We are now roughly three generations removed from the Sexual Revolution. However, the decisions made during the turbulent 1960’s are still having repercussions today. Two-parent households and traditional marriages are no longer the norms in many places. Attempts are being made around the globe to redefine marriage, and marriage itself is in decline. The one relationship that has been the cornerstone of all society since time immemorial is now seen as just one option in a variety of lifestyle choices. Is it any wonder then that young people in our culture can’t grasp the concept of long-term, committed relationships? And when they do grasp the concept in some way, is it any wonder at all that they often fail, making “serial monogamy” the new norm for the last few generations?
This is why our youth currently has no idea of how to approach the concept of dating and courtship. Not only is courtship a completely foreign term to them, but dating also puzzles them. It puzzles them because those two things exist, in some way at least, to find a suitable spouse for marriage. But young people, by and large, aren’t looking for marriage. They’re looking to hook up, or “Netflix and chill.” How do we combat this, and speak to young people about that yearning in their heart they feel for an “other”? One tool in our arsenal may come from the stories told in a new documentary on relationships.
The Dating Project
The Dating Project is a movie for all those single people out there who want something more out of a relationship. It’s for all those people who have experienced heartbreak and want to find authentic love in a meaningful relationship. This documentary follows the lives of five single people, ranging in age from twenty to forty. Through their stories, and the testimonies of others, we see that there is a real desire by some to remove themselves from the spirit of this world. It’s clear that while many have bought into the lie that dating and courtship are old fashioned, there is a bubbling feeling underneath it all that we as people desire more. The problem is, not everyone is as explicit as these five people are in voicing these desires.
For instance, in an interview with author Donna Freitas detailing her book The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, we see how this culture has led to not only broken relationships, but broken persons. Even though young and old alike want to have as much sex as they can, with whomever they can, they still realize on some level that what they are doing is not healthy. Freitas is asked how young people in particular might find a hook-up culture dissatisfying, while still engaging in casual sex every now and then. She replies:
“Students, in theory, will acknowledge that a hookup can be good. But I think they also experience the hookup as something they need to prove, that they can be sexually intimate with someone and then walk away not caring about that person or what they did. It’s a very callous attitude toward sexual experiences. But it seems like many students go into the hookup aware of this social contract, but then come out of it unable to uphold it and realizing that they do have feelings about what happened. They end up feeling ashamed that they can’t be callous.”
How truly sad this is. Of course they feel ashamed for not being callous, as sexual union is by definition to be devoid of any callousness! And this is why so many do not understand dating any longer: because it involves caring about the other person and it involves more than just a random sexual encounter that one should, theoretically, be able to walk away from. Just look at how some young people attempt to define dating with great difficulty. They see it as being something “hard” to explain, or see it as “old-fashioned”. So with this notion already in the minds of many, how much more difficult is it for them to comprehend long term relationships, specifically marriage? It’s easy to see that casual sex and serial monogamy are not what human persons are made for. The opposite is true. People are wired for stability, and even science knows this to be true.
Numerous studies have shown how “bonding” hormones come into play for mother and child during breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact. Oxytocin is released in the body, strengthening the permanent bond between mother and child. As it so happens, oxytocin is also released in couples during sexual intercourse, as is another chemical called vasopressin. These biological chemicals are what help order men and women to a lifetime relationship, that is, marriage. But there is a danger in releasing all these chemicals through random sex before marriage. Neuropsychologist Dr. Tim Jennings describes the danger this way:
“When you have premarital sex, your reward circuitry is bonded to them now, and it will be much deeper and hurtful. Oftentimes, in breakups of people who’ve been sexually active, they can’t tolerate the sense of emptiness, so they rush into another relationship.”
As we’ve seen, all too often these “relationships” are very short lived because of the fact that sex, and not intimacy with another person, is the main driving force behind the “relationship”. Sex becomes about me. Sex is no longer about the other. The other becomes a tool. Sex is no longer about bringing new life into the world or fostering it. Children become something to be avoided at all cost.
So not only is the procreative aspect of sex cast aside today, but so is the unitive. The “other” isn’t even an other person. The “other” literally becomes an object. They become a means to an end, and that end needs to be stated explicitly: it is to find sexual gratification. This is why dating is rare and why the people mentioned above can’t explain what it is.
