Dating with an Audience

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Imagine you’re sitting next to the man or woman who makes your heart audible through your shirt. This person sits with hands in lap, playing hopscotch with his or her gaze, directing and redirecting them from the floor to your eyes.

You speak in nervous, hushed tones, asking one another about your days and about church on Sunday. The way this person speaks with one side of the mouth, unknowingly giggles, or swallows the letter “L” are some of the favorite discoveries you’ve found in these last few meetings.

Casa Batlló - Love seat for two, opposite this chaperone spot

This could be it. The woman in the linen dress, with dark silk hair to her shoulders might one day be your wife. The gallant man who wrings his strong hands, but looks at you with his hazel eyes could one day be your husband.

You’re breathing in steam and the excitement builds as you reach for the hands you’ve been staring at for twenty minutes.

A dry cough erupts with intention from the far corner.

A young man’s dating style has morphed into the pattern of liking a girl, being attracted to her, asking her out (though, I think a lot of young ladies would beg to differ on this point), and taking her out somewhere — typically out of parental glancing range.

Chaperones? The idea has become laughable in our affluent society, especially when a teenager passes a driver’s test.

Teens feel entitled to this alone time and it sure feels like they’re right when one of the two American teens is probably lucky enough to have use of a car.

Who could blame them? They can have a private conversation and be goofy without extra ears around. Sitting alone at a restaurant (or in a basement) fosters an environment for flirting, inside jokes, and ample time looking at all of the loveliness of your date.

Oh and then there’s smooching. That too.

The reason I’m having a hard time finding statistics on how early teens start up mild physical relationships is because statisticians have flown past that base and are rounding third. They have created a culture for themselves with the mantra, “Date early, often, and only for fun, for now.”

Hat tip to Bright Maiden Trista who alerted me to Dr. Anthony Esolen’s series on The Catholic Thing about “Nice Fornicators.”

Somehow Dr. Esolen has fearlessly charged the field of twenty-first century thinking and managed to pad the blow, presenting his case in an honest, tender way.

“Had they been born a century ago, Nice Fornicators would most likely have approached the altar as virgins – man and woman both. They believe in the Ten Commandments, but they have been taught that one of those commandments no longer applies in the modern world, at least not in the way it used to.”

He points out that a mindset survived a century, but followed the cultural norms. Is it the culture of the late nineteenth Century that we need to replicate to reclaim the future “Nice Fornicators?” Should every unmarried couple have a designated chaperone?

"Am I doing this right?"

If cultural pressure and an understood short courtship is the only thing that kept many young men and women in the nineteenth century caste, what can we say for this generation?

Rather than giving the OK to hormonal teens, so long as there is an audience, perhaps we need to raise the bar and answer more teenage questions.

Our higher standard should lead to fearless discussion of the personal benefits of a chaste lifestyle, such as personal responsibility, respect for the human body and its purpose, and anticipation of a great plan for our sexualities. A declared chaperone brigade is both unnecessary and a hot target for spiteful rebellion.

Not every couple needs a chaperone, but limiting alone time is wise. Being together a lot without anyone else around can tempt you to “play house” because it feels as intimate as a lot of marital moments.

Teens, however, need a tighter set of “rules.” Handle this procedure with care, parents, you remember how attractive rebellion looked when you smelled the sour scent of “the rules.”

Teens and young adults need to grasp that the earlier you start testing your physical boundaries with the opposite sex, the earlier you could take it farther than you wish. Rather than considering “how far” you can go, think about how close you can get to doing what’s right for both of you.

“If purity disposes man to ‘keep his own body with holiness and reverence,’ as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit seems to serve purity in a particular way by making the human subject sensitive to the dignity that belongs to the human body in virtue of the mystery of creation and redemption.” -Bl. John Paul II

There’s a brain in this Temple of the Holy Spirt of ours. Rather than plucking out the rationale that will convince us to do what we want now, we should use our brains and prayer to protect the Temple of any fellow twenty-first century survivor.

Visit me at my blog, Startling the Day, and say “Hi!”

Elizabeth Hillgrove

Elizabeth Hillgrove

Elizabeth Hillgrove is a young cradle Catholic who grew up in a tight-knit, if not absurdly close family in the tiny Catholic world of Virginia. After a few divots and detours into apathy, embarrassment, and a vested political interest, Jesus Christ jump-started her faith life. Elizabeth has researched her way into a passion for bringing the simple, fulfilling Truth to youth and young adults, especially females. A recovering tomboy, Elizabeth will challenge you on the field, in the pool, on a trek up a mountain, or in the art studio. Game on. She is one of the three Bright Maidens and her website is Startling the Day.

