Catholics, Awake! Marriage Doesn’t Just Happen!

It’s been more than ten years since I first noticed something odd about the generally pleasant—and generally Catholic—students at the college where I teach.  The boys and girls don’t hold hands.

Let that serve as shorthand for the absence of all those rites of attraction and conversation, flirting and courting, that used to be passed along from one youthful generation to the next, just as childhood games were once passed along, but are so no longer.  The boys and girls don’t hold hands.

I am aware of the many attempts by responsible Catholic priests and laymen to win the souls of young people, to keep them in the Church, and indeed to make some of them into attractive ambassadors for the Church.  I approve of them heartily.  Yes, we need those frank discussions about contraception.  We need theological lectures to counter the regnant nihilism of the schools and the mass media.  But we need something else too, something more human and more fundamental.  We need desperately to reintroduce young men and young women to the delightfulness of the opposite sex.  Just as boys after fifteen years of being hustled from institutional pillar to institutional post no longer know how to make up their own games outdoors, just as girls after fifteen years of the same no longer know how to organize a dance or a social, so now our young people not only refrain from dating and courting—they do not know how to do it.  It isn’t happening.  Look at the hands.

In our swamp of miserable statistics, let me introduce another that is often overlooked.  In 1960—back when Wally Cleaver was wearing a jacket and tie to join other boys and girls at a party, for playing records and eating ice cream and dancing—in that already souring time, almost three out of four Americans aged 24 were married (72%).  Now that number is less than one in ten (9%)!  That is not a good thing.  First, it is evidence of deep and widespread loneliness.  We are not talking about people who are dating during all those years; they aren’t.  Some of them are bed-hopping; some are shacking up; some are simply alone.  That pretty much accounts for them all.  Three options, all bad.

Second, it delays, perhaps derails for good, the time when young people will set down roots and integrate themselves into the great passage of the generations.  In a culture where marriage is really treasured, that time is the supreme aim of most people’s lives.  It is when the couple will plant orchards whose fruit they themselves will not enjoy—while tasting the fruit that has been made available to them by their parents and grandparents.  The married couple, open to bearing and raising children, assume wholly new relations to the world around them.  They need not rely upon the ministrations of a secular and soul-withering state.  They themselves make a society within the larger society.

Third, it implies a divorce of love from the crazy vigor and cheerfulness of youth.  And this is what I specifically want to stress.  Young people should be oriented toward love; that is natural.  Grace perfects nature; but that means there has to be a nature to perfect.  But where, now, is the natural expression of this search for love?  There aren’t any boys climbing the mountains to pick edelweiss for their sweethearts.  There aren’t any sweethearts.  There aren’t any boys singing “Annie Laurie,” nor any Annies for them to sing to.  A whole mode of being has been lost, a mode of being that in every culture but our own produces a wealth of beauty, and sweeps young people along with its strong tide, into marriage and a world of families.

What do we do about it?  Well, what would we do if we found a land of pallid, feeble, depressed children, kept withindoors all their lives, and so burdened with drudgery and the inanity of electronic gadgetry that they couldn’t climb a tree or fish in a pond or climb a mountain?  We wouldn’t give them lectures on the wonder of the simple joys.  We wouldn’t have them read articles proving the superiority of a way of life they cannot imagine.  We wouldn’t focus on the intellect at all!  For the problem is bigger than that, or more fundamental.  We would get them outdoors, right away.  It isn’t enough that no one prevent them from going outdoors, just as it isn’t enough right now that no one prevents our young people from holding hands, delighting in the company of the opposite sex, courting, and marrying.  They’re lost.  They hardly know where to begin.

And, let’s be honest, among all sane people, one generation assumes some responsibility to ready the next generation for marriage.  They sponsor dances.  Where are the dances, the concerts, in our parishes?  Dancing, I know, is another one of those games that used to be passed along by the young to the young, but that’s long ceased to be the case.  Now all we’re left with are the epileptic jerks of disconnected “partners” on a strobe-lit stage, all conversation made impossible by noise from hell, or the embarrassing slow-dancing, which you can hardly engage in with somebody you are only beginning to get to know.

Where are all the Catholic Youth Organizations?  They used to sponsor basketball games, for both the players and the people who’d be in the stands cheering them.  Where are the socials?  Where are the bowling nights, the picnics?  Where can our young people go to have innocent fun, not just alongside the other sex, but specifically for mingling with them, meeting them, flirting with them, searching for one of them to love?  Where are we nudging them gently along toward marriage and the sweetness of that life?

These are not extras.  They are of the essence.  I’m deeply interested in theology, but most people aren’t.  The “theology” they drink in comes from Mass, from prayer, and from—note this well!—the natural life of people in the Church.  It comes from learning to love someone forever, under the canopy of the Church; it comes from the vow at the altar, and the child in the cradle, and the daily charities and forbearance of married life, life in a real and precious society.

It is irresponsible in us, then, to let our youth muddle and meander; to suppose that marriage will eventually “happen.”  For my whole life, the ecclesially minded have asked, “What can we do to keep our youth in the Church?”  And their attempts haven’t worked, because they have viewed young people as consumers of a churchly product, rather than as boys and girls, young men and young women, with obvious natures and needs.

