As the apocryphal endless summer (cue up the aptly named Mike Love and the boys of the beach) gives way to the reality of an ending summer, young people anticipating their return to high schools and colleges have historically made one last ditch effort at finding love. In the Christian world of the 20th century, this meant pursing what has been called raw attraction and desire in the hope of finding “the one,” wherein eros and agape are merged in the benevolent love  of marital bliss. “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.” (Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est)
However, in the so-called post-Christian world  where “all things unbiblical and immoral [have] reached [their] zenith on the shoulders of the autonomous self, where me, myself, and I are the arbiters of all things truthful…” this understanding of love is in the ICU. Sexting, hook-ups, and pornography use, all pass in some circles as viable options to express or receive “love.” The causes behind such changes are multi-faceted, reflecting the broader struggles of people in society to respond to rising waves of secularism, the onslaught of technology  and its impact on relationships, as well as the cynicism about the human person’s true, integral and hopeful nature.
Consider a recent blogpost  on dating from a diocesan website extolling young women not to sell themselves short. In a brief conversation between young women the struggle is exposed:
“[T]here’s this guy out there, we used to date, it’s really awkward right now.” (Suggested in large part due to premature sexual relations.)
Says another: “Yeah, they’re all jerks.”
To which the blogger, Ms. Natalie Plumb, replies, “Just don’t give those types of guys the time of day…you can’t do that to yourself, you’re worth more.” She writes then that much to her surprise the response received was “I wish I were mature enough for that.” Ms. Plumb goes on to challenge both men and women to raise their standards and not settle for anything less than a mature, ordered relationship.
A Tall Order
The societal shifts in the practice and understanding of dating and relationships are well documented. Rampant pre-marital sexual activity at increasingly-younger ages, acceptance of cohabitation which barely causes an eyebrow to be raised, exposure to pornography and knowledge of the sexual act among children at levels many young adults did not experience mere decades ago, all combine to saturate the culture with confused and disturbing messages about what is normal and conventional. The playing field is no longer level for many youths whose parents strive to form them in the truth about love, relationships and marriage, let alone those whose parents are caught up in the confusion themselves. What could, and I dare say should, be carefree summer months of deepening friendships and, when chemistry and maturity is right, developing courtships, are now fraught with angst and competition, jealousy, and worry about how to navigate a physically- and emotionally-obsessed world of sexuality beyond one’s years.
Back to the Future
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older ,
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long…
We could be married
And then we’d be happy…”
Less than 50 years ago, even some rock and rollers had an ordered vision of the whole enterprise of dating: patience, respect, longing for sure, but recognition that there is a time for restraint. This is where one will find true happiness, as opposed to the false, self-seeking “intoxication of happiness” which Pope Benedict decries. The challenge for all of us is to live the vision of this true happiness in ways that speak to our youth where they are, in the culture.
Harkening for the “good ‘ol days” and trying to convince a 20-something that our grandparents had some things actually right and better in the realm of human sexuality is unlikely to sell, no matter how true. Still, what must sell, is the truth about our human nature: that we are made to experience relationships and flourish in a particular way, and that this will, in fact, always be possible, no matter what is occurring in our “flavor of the day” culture. (For one entertaining take, see The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor, PhD.)
Some things do not change. Summer sallies forth, birds and bees fly aplenty, and the human heart always longs for love. Only God can amply supply the love we seek, but He often does so by asking us to seek and find it sacrificially in each other.