Throughout my single years, I’ve definitely had dating pauses. Some were just dry spells: no one interested me on CatholicMatch (if I was subscribing at that time), or the new people I met through young adult groups weren’t anyone God was leading me toward discerning a first date, let alone marriage with. But I do recall taking a deliberate break from dating. I suppose you could call it a fast. Unlike Lenten fasts, which so many seem to me are more about giving food or drink the power to be a torture device (I would only want what I was abstaining from more), this fast was not about giving up something good or neutral to be a sacrifice for God, but to cleanse myself of any disordered attachments, and to get some kind of clarity on what I was doing and why.
I recall the early days very vividly. I had just broken up with a guy about two months too late. After attending a Theology on Tap event (by myself) for the first time without the intention of “meeting” someone, but to learn and maybe have a pint of something tasty, a guy I’d made polite small talk with for a few minutes at my table followed me out to the bus stop outside the restaurant and asked me out. Flummoxed, I said I was going home to Florida for a bit (true), and he persisted to say “after?”, and it only took a few seconds to say no. I knew instinctively I should not go meet this guy for coffee. My bewilderment at this guy, an unspoken “what are you doing?”, was actually more a question for myself. “What are you doing?”
The past year had been fairly active for me–dating-wise. Only a couple stood out, but most ended within 5 dates. With the latest guy, I had thought more time (especially since we didn’t see each other every week), would help me feel more, but I realized after hurting him (by breaking up with him when he didn’t expect it) that we were not spending time together right, and none of the previous attempts at a relationship were spent “right”—and the only way to avoid getting myself hurt or hurting someone else was to first learn what would be “getting it right.”
For nearly two years, I didn’t date–mostly by choice. I spent the time learning about my faith, trying to develop non-romantic friendships, and be a part of a community. I learned a heck of a lot more about the beauty of chastity, the purpose of dating, what I wanted out of a relationship (not just a boyfriend–but a potential husband), and what I wanted the guy to want (not just a girlfriend–but a potential wife). It was an incredible feeling to go home after a young adult adoration night and tell my roomies about the joyous moment of growth: I had stood in a circle of people (including single guys) and did not use one iota of that time to fret over how I was coming across (dateable?), figure out how I could get them interested, or inwardly moaning that they seemed to be paying more attention to my bubbly friends than shy me. It was just a conversation, no more. I had lost the attachment. And for the most part, I was healed. My fast only lasted as long as it did because I was waiting to be sure that the reason I wanted to date again was “right”, and what’s more, finally knew what “right” should look like. My first relationship after the fast didn’t work out, but the whole process helped me be more judicious in who I did date and handle the relationship.
A dating fast–if done intentionally and for the right reasons–can be very healthy. It helps you discern not only your own motivations and desires and call, but also God’s will for you. Of course, like any fast, you can do it poorly (“I gave up men, but it’s a special occasion and I don’t want to be dateless, soooo…” or worse something like “I can’t believe I gave up dating. It’s awful. I hate it. I am miserable. I can’t wait until I can date again” every.day.). If you think something’s off about your dating life, consider doing a fast. It doesn’t have to be as long as mine–in fact, I’d argue that unlike Lenten fasts or diets, you shouldn’t start with a specific time frame, but see where the Lord leads you in this practice. If you need a guidepost for a minimum, use Jesus’s. At least 40 days in this “desert.” Or Mary’s–a 54-day novena. Or a summer or a year. Whatever is the time you discern God asks you to take.
As we all know, giving something up may strengthen our detachment, help us be healthier, but doesn’t always lead to 100% perfect follow-through after. In other words, if starting a dating fast, don’t go into it with the assumption that the husband you’re still praying for will be there at the end, or feel that you’ve failed because you made mistakes you thought you wouldn’t repeat. And if you’re worried that maybe a dating fast at your age doesn’t seem sensible (believe me, nothing like being in your late 20s and just wanting to be married like yesterday, darnit), take whatever solace you can from knowing you’re doing something healthy and positive for you, the hope that maybe it can help clarify and purify the dating process, and the eventual joy from discovering what life gives you when you’re not busy with dude drama, but busy with your life: new hobbies, new friends, new spirit.