This chapter contains articles from Oliver M. Tuazon, Paul Dumol, and Jaime B. Achacoso.
I would rather…
Oliver M. Tuazon
This article originally appeared in Sun Star. It tackles what could be the common concern of young people: love. It clarifies the confusion between true love and feelings of love.
Love is not a feeling.
If you are young, I would not be surprised if you are shocked with that statement. Every time I say it in various speaking engagements with young people, I get an almost unanimous violent reaction. Until I explain it.
I am writing down my explanation to fulfill a promise I made to my students last February, “the love month.” But school year-ender work and seminars ate up my time. Now that June, “the wedding month,” is just a few days away, I guess it is timely to talk again about love.
It is understandable for a young person, especially an adolescent, to confuse love with feelings. Adolescence is a special and complex stage in one’s physical and physiological development. One starts to get physiologically attracted to another of the opposite sex. And this brings about feelings of varying degrees.
These are the feelings that are confused with love. But once again, love is not feelings. Love does not reside solely in one’s feelings. Feelings may manifest love, but they are not it.
Where does love reside then? Love is in the will, that inner faculty we have to choose the good.
It is the ability to love, to commit oneself to the good of a relationship, for an example, that distinguishes us from animals. It is the ability to use our reason and free will that cuts us above the level of a beast. Because animals have feelings too.
Hence, our love cannot just be based on feelings. Young people usually say, “feel ko eh” (“that is what I feel”). This mentality leads to a lot of trouble. What if you don’t ‚feel like it‛ anymore? Hence, you see a lot of relationships falling apart for very mean reasons.
One day, a group of students in my class, while waiting for their laboratory work to progress, were discussing why some women are called “female dogs” (for the sake of refinement, let me just use this). Very easy. A female dog gets into an affair with a male dog on the street anytime she “feels like it.”
A woman may perhaps experience similar feelings in meeting a man. But if she wants to rise above the level of a female dog, she will use her reason and free will to direct her feelings. She would, for an example, ask herself, “Is he my husband?” The same thing holds true for a man who knows that he is more than a beast.
To those who will wed this June, remember that love also entails a commitment. Love being in the will rather than in the feelings is understood more clearly. When it is committed.
Couples commit themselves to stay together for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in health or in sickness, till death parts their ways. If love is based on good, sugary feelings, it ends when the going gets tough.
Couples have to learn how to love not just the virtues of their spouses, but to accept their defects as well while trying to correct them. The husband will not be as physically handsome and “macho” as he was and the wife will not be as pretty and “slim” as she was.
Hence, a spouse who confuses love with feelings will abandon the relationship the moment it gets trying and difficult. Speak to any couple who have been tested by time and you will learn a lot of lessons on love and commitment.
This reminds me of a song I fondly call the “song of fidelity,” and the chorus goes:
“I’d rather have bad times with you, than good times with someone else…,I’d rather be beside you in a storm, than safe and warm by myself…‚I’d rather have hard times together, than to have it easy apart…”
You may apply those lyrics to your relationship with your spouse, or if you are a priest or a nun to your divine vocation, and why not, even in the fulfillment of those acts of piety you decided to do as concrete expressions of your love for God.
When you could sing those words by heart and mean them, then you know what love is and what love means. I sing them myself when I feel the weight of my commitments, and I send an SMS message to a friend who starts to waver in his own commitments with a simple “I’d rather.” Then he understands.
Reprinted by permission from SunStar, Iloilo City, Philippines.
By dint of affection
Oliver M. Tuazon
This article touches on the need to correct the people we love in an affectionate way. It argues that love is not true if we allow our loved ones to wallow in their defects without doing anything to correct them.
People change by dint of affection.
I heard that six years ago, and it moved me to take good care of the people around me. But I did not understand it more clearly until recently when I heard the story of Mr. Black Sheep.
They say that each family has its own black sheep. I find that unfair. It makes parents compare their children subconsciously and label the least attractive child as black sheep.
It is true that some children bring ‚shame to the family name.‛ It is a complex issue where much of the blame falls on the child. Might it not rather also be the fault of the parents and the other members of the family?
Let’s look at the story of Mr. Black Sheep.