So then—I call upon every parish in the United States to do the sweet and simple and ordinary things.  Not everybody can speak learnedly about church architecture.  Not everybody wants to hear about that.  Not everybody can speak learnedly about grace and free will.  Not everybody wants to hear about that.  But everybody can learn to sing, everybody can learn to dance, everybody can watch a good movie, everybody likes a picnic, or a hike, or a trip to the beach, or a goofy time at the bowling alley, or a softball game, or an ice cream social, or coffee and tea and doughnuts.  It is not good for the man to be alone—or the woman!

Sometimes our duties are difficult or dangerous.  Not this time!  So then, what is our excuse?

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

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  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    One may wish to consider some remarks of St John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars on the subject of dancing.

    “Ah, you say, you are making more of it than there really is! I say too much about it? Very well, then. Listen. Did the Holy Fathers of the Church say too much about it? St. Ephraim tells us that dancing is the perdition of girls and women, the blinding of men, the grief of angels, and the joy of the devils. Dear God, can anyone really have their eyes bewitched to such an extent that they will still want to believe that there is no harm in it, while all the time it is the rope by which the Devil pulls the most souls into Hell?”

    And again

    “”The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle forbids dancing, even at weddings. And St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, says that three years of penance were given to someone who had danced and that if he went back to it, he was threatened with excommunication. If there were no harm in it, then were the Holy Fathers and the Church mistaken?”

    In I895 an old woman told Mgr. Convert, then parish priest of Ars, that from the age of sixteen to twenty-two she did not make her Easter Communion, because the Saint refused her absolution. The reason was that, once a year, when visiting her relatives in a neighbouring village, on the occasion of the fête of the place, she used to dance for a little while on the village green. The woman added that she went to confession on the eve of all the great feasts but the Saint never absolved her. She only received absolution when, after a resistance of six years, she at last made up her mind to forgo this annual fling.

    It would be easy to find similar remarks in devotional writers like Benedict Canfield, Pierre de Bérulle, the founder of the French Oratory, Charles de Condren, who spoke of dancing and duelling in the same breath as the ruling vices of the time, Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice and many more. I know of none who commended it.

    • poetcomic1

      There is a lovely old anglo-saxon word “killjoy” it is a person who literally ‘kills joy’. Man, I know it when I see it! Reading your post, I get the same slightly repulsive clammy feeling of putting on a cold wet bathing suit. None of those named are ‘doctors of the Church’. They are saints and very much a product of their times and NOT, of course fountains of infallible dogma. Thanks for starting my day with a feeling of tenderness and fellowship towards the communion of saints – NOT.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Oh! If you want doctors of the Church, try St Augustine, “dancing is the ruin of souls, a reversal of all decency, a shameful spectacle, a public profession of crime.”

        Or St John Chrysostom “Look at this worldly and flighty young woman, or rather at this flaming brand of diabolical fire who by her beauty and her flamboyant attire lights in the heart of that young man the fire of concupiscence. Do you not see them, one as much as the other, seeking to charm one another by their airs and graces and all sorts of tricks and wiles? Count up, unfortunate sinner, if you can, the number of your bad thoughts, of your evil desires and your sinful actions. Is it not there that you heard those airs that please the ears, that inflame and burn hearts and make of these assemblies furnaces of shamelessness?”

        • poetcomic1

          My other point. Dancing can be different things at different times. Actresses were once thought to all be prostitutes and at one time most of them were. I hope you are bringing this all up ‘tongue in cheek’ – I don’t want to appear ‘irony deficient’! I’ll be charitable and assume you are scholary and very well read and not a Catholic Jonathan Edwards!

        • Ford Oxaal

          There are different varieties of dancing, some very lewd, some not.

        • Replace “dancing” with “clubbing,” and perhaps you will come nearer to what these saints were referring to. There is nothing lewd about swing-dancing, Irish step dancing, ballet, or any number of other traditional forms of social or artistic dance. Really, can’t you think of any harder targets than devout Catholic college students doing English country dances at a Christmas formal?

        • Dave in NC

          Sir, are you Amish or Mennonite? Plymouth Brethren perhaps? Primitive Baptist maybe?

          Do they still dance at Jewish weddings as they did in Jesus’ day?

    • Todd

      I don’t dance. I don’t like it. I really don’t enjoy it. I’ve tried but I don’t. After seconds on the dance floor I am bored and wonder what to do next. But oh how I envy those who do enjoy dancing (my wife being one of them). They are clearly having fun in a way and to a degree that I can only imagine.

      As for dancing being sinful, I think we would do well to listen to the voice of a prophet whose words are inspired in the fullest sense of the word.

      Again I will build you, and you shall be built,

      O virgin Israel!

      Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,

      and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. 5 Again you shall plant vineyards

      upon the mountains of Samaria;

      the planters shall plant,

      and shall enjoy the fruit. … They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,

      and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

      over the grain, the wine, and the oil,

      and over the young of the flock and the herd;

      their life shall be like a watered garden,

      and they shall languish no more. 13 Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance,

      and the young men and the old shall be merry.

