By Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist.
The natural tendency of early adolescents is to look constantly into the mirror, and watch themselves, alternating between anxiety and self-admiration.They worry about the impression they make on others, worry about their success in school, athletics and social life.
They long for recognition, honor, influence and prestige. Happy are those adolescents who finally realize that the only lasting satisfaction comes from forgetting about the self—at least for periods of time—and becoming interested in the world around them and especially in other people.
In addition, if they learn about God’s love for them and open themselves up to his grace, their interest and fascination may grow into a more or less genuine love, at least for some people. They begin to suspect: “If God wants both me and others to exist and flourish, if he finds delight in my existence and in that of others, I should do the same.”
Obviously, we can acknowledge the existence of everyone but cannot have a close friendship with everyone, only with some people.
Psychologists insist that the first step should be friendship with members of the same sex. If an adolescent cannot be sincerely interested in members of his/her own sex, he or she will not be able to develop a good friendship with a member of the opposite sex.
It is at this point, dealing with relationships between men and women, that young people in their teens and 20s face the greatest challenge to their faith: In spite of the prevailing convictions of our society, they are called to believe and act on the belief that the Christian approach to relationships between men and women is the right road and that it leads to lasting happiness.
At times they must obey the Word of God against their own overpowering passions.
Thus, they must first believe in order to experience the delights of chaste love. Then they will bless God for giving them the strength to choose the road of faith or regaining it after following some false leads.
Instead of trying to provide a handbook for successful dating—which would be, on my part, quite an absurd endeavor—I intend to offer only a few guidelines based on 50 years of following the dating experiences and married lives of my students. Because of limited space, I will mention here only two and reserve the rest for later:
• Have a group of good friends before you venture into dating. (And you will find such a group if you are able to sincerely admire and cherish the goodness of people.) Then you will not focus all your emotions upon one girl or boy, a burden neither of you can bear. Before marriage is a realistic possibility, exclusive dating of one girl or one boy for a longer period of time is not a healthy approach. It can easily lead to an overheated, mutually enslaving relationship.
• Seek friendship rather than lust. As soon as you turn to “making out,” using each other’s body as your own tool for pleasure, the growth of friendship stops. An “action date” is much easier, especially for the boy since it does not require any effort for him to share his inner self with his girlfriend, or be interested in her thoughts and feelings. The real challenge is to come to know, admire and cherish the other person for his or her own sake.
The memory of good friendships remains a treasure to be cherished for the rest of your life. You will not be ashamed later before your spouse and will not be embarrassed by the questioning of your children. Chances are your children will follow your example.
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.