He was his school principal’s favorite, i.e., he was always in trouble. Fist fighting was his favorite sport and his favorite hobby, making girls cry. He liked going home early. Well, early in the morning of the following day, normally after a drinking spree with his barkada.
In his worst moment of being “under the influence,” he could barely stand up; he was literally vomiting his guts out. But he felt he had to go home- creeping.
The reaction of his father that morning changed him the rest of his life. Instead of the usual reproach, his father helped him up and made him hot porridge and black coffee.
While eating, he promised himself, “I will never get drunk again!”
I almost cried when I heard the story. Truly, people change not so much with the corrections and scolding we give them, but more with the love and affection we show them.
While love is in the will, affection involves much of human affectivity- the realm of one’s feelings and emotions. Hence, for one to give authentic affection, one has to love first, since willing is a much higher human faculty than feeling.
I am not saying we should avoid correcting mistakes. It is not just a duty of love, but of justice as well, to correct a spouse, a child, a brother, a sister, a friend, and even one’s parents, if they are in error. But we should learn how to correct people with and out of love.
Just like what the great statesman, Thomas More, did. One day, he had to correct one of his household helpers on how to serve during meals. He gave the correction so affectionately that the helper committed the same mistake the next day, so as to receive the same correction again.
Of course, we should not repeat our mistakes just to get another affectionate correction. But corrections done with and out of love and real affection are always well received and will eventually transform people.
How much are we willing to change when we know that the person correcting us only wants the best for us, no matter how strong the correction may be?
I am eternally grateful to those who have guided and given me opportune corrections when I was much younger, especially the staff of study centers I frequented in college. I have learned to treasure them until now. They have kept me in check, and helped me become a better person than I would otherwise have been. To them I owe the value of true friendship, that of wanting the best for one’s friend.
Art and Pornography
This article is a much-awaited piece which distinguishes art from pornography written by an eminent historian and playwright, who wrote the classic “Ang paglilitis ni Mang Serapio” and the centennial play “Illustrado” for the national hero, Jose Rizal, among other works.
Sometimes one hears the remark, “That’s not pornography; that’s art,” as though art and pornography were the opposite ends of the same spectrum: the one is not the other; something cannot be both art and pornography at the same time. I do not think, however, that the possibility of “artistic pornography” is something anyone would challenge. Similarly, no one would challenge the possibility of “pornographic art” today.
What I am saying in effect is that it is possible for something to be both art and pornography, which means that the two are not opposite ends of the same spectrum. The reason for this is that pornography has to do with the subject matter, while art has to do with the way something is made. The one does not exclude the other. When art is pornographic, then all strictures on pornography apply. Art does not excuse what is wrong. On the other hand, the fact that pornography is artistic does not make it morally acceptable; art falls under ethics and morals. The reason is that ethics and morals cover all human actions, and the creation of art is a human action.
Sometimes we are told that it is the intention of an object’s maker that makes that object pornographic or not. If, however, someone were to decide to make a pornographic billboard which he then put up, we would find it hard to call the billboard pornographic if it provoked laughter instead of leers. Pornography means etymologically “writing about harlots,” not for sociological purposes, but to produce in the reader the sort of pleasure we associate with sex. When something meant to be pornographic produces no such pleasure, then we are surely justified in wondering whether it is even pornography. The same thing is true of art. The declaration of something as art does not make it so. An artist on the other hand may decide to paint a nude. He shows it to a friend, and the friend says, “I find it too sexy” (or “very sexy”). Let us suppose this was not the artist’s intention. Let us say further he insists that he has created a work of art and will exhibit it as such. The long queue of males who obviously do not usually frequent art galleries, but who stand in line to take a look at the painting may convince him that, even if his intention was solely to create a work of art, he has unintentionally created pornography. What decides whether an object is pornographic or not is the work itself.
