Recently, I was given the tall task and challenge of presenting dating advice to a group of teenagers. This was a lot of fun because it is naturally a subject they are interested in and something I enjoy doing research on. However, in spite of my love for the topic, the challenge of figuring out what to say that they wouldn’t roll their eyes at was quite difficult.
One of the first questions I asked the group was where are they learning dating advice from now? Who is helping them navigate these waters? Surprisingly, the vast majority of the students admitted to learning most of their ideas on dating from the internet, television or their friends. This is alarming because we all know that the hard work and skills that lead to a healthy and successful relationship aren’t necessarily found within our ever-changing culture.
After I left my time with the teenagers, I realized how important it is for a family to pass on the foundations of good and healthy relationships to the younger generations. Therefore, I wanted to include in this month’s column some great things to talk to teens and young adults about when it comes to dating and marriage.
When talking about dating, one of the most important ideas to get across is the concept of selflessness. Desiring the wants and needs of others above our own is the root of how God created love to be. There is actually a cycle to learning how to be selfless that we all go through. For instance, babies are born completely selfish; they need to be in order to get their needs met. They are incapable of helping themselves.
But, as that baby grows into a child, they start to learn the concept of sharing: toys, parents with siblings, time and attention. As that child continues to grow, he or she begins to notice the world around them and learns to make friends. Once they grow into the teenage years, they begin to notice the opposite sex in the middle school years and in high school. Then that child begins dating and starts to learn how to put someone else before them.
This process matures in the young adult years and many people find someone they want to spend their life with at this time. Marriage is a commitment to selflessness for the sake of the other. As that marriage grows, a child may be born. The parents will have to live in a completely selfless manner to take care of that child who totally depends on them, and the cycle begins again. In any one of these stages, we can talk to young people about selflessness. The more this can be encouraged, the easier it will be as they approach marriage.
Another concept that youth and young adults can benefit from when it comes to dating is the notion of friendship. With the rise of social media, it is possible nowadays to become good friends with someone on the other side of the world. While this is fascinating, it also makes us heavily reliant on electronic devices and less on interpersonal skills.
A 2018 Deloitte study indicated that younger workers in the workforce needed improvement in four main areas: interpersonal skills, confidence and motivation, creativity and critical thinking. The study cited that, “The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” While these skills are important in work, they are vital in learning how to grow in a friendship/relationship with the opposite sex. Friendship also happens to be the best place to test these skills. When a couple grows in friendship, there tends to be more levity and forgiveness, less pressure on the relationship and an opportunity to just enjoy each other’s company.
Culturally, couples rush into dating nowadays and don’t allow enough time to just become friends. When dating, people naturally want the relationship to work out and may find it difficult to call things off when things aren’t going so well. Friendship is the best platform because it never stops once the relationship blossoms. Be friends first, find out who each other is and learn to keep that friendship going as the relationship grows.
It goes without saying that, as we celebrate Easter, the greatest example of selflessness we can offer to youth and young adults is Christ himself. Since God is the creator of love, and the best example of it, the more we can encourage Christ to be part of their relationships the better.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen famously said, “It takes three to get married: the husband, the wife and Christ.” The example of love and selflessness that Christ shows us in his Passion, death and resurrection is the real foundation that all healthy relationships should have. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12).