I Went to a Priest for Dating Advice and This is What I Learned
By Thao Nguyen
I normally hate talking about my problems with people because I don’t want to come off needy, but for some reason, when it comes to boy problems, I turn into a talking fiend. I’ve talked to everyone and their mom (literally) about dating life. Many of them think that I could solve all of my qualms by settling or just being casual about it. But what they don’t understand is that I just don’t have it in me to be casual, nor do I want to be desperate and settle. I was starting to get the sense that the people in my life were getting really tired of my soliloquies (and I was annoyed with myself as well), so I turned to the one person in my life I hadn’t talked to about my dating issues: my spiritual director.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with what a spiritual director is, in the Catholic faith it’s usually a priest who helps to guide you in your faith and help you figure out how to make the best decisions and solve the problems in your life. Up until that point, I had only talked to this priest about my anxiety and about my career issues. I was too embarrassed to bring up my dating woes. But I figured that if anyone would give me an honest answer and assessment. So I went to him for advice, because who better to give relationship advice than a man who’s never been married, right?
Wrong. I’ll be honest, I was a little doubtful going into my meeting. I figured I was going to get a speech about being patient and praying for the right person to come around. And while the priest did touch on those points, he also gave me a lot of poignant and useful advice. Most of what he told me was based on religion, which is important to me because that is a huge part of my life, but a lot of what he told me is universally helpful too. I’ve summarized his most helpful tips below.
“Within you and within everyone is a spark of the divine, and for that you deserve to be treated with respect, and you must treat everyone else with respect too.”
My spiritual director made it clear to me that I have some confidence issues. I found myself drawn to people, but thinking I was nowhere near good enough for them. Similarly, I was repulsed by anyone who showed interest in me. My spiritual director told me that in order for any relationship to work, I first had to respect and love myself, and that I would have to respect the person I am with. I was clearly struggling with self-confidence issues - I didn’t think I was worthy of the guys I liked and I thought that anyone who liked me was deranged. The trouble with this, besides the obvious, is that if I were to get into a relationship with this mindset, the other person would become way too big a source of validation. I would not be able to expect that I’m treated correctly and respectfully if I didn’t already respect myself. My spiritual director told me that I would need to see myself in a new, positive light. Once I started seeing what was special about myself, he promised, it would be easier to see the extraordinary in others. This would in turn lead to me having a more confident and open approach to dating.
“Be careful not to idealize and idolize others.”
Our discussion about self-worth also led into the topic of respecting others. No relationship will thrive without mutual respect and value for the other party involved. But the road to respect can be a windy one, and it can be really easy to confuse respect with idealization and idolization. My spiritual director emphasized the importance of truly getting to know someone as a person instead of slotting in traits and attributes for them. The problem with idealization is that no one can live up to all of those standards. Moreso, it takes away from the actual person you are in a relationship with. Instead of genuinely getting to know that person, idealization creates a facade and a barrier between the two people. On the other hand, idolization leads to feelings of ineptitude, unworthiness, and even resentment. Sure, some people truly do seem to be perfect, but revering them puts too much pressure on them and is just another form of objectification. It’s just another way of avoiding someone’s flaws (everyone has them), and stripping away your chance for loving them despite those flaws.
Patience is a Virtue
Our society is so used to getting everything right away - fast food, two-day delivery, smartphones - and instant gratification is often expected in our relationships too. Whether it’s immediate chemistry, instantaneous understanding, or quick responses to texts, we all can be very impatient in what we expect from our partners. But true and deep kinship can only come with time. Relationships that last require harmony, and harmony can’t be improvised. It’s always exciting to meet someone where the chemistry is immediate, but that’s not enough to make a relationship last (or even exist). Dating is for couples to mature together and learn if they can care for each other through good times and bad. That’s why it is important to be patient. Be patient about meeting the right person. Be patient about letting your relationships grow and change. Be patient about getting to know who that person truly is.