Let me discuss two subjects that frequently surface with regard to art and pornography. The first is nudity. The perception of a painting of a nude is not the same as the perception of a nude in a photograph. The difference is in the medium. A painting (and like it, a statue) is a representation of its subject matter; a photograph is a record of it. Between the viewer of a painting of a nude and the nude model is the painter: the painter sees the naked model and translates what he sees into a painting. When we see a painting from life, we are never actually sure whether what we see in the painting is what we would have seen in the artist’s studio had we been present while the artist was painting. On the contrary, no one intrudes, so to speak, between the viewer of a photograph of a nude and the nude model: the camera, we assume, has captured exactly what we would have seen had we been present in the studio during the photo shoot. A representation refers us as much to the author of the representation as to its subject matter; a record by definition refers us to what is recorded. The next best thing to actually seeing a person is to look at his photograph. This is the reason why we normally carry photos, not drawings, of our loved ones in our wallets. This is the reason why you will rarely (or never) find pornographic magazines illustrated with paintings and drawings: the photograph is the illustration of choice. What this means is that the ethical principles that govern gazing at a naked person govern the act of looking at photographs of naked persons, with few exceptions if any, but do not govern the viewing of paintings of naked persons. A nude in a movie, which is composed of photographs, is not the same as a nude in a painting: the difference is in the medium, and the difference determines our reaction to it.
Let me briefly consider two misunderstandings of the foregoing. One concerns the photographer: does he not “represent” as much as the painter does? Why cannot his work be called representation as well? The answer to this is a consideration of how the photographic image is produced: simply put, the film in the camera captures light waves bouncing off the subject. The camera is a passive instrument in the production of the photographic image. Its closest counterpart in the art of painting is the surface of the painting: the canvas or the paper. The photographer sets the conditions for the production of the photographic image: attending to both camera and subject. When he presses the button of the camera, however, the camera takes the picture without his direct intervention in the process: the light waves travel from subject to film without his assistance. The equivalent of the light waves in the process of painting is pigment, paintbrush, and the artist’s hand: the painted image is produced directly by the artist through the mediation of his own sense of sight. The painter is personally involved in the production of the painted image. This is why the painting sends us ultimately to the painter; in contrast, the photograph sends us directly to the model: the model, in the process by which the photographic image is produced, is the equivalent of the painter; hence, the nature of the photograph as a record of the model.
A second misunderstanding regards the nature of the painting: can not a painting be used as a record and is this not what historians do? A painting can certainly be used as a record, but that does not change what it is: it is a representation. My remarks about how we perceive paintings and photographs refer to what paintings and photographs are respectively. Paintings and photographs may be used for a variety of purposes, but these purposes do not affect what they are and consequently how we perceive them whether as paintings or photographs.
The second subject related to art and pornography is the depiction of erotica. Sometimes the argument is given that realism demands the depiction of erotica, which is, after all, very much a part of human reality. What the argument usually forgets is that part of the reality of human sexual love is intimacy. By “intimacy” I do not mean “an amorously familiar act” or “sexual intercourse,” both meanings given by the dictionary for “intimacy.” I mean rather “privacy”—yet another meaning of “intimacy.” The human being is the only animal that engages in sexual intercourse in private. Intimacy in the sense of privacy is part of the reality of human sexual relations, and so the artist who wishes to depict erotica in the name of realism must include this in his depiction. Is this possible at all? Does not the very nature of depiction, which consists in the public presentation of something, violate intimacy? The problem is not as difficult in literature as it is in the visual arts and is at its most challenging in the theater. We know how some filmmakers try to solve the problem: medium shots limited to head and shoulders of the couple. The special nature of such scenes, however, even with the precautions taken by filmmakers, usually spells the difference in the rating of films.
Let me spend some space on intimacy. “Privacy” merely hints at the deeper meaning of the word. Other meanings are “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group” and “an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like.” These meanings are all related—even “privacy,” “an amorously familiar act,” and “sexual intercourse.” I like to think of intimacy as an inner space in each person into which we welcome only people we trust, friends. It is related to the Tagalog kalooban. Only persons have intimacy; animals and things do not. When we say of someone in Tagalog that “nagbukas siya ng kalooban” (“he opened up”), the sense is not so much something private being made public as rather allowing someone entrance into one’s private life. Intimacy is very much related to one’s personhood, to one’s being a person.
The opposite of being a person is being an object. It is a violation of personhood to treat someone like an object. Historically, there have been two ways in which human beings have tended to treat other human beings as objects—as slaves and as prostitutes. We know this is wrong. Feminists rightly complain about women being made into objects. All the preceding discussion of nudity and erotica in film is really about preventing people from being treated like objects. The main difference between a pornographic film and a pornographic novel is that the former uses photographs of real persons, real naked persons: it involves the violation of the personhood of real people, something you don’t have in pornographic literature.