      Jer 3 31:4 – 13

      Jeremiah doesn’t seem so troubled by the thought of dancing. Perhaps it’s not dancing itself that is the problem. Perhaps it’s the way it done and the reason for which it is done.

    • Dan M.

      What a sad and depressing life you must lead! I’ll follow Jesus, who had no problem with fun at a party.

    • Ib

      It seems that M. P-S likes to play the old medieval game of “Sic et Non”. This has long been out of fashion. However, If you wish to play with him, do as Todd did and find some scriptural or ecclesiastical quote to play at the other side.

      Note that M. P-S doesn’t say he is for or against dancing, just trots out these little zingers to provoke someone else to join in the game. So play with him if you wish. I won’t since I find this game dull as dishwater.

    • Dude, ever heard of St Teresa of Avila, who danced and clapped her hands in the Spanish style when she was filled with divine joy? Oh and not to mention: She is a doctor of the Church! Take that!

  • Kasey

    This failure to encourage marriage is likely leading to the increased rate of out-of-wedlock births. With only 9% married by 24 years old, that means that 89% should be living their prime years as a chaste man. That is difficult to do in our culture.

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  • jmachado

    I agree with Mr. Esolen, but I would add to it. My kids are in/went to college, two at a Catholic college and one at a state college. The two at the Catholic college have gone to dances, socials, etc and know how to court/date, befriend, be exclusive with one person without getting intimate with each other. In fact, my daughter, who will be graduating in December is engaged and will be getting married next year. My youngest was going to school at a state university and lived in a fraternity for one year. I saw a big difference in the way of life there. Their socials are not meant for girls and boys to meet and get to know each other, they are more meant to get drunk and use it as an excuse to “hook up”. Boys and girls alike are losing their morality and forbearance when it comes to sex and waiting for marriage. Less and less young people are getting married but more are having causal sex and are becoming more lonely and isolated. Why? I think there are a few reasons. They see over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, many come from those broken homes and they don’t want to repeat the scenario. Also, in this accepted hook up culture, there is no need to date and take the time to get to know each other. And I would add that “marriage” at least for heterosexuals, is becoming passe. It’s ok to live together now and not get married. That old saying is true, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free. Needless to say, my youngest doesn’t go there anymore.

    • C

      Did you take your kid out of college?

      • My guess is that her youngest is now attending the same Catholic university the older siblings attended.

    • As you describe current college “dating” culture is precisely what I am hearing from the students I know in college today. A culture of “hooking up” (i.e., casual sex) vs courtship and dating. As for parishes, ours has an excellent and dynamic 20-something youth minister who is trying to build a program and offer the kinds of activities that are mentioned in the articles. Unfortunately, in our parish of 11,000 people she has barely a handful of teens that are participating. We have families sending their kids to 5 Catholic high schools and 2 public schools, but she can’t get 20 kids to a bowling night, no less a dance. You can offer teens these activities, but how to get them to take up the inivitation?

  • Madonna Muscarello

    Dr. Esolen, I could not agree more. My husband and I were just reminiscing about the delightful jolt that used to go through us at the mere touch of the fingertips of the other. Today’s youth have the additional disability that they don’t have free hands to hold another’s hand with: one is holding the Smart-phone, the other frantically typing. Truly, this is a sad state of affairs.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Gee, what a surprise. The generation that turned it’s back on all the traditions of our ancestors, has raised a generation that doesn’t know anything about our ancestral courtship traditions.

    Another strike for the sexual revolution!

    • Tout

      Met my girl in 1939. I was 19, could not dance. She could. Going out with friends, I asked them to invite my girl to dance. Later I started to learn(with a good friend ! He tried his best).Later, in a ‘solitary’ cafe with a gramofone and 2 records, I let her teach me. I was learning, but had to leave: war, prisoner of war. Thank God, It all had good ending, over 61 years. Hope to meet my love again.

  • Lt. William J. Lawler II, M.Ed

    What a wonderful article by Mr. Esolen. I was not at all surprised to see that he teaches Renaissance English. I dare say that only one well versed in such studies would able to so eloquently address the very sad story of lost romance and courting.

    I would like to add that on a practical level the most significant factor contributing to the current state of affairs is that boys and the current generation of young men have been trained not to be men! Between the political corectness found in mass media, the legal system, and school policies, boys and men have been taught that nearly all forms of courtship are sexual harassment. In addition, it becomes very difficult for boys and men to have the confidence to properly court a girl or woman when they lack the masculine self-confidence that only comes from traditional and normal male bahaviour. Behaviour that has been all but outlawed. And those few boys and men who do act normal are labeled Neanderthals whom women are taught should disdained and avoided.

    My question is this, when does it become too late for men? At what point, at what age, have they passed the demarcation line of being able to successfully learn how to court, and actually be able to do so? This is an important question since there are currently so many single men and woman well into their 30’s and 40’s.

    As for those who are discussing the appropriateness of dancing, I think you are missing the main point of the article. I am not deriding the seriousness of a theological discussion on dancing. It is a matter worthy of discussion, however it is tertiary to the main point of this article, which is about the lack of traditional courtship in general, and how it negatively effects Western Society.

