That reality trickles into dating relationships, and gender roles are not quite as rigid anymore. I imagine that in the old days there wasn’t so much thought given to these things. People could live by more assumptions.
How has nature given us dating advice? Is it just for women?
Women have time clocks when it comes to having their own children. Even with the advances of science, it’s an important reality to keep in mind. In light of that, I think it’s worth reminding young women to use their time wisely and keep their childbearing dreams in mind. They shouldn’t settle for a man who is wrong for them, but, rather, they shouldn’t waste time with the wrong man. Men have more flexibility when it comes to age and fertility. Even so, they will scrutinize a woman’s age if they want to have children.
Why are you such a proponent of online dating?
Well, I met my husband online! That’s one important reason. But, also, the couples we know who’ve met recently found each other online. The percentage of married couples who meet online keeps going up.
I want people to realize that online dating isn’t always a waste of money or time. It can really help them meet someone special. It’s especially nice for introverts who prefer e-mailing someone before an in-person meeting or for someone who has exhausted their possibilities among their immediate circle of friends. And it can help singles who are new in town but aren’t comfortable with the bar scene.
Isn’t it impersonal? Couldn’t it be dangerous? Doesn’t it seem desperate?
It used to look desperate, but now online dating is mainstream and an important basket to put eggs in — particularly for people who want to find someone of the same religion. Websites like CatholicMatch.com and AveMariaSingles.com cater to people looking for observant Catholics, and JDate.com and other websites help Jewish singles.
Even on Match.com, where I met my husband, I could quickly determine that he was a fellow Catholic from his profile. The profiles enabled me to get to know some aspects of a person faster. It’s not like people walk around with signs that say: “Age 31. Catholic. Never Married.”
If people use good “street smarts,” I am convinced that online dating is not any riskier than regular dating when it’s local. You can assess the person through e-mails and phone calls before meeting in person and choose a public place with security guards for the first few dates.
Risks are more of a concern when you meet someone outside of your local area. You want to avoid having the new person stay at your house early on, no matter what your morals are. People have to have the money to get to know each other safely when it’s an out-of-town scenario.
Your dating guide is for Catholic women, but can others learn from it?
Well, a Jewish man told me that he thought the book was a good foundation for anyone looking to find someone else of the same faith and core values. I’ve had non-Catholics tell me that a lot of the advice I offer is applicable to anyone who is seeking marriage.
And in Chapter 8, I discuss key topics that people should think about before committing to someone. A lot of those suggestions could be helpful to a general audience.
A Catholic guy you met at a Protestant function made you Catholic? He must have been some Catholic!
[Laughs] We attended a public college, and the Protestant students tended to have welcoming social functions. A few Catholics would occasionally wander in for the fellowship, even though they went to Mass every Sunday. Students also had religious debates, because we were all taking history, religion or philosophy classes.
I was raised in an irreligious yet spiritual household. I became a nondenominational Christian when I was around 19. Then I started taking history classes and met a Catholic guy at a Protestant event who explained his faith to me in a compelling manner. Soon after, I formally entered the Catholic Church.
I learned a lot from those Protestant student gatherings, and, in retrospect, I’m happy I got the warm “talk to Jesus” stuff from the Protestants and the more formal religious education from the Catholics. It’s a good combination!
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.