The argument is sometimes given that erotica is allowable in a work of art if its context justifies it, as when it is called for by the plot of a film. In reply, however, we should point out that the negative ethical character of pornography comes precisely from its being the great de-contextualizer. Pornography has the nature of a stimulus working on the imagination through the senses. That stimulus is always presented in a context: the context of a painting or the context of a piece of literature. The person that uses pornography to stimulate his imagination precisely detaches the stimulating image or scene from its context, isolating its erotic charge or investing the image or scene with an erotic value on which the imagination concentrates. De-contextualization is the characteristic of the patron of pornography who detaches sex itself from its proper context in human reality; thus, the placement of an erotic scene in a specific context does not insure it will not be used as a sexual stimulus.
Any dictionary will furnish you a definition of pornography. I would like to consider, however, three different meanings that pornography may have. I call the first the personal meaning of pornography, what it means in the life of a particular individual. The second is the social meaning of pornography, what it means in relation to the life of the people who make up a society, which is viewed as consisting of children, adolescents, and adults. The third is the legal meaning of pornography, which considers the forms of pornography considered pernicious for society as a whole, whether children, adolescents, or adults. These three should not be confused with one another.
The first meaning of pornography is the primary one: what it means to the individual. By this I do not mean to propose a subjectivistic view of pornography, to claim that pornography is what you claim it to be. Enough people agree on the meaning of pornography for it to have a definition in the dictionary. Persons may differ, however, in what actually serves as an effective stimulus to their imagination to provoke sexual pleasure: some may be more affected visually; others by sounds; still others may be affected only by graphic representations; some others, by what most other people would consider innocent pictures. I do not mean to claim that there are wide radical differences between what seduces (in the manner of the harlots being written about) different individuals. Doubtless, most people are seduced by the same sounds, images, or descriptions; otherwise, pornography would not be the multi-billion dollar industry it now is. Nevertheless, individual differences do exist, and these are what the personal meaning of pornography encompasses. It won’t do to say one can look at a photograph one finds stimulating, on the grounds that everyone else is not stimulated by it; the point is you are, and so for you, that photograph is in effect pornographic.
The second meaning of pornography is best understood as the understanding parents have of in mind when they educate their children in handling pornography. This meaning differs from the first because now we have the case of someone considering the meaning of pornography not exclusively for himself but also for others. Father or mother are invariably influenced by the personal meaning pornography has for them. Part of the second meaning of pornography is what we may call its conventional meaning—what most people think it is.
The third meaning of pornography is as the law defines it. If the second meaning of pornography is the result of society’s concern for its younger citizens, the third meaning reflects society’s concern to avoid pollution, to avoid having an environment that is not healthy for anyone, be he adult, adolescent, or child.
These three different meanings of pornography should not be confused with one another; otherwise, many problems arise. It would be a mistake for society as a whole or the individuals who make it up to reduce pornography to its legal definition. It would be a mistake for parents to allow the personal meaning pornography has in their lives to dictate how to educate their children in handling pornography.
We should not forget that what ethics demands of the human being is not avoiding pornography, but rather cultivating the virtue of purity or chastity. Avoiding pornography makes sense only if one struggles to cultivate the virtue of purity; otherwise, one cultivates neuroses. Part of the struggle is the education of the eyes to be able to see chastely works of art whose theme is the beauty of the human body. There are certain professions which demand a special education of the senses with regard to the naked human body. Consider the physician, the painter, and the film critic. In their professions, they must develop certain strategies to avoid violating ethical principles, while going about their professional work. To a certain extent the ordinary adult is expected to develop similar habits. That is the meaning of films restricted to adults. Obviously, these will not be films that violate the laws of the country regarding pornography, and yet, because of their delicate subject matter, they are restricted to adults. The assumption here is that the adult has a measure of self-control the adolescent does not have, that he knows how to see without looking and when to do so, that he knows, because he knows himself, when to avert his eyes or when to distract his mind from what he hears. He knows as well when to get up and leave.