    • NoNeedForAName

      Thank you for sharing this perspective. However, what you described is not what I have experienced. Among my peers in our 20s, there is a very clear distinction between courtship and sexual harassment. Stalking has never been an accepted technique of courtship but is a well defined case of sexual harassment.

      Traditional male behavior that have been restricted are things like fighting, carrying weapons, getting drunk, chewing tobacco, catcalling women. These behaviors make no contribution to courtship and in most cases make courtship more difficult. Individuals who engage in these behaviors are correctly identified as thugs. On the other hand, traditional male behavior like hiking, camping, sports and community service are highly encouraged in society and can make courtship easier.

      • Nancy

        “Afraid to tell your name”, Why do you assume that Lt. Lawler is speaking of “…fighting, carrying weapons, getting drunk, chewing tobacco, catcalling women.” Anyway, I think that carrying weapons is masculine and an important right under the second ammendment. Fighting is also important for men when called upon to defend their wife, girlfriend, date, etc. A man who cannot fight in order to defend and protect a woman is not much of a protector. I certainly would not date a man that was unable to defend me and unwilling to use a weapon when needed. You can hike, and camp, and play sports all you want. I want a man that can and will protect and defend me and my family.

        • Good one Nancy! I too would love to have a man defend me!

      • Ted

        “Afraid to tell your name” (good one Nancy), I recommend you read “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes”, by Sean Fitzpatrick, in the November 26, 2012 issue of Crisis Magazine. This manly fellowship that he discusses is probably what Lt. Lawler was getting at. Something he would be familiar with as an officer in the military or police.

  • Kate

    It’s true. And it’s sad. I am 27, married, and pregnant with my 4 baby. We had to seek out other couples and families like us. Our friends from college chose bed hopping…a couple are married. None have children.

    • Ib

      God bless you, Kate. You have chosen a more blessed path.

  • TheInformer

    yeah, man I went to a Catholic boys school in Los Angeles, and we had a sister school, but the activities were always dances: loud music, girls you saw rarely if ever, no way to talk or genuinely socialize. Pathetic.
    If I were a parish priest I would definitely approach the attractive young ladies in my parish and get them to plan parties. The guys would absolutely show up to meet these young women! And it would be a normal, wholesome, friendly GROUP DATE!
    But parish priests today have no imagination, or are too old and too busy crisis managing those marriages which did not start well, and will not end well.

  • Fides

    I remember when Thomas Aquinas College had a rule against holding hands on campus. Go figure. Good article. I enjoyed.

    • Lisa S.

      A few of my kids, 1 graduate & 2 current students at Thomas Aquinas College, say they were told that TAC doesn’t have a “rule against holding hands.” What they have is a student-begun tradition (from very early on) to have no PDA (Public Display of Affection). The idea was to encourage friendships & discussions among groups of students at this very small college, versus people spending most of their time as couples separated from the other students. When a student graduates, he/she goes out into the world with deep, lifelong friendships with a number men & women. And there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of couples on the TAC campus in spite of this challenging tradition. They seem to have a lot of dances (swing dances) and other events — besides the discussions which continue outside of the classrooms — which encourage the young men & women to converse and get to know each other. TAC must be doing something right because my husband and I have been involved in the marriage preparation class at TAC for many years and the couples we see seem to be well-formed in their Faith, very much in love, and comfortable with each other and the other students.

  • Ib

    Dr. Esolen expresses the fact that parishes aren’t what they used to be and urges that we make them into what they used to be. But that’s a really difficult, perhaps impossible thing to do. Our parishes have changed because the Catholics in them have changed. The only way to restore them to what they were 40 years ago would be somehow to restore the life-world of the parishioners as well.

    For example, the CYO still exists in most Diocese, but is much less active. But that’s because the parents of the children no longer find it as important for their kids. The only way to change that is to change the parents. How can that be done? Change occurs because of external or internal reasons. What reasons could be given externally for this to change and who would implement them? What reasons could be given internally for this to change? If you’re drawing a blank, or can think of only weak answers, you’ve reached the position of most Diocesan Directors of the CYO. They’d love more than anything to get kids involved like they were 40 years ago. Tell them HOW and they’ll do it in a heartbeat.

    Dr. Esolen’s post is really about the missing Roman Catholic culture in today’s U.S. without that RC culture, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to make happen what used to happen as a matter of course. The creation of that RC culture took centuries to build, but only a few decades to erode. But we must remember that there was a time before the creation of that RC culture and the Roman Catholic Church witnessed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ even then. Now, as the Bishops’ Synod on the New Evangelization points out:

    “As stated initially, the cultural climate and the general state of fatigue in many Christian communities in our local Churches is endangering the proclamation of the faith, its transmission to others and instruction in the faith. The question of St. Paul the Apostle – “how are they to believe […] without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) – is truly relevant today.” (Lineamenta, 15)

    Again the Synod’s Lineamenta urges us to seek new models for our local parishes, since the old ones no longer suit the present situation:

    “Christian communities ought to know how to respond with responsibility and courage to this renewal required of the Church, because of cultural and social changes. They ought to learn how to devise and implement the long process of moving to newer models, while maintaining the mandate to evangelize as a reference-point.” (Lineamenta, 9)

    The Lineamenta is a very courageous and good document and certainly bears reading. It can be found on the Vatican website for the recent Synod.

