Relationships are an integral part of our lives. While the Church teaches us that the primary relationship we should be concerned about is the one we have with Christ, society stresses interpersonal romantic relationships. It is to the point that we believe that we are somehow validated as “real” members of society if we are in a relationship. Those who choose not to be, or for one reason or another cannot find themselves a romantic partner are considered failures and seen as outcasts to an extent. Just think of all the gossip associated with older single people. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling the need to be in a relationship as Orthodox Christians as well, since we are bombarded with these ideas from childhood and in literature, music, and cinema, whatever. As a result, we become selfish in our quest for love and forget about God. There have been several times that as soon as I enter into a relationship I more or less am like “Thanks God, I’ll take it from here.” That romantic relationship then becomes the focal point of my life, instead of my relationship with Christ. Luckily for me, those relationships usually end up not lasting for very long, and I realize my mistake when prioritizing my relationships. It is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way more than once. Like most things in our spiritual lives there is a balance required with dating. Finding this balance is often done by trial and error.
One pressure that comes with dating, that is perhaps uniquely Orthodox, is that we view marriage as the ultimate goal of dating, seeing the process of dating as merely the necessary means we have to go through. While I agree with stressing marriage in regards to dating instead of self-fulfillment or promiscuity, I think we should be careful, since it is also important to pace ourselves. We are called to live in the moment in the sense that we should be focusing on what (or who) God puts in front of us in the present. In my undergraduate days I encountered many Orthodox students who were quite preoccupied with finding a spouse. Again, while the sentiment of getting married young is not objectionable, in our youth we are still in a state of transition. Employment may take us to areas of the world where we don’t know anyone, and if you’re like me, you might still be trying to discern exactly what career path you should follow. With the current economic climate it also may not be possible to support a family as young as members of the previous generations did. The college campus and afterward are also times we are still very young in our spiritual lives, and are faced with the task of assimilating into parishes as active members. Finding a spouse on top of all this is a daunting task. Before getting married it is crucial to make sure that the person you’re marrying is really who God has intended for you. There is no need to rush into it because of societal or cultural expectations, or because you’re tired of being abstinent.
Concentrating on what’s in front of us instead of holding ourselves to rigid expectations of our future is also an important lesson in faith. One thing that I’ve learned from my dating mishaps is that it’s best to simply let go and put my faith in Christ, rather than constantly asking Him why nothing seems to be working out for me in the romance department. Sometimes we forget that our own agendas are insubstantial compared to the vocation we are divinely called to. When our relationship with Christ is strong in foundation, he will provide us with all that we need and can handle. Of course this doesn’t mean that we don’t have any agency in our own love lives. We must still put effort into making relationships work. At least for me, sitting around waiting for God to provide me with a spouse doesn’t really benefit me in my spiritual life. There is no sacrifice on my behalf, and honestly my faith isn’t strong enough for that.
Another aspect of dating that can be difficult for Orthodox youth is ensuring that Christ is the real center of our relationship. This can be tricky to balance too. Most of us want to find a nice Orthodox girl/boy to settle down with. A friend from my OCF chapter at school joked about how difficult it was to find a girl who was hot AND pious. I also know of a few guys who went back to their respective “old countries” to find a woman who took her faith as seriously as they did. However, having this strict criterion of our significant other being Orthodox can lead to some temptation. We can easily fall into judging him or her on their piety. It is foolish to judge anyone on our perceptions of how pious they are (see the publican and the Pharisee), but it is even more dangerous with romance. Even though I never went through this sort of thing personally, I know from friends who have and later regretted doing it when their relationships fell apart. When speaking to my spiritual father about this topic he told me not to worry about if the other person doesn’t fast as strict as you do, or doesn’t understand as much Christology as you do, what’s important is that they love you for who you are. Your spiritual growth together comes with time. If your significant other sees how important Christ is to you, they will develop a love for Him and grow in the faith. As a result of this wisdom, I ended up expanding my relationship criteria to include those who are not Orthodox. I don’t see the need to limit ourselves, and chances are you can bring someone to Christ by your example. Certainly dating an Orthodox person can make some things a lot easier; you don’t have to explain all the different clerical hats.
Overall, dating is something important to many Orthodox young people, but it can be difficult to succeed in without a firm spiritual grounding and guidance. We should always concentrate on our relationship with Christ before we worry about dating, otherwise we can fall in the various traps of selfishness and self-righteousness.
The Author also recommends this youtube video which takes a humorous approach to the subject.