More than two thousand years ago Aristotle observed that the best guide in matters ethical is the virtuous man. We recognize that. We do not usually choose for film review boards the most depraved members of the community. When in doubt about our own reaction to a particular film or artwork, our guide should be the virtuous man who may tell us we did right averting our gaze or that we should school ourselves gradually in looking
This is an original article printed by permission from the author.
Teen-age dating and going steady
Jaime B. Achacoso
This article is a product of 30 years of experience of the author’s counseling work with young people. It provides concrete opinion on dating age which may run counter to the current attitude of many young people of today. The readers are advised to look into and reflect upon the arguments of the author based on his rich actual experience on the subject matter.
Why is a priest writing about a topic like this? What does he know about this stuff? The answer to the latter is simply that I too was a regular dude once, the campus scene in the early seventies not being much different from what it is now as far as this topic was concerned, except that premarital sex was much less then.
After counseling young people for the past thirty years- especially as a priest in the past twenty- I have arrived at the conclusion that premarital sex among teenagers can largely be blamed on going steady. Ultimately, of course, the deterioration of morals in society should be blamed. However, I am more convinced each day that the occasion for possible failures in this regard can be minimized by postponing going
steady until after college. This is the main reason that urged me to write this article.
Why Go Steady?
Before anything else, it is important to define our terms, given the different stages of the man-woman relationship prior to marriage. In brief, we can lay down the following:
1st: Dating – the stage of boy-girl friendships, without any hint of exclusivity or any relation to the possibility of a future marriage.
2nd: Courtship-the period of mutual discovery of a man and a woman, the essential qualities of which are the thought of a possible future marriage and- because of this- varying degrees of commitment and exclusivity. This stage can be subdivided into:
a) Going steady, the earliest stage of courtship, also referred to by most teenagers as “being on” or- in its lesser form- as “MU” (mutual understanding). It starts when the possibility of a future marriage is first entertained, and therefore marks a certain degree of exclusivity.
b) Informal engagement, which follows the moment when a man explicitly proposes marriage to a woman and at least an approximate time frame for such is agreed upon privately between them.
c) Formal engagement, the stage after a man formally proposes marriage, for a specific date, and such is communicated to relatives and friends. Most young people go steady for the wrong reason:
a) For companionship– but one doesn’t need to get into such a semi-permanent commitment for companionship; dating several people in turn could provide more companionship.
b) For inspiration (to have a special someone)- but at this stage of development, a special someone is more of a limitation to friendships with the opposite sex, which is a big part of high school and college life.
c) For a ready date– which is really what most fellows are after at this stage, since it’s a hassle having to find a date every weekend.
If I fall in love
“Father, you make it sound so cold-blooded”- objects many a young lady. The fact is, love can be a cold- blooded affair, if it is true love- that is, an act of the will towards a person who has been perceived by the intellect as somebody worthy of love. One does not “fall” in love helplessly. One loves deliberately. Either that or one surrenders oneself to one’s feelings.
Unfortunately, love has been confused with feelings or affections. These latter are reactions to sensible good that can indeed precede, accompany or follow love, but they are not love. Feelings can be deceiving, since they are only reactions to sensible goods: a pretty or handsome face, a thousand and one details that makes somebody nice (or what most girls call “cute”). Only the intellect can really judge the overall aptness of a person for conjugal love. Only afterwards should the will follow: “I love him, because he has the qualities that I consider indispensable for the man who will be my husband until death, and who will be the father of my children.”
The failure to distinguish between feelings of love and love itself is at the bottom of many failed marriages. Consider the fellow who “falls” for his officemate: she shares his interests (they’re in the same profession), she is supportive (they work together), and she is very pretty (he only sees her in her business best). There’s just one hitch: he’s married, with two kids.
As the song goes: “It’s so hard to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.” Only the intellect recognizes that precisely because one already belongs to someone, then anyone else coming along cannot be the right one.
So why can’t I deliberately fall in love in college or high school?
Because real conjugal love is inseparable from marriage. Going steady is like getting engaged. The couple are getting to know each other more, so as to be able to finalize the decision for conjugal love and marriage. It is not rational to get into this relationship in college or high school, because it is too early for that.