  • Dan

    I am unclear as to why the “being alone” option is necessarily bad. At the very least it is categorically “bad” in a different way then the other two options. There are many reasons why some people are alone.

    • Matt Landry

      Well, there’s no question it’s morally preferable to the choice between serial polygamy and simultaneous polygamy that reigns as the default set of options in modern culture. And history tells us that, even when marriage is a viable option, some will still choose it.

      But a world in which 91% of folks in their mid-20s either won’t or can’t find someone worth marrying is a world in a state of demographic free-fall.

  • I hear so often that poorly formed men are the ones to blame for this dating crisis we are having in the Church. And although I agree to an extent, I think the women are just as poorly formed. As women, we do not know how to let a man lead. The ‘tricks’ handed down from generation to generation have been lost (remember the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mother gives her daughter advice on her wedding day?). Also, women do not know how to properly flirt. We become so proccupied with this concept we read about in Catholic/Christian books about being pursued, that we forget that it’s a two way street. The man may be the one that should ask the woman on the date, but she needs to let him know she is interested…in a not so subtle way (really ladies, a little smile here and there won’t do). I live in an area where there are many opportunities for young Catholics to meet one another, but I notice there is very little flirting (not to mention holding hands – perish the thought!). I am apt to think puritanism has made it’s way into the minds of young Catholics.

    • NewbieJames

      It’s a natrual reaction to the pervese society. It is wrong, but understandable. Basically parents need to step up and provide socials for teens so they can develop healthy habits.

    • Jim

      The problem is that the sane men have every reason to be afraid of women these days. Too many dads idolize their daughters and instill in them that they are “angels” and “princesses” which in many cases results in the complete opposite (demons and witches). I think many men have subscribed to the collective guilt feminism imparts on them for perceived crimes of the past so daddy’s girl gets special treatment. I believe the tale goes Satan fell because he thought he was soooo good that he was better than God. Parallel here? Boys however are made to feel like they are dirt until they prove their worth and women have no problem in reminding us of that. I’m lucky I found a nice southern girl because I was pretty much happy to die a virgin before I met her. You want men to lead? Take feminism out to pasture where it belongs.

  • Hip2bsquare

    I’m 31 and unmarried. I do my bit and organize a bimonthly swing dance for my young adult Catholic group. I know of a couple of relationships that have resulted (alas, no marriages as of yet).

    • NewbieJames

      Good for you. Swing dancing is tailor made for Catholics looking for activities for teens.

  • C

    We do not live in the 1950s. Life is not like this anymore. Women AND men both want to explore education, careers, their sexuality and independent lives. Sure, some want to get married young and they do. But lots don’t. Why is it a bad thing that couples are not marrying at 24? Just because you do not get married to your partner does not mean that you are not committed, faithful, loving and respectful. A ring is not necessary to make that commitment.

    • Briana

      I ask you, what is a stronger form of commitment: making a public vow to your lover that you will stay by his or her side til death do you part, or sleeping/living together until something better comes along? When you make that vow, it is very different than just feeling committed to one another. First of all, when you marry, witnesses are holding you accountable for staying true to that vow. Secondly, an oath is something that you stand by both at the moment you make it and in the future, come what may, and no matter how your feelings change. And if you do really love that person, you would be willing to make that vow. Therefore, there is no point in pretending you are married when you are not.

    • Ford Oxaal

      With very little support for marriage in our society, many children are abandoned by their fathers, or killed by their mothers in utero. It leaves either a scar on the child, or no child. It’s criminal. All for the sake of self-indulgence? I don’t think this ends well.

    • NewbieJames

      The answer: we want to get back to the 50s. This article describes one small slice of the process. And what do you mean “explore….sexuality”? Are you Catholics? Fornication is a mortal sin that drags souls to hell.

      But to your question, what is wrong with people postponing marriage, just wait a few more years and look around. You’ll have your answer.

  • What a wonderful article Dr. Esolen! As a graduate of Christendom College I have to say that the social aspect and genuine community was one of the most wonderful things about the college. I have never danced, sung, conversated, drank (yes, in moderation), and enjoyed life as much as when I was a student at Christendom. We enjoyed everything from socials to dances to Oktoberfest games and St. Patrick’s day “ceilidhs”. Many of my friends were in serious, healthy, holy relationships during college and now (I am 25) of them are engaged or married happily. I think the college’s divorce rate (less than 1%, if even that) speaks for itself. I would love to imitate this community wherever I end up. Because you are right, it is the natural life of the Church, that joy, that makes it so attractive. Thank you for this article, I will be sharing!

    • I’d like to “second” everything you just said… and I’m sharing the article too, Becca.
      (By the way, I think a couple years after you graduated, Dr. Esolen came and spoke at Christendom as part of the major speaker series; you can hear/download it free on Christendom College’s iTunes channel.)

  • Matt Landry

    You’ll have to reinvigorate Catholic life in the family, first.

    As long as the message being sent to young people by their parents is “as long as you allow us to pretend we don’t know about it, we’re fine with you spending your fertile years bed-hopping and poisoning yourself to avoid the consequences, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD don’t even THINK about getting into any kind of stable relationship leading toward marriage until you’re at a stage of your career path that you’ll never reach before you’re at least 30”, then the CYO stuff is going to stay irrelevant to the audience at which it is nominally targeted.

