“I was looking for love in all the wrong places” is a line from country singer Johnny Lee’s 1980 hit “Lookin’ for Love.”
Lots of Americans are apparently looking for love in all the wrong places, or at least are having trouble locating the right places to look for love, and some have given up altogether on the quest for romance and commitment. A pre-COVID 2019 Pew Research Center survey found large numbers of adults reporting that dating has gotten much more difficult. Many of the never-married younger adults claim to lack any experience of a committed relationship, and this same poll found that men and women under age 50 often had higher priorities—usually their jobs or their enjoyment of the single life—than dating and partnership.
Without really touching on them, the Pew Study inadvertently reveals other reasons why dating and relationships may have become more troubled these days.
Building a romantic relationship—or any relationship—requires time, energy, and work.
Not everyone wants to make those efforts. Several years ago, I met an old friend for supper in a Santa Fe restaurant. She spent most of the meal telling me about her work as a teacher and how she filled her evenings with all sorts of commitments: time at the Y, yoga sessions, a knitting club, book clubs, art classes, and more. She then lamented the lack of a man in her life. When I mentioned online dating sites, she harrumphed and said, “Who’s got time for that?”
Whether she knew it or not, she’d made a choice. She’d opted for activities that fed her pleasure and well-being rather than for relationship.
Which brings us to the next point hidden away in this survey. Many of the men and women seemed to look at dating as a game of getting rather than of giving. There was little to no emphasis in the questions on the gifts they were bringing to the table, what and how they might give of themselves to another. Instead, the poll focused on what they wanted for themselves.
Perhaps the questions pointed them in this direction, but they seemed blind as to what they themselves might bring into a relationship. They’d forgotten, or maybe never knew, that a strong marriage or partnership relies on a servant attitude, the desire and willingness of both parties to sacrifice themselves for the other.
Finally, an ultimate end-game strategy seemed missing in this conception of dating. What were these respondents looking for in a relationship? Someone to fill the empty spaces in their lives? A partner to share good times? Or did they hope to marry, settle down together in a home or apartment, and build a family?
It was a little difficult to tell, but the evidence suggests that this last possibility is low on the totem pole of dating.
About a decade ago, I read parts of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” his thoughts on sexuality, the body, human dignity, and the integration of the physical and the spiritual in the human person. Even at the time, I found it ironic that a celibate priest could write more profoundly than anyone I’d ever read about human sexuality and relationship.
One key element in “Theology of the Body” was the idea of love and communion: “the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift—and by means of this gift—fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.”
When we give someone a gift, we want it to have value and meaning. When we ourselves are the gift, we should wish that gift to be as splendid and worthy as possible.
Looking for love? Make yourself lovable.