Tips for Teens:
As a Family Honor presenter, one of my favorite presentations to give is “Dating Steps”. It’s in the last session of Family Honor’s Real Love & Real Life program and it begins by explaining that “Dating is not just one giant leap, but it’s a lot of smaller steps”.
As I prepare to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Matrimony this fall, I have a newfound appreciation for the lessons I learned each step of the way. I’m also grateful that my fiancé, Jim, was taking the same steps before we even met. Magazines, Pinterest and TLC shows have lots of advice on the steps that lead to marriage, but the most important preparation didn’t happen at the florist or dress shop—it happened years before we even met, when I was learning about life and love from my family.
Do you remember the dating steps from Family Honor’s program? Here’s a refresher and some practical tips.
- Step 1: Same-sex friendships
Friendships with the girls I met in school, at work and through teams and activities helped me learn how to be a real friend. What do I mean by that? These were the friends that taught me how to listen, how to be compassionate and what I liked to do for fun. Hard to believe that the friendships I was forming in primary school were preparing me for marriage, but learning to share swings on the playground and let my friend use the Lego pieces that I wanted to use when we were playing after school was teaching me the importance of sharing, sacrifice and respect
- Step 2: Opposite-Sex friends
In middle school and high school, I started to spend more time in groups with same and opposite sex friends. Hanging out with guys, I started to learn what qualities I appreciated- like a good sense of humor and an affinity for a well-made cup of coffee. I started to really appreciate the way men and women are different.
- Step 3: Friendly or Casual dating
As I got older, there were guys that I found interesting whom I wanted to get to know better. In high school, my parent’s rules were that I could only go out in groups. My friends and I would get pizza, go bowling or watch movies at each other’s houses. Looking back, I’m glad for my parent’s rule because staying in groups allowed me to have lots of fun and form great memories with many different friends. My memories from high school aren’t all tied up with one person, and I was free to really figure out who God was calling me to be and not be preoccupied with one person.
- Step 4: Steady Serious Relationship
After casually dating for many years, I met Jim at a middle school retreat that we were both helping with. Right away, I thought it was cool that this was someone else who thought helping at retreats was important. We talked for a while and as we got to know each other, and then Jim said that he wanted to date me with the goal of deciding if we should get married. This didn’t mean that we spent all our time talking about marriage, but we both knew that we were both praying and thinking about what kind of a spouse the other would be.
As we were dating, we tried to do things together that really helped us get to know one another. Anyone can seem fun to hang out with when you’re eating dinner or watching a movie. Jim and I tried to do lots of different things like hang out with friends, try out each other’s hobbies, go to Mass and do community service together. This helped us to really get to know each other- not just spend time near each other.
- Step 5: Engagement
When Jim asked me to join him in celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, I was surprised by the timing but not the question. We had spent two and a half years praying and thinking about our futures together, and I knew that Jim was the one God was calling me to be emotionally, psychologically and spiritually bonded to. I realized that Jim brought out the best in me, and I wanted to try to do that for him. Most importantly, I knew that Jim would help me get to heaven as a spiritual leader.
- Step 6: Marriage
When we make our vows this fall, Jim and I will promise to love each other freely, faithfully, fully, fruitfully and forever. We can’t be sure what the future holds, but we’ll make these promises to God and each other and continue to grow both in love and friendship.
This ability to love and to be a friend all began when we started sharing the sandbox with our preschool classmates and developed over the years. Dating is not a giant leap but a series of smaller steps that allow us to learn to be a good friend and appreciate the opposite sex. Don’t worry about rushing to the end or if you have to go back and forth between steps. God has a plan that’s just for you, and He’ll give you what you need when you need it.
Tips for Parents:
Many years ago, my parents took me to Real Love & Real Life as a seventh grader. At that point, I was dubious that they had much advice to offer me when it came to navigating the world of boys. The teen magazines my friends and I read by flashlight at slumber parties made it seem like our lives should be full of romance and boys leaving love poems in our locker, while in reality boys mostly played computer games and ignored us.
Looking back, my parents actually knew a lot more about dating than I gave them credit for. As an adult, when I present the steps of dating to teens, I realize just how influential they were in helping me navigate each step: from friendship to dating to marriage.
- Step 1: Same-Sex Friends
When I was younger many of my friends definitely had cooler “stuff” than I did, yet my house was often where we ended up hanging out. Why? I think it was because my mom or dad were always around and took a genuine interest in my friend’s lives. They always sat down to eat with us and dropped in and watched what we were watching on T.V. It’s not that they tried to be friends with my friends—my parents were just very present. Because of this, they were able to notice right away if someone was being unkind or inconsiderate and they could talk about it with me. From the beginning, my parents showed me how to appreciate my friends and encouraged us to have fun.
- Step 2: Opposite Sex Friends
I was already used to bringing my friends over, so when my friends started to include members of the opposite sex, this didn’t change. My parents never made a big deal about the boys I spent time with—they didn’t assume it was romantic (which I would have been so embarrassed by!) and they always complimented the boys I knew—pointing out good qualities like, “I saw Joey at the grocery store, he’s so kind to his siblings” or “Bobby sure is a good student, I noticed his name on the honor roll again!”
My parents were kind, but they weren’t naïve. Amidst all this positivity, they had strict rules: when boys came over, they were not to go to my room. We were to spend time in groups- not one-on-one. I was to respect myself and demand respect from the boys in my group of friends. Without the pressure of romance, it was easy to have fun and learn what qualities I appreciated in the opposite sex.
- Step 3: Friendly Dating
As I got older and began to really consider the vocation of marriage, I looked to the example my parents had set with their own lives. Witnessing the way my parents loved and sacrificed for each other gave me a great example of what qualities I was looking for in a future spouse. Suddenly, the boys described in the magazines I had read as a teenager didn’t seem like very good marriage material—designer clothes and perfect hair will only get you so far in life!
- Step 4: Steady Serious Relationship
When my fiance Jim and I began dating, my parents were the first people I introduced him to. At that point, their insight meant so much to me that I wanted them to meet him first. I knew that while I was caught up in the excitement of falling in love, they would meet Jim and ask themselves, “do we think this person is a good fit for Alison?” While some guys had been reluctant to meet my parents, Jim was enthusiastic to get to know my family. My parents never pressured me (like saying they wanted grandchildren or asking when we’d get engaged), and I knew that no matter what happened, they wanted me to be happy and do what I felt God was calling me to do
- Step 5: Engagement
When Jim asked me to marry him, he had already talked to my Dad to ask his permission. However, the conversations haven’t stopped there. While we’ve had to talk about details of planning the wedding, we discuss more than table clothes and photographers. Engagement has been a time to continue to learn about how to love and honor each other, and thanks to the habits established early on, conversations with my parents have been incredibly helpful with this.
- Step 6: Marriage
When Jim and I make vows this fall, I know that the vocation of marriage that we begin together will not always be easy. However, I know that in addition to helping each other get to heaven, we’ll be accepting the call to usher others on the same path our parents have led us on.
I didn’t fully understand it when I was sitting next to my parents at Real Love & Real Life so many years ago, but my parents were my greatest allies and best examples when it came to dating. Encouraging me at every step, the way they live their vocation every day helped me eventually find my own.