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Know Why You Are Dating

June 8, 2012
Most of us don't often think of Catholic priests as authorities on dating and relationships (in fact the popular belief is exactly the opposite), but the single most influential conversation I've had about dating was one that I had with a Catholic priest while I was in college. I knew him through my family and hadn't seen him in a while. We were making the standard mundane small talk about how I was liking school and college life, when the conversation took an interesting turn onto the topic of the girl I'd been dating for the last few months. After I told him a little about her, he asked me a very pointed question:
"So do you think you could eventually marry this girl?"
"Marry her?" His question took me aback slightly. "Oh, no, we aren't going to get married... no, I mean, I like her but... well... no... No." It was clearly the first time I had even thought about it, but I knew with certainty that she wasn't the girl I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

"No?" He asked, genuinely confused. "So then... why are you dating her?" If I remember correctly, he actually laughed slightly as he asked the question.
I had no answer for him. The truth was that I just thought she was cute, and she liked me back, so we started dating. But the ridiculousness of my situation was embarrassingly obvious in the very instant he asked the question. I knew that - in light of my certainty - my relationship with her was pointless. Any more time I spent with her was time I wasn't spending looking for someone I could end up with. It wasn't very long afterwards that I broke up with her. Since then I've messed around with more girls than I can count, but I have never dated a girl that I knew I couldn't marry - because ultimately that is what I want.

I worry sometimes when I hear girls saying things like "I want him to be my first long-term boyfriend," or when people under the age of 20 get concerned that they haven't had a serious relationship yet. The implication in both examples is that everyone ought to have a string of relationships before settling down. I remember having the same mindset myself at that age. I see it still in some of my friends. This notion isn't the exception, it is the norm. With Hollywood as our vehicle, we Americans have cultivated the expectation of "dating for dating's sake." We seem to believe there is some benefit to attaching oneself emotionally to another person only to tear away again after a year or so, and then repeating the process until eventually becoming jaded, old and single. Granted, no one hopes for this outcome and we have these peripheral ideas about needing time with a person to test the relationship, but in the end of the day, serial relationships do more harm than good.

As unfair as it might seem, this phenomenon is more damaging to woman than men. For many men, the honest answer to the priest's second question is that they want their girlfriend for her beauty and, in most cases, for sex. In many relationships, men don't get emotionally invested - they just get laid for a while. If the girl gets attached in the process, it just means the breakup will be messier. Even when a man does get emotionally invested, it usually occurs more slowly and to a lesser degree. Sound familiar? If the countless e-mails I get from readers, or my female friends' stories and my own experience are any indication, you know what I am talking about.

Relationships are tough. Breakups are no joke. Yes, the initial thrill of a new relationship is exciting, but each time that excitement grows less and less because you grow accustomed to it. You gradually throw away the innocence that allows for deep emotional attachment to a single partner, in exchange for a series of brief, shallower attachments that cause you to raise your defenses against something permanent. What doesn't end in permanency is bound to end in heartbreak, and if you eventually want to get married, you are doing yourself a disservice by ignoring that fact in the interest of "not over-thinking it" or "living in the moment." While emotional risk is important and necessary in order to find someone you really connect with, dating with no objective is nothing short of reckless.

So before you get involved with someone new, make sure you know what you are looking for - and more importantly for women, what he is looking for. Know what you want from him, and make sure he is on the same page. If you both just want to hook up, great. If you both need a quick rebound, go for it. If you both want someone to settle down with, count yourself lucky. But if you don't know what you want or he doesn't share your motivations, you risk wasting your most eligible years, sustaining emotional damage, and giving away a piece of yourself that you then can't offer to the man you do stay with.

If you liked this post, you'll definitely like my book, Beyond the BreakupThis post has been expanded and rewritten as a chapter, along with other chapters that explain how to think about dating and relationships in a way that will help you attract solid, confident men.

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