Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Christian Commitophobia

Week Three: Dating

"Christian Commitophobia" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

This is the third post of a Lenten blog post series called "Bright Maidens." We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We're here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

"So you're an actively dating commitophobe who desperately wants to find Mr. Right?"

A friend recently summed up how the world categorizes my dating style. My answer to him at the time was a laugh and a "yes, you got it." But really, the answer is more complicated than that and the end result is: commitophobia isn't always a bad thing.

Break it down:

*Actively dating: yes. I'm getting to know men.

Your mom told you friendship should come first and I think she was right. You know how easy it is to be friends with someone with whom you really connect? Why deprive yourself of the same ease with a significant other? I am getting to know men as friends and taking it no faster than that, for the time being.

*Commitophobe: that's how the world sees me. I have dated several men over the years and I've gotten serious with one of them.

My 24th birthday is tomorrow. This makes me either a late bloomer (first date: age 15 -- pretty early), a weirdo (this is entirely possible, but what would that make you, dear reader?), in a place without a sufficient supply of men (that is not the case for anyone when online dating has graduated to non-sketchiness, for the most part) or a commitophobe.

*Desperately: No. Not desperately. Ouch. If I was desperately searching for Mr. Right, I think I would have found Mr. Okay Enough and married him by now.

Desperation, in this case, would cloud my mind and make me settle because the desperation would be less about finding the right person and more about hunkering down into the idea of marriage.

*Wants to find Mr. Right: check. If God is calling me to marriage, I feel prepared to meet the man I will marry. If He's not calling me to marriage, this post is still a pillar of what I believe about the subject of dating.

I want to be like them

In my teen years and in most of my college years, I felt the ache for the "kind of" companionship I witnessed in couples around me. I liked the idea of holding hands with a nice, cute boy and telling him about my day like the "other girls" did.

To have a male confidant who would be romantic and wait outside of school at the ending bell, leaning against the hood of his car, hand-picked long-stem roses in hand with a poem memorized for recitation... would be divine.

How dreamy this boy would be. He would treat me well, make me laugh, understand my cryptic humor, get along with my family, and respect my boundaries. Finally, the girls at my school would see that someone found me desirable and worthy enough to call me "girlfriend."

Insecurities like this feed like a parasite on most teenage girls. I'm so grateful to have my parents, for without the motivation to remain true to myself, I could have taken that crazy thought train into a premarital, sexual relationship with the first squeaky-voiced, teen guy who would show me any of the affection I craved.

To clarify, I was quite invisible in high school and was especially so in the minds of the the all-boys' brother school down the street. I was invisible, but I still emitted a non-silly air.

Being invisible erases the chance of pursuit by some disrespectful guy, but my demeanor prevented it, as well. A foundation of confidence supported me, though it was hidden under many layers of these insecurities, so the threat of losing myself never followed through.


Naptime with Daddy
My hero, my Daddy, gets to take a lot of the credit for this. He was and is a spectacular part of my life and has built up quite an example of manhood. Any prospects, past or future, tend to pale in comparison.

I dated a few men in college and beyond but I often put the breaks on the momentum of the relationship, hence commitophobe. Of course, this has been an effort to avoid pain but also to avoid dating for the sake of dating.

My father's fervent devotion to our relationship and his relationships with my mother and my sisters prevents me from settling. In fact, he has made finding the right guy nearly impossible because of his example and ability to make me double over in laughter. He's ruined it for lots of men.

Why would I date someone when I can see he doesn't value the foundations that support my father's strong points?

Yes, as my friend from the beginning of the post pointed out to me, it takes a long time to get to know someone. This doesn't mean we launch into an emotional and physical relationship with everyone who shows interest in us.

When we approach dating as a way to get to know someone instead of a mid-life circus act to convince someone to like us, we can reach a level of comfort.

Taking this path allows both parties to "interview" the other in the same way they learn about other friends. If it turns out that there is something missing between you, at least you haven't fumbled through a physical relationship before its too late to get out relatively unscathed.

Another friend once described the ideal relationship between a man and woman like a triangle. As a man and a woman work toward God at the top of the triangle, they're also getting closer to each other.

Seeking to know God helps us grow closer to each other because of the Love that growing close to God fosters.

I have not always agreed with this. In fact, for a time I was pretty cavalier with giving away my kisses and entertaining the idea of dating men who didn't hold value for the walk toward God.

When it came down to it, my deep-rooted "commitophobia" prevented me from ignoring my inner voices and slapping a "boyfriend" label on the relationship.

Now I believe skipping the step of getting to know someone before allowing a physical relationship to try to push it along is counter productive. Kissing is great fun  
because of the chemicals it releases and the bond it creates between two people.

I don't want a bunch of chemicals clouding my mind in the early stage of knowing someone. My mind is cloudy enough. I'm a Christian Commiophobe.

Prepare now

It doesn't take much to set off a teen, but if you wanted to ignite my temper in high school, all you had to do was put on an "Elizabeth's Mom" mask and say the words, "It will happen when you least expect it."