Imagine if a friend tells you he’s going to shop for a computer system. You casually ask him when he plans to make the actual purchase and he- just as casually- tells you he has no plans yet, at least not in the next couple of years. You would think he’s nuts. Why shop now if you’re not going to buy it in the next few years? Something like that happens with going steady in college.
The Problem of Serial Monogamy
Another consequence of teen-age steady relationships is the rise of a mentality which has been called serial monogamy- i.e., such steady relationships do not last, averaging anywhere between a year or two. Granted that within those two years the couple may really feel in love with each other and thus practice fidelity with each other (hence are monogamous in a sense ), nevertheless, since they are too young to really commit themselves to each other for life, the relationship is not indissoluble. Thus, in the span of the decade or so prior to marriage, the unwary young man or woman might go through several monogamous but dissoluble relationships. Such serial monogamy prior to marriage is the breeding ground for a divorce mentality afterwards, since conjugal love has been equated with monogamy alone, forgetting the aspect of indissolubility. Real marital love is for keeps. As the old song goes: “If I fall in love, it will be forever. Or I’ll never fall in love.”
How long should courtship be?
When I ask young ladies this question, they invariably answer “a long time.” I always have to stifle a chuckle, since quite often the young lady in question would be in her late teens and “engaged,” and of course most girls nowadays are not really contemplating marriage before their 25th birthday. This is quite logical, since most girls- at least in the urban setting- go to college, and would therefore want to experience a bit of their professional career before they settle down to the more serious business of raising up a family.
Hence, the young lady is not answering my question, but is rather thinking of how long it will take her to be old enough to get married. If she’s only nineteen, and she wants to enjoy her professional career until she’s twenty-five, it stands to reason that she and her boyfriend will have to wait at least six years before they can marry.
Rephrasing the question normally unravels the fuzzy logic. “If you were twenty-six- I ask- and you start going steady with a twenty-eight year-old fellow who is professionally stable and well off, how much time do you think will you need to make up your mind about each other?” She normally answers: “A year.”
This is the crux of the matter. A couple going steady are calling each other up daily on the phone, probably going to and coming home from office together, spending the whole weekend together, meeting each other’s family- it’s a super-exposure to each other. If they can’t decide in a year or two whether they are meant for each other or not, there’s something wrong with their thinking process.
Why long courtships are unhealthy.
What’s wrong with starting the courtship in college or high school and just prolonging it all the way to marriage at a much later date? The answer has to do with physiology and psychology- specifically male physiology.
Most girls are not very aware of this, but any red- blooded human male will immediately empathize with what I’m going to say: Man is a very sexy (albeit rational) animal.
Girls and women are perfectly equipped by the Creator to be loving and caring- also with the opposite sex- without getting sexual. This is part of their femininity, which is relevant to their role in society (especially connected with child-rearing and caring for the family). Hence nurses have traditionally been women.
Thus in a boy-girl relationship, the girl can be affectionate in many ways- words, looks, affectionate touches, gestures, attention to details- without getting sexually stimulated.
But not a boy. A fellow’s threshold level for sexual arousal is pretty low, so that for most teen-aged boys, a physical display of affection is almost concomitant with sexual stimulation. It’s a matter of physiology and psychology. Thus, a boy is not designed to spend many years with the object of his affection- his girlfriend- beside him, day in and day out, without getting on with it. Either that or he is subjected to a terrible strain to control his sexual drive.
Thus, a steady relationship at college (worse in high school) can be a proximate occasion for going too far – at least where the guy is concerned. But since a steady relationship always includes a girl (hopefully!), then the principle applies to both. The moral principle is that to deliberately open oneself to a proximate occasion of doing something wrong, one needs a proportionate reason- i.e., proportionate to the gravity of the wrong that one is exposing himself to.
So when can one start going steady?
Human acts are for their end: to act rationally, one must have an end in mind, and orient his action according to that end. Now what’s the end of courtship?
Marriage is the end of courtship, just as final purchase is the end of shopping (even when one is just window-shopping at the moment, he is normally looking forward to buying in the near future). Thus, when to go steady is a function of the decision- approximate as it may be initially- of when to get married.
