February 22, 2022 // Perspective

On the lost art of “pairing ‘em up” and its effects on marriage today

One of the more common concerns that young adults express to me is the difficulty in meeting and dating. Once adulthood is reached, of course, the purpose of dating is to look for a spouse. Hence, their problem is a problem for all of us because marriage and family are central to the life of the Church as well as the foundation of our culture and nation.

When I was a young priest, more than 30 years ago, I had numerous weddings to celebrate, and most of the couples were in their early 20s. Today, I have far fewer weddings, and the average age seems to be early 30s. In 1990, there were 326,079 weddings in Catholic parishes. In the last year before the plague (i.e. 2019) there were 137,885 – a 58% drop.

While there are many practical reasons for the delay of marriage (college debt, longer time spent in college, the rise of the virtual world, etc.), we must consider that we who are older aren’t doing much to help them “pair up.”

In a Hobby Lobby commercial, an older couple notices that a young man and woman live next to each other but are seemingly lost in their own worlds. Through a series of mysterious mailings, they get them to meet. The old expression calls this “pairing them up.”

Adults used to take a more active role in getting their children to meet potential spouses. My parents’ families knew each other before my parents married and had helped make the introduction. In our parish, we often sponsored dances and other youth and young adult activities. Far fewer colleges were co-ed in those days, and so the faculty was much more intentional about sponsoring activities between the women’s and men’s colleges.  Frankly, there was an expectation that young people should get married soon after high school or college was completed. It was “time to settle down.”

Every now and then, as a priest, I try to make introductions between young adults. At other times, I try to coach them into introducing themselves. I also advise many of them to work through other friends to meet someone. I tell them that when I was young I remember asking a friend if he thought his sister might go to the junior prom with me. He laid the groundwork, found out that she had some interest, and set up the occasion for me to ask her. I met my college sweetheart when a friend told me, “She likes you and wants you to ask her out!” I was surprised because she was so pretty; I would never have had the nerve to ask her out on my own. I gladly took the hint and asked her out that very evening.

At any rate, we older folks need to do a better job of pairing ‘em up. Elders, families, Church leaders, friends — they all have a role to play; we used to do it more frequently. 

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