So many other nuggets of my mother's advice have proven annoyingly true, so I've decided to trust that she's right. In the meantime, I'm surrounding myself with a cushion of wonderful, beautiful friends.

My close friends are good, faithful people who help me walk closer to God with each step.

Keeping them around is narrowing my choices in dating even more because I will not be caught off guard or charmed when someone treats me with respect or agrees with my core beliefs. I have a whole pile of those friends at home. Those are now nonnegotiable traits.

This was one of the hardest posts to write and I think it's because these are new conscious beliefs based on the subconscious beliefs I've held my entire life. I've always been a little afraid of getting to close to someone in a romantic relationship.

It has taken years of reflection, but I'm grateful for my commitophobia. I know I won't settle; I know I will attempt to see every friendship and relationship as a journey to Christ and to becoming who I am.

"The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little." -Thomas Merton


Stacy Trasancos said...

The picture with your father brought tears to my eyes. I so hope my girls grow up to be women like three! Another great post, thank you for writing it!

New Media Catholic said...

I agree with Stacy. That picture is awesome. The post is wonderful too. It's so insightful and deep. It read so easily too.

Sarah said...

I can identify with so much of what you said here. In college I had lots of guy friends but was a dating "late bloomer" because I was so choosy about who I would consider dating. Looking back, I can see how every crush that didn't pan out and every platonic friendship helped me realize what kind of man I would want to marry.

That picture of your dad is a great reflection on how strong Christian marriages can inspire the next generation.

lauramiller said...

Well said! You are an awesome lady!

Marc Cardaronella said...

Hey, I think you're strategy is smart and you've got the right priorities. You're not a *recluse* commitophobe who really wants to find Mr. Right! You're seeking.

Despite what the culture might be screaming at you, you've got time. And, let me tell you, you don't want to settle! Marriage is too hard in it's own right without having to live with someone you sorta, kinda love.

Great post! Thanks!

Anthony S. Layne said...

The kind of man you want will be the kind that steps up to the challenge you present. If he thinks you're "too much work"—that's the last kind of guy you want! You hang tough, my friend, and know that you're on the right path.

vitaconsecrata said...

I think you're heading in the right direction my dear! Reading this post though, made me yearn for that male companionship and the classic "dream wedding". I've always been so romanticized by the "dream wedding" that I've always wanted, that I've never really cared about any of the relationship part...just the magical wedding...because every girl deserves to feel like a princess!
Well we know that my dream wedding, as I have in my head today, isn't going to happen - but will be so much more beautiful! :)

Julie Robison said...

I love all these little reminders of the parallel lives we led pre-friendship: "I dated a few men in college and beyond but I often put the breaks on the momentum of the relationship, hence commitophobe. Of course, this has been an effort to avoid pain but also to avoid dating for the sake of dating."

I love what Sarah said in the comments as well: "Looking back, I can see how every crush that didn't pan out and every platonic friendship helped me realize what kind of man I would want to marry. That picture of your dad is a great reflection on how strong Christian marriages can inspire the next generation."

My dad says girls usually marry guys like their dad or the opposite of their dad. I think this is a very telling statement about relationships and the importance of father/ daughter relationships.

Love the Thomas Merton quote, of course. And you! Great post E.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Stacy and William Ignatius! That is one of my favorite pictures of us :)

Sarah- Yes, we were under the impression that we were the weird ones when really we were the ones the men respected. Right on, sister!

Marc- I am certainly not a recluse commitophobe. I'm out there and I have plenty of friends whom I love! Thank you for the encouragement!

Tony- Thank you! Good point!

Tina- I think our world likes to concentrate on that white wedding and that's fine! A lot of women are called to marriage and that's lovely. I'm glad to see you realize that it was the idea of marriage and being a princess that you loved.

Elizabeth said...

Julie! I was writing my comment when you posted. Thank you, girly! Our fathers are our first examples of manhood and how a marriage works. I'm grateful, as I'm sure you and Sarah are (since you both mentioned it), to have a great pillar of a father as my example!

Kendra said...


First off, I love your blog, and thanks for the compliment on my comment being cute on Trista's blog :-)

I also want to make the point about our fathers being good role models for healthy relationships. My own father is hilarious, sweet, kind, never raised his voice, helpful, generous, and everything my mother could ever want as a husband. I think it was definitely a positive influence as I was finding the man who is going to be my husband.

God bless you in your waiting for the perfect man for you to marry! :-)

not a minx, a moron, or a parasite said...

"I don't want a bunch of chemicals clouding my mind in the early stage of knowing someone. My mind is cloudy enough. I'm a Christian Commiophobe." I guess I am, too! Kissing is fun, that's why I hold off on it until I know the person better. Do I like kissing or do I like this person? And what is this person thinking about me? (I'm sure you know the ramblings of my brain)

This is a beautiful, honest post, Elizabeth. So proud of you for writing it! I know it was hard!

Cassi@FromaCatholicDaughter said...

This link might be of interest to you!


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