  • Katie

    It’s a Catholic thing. I’ve been to youth group and bible study with my Methodist boyfriend, and there is much more social interaction, romance, and hand holding there.

    It’s also an education and longevity thing. When you live longer and need more years of education than past generations, each phase of life can take longer.

  • NewbieJames

    I highly recommend that Catholics who want to promote dancing look into swing dancing. First off, 80% of the songs have no lyrics (big band). Second, the base position is the man and woman standing about 3 ft. apart, holding one hand. It is a great thing to introduce to Catholic Teen groups. Also, consider Southern Swing (Texas two step), though you have to deal with unfortunate lyrics.

    Another nice thing about swing is you can have adults at the dance who are also dancing, and you don’t feel weird being there. The teens sit at a table and socialize, and go dance once in awhile. A great environment that I highly recommend. Music can be provided by an IPOD.

  • JN

    I attended an all-boys Catholic high school, where the school did absolutely nothing to help students meet girls. It really seemed like the Catholic education system was more intent on keeping boys and girls away from each other than anything else. The sexual revolution is certainly to blame for the decline of dating, but the Catholic education system in most places is not helping very much by continuing to promote single-gender education.

  • JaneC

    I went to a Catholic college and had a great circle of friends there. We had a group that regularly invited professors or other Catholics from the community to address us on theological topics, but we also had parties and went to movies and symphony concerts together. There were some jokes that about our organization being a thinly-veiled singles club, because even though dating wasn’t anyone’s aim in joining the group, it just happened naturally in that environment. A few of our members went on to the priesthood or religious life, but most got married soon after graduation and started working on building good Catholic families.

  • Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful replies.
    One thing I’d like to stress — and a thing that it’s all too easy to forget. The students at most colleges are not having fun. It is a fevered, hectic excitement, which punctuates long periods of disillusionment and loneliness. There really is very little joy in it. We are in the position of having something to offer to people who have nothing. And, if I remember Father Rutler’s wonderful book on the Cure of Ars, it took him many patient years before he returned that village to the faith. So the CYO cannot do a hundred things overnight. It can damned well do a few, overnight — and if it starts small, it had damned well better start, because most great things start small.
    I am not afraid of silly sniffs at the 1950’s; they are usually engaged in by people who know that the only way we can be made to look good is to slander our ancestors. People in other generations revered their ancestors — but they didn’t have to defend decrepitude. History, indeed, is FULL of reform movements that retrieve something essential from the past and bring it back into our common life.

    • Tout

      Learn about the Cure of Ars ! And DARE. I remember deciding to lead praying the rosary after Mass, during the week. Got permission of the priest. It took me a couple of weeks before I dared to start. Finally, collecting my courage, I did start, and what a relief hearing the response of others ! Wanted a procession, but how ? Decided to go alone in May, praying, rosary in hand, around 4 streets. Only the 7th time (2002) a mother and son joined me. In 2008, woman took over(I was 88), did a much better job, 50 people praying,singing, carrying Mary-statue to church for crowning. And other public actions. In our church, am the only one who always receive H.Host on tongue. It is a good way to start ‘leading by example’. Dare to do what is good.

  • Matt H

    Holding hands is a sign of human intimacy and the desire to touch (not just sexually) another human that you feel connected with. This is why I am don’t like the forced hand holding during the Our Father in some parishes. Its not a real nor a natural desire to hold hand with others you don’t know. Its contrived and uncomfortable for people that are now made to feel not in communion with others if they don’t hold hands at this time. If this is the shallow and made up experience of our Catholic youth on holding hands. I would want anything to do with it either.

    Our young do not hold hands because many have seen nor experienced this intimacy within families or their own relationships. They can be afraid of it due to the broken marriages some have lived through. In addition, a sex driven society do not need to touch to experience the sex. The sex becomes about self rather than the culmination of an intimate friendship of two people. You don’t need to kiss or hold hands or hug. All you need to do is perform an impersonal genital act. Isn’t this why prostitutes don’t normally kiss the “johns”. They don’t want to be personal. The behavior of our youth is very similar to that of a prostitute or one that does not want or know what a relationship is about.

    We have taught our youth through our word and deed how not to be intimate. Contraception and self worship is a part. We need to show them strong marriages that includes the intimacy of holding hands. My Wife and I have six children; one of our favorite activities (even over sex) is holding hands. This can be at dinner, in church, on a drive, a walk, or wherever and whenever we can. When we do this, we show each other that our friendship naturally manifests itself through kind and gentle human touch.

    We both hope that our love and our Trinitarian relationship with Jesus through our marriage will only be a fraction of the love we will experience in eternity with God. For some reason i don’t think we will be disappointed if we make it.

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  • TimRohr

    Yep. Have wondered the same myself. We used to do all those things growing up. I remember my parents going to church dances. And then came Vatican II and Youth Ministry.

  • Carrol

    I feel like the TV version of the 1950s is artificial. I have the impression that dating and socializing has always been less wholesome than the Hollywood version. Was dating really sweet and fun and clean? Is nostalgia for the past really justified?

