St Louis Martin, traditional masculinity and the problem with Catholic dating

In the UK, there was at some point a TV series called The Undateable which aimed to pair up people who find it hard to date. I haven’t watched it, but I remember seeing an advert with a most adorable young man with Tourette who, if Tourette is his only “flaw”, is much less undateable than a lot of single Catholic men populating the dating sphere. My own experiences before my husband were not great in many ways (often, I joke that the Catholic men I met in my single years were the reason I married an Anglican and made him a Catholic), and I still count myself lucky compared to what some girls have to deal with according to Twitter’s new favourite account Catholic Dating Nightmares.  

I can count on my hand the people I know who are single through no fault of their own. Everyone else seems to be single because they are unappealing partners. Without calling out anyone in particular, there are 3 main factors that seem to appear commonly among single Catholic men, especially on the traditional side. All 3 of them (some sort of fetish for devotions like veiling or even any show of piety, excessive concern with a woman’s appearance and a poor understanding of wifely submission informed more by a glorified view of 1950s Protestant -largely American- culture) all end up being another side of the same coin of female objectification of our pornified culture, and so they’re big red flags for any woman, especially those serious about their faith and finding a godly husband. 

A few days ago I was listening to  The Bible Binge podcast, and the episode on the book of Ruth struck me as timely. Most of the time, when someone looks at this book they focus on Ruth in her relationship with Naomi, and I know why and sympathise with that. At the same time, there is a great lesson on being a man a woman can love in Boaz. If I’m being honest, there are some flaws in the man, but I think they make him all the more an example for men who are also flawed. Nobody is perfect and if we were looking for a perfect spouse we would all be consecrated virgins or nuns. 

In short, Boaz takes care of Ruth, whom he knows is in dire circumstances, even if he isn’t the relative that the Law designated for taking care of her. He acts in a gentle way, and out of kindness. These are two of the main things that any woman I know, including myself, looks for in a man. Granted, they need to like you, which can be a complicated thing, but if you are trying to meet someone online you might want to start with being genuinely kind and not a creep. Treat it like a job interview. If you are successful it’s not because you spent half an hour talking about your ideal job and the perks you want, but what you can do for the company and why your qualities are a perfect fit. 

While I had this draft saved and life happened, I listened to an old episode of the Fountains of Carrots podcast while spring cleaning. It was episode 57 and it was about going from singlehood to marriage. I think it shares some hard truths about the crisis of masculinity in our Church, which is less about being manly men with a beard and a penchant for the outdoors and more about the influence of secular culture behind the façade of holy desires (we all know someone with a fetish for mantilla veils…). Do you ever wonder why Catholic women are generally obsessed with period dramas? It’s not out of a fetish for the clothes (although I’m guilty of that), but there is always a hero who is a gentleman.

Closer in time to us than Boaz are two saints, St Joseph (whose feast day is tomorrow) and even more recently St Louis Martin. He lived as a bachelor until the age of 35, and had exceptional piety (he tried to become a monk and failed due to his education). His marriage to St Zélie was at first a Josephite one until their spiritual director encouraged them to consummate it and we know the godly family that followed from that (including my beloved St Thérèse). Can you imagine this man ever thought he wanted a pin-up body in his faithful wife? St Zélie was rather pretty from the images we have of her, even if the plain hairstyle and clothes may not show it too obviously. He clearly was struck with her, as they married within 3 months of the first meeting (and as far as I know it was Zélie alone who heard God’s prompting that he was the one set aside for her).

He designed the traditional wedding medallion with a reference to the story of Sarah and Tobias in the Book of Tobit. It is true that many men can posture all they want about fidelity and the purity of marriage while also giving signs that they are affected by the culture around us and the commodification of women, but the guy got formally canonised, had one daughter also canonised and another with an open cause…I’m willing to bet he was truly as good as he sounds (and St Thérèse’s descriptions of him and his influence on her are so delightful). 

People might object that we have a right to seek people we are attracted to, given the expectation of a physical union, but to have a list of traits that make a woman good wife material seems to me to try and limit what God can do in our life. It is also right and just to want a holy spouse when you are serious about the faith, that’s kinda the point, so I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to behaviour that suggests she is faithful (being mindful that you can only judge appearances and not the heart). All I’m saying is that someone needs to look at their heart and their motivations and ask themselves: why do I equate traditional femininity with looks and not virtues? What would you do if, like St Zélie, I crossed paths with a woman who is not the fit pin-up girl with long hair that I say I am looking but God said in my heart she is the woman set aside for me? 

I may be cynical, but I can’t imagine men who send messages that clearly show their lust would accept God’s will in that scenario, but I hope to be proven wrong. Women can pick up on those vibes, and if you are a man who isn’t successful at finding a holy Catholic young woman to marry check your approach for such signs. Look at the life of St Louis Martin and his courtship of Zélie. If anything you are thinking of, or about to say, comes across as a thought a man like that wouldn’t have then scrap it. Pray and work on your own virtues (especially genuine kindness), act like a gentleman and be a friend before you’re a lover. Catholics aren’t famous for long engagements, so there’s no need to rush the stage before that.

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