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Dating in today’s world is the worst.

Trust me, I speak from experience. I spent years scouring for the woman who would eventually become my wife, and in that time had experiences with many common dating tropes. I had the “reconnecting after years” relationship and the long distance, cross-country relationship. I had the “only lasted a week” relationship, the ghosting relationship, the relationship you think is a relationship but she doesn’t, and then there was the relationship she thinks is a relationship but you don’t. I dated online, in person, in big cities, small towns, in bars, baseball games, and trips to the zoo. I’ve had to have DTRs (Defining the Relationship) that didn’t go so well, and, well, since I’m married, went perfectly too.

As someone who is now on the other side, I can assure you, that frustration you have with dating? It’s real.

Part of the problem, at least in my experience, is there is no agreed-upon cultural way to date anymore. There are no ritual expectations, norms, or even motivations. Seems like, according to all the old movies and TV shows I’ve seen, there used to be a certain manner in which a young man was expected to ask a girl out, that it was clear this was a date and not just “hanging out,” and there was an order and pace one could rely upon as he or she decided if they wanted to be in a long-term relationship with this other person.

Related: Theology of the Body and God's Plan for My Life

Now? It seems like everyone has gone insane.

For me, dating was always about trying to find the girl I wanted to marry. But as I discovered, on several occasions, that was not why she was dating me. For many, dating is just one more thing to do to have fun while living the rest of your life. Getting married is what you do after you’ve had the chance to live a little. But dang it, I still think dating is for marriage, and when you get down to it, I think most people do as well. My proof: date someone long enough and everyone will start to think you’ll get married. Sure, you can goof around and just hang out with that girl you’re attracted to, but, that’s why so many people just want to call that “hanging out” these days. Dating means commitment, and eventually, commitment means marriage.

Marriage is amazing. It is the ultimate life fulfillment. I can’t tell you how many times I look around me and think, how’d did I get here? My life is so complete! It’s not dancing on sugar plums by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t help but feel like marriage and the family are what life is all about. Dating is all about how the person you are now goes on a journey to become the person you need to be on your wedding day, standing before the altar confessing your love in front of all your parents' friends. 

When you start dating someone, you do so because they are attractive. You want them to be in your life because you are convinced they will make your life better in so many ways. They are beautiful, smart, virtuous, godly, whatever the case may be. You want what they have. The ancient Greeks called this kind of love eros. It is a kind of love that is expressed through desiring the object of your love. This is the euphoric feeling that gives you a head rush when she holds your hand, laughs at your stupid joke, or even agrees to go out with you in the first place.

But like any diamond anniversary couple will tell you, eros doesn’t get you very far, and if it doesn’t mature and transform into another kind of love, agape, it can flame out and lead to a lot of pain. Agape, as the ancient Greeks called it, was a self-giving love, a love focused on the good of the other; the good not merely of whether they were in a good mood, but deeper, a love concerned with whether the loved person had what they needed in life to flourish as a person. This agape-love helps one to realize his life is not about him but is about giving himself totally, completely, and in every conceivable manner, away to this other person in the pursuit of their good. Therefore, marriage is the meeting place of two people ready to completely lay down their lives for each other in a selfless and complete way. Lived well, each seeks the other’s good and therefore the utter and complete giving away of oneself is done in safety, because she seeks his good, while he seeks her’s in reckless abandon. The permanence of marriage ensures that this gift is real and not merely a cloak and dagger strategy to take what you want and run.

Related: Real Love Prepares You for Marriage

Getting from where you are now to the place where an awesome marriage can happen, boys and girls, is what dating is all about.

But dating in today’s world is the worst.

We’ve forgotten this beautiful, exciting, amazing journey from eros-love to agape-love and we’ve sort of flipped it on its head. Dating becomes less about learning to give myself away and more about what I can get out of the relationship. Thus, if there are any customs, expectations, and norms like those old movies I watched, it’s that you sleep together if you make it to the third date. Everything is given away right up front in the relationship, so then marriage essentially becomes a formality. Formalities are very romantic.

My personal hero, Pope Saint John Paul II offered a general principle that I think can be applied to dating. He said, “man is a person precisely because he is master of himself and has dominion over himself. Indeed, inasmuch as he is master over himself he can ‘give himself’ to another.” This speaks directly to what we’re talking about here. It is only through learning self-mastery over oneself that you can then in turn give yourself away. If you find it difficult to practice self-mastery while dating, you can’t really ever give yourself away. You’ll always be caught in the middle of wanting to take from the other and wanting to give yourself away.

Related: #TonicMasculinity: 3 Words for Men to Embody and Become Who We Were Born to Be

And this is why porn is so destructive. Porn kills love (to borrow a phrase). A porn girlfriend is never going to need you to do anything for her. A porn girlfriend is never going to inspire you to maturity. A porn girlfriend is never going to meet you at the altar for the adventure of mutual self-sacrificial love. The pixels on the screen that fascinate so many men will never bring about true human flourishing. Those pixels exist to trap you in a self-focused, self-absorbed, and self-concerned swamp. They will never bring you to the heights of love because those pixels teach you to only care about what you can take.

Porn is killing dating because porn does the opposite of healthy dating. Dating gradually draws you out of yourself into the heights and porn buries you further in the ground.

Dating in today’s world is the worst.

My brothers, your future ability to love completely depends on overcoming porn and becoming the master of yourself so you can give yourself away in a life-giving commitment to a wife and family. I’d like to recommend to you STRIVE 21. STRIVE 21 is a 21-day detox from pornography. It teaches you how to understand why pornography has such a powerful hold on you and then shows you a way to freedom. But more than a collection of information, STRIVE offers you a community to support you and encourage you to regain your humanity, your masculinity, and your ability to love a real live woman in a true and worthy manner.

Related: Hey, wanna see something?

Deep down, we all want to be men of integrity, men of our word, men who ultimately are worthy of the trust of their wives and children.

So, what will it be? You were created to live life to its fullest, to live a full, robust, and adventurous life, a life so saturated with joy that others around you flourish and find real happiness. Make dating the best. Your future wife and kids are counting on you. Are you willing to strive to be the man they need you to be?

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Richard Budd lives in Lansing, MI, with his wife and four children. He obtained a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, D.C. and he has served as the Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Lansing, MI, for the past six years. In addition to the work he does for the diocese to build up the domestic church, and building up his own domestic church at home, he directs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at his home parish and regularly writes and gives talks on marriage and the family, the Domestic Church, Theology of the Body, and other related topics.