  • Not Catholic

    well, maybe if Catholic Priests would keep their hands off of the boys they would know what to do with girls.

    • Katholikos

      Not Catholic,

      Not only “Not Catholic” but not very knowledgeable.

      Not aware that most pederasts or pedophiles are married men?

      (Not many Catholic priests are married men).

      Yes, some Catholic priests have abused adolescents, even children, but so have Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, and the male leaders among religious groups that have no clergy (Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      Some Boy Scout leaders, coaches, teachers are sexual abusers, too. Men who are sexually attracted to kids choose jobs and volunteer activities that put them in contact with a lot of kids.

  • Tony, once again you have nailed it. I can only hope that people will read these comments and act upon them. I have encouraged my sons to know how to dance and fortunately there are a group of young people who are into swing dancing But the parish needs to quit being so afraid to hold dances for young people. They need to become the center of family life if we are going to reclaim the culture.

  • Kate

    Call me old fashioned– but I wish someone had taught my generation something about love. Real love. I’m 17, and was raised with good old big catholic family values– But I look at my generation, and see how lost they are. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed this article so much– it recognized the problem. My generation is trying– longing– for something real, and my gosh they try so hard! They just have no idea what to do! Pray for us!!

  • SincerelyYours

    Hi, apparently most members of the generation you’re speaking about haven’t seen this post, because I’m sure many of them, like me, would feel insulted, belittled, and quite frankly, angry. I’m a 20-year-old female attending a public university. By anyone’s standards, I am a moral Catholic woman. I’m involved in the Catholic student group on campus, and I avoid the modern social scene you discuss here. I don’t “party.” I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t have sex. But according to you, I’m an miserable, soul-withering nihilist because I have no desire to get married or have kids in the next ten years?

    Being single does not mean you’re sad, lonely, and incapable of social interaction. Maybe it means you’d rather focus on having a fulfilling career than on having three kids before you’re 25. Yes, some people are called to be parents. And some are called to be politicians, or doctors, or accountants, or artists. Just because you choose not to focus on a romantic relationship doesn’t make you a sad human being.

    I’m studying Microbiology, and I intend to go to medical school and serve my community as a physician. (Something I’ve learned in my studies: the brain’s frontal lobe – responsible for emotional reactions, reasoning, and decision making – is not fully developed in males until age 24. Just a fact for you to ponder.) In ten years, I’ll be the one working twelve-hour days to make sure you and your kids can live happy, healthy lives. For now, I spend my time studying, hanging out with friends, playing sports, and volunteering in my community. Football games on Saturdays, dorm lounge dinner parties on weekdays, impromptu dance parties at the student union – we don’t hold hands, but we certainly enjoy our lives.

    If I get married at 30, 35 – maybe even 40 (gasp!) – I will be able to define myself as more than half of a couple. I will spend my life with a man who loves and respects me entirely, mind, body and soul – a man who I love not as a means to a end, but as a partner in every aspect of life. And if I eventually have children, I refuse to teach them that their self worth is dependent on whether or not they can get someone to hold their hand.

    Arguments like yours are the reason I have to talk my friends out of crying fits because they think they’re worthless when they’re single at age 20. Please try to have an open mind and be a little less judgmental.

    • Jenny

      So sad…

    • Amen, brother/sister! These people are WAY too old-fashioned in their mentality… lol

      I mean, as long as society isn’t going to Hell, and we’re not DYING OFF AS A RESULT OF TOO FEW PEOPLE HAVING NEW KIDS TO REPLACE DEAD CITIZENS, I think the “crisis” here is a bit overblown. Yes, I suppose you COULD argue that “too many” young folks are hooking up and having sex instead of STEADY RELATIONSHIPS, but then again, who’s to say that THE PEOPLE WHO GOT PREGNANT AT VERY EARLY AGES (barely out of high school or college) a lot more often DIDN’T live THEIR LIVES as they had originally wished or COULD HAVE?? Who’s to say that THEY DIDN’T LIVE up to their full potential just b/c “society would’ve ostracized me if I was single or pressured me constantly to settle down, so I might as well get it out of the way”?

      Besides, DID the people who got pregnant at, say, 20 or 18, like many of these old-fashioned Catholics/Christians REALLY get to live their lives to the fullest? Did the women REALLY enjoy being nothing more than BABY-MAKING MACHINES, SERVANTS OF THEIR HUSBANDS AND CHILD-RAISERS?? With little more to expect out of life…

      Honestly, butt out, right-wing “Christians.” Why are you guys so f*cking nosy?? Whether it’s WOMEN WHO HAVE ABORTIONS or GAYS GETTING MARRIED or SOME FOLKS HAVING A LITTLE UNMARRIED SEX ON THE SIDE or whatever… it just never ends. IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! You’ve ALWAYS gotta know about someone else’s sex life and act all “outraged” that his consensual tastes are A LITTLE DIFF. THAN YOURS IN PRIVATE. Or that he DIDN’T CONFORM TO SOCIETY’S PRUDISH EXPECTATIONS

