Finding a spouse in 21st Century Ireland

Finding a spouse in 21st Century Ireland
Last week we discussed the practicalities of getting married, but a more topical question might be how to date well in Ireland in 2021, writes Jason Osborne

Dating is difficult, there can be no doubt about it. Dating in its current form is only a recent-enough development, but finding a suitable spouse has always been a nerve-wracking process I’m sure, even when the process was largely mediated by each person’s family.

However, finding that special someone in the 21st Century, and in modern Ireland, have their own peculiar sets of difficulties. Where are you to meet someone when many of the usual venues are no longer in fashion? How do you know how to attract someone when values are changing faster than anyone can keep track of? What on earth is ‘Tinder’ that every single person seems to be using these days?

While these questions seem specific to our present age, they all boil down to one, age-old question: How do I find someone I’d like to marry? In your mind, it often seems akin to finding a needle in a haystack, only harder. And if I find someone, what’s to ensure it’ll work out? I know that these particular questions remain the number one anxiety-inducers among young people today, and with good reason. For the more traditionally-minded out there, opportunities to chance upon romance seem to be slipping through their fingers – and lockdowns certainly aren’t helping to ease this fear. So what’s to be done?

Quite a lot, actually. While all good things come from God’s hands, he gave you free will that you might get out there and shape the course of your life, too. Your future husband or wife is unlikely to float through your bedroom window; you’ve got to get to work and find them. Here’s a checklist for doing just that.

Develop an accurate understanding of dating

Before trying to do something, it’s a good idea to have an accurate understanding of what you’re trying to do. There’s a popular misunderstanding of dating these days that says ‘it’s just a bit of fun’, or ‘it’s good experience’. While both of these things can be true (dating can certainly be fun and an experience), it makes all of the difference in the world if that’s what you understand dating to be about in the final analysis.

A more useful conception of dating is that it’s about finding a suitable spouse. The more people you date, the more likely you are to find someone you’d like to marry, which is ultimately the goal for Catholic relationships. You’re trying to find someone you’d like to strive towards heaven with for the rest of your lives – not using people for a fun evening, week, month or year.

So before setting out on a dating spree, develop a proper understanding of dating. If you’re looking for a husband or wife, keep in mind the fact that the person you’re dating isn’t just an avenue to fun – they may well be the person you could travel through this life with in marriage on the road to heaven.

Become someone worth marrying

Once a suitable understanding of dating is in place, and we’re dating to find a husband or wife, it’s vital to become someone worth marrying. This phrasing might rub someone the wrong way, as it’s true that we’re all inherently valuable, sons and daughters of God as we are.

However, life is a messy, tough and effortful affair. When searching for a husband or wife, you’re likely to consider people who’ll make this long road a little easier. That is to say, you’re looking for someone competent and compatible with you. Other people are likely to be looking for the same thing as they consider you, which means you must measure up if you’re to impress them.

This is not to say that you must develop the most impressive CV of all time, or become Christ-like overnight. It’s more of an attitude adjustment, that sees you willing to grow in virtue and maturity, that you might make a good, loving spouse for someone else one day. This kind of thinking shouldn’t be foreign to Catholics anyway, as we strive for sainthood in our day-to-day lives.

We often expect the best in many areas in life, and it’s unrealistic to think others aren’t expecting the same. It doesn’t quite work like this when searching for a spouse, as nobody is perfect, but aiming in the right direction is a world apart from being complacent, or worse, actively engaging in bad behaviour. If you’re going to be successful in your search for a spouse, you must become someone who’ll stand out in someone else’s search.

Friendship first

There is a dread-fear of friendship with someone you’re romantically interested in, at least among young people these days. This fear has been summed up in the notion of the ‘friend zone’, which is when two friends, one or both of whom may have feelings for the other, come to see a relationship as impossible because such a thing might ruin their friendship. This is a valid and understandable fear when such a ‘friendship’ is based on nothing other than trying to stay in each other’s orbit out of the hope that a romantic relationship might take off someday.

However, this is a poor excuse for a friendship. Good friendships are built upon shared values and mutual interests – deeper things than circumstance or simple romantic feelings. If the shared values or mutual interests are deep enough, they’re able to withstand a little awkwardness if romance goes unrequited.

Where are you likely to find such friends? For Catholics, prayer meetings and religious gatherings are where you’re most likely to find people with the same values (more on this next). Societies, clubs, groups and other social settings centred on interests and hobbies are good, old-fashioned facilitators of such meetings too.

You’re most likely to find good friends gathered around the things you hold most dearly, and who knows? Your future spouse may be one of them.

Search for shared values

The best marriages are those built upon shared values. As this is The Irish Catholic, for Catholics that means finding others who follow Christ. “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to Matthew. The same goes for marriages; those truly built upon Christ are most likely to remain standing when the winds and rains of life surely come.

This doesn’t mean a marriage between people of different professions can’t work; it just seems much easier if you’re both on the same page about life’s important questions. If the purpose of dating is to find a husband or wife, where are you to look for those who believe as you do? While God may have you bump into your future spouse anywhere, it’s a good idea go to those places people with similar ideals to you gather.

Not only is this a good way to make solid friendships (which may blossom into romance), it’s also the best way to meet people of the opposite sex who believe as you do. Prayer meetings, social (rather than silent) retreats, societies and communities are the best ways to encounter other Catholics, many in the same boat as yourself no doubt. If there aren’t any in your area but you think there might be a hunger for one, set one up.

This is how I met my wife – a weekly prayer meeting. We both attended for a couple of months before even talking to each other, then struck up a deep friendship which revealed itself over the course of the following months as more than that.

In this rapidly changing world, dating apps and websites can no longer be ruled out. I used to be a sceptic, being somewhat old fashioned, but after seeing a very happy marriage come of the website CatholicMatch, and another wholesome relationship struck up on the dating app, Tinder, I’ve had to revise my stance. Just be sure to be discerning!

Be realistic

Don’t search for someone who’s going to fill you with joy 24/7 – God alone will bring that about in the fulness of time, and it’s unfair to pin this hope on a mere mortal, such as those you’re dating.

We all bring our flaws to the table in dating and marriage, and it’s best to be honest about your own and about those of the person you’re interested in. Marriage is a relationship between two imperfect humans who are both, hopefully, aimed in a direction that’s making them saints – but it’s a bumpy road along the way. No person will make it less so.

Pray

And finally, pray. We ought to work and strive as though it all depended on us, and pray as though it all depended on God. God will send the right person your way if that’s what you need. For our parts, we need to make sure to go out and meet him halfway.