Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Dating after discernment: teenage angst revisited after consecrated life

Over at yesimcatholic, the Skinny Walrus has followed up her post on What (Catholic) Women Want with one on What (Catholic) Men Want. The former made me laugh quite a lot, especially the part about seminarians. And I agree with her seminarian friend who said that all Catholic men should go to seminary. For some time I have been of the opinion that at the very least all Catholics should set aside some serious time for discernment and also a good couple of years of solid Catholic formation, intellectual, psychological, physical and spiritual. (I not sure if I know what I mean by physical Catholic formation (Catholic physical formation) but we can't ignore the fact that we do have bodies so there should definitely be something.)
When I was discerning my vocation (the first time) I made friends with another girl who was likewise discerning. She had discerned with various communities on and off for years and told me that in between times she had dated quite a few ex-seminarians. There had been, she informed me, quite a lot of theology and not much romance (in case you're wondering, she's now married). I totally get it. If you have been seriously discerning your vocation, have been in community, have been in the seminary, you are bound to be drawn to others who have had similar experiences and have then discerned for marriage because you have been living the same kind of life, but there is bound to be a lot of theology/spiritual talk because you have a common frame of reference. You are going to have a lot to talk about, you are probably going to understand one another quite well, and very possibly you are going to be a little bit better at talking about what's going on inside because you've spent some time (a) working it out and (b) putting it into words. Having said that, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to be suited to marriage with each other. 
Personally speaking (and given that the whole depression and anxiety thing doesn't really help) I find it much harder (not impossible) to talk about much beyond the superficial with people who don't have those experiences. I'm not just talking about men, I mean everyone. I don't think one has to necessarily marry a Catholic to have a successful marriage (whoever you marry you should think about it carefully beforehand and the posts above do cover this topic fairly comprehensively) but when you are formerly consecrated it can be difficult to even have a conversation with a non-Catholic because you have to spend so much time explaining yourself and your life. My government-issue employment advisor is very happy and excited about the "unique selling point" on my CV (yes, the 3 most important years of my life come down to that: something more likely to get me a job interview). Some people think I went through a phase. My extended family don't talk about it. Other people say 'oh that's nice' and see it like some sort of gap year experience (everyone who has been to university in the last 15 years or so has met someone whose been to India/Bolivia/Thailand and found that it was a very spiritual place, who now sports hippy trousers and likes to eat rice and beans more often than perhaps is good for them).
But even among the Catholics it's hard work. If I say 'I've discerned for marriage' the majority assume I've met someone and walked out of my community and away from my commitments in order to get married/move in with someone (when did I have time for that?!). So now I say 'I discerned that God wasn't calling me to community life'. However, there are quite a lot of reasons I don't think that's a good way to put it. Firstly, God doesn't call us not to be something. He calls us to something. 'Not community life' isn't a vocation, although it might be a step on the path to finding your vocation. The other reason I don't like it is that a frankly astonishing number of Catholics assume that 'not community life' is some kind of code for 'I want to be a priest'. These are good people, practicing Catholics, many of them living comitted Catholic lives...apart from the part where they hope that maybe I'll be the Church's first female bishop because really the Church has got it so wrong and behind the times and the nice lady vicar next door at the C of E is definitely proof that women can and should be priests and so and so forth until I want to shout: STOP! and run away screaming. And you know what, I am not the only person who has had this experience. That is why sometimes it's easier to talk to the other formerly consecrated women I know, because it's a relief to be able to share these strange, slightly frustrating experiences with someone who understands where you're coming from.
So yes, the ex-seminarian is probably a good bet. Although he seems to have a lot more options than the ex-consecrated woman, with all the unmarried Catholic women queuing up. As a fellow 30something, formerly consecrated, female friend was saying the other day, aside from the fact that now is possibly not the time to embark on dating, there seem to be very few men of our age who aren't either married, divorced or carrying vast amounts of emotional baggage. But, as I try to remember (and succeed fairly well a lot of the time) getting married is not the ultimate aim in life. That would be holiness.


  1. Is it sad that I'm SUPER EXCITED that I got a mention on here? MY MOTHER READS THIS BLOG AND I'M ON IT NOW!!!
    Okay freak-out over. Just wanted to say thank you for reading my posts!
    Also, in terms of sort of 'categorising' your vocation, I know exactly what you mean. I've been told a thousand times by priests that one cannot discern for marriage except with somebody - and I understand that premise but then where does that leave people who feel called to marriage, as you say, but have not yet met that person? What are they supposed to say??
    Even though I do have a boyfriend and we are hopefully heading for marriage at some point, I sometimes feel I can't say it anyway because they think I'm too young (if you've read any more of my posts you probably have read my rant about pride). I generally end up saying I feel called to be a mother - somehow that sounds more forgiving?
    - The Skinny Walrus!

    1. If so, it's probably also sad that I'm really excited to hear that somebody reads this blog in spite of the fact that posting tends to be sporadic at best and that I got a comment!!
      Seriously, I think it is possible to discern that your heart is made for marriage without a specific individual in mind, although I quite agree that you need to discern with somebody when that person comes along. Otherwise you can end up either marrying the first person who comes along without really thinking it through or, well I don't really have a good word for it, but 'God wants me to marry that guy with the glasses I've seen at mass' is not the way forward.

  2. I'll come back to this blog for sure! I bookmarked this blog a while ago because of the useful content and

    1. I have good intentions to post more regularly...

  3. Very interesting insight on this particular topic. Kudos!


Comments will almost certainly be published, but it would be nice if they included things like capital letters and full stops, and didn't include text speak.