Some old(ish) reflections on gay Catholic dating…
As it stands, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with two gay Christians going on dates, at least under official Catholic teaching (i.e. catechism). Of course, one can present the presumptuous dating-is-for-marriage-and-gay-marriage-isn’t-real argument, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately for this argument, dating is a modern institution developed to have a variety of purposes, one of them being to discern whether someone might be a suitable life partner, one of them being to just get to know someone better, and one of them to discern whether someone is a good marriage partner. For my purposes, I’ve been calling dating “data collection.”
Dating is a recent institution still in change, and to pretend that it serves a single eternal purpose involves adopting a historically inaccurate view. Dating is not a Christian institution. It arose in Christian cultures (post-Christian cultures, given that they were Enlightenment cultures?), but it’s a cultural phenomenon adopted and reframed for Christian purposes, rather than a phenomenon that’s always been beholden to such purposes.
Still, I don’t adopt dating with all of its ambiguities. The gay celibate Christian thing is complicated, and I don’t think it would be fair to the other person to accept a date without disclosing my basic complications.
So if a guy asked me out, I could imagine myself saying something like,
“So here’s the deal. You seem like a really nice guy [if he’s actually nice]. But I’m Catholic. And what I mean by that is that I plan on living a celibate life and not getting married. I’m open to having a life partner or getting to know people, but if that’s not something you’re interested that’s totally fine. So I’ll give you my number, and if you’re still interested or if you want to talk about it, you can call or text me. But if you’re not, that’s totally fine too.”
But ultimately, I think it would be a really one-of-a-kind guy if it was going to work. Here are some things I’d probably have to talk with him about if we were considering it (in a non-hierarchical order, subject to refinement/addition):
- To quote the Spice Girls, if you want to be my lover, you got to get with my friends. If you’re the kind of guy who would say, “Pick them or me,” we probably won’t work. My friends, my roommates, and my family are non-negotiables. If you want to date me, you have to date my house. They don’t have to love you from the beginning, and I’ll do my best to get them on board if I like you. But if you move me to a place of having to pick between them and you (a place I don’t think they would ever push me to), you’ll lose.
- We’re not going to go to a secluded suburban paradise. I do community living, which means we may never have a living situation with just you and me and our dog–though, to be clear, I do want a dog. I already have friends that I feel very committed to, and they’ll always be welcome to live with me. You’d need to be able to live with them too.
- I’m into hospitality, and the revolving door. Right now I’m trying to make my house a hub for social and intellectual life. I host people over pretty frequently, for pre-work coffee, for dinner, for book club, for all kinds of things. This might slow down when I get older or busier with work, but I always want my home to be a place where people feel welcome, any day, at any time. I want it to be a place where community and friendship are born and nurtured. I also want my home to be a place that others can visit and be welcome. This means that I usually try to make sure visitors have a bed, even if I have to sleep on a couch or have to share a room temporarily. You need to be open to the revolving door.
- I have a handful of friends who will know pretty much everything about our relationship. The gay celibate community-oriented thing is tricky, and it’s easy to let things slide into a place of absorption into couplehood or activities that are not-so-wholesome. I need friends to keep me accountable and call me out if I’m neglecting my community or moving into a place of endangering my commitment to celibacy. So for those few friends, they’ll know everything from the things we talk about, to the way you touch me, to the way I feel about you. This doesn’t mean that there won’t ever be things between just the two of us, but you should know that I’ve been in places of secrets kept from my closest friends, and I never want to go back there again.
- If I like you, my friends will probably like you. I know a lot of the above makes my friends sound scary, but they’re really not. They’re the best people I know, and you’ll probably like them too.
- My faith comes first. I go to Mass every Sunday. I try to go during the week. Prayer is really important to me, as is being involved in my parish. You don’t have to share my faith, but I’d like it if you were at least willing to talk about it, respect it, and occasionally do some faith-oriented things with me.
- I’m a very driven person. When I think something is important, I pursue it at 300 miles per hour. You don’t need to have the same kind of drive, but I do expect you to have goals and desires that I can pursue with you. I don’t mind spending an occasional afternoon on Netflix, but if your life revolves around a TV screen, we’re just not going to be in the same place.
- You need to have your own friends and your own life. I want your friends to become my friends, and I want to share things, but it’s important that you not be the kind of person that just lets your whole life be absorbed into the person you’re dating. Have your own identity, goals, dreams, and achievements.
- I want our relationship to be oriented towards others. I want someone who will conspire with me to bring about my friends’ happiness. I also want a relationship that will deepen my relationships with others, rather than detract from them.
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*An Addendum. A friend helped me to think some of this out a bit more. Here’s some stuff, more or less just copied, from our conversation:
Some more thoughts on the word “dating”: I think the term “dating” is difficult, and there would have to be a lot of discussions on what we’re doing and how it’s different from how people usually think of dating. But that’s one of the advantages of using the word. Using the word “dating” lets you talk about how it’s different from what many people think of as “dating.” So I’d see dating as an easy stand-in term for something that doesn’t really have a word but might be like dating in many ways. In some ways, it’s like the word “gay.” It’s a caricatured and not always helpful and has frequent non-(or anti-)Christian meanings or connotations, but it’s frequently just the easiest word to use. It’s a good starting point, but it’ll need to be adjusted and fleshed out.
I’d be fine with being in a relationship and not calling it dating. I’m just also not super opposed to calling it dating either. But it doesn’t really matter in a way because I’m not in a romantic/datingish relationship anyways, and I’m not really looking for one. But I found it helpful to think of it that way, and it’s been a helpful response when friends have tried setting me up. I had a law school friend that tried to set me up with one of her church guys a couple of weeks ago. I told her a) if it was going to happen, it probably wouldn’t be for a while since I’m working through some stuff, and b) it would have to be a weird relationship in many ways and if he’s open to that we could discuss it but otherwise it wouldn’t work.
I just like the clear way of talking about it like this, because it avoids weird ambiguous relationships that can frequently be dishonest. Having a starting point for talking about it gives it a framework where you can discuss expectations, which helps to avoid some ambiguities and avoidance that can lead to dishonest and self-deceptive ways of moving forward in a relationship.
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**A Second Addendum, added today: I’m actually not “on the market” currently. So if you’d ask me out, I’d actually say something like, “Thanks, but I’m seeing someone currently. I’m cool making friends, though!”
You can find this post and others like it in my collection of writings, “I Desired You: Volume 2.” Available here.
Love both how you’d communicate with the guy you’d be dating and the guidelines/boundaries you’d put in place. By setting up those expectations from the beginning, you’re protecting both his heart and yours. Thanks for helping us think through this topic!
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