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12 thoughts on “Dating with an Audience”

  1. Pingback: Dating with an Audience | Catholic Glasses

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    There’s a lot to be said for such an approach. It’s readily observable, or perhaps even memorable, that despite having brains, a lot of even decent and upstanding teens don’t know how to use them particularly well. Add in some minimalist catechesis and a high-school environment, and how-far-can-we-go is not only the dominant mindset, but practically a goal. It would be useful if parents, priests, teachers, and others would actually tell kids forthrightly that “impropriety” and “immorality” are words that come into play even before the word “fornication” does. But a more regulated and supervised system of courtship probably wouldn’t hurt either.

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    When I was in my laast year in highschool I actually toyed with the idea of a chaperone, but my parents didn’t have the time and I wasn’t that committed to it. Later, true accountability among friends and limiting time alone with my boyfriend would have been very very helpful and saved us a lot of heartache. I think what you propse here is sound and I hope to be as rational when I have children. Is there anyone who has taken this approach and seen good results?

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    Awesome post. You have a good point, there is that need for alone time but you need time with other people too. Jim and I spend a lot of our time with a lot of our friends, and it only helps us grow because we’re growing our relationships with our friends as well as learning more about each other by I guess seeing us interact with other people. (That sounded a lot more confusing than I meant it). In high school my parents would send my brother downstairs and he’d hang out with us so they wouldn’t have to (so I guess they still kind of chaperoned my dates). As much as I seemed it unnecessary at the time, I now see their reasoning behind it.

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    “Teens and young adults to grasp is that the earlier you start testing your physical boundaries with the opposite sex, the earlier you could take it farther than you wish. Rather than considering “how far” you can go, think about how close you can get to doing what’s right for both of you.”

    YES. Great post, E!!

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    Brent – Yay! I can’t wait to read it!

    Titus- I didn’t make it very clear in my post, but I do think teenage relationships are closer to needing a chaperone, or at least vastly limited alone time. Especially when, as you point out, their drive to set goals beyond “how far can we go” outweighs their catechesis.

    Kayla- I definitely agree! My beau’s best friend took him hiking one day when he noticed we had not had more than a day apart in the first few weeks of our relationship. Friends play a big role here. Good question!

    Emily- Hahaha not confusing, I agree with you. And I think it’s great that your parents commissioned your brother to be the chaperone 🙂 I’m sure it was frustrating, but at least in those moments he was there, y’all were in check.

    Julie-Thank you! 🙂

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    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. I’ve seen my teenage brother and his sweetheart gradually develop a beautiful relationship in group settings, particularly in minivans driven by their parents. Their bond is definitely stronger and holier than one based on just getting as much enjoyment as they can.

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    Actually, I’m almost convinced that adults could stand to be chaperoned. (Now I have this mental picture of Barry Fitzgerald driving John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara around in The Quiet Man: “There’ll be no paddy-fingers!”) My generation has still bought into the Culture of Death myth of sex as darn-near requirement of dating; I think Gen Y and the millenials will have to take the lead on this, most likely starting out with “accountability partners” in lieu of adult chaperones.

    Thanks for this article, Elizabeth … you’ve got me thinking too!

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    Chaperones are not just a good idea for the young, they can be helpful for married people and Priests any of which would be destroyed by a lapse in chastity. I have gone into situations where I knew I would be alone with a man and arranged a chaperone (kids are wonderful ever present chaperones). I once had a chat with a priest and realized that 2 old men stayed out of earshot but within view of us, I realized we were being chaperoned. It is important to remember that caution isnt needed because you are weak, it is the tool of the strong.

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    I think older people need chaperones, too! I had a friend (not Catholic) who recently told me that she was not going to have sex with anyone (else, any more) until they were “serious.” Thinking this was at least a big step in the right direction, I told her I was proud of her and expounded on how great it would be as a litmus test for any guy who would be worth her time, etc. Well, she started dating someone and within 3 days of them being “official” (whatever that means in this day and age), she had already given up on her plan. I was so, so disappointed! I actually still have a hard time talking to her…

    Great post! I wish everyone could see things as clearly as well catechized young adult Catholics!!

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