TIME magazine’s latest exposé on the modern dating scene purports to lay out the reality of contemporary digital courtship. Written by comedian Aziz Ansari, the article “Everything You Thought You Knew About Love Is Wrong” , and “Love In The Age of Like” (print), attempts, not so much to “dig into singledom,” but “chips away at the changing state of love.” Last I checked, love has been, is, and always will be about Our Father God who is Love, making us in love to love, but we’ll hold our collective tongue and consider a few of these “novel notions” if only to reach others where they’re at.
According to the article, the online dating industry is currently a $2.4 billion money pot teeming with folks searching “for soul mates, whether we decide to hit the altar or not,” but the technology that we carry around with us is altering our choices, the way we make decisions, and how we interact with others. The immediate and continuous access to the digital cloud gives us the impression (illusion?) that we have an endless supply of possible partners. But as the article aptly points out, more choices doesn’t necessarily mean increased satisfaction, and I might add, peace of mind. Our innate drive to “seek out the best” is constantly fed by our access to multiple options online. The article provides a good example of a “pretty boring guy” who writes off a beautiful woman “with a witty profile page, a good job, and lots of shared interests, including a love of sports” saying, “Well, she looks O.K. I’m just gonna keep looking for a while.” When asked what was wrong, his reply was, “She likes the Red Sox.”
At the same time, USAToday reports that the “American marriage rate hit a rock bottom of 50.3% in 2013.” Compare this to 1960, when 72.2% of Americans married. Or how “41% of babies born today are born to single mothers — that’s 2.5 times as high as reported in 1980 and 19 times as high as in 1940.” Concurrently, “a new finding by the forecasting firm Demographic Intelligence, suggests marriage rates will continue falling into next year as Millennials choose to opt out of traditional relationships,” opting instead for cohabitation. The report declares that the decline in marriage is seriously and negatively affecting the economy since “marriage and family also provides a sense of stability that encourages prosperity.” When people marry and have children, they buy homes and many other things that support family life. The U.S. government isn’t helping this bleak scenario: married couples get hit with a higher tax bill “because two incomes often put a married couple in a higher tax bracket than they’d be in as individuals living together.”
Online dating services are also discovering that we don’t know what we’re looking for, and if we think we do, we’re either wrong or making choices that don’t match what we said we’re actually interested in. We even run the risk that our online profiles become idealized versions of ourselves that don’t match reality. It seems we’re forgetting two fundamental points. One, that none of us is perfect, and two, that we’re constantly growing and changing. Growing and changing for the better we hope, but changing nonetheless. Added to this seemingly endless array of options is how our age of Photoshop permits flawless portraits that leave us seeking an idealized perfection that doesn’t exist in reality. It’s sad that in this context, “searching,” not “settling” is the new buzz word.
Furthermore, the print article’s sidebar, written by OkCupid’s founder Christian Rudder, contends that “religion is irrelevant. However central religious belief may be to our 15 million users’ personal lives, in online dating it is marginal.” The simple explanation for this is of course how we view our faith. Is faith merely “religion” or a reality, no, more than that, a loving relationship with our God and savior Jesus Christ, in our daily lives? You’ve heard of a love triangle. Well, the Christian marriage is truly The Love Triangle with both partners at the bottom vertices and God at the apex. The closer each partner draws to God at the top, the closer they draw to each other.
Then there’s the report about “powerful” wedding vows: how couples are “saying the most remarkable, loving things about each other. Things like ‘You are a prism that takes the light of life and turn it into a rainbow’ and ‘You are a lotion that moisturizes my heart. Without you, my soul has eczema.’” I keep hoping that the author used the words “powerful” and “remarkable” facetiously to describe these vows. It’s no wonder that after the wedding, the author “found out about four different couples that had broken up, supposedly because they didn’t feel like they had the love that was expressed in those vows.”
The Catholic wedding ceremony is markedly different. Did you know, for example, that at Catholic weddings, the bride is not to be “given away” by her father? Bride and groom are gifts to each other and walk together. Moreover, you won’t hear “Speak now or forever hold your peace” during a Catholic wedding ceremony. The couple uses the time of engagement to prepare, in the Church, to receive the sacrament of marriage and anyone who knows a reason why the couple should not be married has the opportunity to contact the priest. You don’t hear the phrase “I now pronounce you husband and wife” either. In fact, the priest does not pronounce the couple married at all. He doesn’t “marry them” or even confer the sacrament of marriage upon them. The couple confer marriage upon each other through their vows. The priest is there as a witness, to preside over Mass, and blesses the rings saying: “Lord, bless these rings which we bless in your name. Grant that those who wear them may always have a deep faith in each other. May they do your will and always live together in peace, good will, and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The couple is married when the rings have been exchanged with these words: “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Does the TIME article satisfactorily reflect the reality of online courtship? My own experience suggests otherwise. Yes, I met my lovely and loving wife Cindy Marie online. After a process of discerning my vocation, including an openness to the possibility of the religious life, my spiritual director said it’s marriage. That brought the next perplexing question of how to go about meeting my future bride. I had already graduated. The company I worked at wasn’t large. I didn’t go to bars. The parish church I went to didn’t have singles groups. Ogling girls at Mass would be, to say the least, distracting. Finding a Catholic girl who is passionate about Our Lord being the first and foremost love of her life didn’t look easy, at least not in any ‘traditional’ way. A friend of mine who is a religious sister was praying for me before Our Lord and suggested that I go online to AveMariaSingles. The first thought that crossed my mind was: meat market. I wasn’t enthralled by the idea and waffled for a while, but on further prayer and reflection, Our Lord said gently to me that just as He called St. Peter at his job, He was calling me at mine. That was a revelation: I was a media professional and I didn’t trust the media. It was also a breakthrough. Not only did it finally get me online (Our Father works fast: I met Cindy within a week at that site), it also got me passionately researching what the Catholic worldview of media truly is, culminating in a book (but that’s another story).
Our partner is the person that helps us grow in healthy and meaningful ways, to grow to be better persons on our journey to sainthood. This is not easily made evident in online selfies and self-profiles, and is certainly not at the core of shallow relationships that seek self-satisfaction rather than the gift of self to the other. The choice to act in ways that discipline random urges and instead renew commitments to each other daily is key, as is the refusal to settle for lust but instead choose to love and sacrifice for the other. No matter how much we abhor sacrifice (and suffering) as a culture, the inescapable fact is that love and sacrifice are inseparable. Ephesians 5 reminds us: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is not about subordination in any mean way. Wives, submit to your husbands: our mission is to love and “sub” means “under,” so literally, “wives, be under the love of your husbands.” It is my priority as husband to initiate love and Cindy’s priority to receive my love. To love her is to love myself rightly, reflecting God’s selfless love for each one of us.
Dr Eugene Ganis faculty associate of the Veritas Center and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book, Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.