During my last relationship, as my then-boyfriend and I discussed getting serious, we talked about the point of dating, specifically the point of dating as Christians. What was the point? And how do would we go about it? These conversations stirred up even more questions in my heart. Why is it that some couples date for years, marry, and divorce within months? Why don't more college students find love during college? What makes a relationship last the test of time? I had recently bought Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II's Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri and couldn't help but turn to it for guidance. Sri writes about Aristotle's three kinds of friendship: utilitarian friendship, pleasant friendship, and virtuous friendship. Only the virtuous friendship lasts because it is true friendship. Only the virtuous friendship is the one that will lead to a solid marriage.
In utilitarian friendship, the friendship blooms because it is useful. John wants to drink alcohol but is underage. His next door neighbor Pauly has a fake ID. Pauly is generous enough to share his alcohol with John. They party together, but the friendship is based on usefulness. In the pleasant friendship, the friendship blossoms because it is fun and enjoyable. Mary is have a blast dating Phil. They go out dancing every weekend, and Phil loves having someone to bring to family parties. These friendships don't last, though, because they are easily destroyed. If one friend no longer needs the companionship or services of the other (John gets too many underage citations and gives up drinking), or if one no longer finds the other to be fun (Phil wants to go to a basketball game instead of dancing), the relationship dismantles.
The hook up culture is a mutant of utilitarian and pleasant friendships. It is based on nothing that can last, just sexual gratification and unstable companionship. It ignores the dignity of each person and turns them into little more than a sex object or a status. Hopes, dreams, wishes? Not important in the hook up culture. There is no higher aim than sexual pleasure and companionship that starts and ends at a certain time. Hooking up demands no self-sacrifice or growth as a person. Take what you want, then leave.
In contrast, virtuous friendship is born as the friends seek the good, a moral life that is based in virtues. The emphasis is not on what I get out of the friendship; both parties are focused on growing in virtue, and this creates the bond of a common aim. In this way, one person doesn't use the other, and individual selfishness is banished. The friendship is solid. It lasts because it's not based on fleeting emotions, certain activities, or usefulness. You see the other as a whole person and in the light of the common goal.
As dating Christians, our goal is to bring each other closer to God and to discern whether we're called to marry the person we're dating. To do this, we have to grow our relationships from utilitarian and pleasant friendships to virtuous friendship. How do we know if we're doing this correctly? Sri writes that anytime you can focus on what you get out of the relationship, you're stuck in a utilitarian or pleasant friendship.
At my high school, this video "Two Sets of Joneses" by Big Tent Revivial was shown often. The song perfectly sums up the difference between a relationship based on utility and pleasantness and one based in virtues. The rain came down, and it blew the four walls down, and the clouds they rolled away, and one set of Joneses was standing that day. "Which one will you be?" the song asks.
Today I ask myself, "Which friendship will I cultivate while I date?" I haven't always practiced virtuous friendship. Sometimes I just dated because it was nice to have a date. Sometimes I pushed for what I wanted just because I wanted it. Sometimes I looked at a person as a means to an end. I wasn't thinking of the other person; I lost sight of the common goal.
Today I recommit myself to pursuing virtuous friendship. I invite you to do the same!
[Disclaimer: This post was heavily influenced by Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II's Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri. I do not own the rights to "Two Sets of Joneses"]