Why Dating Is Considered Difficult
People, especially young people, aren’t dating because we’ve been putting the cart before the horse for at least the last half-century thanks to the so-called Sexual Revolution. Marriages are becoming less and less frequent because of one simple fact: they don’t want to be married. So that period of time we’ve come to call dating or courtship has no purpose if there is first no intention to even find a spouse. Dating without looking for a spouse is like going to a fancy restaurant you made reservations at, and after reading the menu, you decide you want no food. You don’t do certain things without a purpose, and the purpose of dating and courtship is to find the one that you will marry.
People long for an other, but they either fall into that trap of serial monogamy, or are simply much too in love with sexual gratification to concentrate on finding an other. The only way we can reclaim dating is if we reclaim the importance of marriage. If we’re dating without looking toward marriage, we’re going off the right path. If we’re “hooking up” or are trying to “Netfix and chill” without considering the humanity of the person, we’re also way off base.
There’s a comment made by one of the people being followed in The Dating Project that is very telling:
“Asking someone on a date is so much of a bigger deal than hooking up. You know that the person is interested in you, knows what you look like in the light, and it’s really hard to expose yourself like that.”
Notice that language she uses. She says that when dating, you know that the other person is “interested” in you. By comparison, when you are engaging in random or casual sex through hooking up, it’s clear the other person isn’t interested in you as a person; they are instead interested in getting sexual gratification, and the object of their affection will vary on any given weekend. Also notice she mentions that it’s “hard to expose yourself” when dating, yet she doesn’t mention the difficulty in exposing oneself during a sexual encounter with someone who is not one’s spouse. In other words, it’s easier to expose oneself today in a casual sexual encounter with “no strings attached” than it is to expose yourself when dating or courting. Protestant pastor Lucas Miles also mentions that “dating is scary for a lot of people because it’s exposing.
More Exposing than Sex?
How then is it not exposing when entering into a “one flesh” relationship, no matter how short? This proves our culture has things backwards. If stroking someone’s hair, or a peck on the lips, or going on a date is intimate and exposing, but sexual intercourse (through hooking up) is not, then we’ve gone off the rails.
Now for those who still feel like they want to settle down and marry “eventually”, we find that we are really setting them up for failure. After years of casual sex, hooking up, and serial monogamous relationships, how can we expect them to stay true to one spouse for the next several decades? Again, the underlying theme here in all of this—which The Dating Project talks about—is strengthening marriage, and our current hook-up culture is not doing that.
Sex is a gift or self-donation; a total giving of self. But for those that don’t date and want just sex, with no “strings”, sex no longer is a gift to the other person. It’s “how can I best get my rocks off? Which sexual partner will help me realize what I want?”
A Theology of the Body Vision Just Makes More Sense
In one of his addresses on the Theology of the Body in 1980, Pope St. John Paul II stressed the importance of this gift that we give the other in the marital act:
“The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and–by means of this gift–fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.”
As Christians, we acknowledge that man was made for his own sake, and that man must live for others and not his own sake. In his commentary on St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body, theologian Christopher West affirms that “man can only find himself ‘through the sincere giving of self.’” A human person must never be used as a means to an end, as sexual flings always turn out to be. He further points out that:
“Secular humanism may seem to promote the idea that man is made for his own sake. However… it concludes that he is meant to live for his own sake. This results in a radical individualism… [which] inevitably treats others not as persons in their own right, but as a means or as an obstacle in the every-man-for-himself quest for fulfillment.”
And today, sexual fulfillment is the name of the game. Hence, there’s no reason to put up with the slow pace of dating in a world that wants instant gratification and their sexual desires fulfilled immediately.
This is why The Dating Project is something we need to pay attention to. It’s not only promoting a return to real relationships between men and women. It’s promoting a return to an authentic understanding of marriage. If we want to see divorce rates drop and marriages between young men and women increase, then we need to understand how to look at each other as persons and how to value the gift they hold for their spouses.
You May Also Like:
Why God Gave Us Bodies (Fr. Mike Schmitz, Ascension Presents)
Freedom To Love
YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body
The Gift: Your Call to Greatness
An Introduction to the Theology of the Body
Into the Heart: A Journey Through the Theology of the Body
Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition
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