As previously mentioned, most girls don’t want to get married earlier than twenty-five; some even much later. Hence, the healthy age for girls to start going steady can be roughly computed:
25 years old – 2 years = 23 years old at least
(ideal age for marriage) – (of courtship)
Nevertheless, girls can really be quite flexible in their target marriage age: as soon as they have the right fellow, they really can get married.
But not so with men, normally. Contemporary society imposes a minimum age for a man to get married well- i.e., the age when he is professionally stable and financially solid. He is expected to be able to set up house immediately after getting married- at least to be able to rent a flat. Otherwise he will be forced to bring his bride to his parents’ home or move in to his in-laws’ home. As Christ solemnly said, quoting Genesis: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife. (Mt. 19:5).
In our society, this age is about 28-30 years. It takes that much time for a fellow to graduate from college (21 years old), find a suitable job after trying several (25 years old), stabilize himself in that job and get a few promotions (28-30 years old). Nowadays a joint family monthly income of P30,000 would barely enable a couple to rent a humble apartment in the metropolis, or buy a low-cost house on installment somewhere in Calabarzon. Thus, the minimum age for a man to get into a serious relationship with a woman can also be computed:
28 years old – 2 years = 26 years old at least
(practical age for marriage) – (of courtship)
Of course there are exceptions- e.g., if either the fellow or the girl is a millionaire to start with (from inheritance or otherwise).
Does this mean teenagers shouldn’t date?
Of course not. Knowing the opposite sex is part of the maturing process that coincides with high school and college years. Dating therefore forms part of a healthy college life. But dating is not going steady. One doesn’t get serious with an occasional date. One doesn’t get intimate with him or her either. Much less would one be committed to him or her in an exclusive relationship. And this is the key to the whole thing: non-exclusivity.
Non-exclusivity is the very guarantee of non- seriousness and therefore non-involvement in those details of physical intimacy which are the run-up for sexual activity. Concentrating one’s affective capacity on one person leads to developing strong feelings (mistaken for love) for that person.
Boys and girls should have many friends of the opposite sex in college and high school. It is part of their educational process to discover different personalities of the opposite sex, precisely in order to be able to one day choose a partner for life. It would be quite a limitation if instead of choosing from a large field of possibilities, one were to be hitched to one person at sixteen, be limited to that person until they break up (statistically they do so after 1-1/2 years), then get stuck again with one person for another two years, and this way until finally getting married to one (hopefully, without having gone into something regrettable with any of his or her previous partners).
Some girls think that dating several guys would mean they are promiscuous. Quite the contrary, what such casual dating accomplishes is precisely that they avoid being physically promiscuous. Among other things because guys normally behave well- as in properly- with a female friend; he gets more daring with a girlfriend.
A last word on teen-age dating. Multiple dates should be the rule. Not only are they safer–goons will think twice before attacking two or more couples, they also provide a natural check against going too far in manifestations of affection.
One of the greatest consolations in my life as a priest has been to see young people grow- physically and spiritually- into mature individuals, without suffering the scars of a badly-lived adolescence. An even greater joy comes from guiding some of them to lives of dedication to God and their fellow men. No less exhilarating is to see youthful romances bloom- all in their due time- into mature conjugal love and eventually marriage.
In contrast, some of the greatest heartaches I’ve had to suffer as a priest have been to see young people get derailed by premature steady relationships with the opposite sex.
Unfortunately, the past 30 years have seen Hollywood and the media glorify teen-age romantic relationships. Coupled with an eroticized environment, this has resulted in what is quite obvious to everyone now: an alarming increase in teen-age premarital sexual relationships, a rise in teen-age pregnancy, and on the whole a deterioration of sexual morality.
I hope reading this piece will make some teenagers reconsider their position and postpone any serious emotional involvement with a person of the opposite sex until the right moment. And if they are already too emotionally involved, at least to cool off a bit.
But if they are hopelessly in love, then I earnestly invite them to go to regular spiritual direction, to frequent the sacraments, and to embark on a no-nonsense struggle to develop the Christian virtues. That was how healthy teen-age romances were possible in the not too distant past. Perhaps that’s how they can be made possible again. I, for one, am all too-ready and willing to help them through spiritual direction.
This updated article was printed by permission from the author.