      Is society REALLY as “doomed” as you people claim? Are we REALLY crumbling relationship-wise THAT MUCH?? I think you’re either NOT LOOKING AT THE BIG PICTURE or selectively misusing statistics FOR YOUR OWN BENEFIT. Besides, ALMOST EVERY time period has people who constantly claim that, “Things were a lot better back in the day, and this generation sucks or is going down the toilet.” ALMOST EVERY, if not every

      If EVERY generation keeps saying, “Things were a lot better back in my day, and this time period sucks”, who’s REALLY telling the truth?? Is it possible that PEOPLE JUST HAVE A VERY-SELECTIVE MEMORY of what REALLY went on when they were YOUNG? Or that THEY DIDN’T KNOW THE FULL STORY and only could refer to NARROW, ISOLATED EXPERIENCES FROM HAVING LIVED IN THE ONE PLACE FOR DECADES ON END?

      Think about it

      • Briana

        To Brandon, a few messages. First of all, if you were to just look at the science behind Natural Family Planning, which the Church promotes, there’s a snowball’s chance in Hawaii you would ever say again that the Church is waging a war against women. Explore this website for more information: Furthermore, with a 50% divorce rate, more than 1 million abortions being done every year (most often because men’s and women’s licenses to do as they please sexually), an STD epidemic, and 40% percent of children being born out of wedlock, do you really think that a lassiez-faire attitude towards sex has really taken our country to a good place? Do you think it’s a good thing for men and women to go to the altar perhaps confusing love for lust because they decided to “test drive before they bought?” Do you even think that such an analogy is a good thing, with the connotations of the de-humanizing attitudes and actions it reflects? Do you think that it’s good for men and women to do the baby making thing when they aren’t ready to be parents? Is it a good thing for love to be degraded from “Willing the good of one’s beloved,” to reducing the beloved to an object of lust and gratification of appetite, and to teach children likewise? Is it a good thing to physically engage in such a total act of self-giving when you’ve not given yourself away at the altar first? And I’m saying all of this as someone who is 23 and happily single.

        • Briana

          Pardon me. That should say ” …more than a million abortions being done every year (most often because men’s and women’s licenses to do as they please sexually are worth more than a baby’s chance to live)…..

      • Brandon’s Mother

        it SOUNDS like YOU are GOING through PUBERTY and ARE very CONFUSED like A child TRYING to EXPRESS himself. How Cute.

    • Jim

      I think you totally missed the point of the authors article. He was trying to say women and men used to have constructive sex-free ways of communicating with each other. You can go to dances without being romantically involved. Also where did the author correlate a persons worth to hand holding? Like it or not men and women are stuck with each other and have different emotional needs. We need to communicate that in constructive ways.

      I am very sorry to hear of your friends. As a biological student you are probably aware of hormones and how women have a ticking biological clock. Several of my girlfriends friends are experiencing this now at 30. They want to be moms but no man in their lives. Much of their misery is because of hormones, not a true desire to find a man.

    • Dave

      I agree with everything you said. However, you are missing the big picture. You stated, ” I’m a 20-year-old female attending a public university. By anyone’s standards, I am a moral Catholic woman. I’m involved in the Catholic student group on campus, and I avoid the modern social scene you discuss here. I don’t “party.” I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t have sex.” YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT YOU ARE THE 1%! I wish there were more girls like you, but the fact is there aren’t. I have been blessed to travel around the world and explore more than half the U.S. states. I am a 22 year old male, Catholic, and a college graduate with a career. Girls like you are very rare. Sometimes we need to swallow our pride and realize that not everyone is as fortunate as us.

    • Jacob R

      For sure, not every person is drawn to getting involved with the opposite sex early in adulthood. But many (including me) are. And for this large group, marriage should be embraced as their calling rather than feared as a disastrously impractical temptation. What other outlet is there for this group? They try casual relationships, and are disappointed. They go full solo, and are lonely. The only solution for this group is good wholesome holy marriage. And, once understood, this is a joy not a burden!

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  • Therese

    Well said Professor. Thank you

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  • maggie

    this is so great. there is a fine line between being ‘dependant’ on relationships and missing the interaction between genders, but i think you hit it spot on. i am in college, and have no desire to get into a relationship till after i’ve graduated. but i get very frustrated when i cant even spend time with other young men without people whispering about dating. we do need a place where like-minded young adults can spend time together dancing, going out, studying scripture, and just enjoying each other’s company. hopefully as people become aware of this, we will make positive changes.

  • maryc3

    Problem is we have “dancing” in middle school ages 11-13 .
    I do agree about missing hand-holding.
    I see an older couple so to Mass every Sunday.
    I envy the hand-holding

    But not sure “dances’ are the cur all.

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  • rabbit

    I see a lot of speculation, bias and generalization with very little hard evidence to back up the outrageous claims put forward in lazy, tired writing that gives the reader more than a few hints that author assumes that his target audience will agree with his points without much thought.

  • Gabriel Lindor

    It’s true…I’m 30 and I speak from the experience of being courtship-clueless. Just talking with a priest about this the other day! My whole generation is confused. The faithful Catholics (not all) worry they’re “ignoring a religious/priestly vocation” and the non-believers are just not getting married. Not an easy time to try to date according to the Gospel…

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