Hanging Out Is Easier Than Dating

It seems that dating for Catholics in big cities is a frustrating and difficult experience. After living in DC for five years, and now being in NYC, I see certain common trends, and I imagine such complaints can be heard in other areas of the country as well. I’m definitely interested in finding out so please comment and respond if you have any thoughts to share after reading this article.

In my clinical work I find myself often helping young adults navigate the difficult course of being single and dating. Both men and women alike have complaints about the opposite sex in their groups. “The guys don’t know how to ask a girl out.” “Women start planning the wedding after you ask for a phone number.” These are the two main complaints I hear, along with their derivations, which contribute to dissension between the sexes in the young adult singles scene.

As I’ve written about in a previous post (A Match Made in Heaven), I met my wife through online dating. Online dating seems to be a last-resort option after fruitless years are spent hoping to accidentally knock over “the one’s” beer at Theology on Tap. I don’t feel the need to defend the normalcy or goodness of online dating, but I do often wonder at our culture’s need for such an industry.

One contributive factor to difficulty in dating is the frequency with which men and women “hang out.” It’s too easy and comfortable for guys and girls to hang out with each other all time. In times past, if a guy wanted to hang out with a girl, he had to ask her out on a date. This came with the possibility for rejection, of course, which meant that a man had to muster up a certain amount of courage. Since men and women tend to want to spend time with each other, there was a greater frequency of dating. A greater frequency of dating meant less pressure on any one particular match-up, and certainly a different type of expectation from the girl about the guy’s commitment. “Going steady” was actually a status you attained after “dating” for a certain amount of time. Guys and girls both knew this.

Now, however, guys and girls are hanging out all the time. Youth groups, young adult groups, young adult events, and ministries all bring guys and girls together in the faith. I am not judging this sociological change as good or bad, but simply noticing it and wondering aloud if it doesn’t change the way we date. Some of the ministries even go so far as to disallow dating between its members. In these cases, men are not only not forced to have courage to spend time with a woman, they aren’t allowed to! I’m sure the ministries that enact this type of policy also have good reason. It is now normal, though, for men and women to spend many hours together socializing well into the night and early morning without needing to make any real effort.

Men and women are made for each other! We are made to find mates, to get into romantic relationships and do more than “hang out.” The desire for the opposite sex motivates a man to step out of his comfort zone and approach a woman he might like. It motivates a woman to give the man a chance, even though heartbreak is a possibility. This is the way men and women help each other grow out of adolescence and into adulthood. Self-confidence, risk, and trust in God’s ultimate Providence are all adult qualities that men and women both need to learn. These qualities are developed in one way through the experience of dating, and I think it is possible that all the “hanging out” is stunting growth in this area.

I’m not advocating a reversal of the sociological trend of hanging out. I am advocating greater awareness of what we have lost in our young-adult culture. I am also suggesting that maybe instead of fearing what might happen when a guy and girl date, whether in ministry or in general (following the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” mentality), maybe it would be better to educate men and women on healthy dating practices and escort them into the adult world that they might be missing.

As it stands, online dating is useful and good because it is a community of people that actually state their intentions. This is more than most groups of men and women “hanging out” can say. You submit a profile, and take a risk. Our (immature) culture avoids risk, but then it also avoids growing up. Maybe with all this hanging out we need to encourage risk and trust in God as well. Men can contribute by facing the fear of rejection, and women can contribute by being a little less available in “hanging out” types of situations.

8 Comments
  • Emily
    Posted at 19:31h, 14 November

    Great article!

  • Dr. Greg
    Posted at 20:59h, 17 December

    Thanks!

  • Lindsay Wilcox
    Posted at 09:46h, 18 December

    On the other hand, given that it’s an extremely conservative estimate that I will meet over 1,000 men in my life but, God willing, marry a maximum of one of them, there’s over a 99.9% chance that the best possible relationship I should expect with any particular man should BE his friendship. These friendships were sorely lacking for centuries, if not millennia, which is a large part of the reason men and women struggle so much to understand one another, which in turn has led to all kinds of awful ways of treating each other. Men and women aren’t, by nature, completely incomprehensible to each other. We just have hundreds or thousands of years under our belts of not even trying until we’ve made a life-long commitment to one particular member of the opposite sex. And nobody sees how this is a recipe for disaster?

    The appropriate context for growing this understanding and these friendships IS the company of other friends, or even if one-on-one, in a context other than “dating.” I, for one, am willing to deal with the increased complexity of finding a spouse if it means men and women can start to understand, respect, and honor each other better on a broader scale.

    • Dr. Greg
      Posted at 20:30h, 18 December

      Thanks for the comment! I think you are absolutely right about the importance of friendship in marriage. There is no way to sustain a lifelong relationship with someone that you aren’t friends with! In my article though I was speaking more to the other extreme where people get stalled at friendship and never take the risk to bring it to the potential for a romantic level.

      • Lindsay Wilcox
        Posted at 21:09h, 18 December

        Oh I wasn’t talking about the importance of friendship within marriage at all. I’m talking about genuine friendships with people of the opposite sex that never have, would, or should have any romantic component. They’re strictly and simply platonic friendships. I think they’re one of the greatest signs of hope for a world where men and women have misunderstood each other and missed each other’s potential contributions in the world for millennia. I think platonic friendships between men and women are one of the greatest goods to develop in the last 50-or-so years, even so much so that I’d say it’s worth the additional challenges imposed upon finding a mate. Men and women need to see each other as so much more than potential mates, and I think this culture of “hanging out” encourages that.

  • Kyle
    Posted at 15:05h, 18 December

    This is awesome, I have noticed an increasing platonic and/or even asexual nature to the manner of many relationships that surround me in our young adult communities both at my church and at the churches of my peers. For me being a man trying to date in the catholic community it has been a frustrating experience. I think women in the church have started taking the mentality that “A women should be so hidden that a man must seek God to find her” maybe perhaps a little to far to the point that the phrase might be adjusted to read “A women should be so hidden that a man will go to be with God before he will find her.” We have to be careful, our culture now runs to risk of becoming out of touch with reality if this mentality gets taken too far.

  • A Little Chivalry (As Told By Downton Abbey) Can Go A Long Way… | To You I Surrender
    Posted at 20:42h, 21 January

    […] This blog post recently posted by the Catholic Psych Institute, called Hanging Out is Easier than Dating, also discusses that relationships have suffered because in toddy’s society, men and women now take the easy way out, by simply hanging out. The author writes that in helping Catholic young adults, he hears two things: […]

  • ipotlove
    Posted at 03:51h, 01 June

    Wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing.