Like any single gal, I get a lot of unsolicited advice about dating. It ranges from the not-so-helpful ("You know, you're not getting any younger" ... thanks, I hadn't noticed), to the overly simplified ("You're just too picky" ... I know, right? Me and my crazy rules about illegal drug use.), to the absurd ("There are lots of men in Alaska" ... and then I could see Russia from my house?).
Occasionally, though, I do hear something helpful and inspiring.
Bill and Joan are a couple from church who, despite their senior citizen status, are wildly popular with the youth group. I think it's their sense of humor and exquisite listening skills. While the kiddos are rambling on and on about their families, pets and vacation, Bill and Joan listen with a patience that can only come from spending years with children and grandchildren. The kids think Bill and Joan are "adorable, because he still looks at her like she's the most amazing person in the world."
Given their fame, I asked Joan if they'd consider talking to the teens about marriage and dating.
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Joan paused and said, "Well, you know the key to marriage is respect. If you respect someone, you'll just fall more in love with them as time goes on. If you don't respect them, eventually you won't even want to be around them."
I realized in all the advice I hear and read, that having respect for someone rarely enters the conversation. Respect has been pushed aside by both my and younger generations. Physical attraction and plain ol' lust -- which asks "what can I get from you?" -- have overshadowed seeing and respecting the whole person in their inherent dignity.
Love -- "willing the good of the beloved" as we learned in theology (or, in laymen's terms, just wanting what's best for the one you love) -- is no longer the question. Now, it's "what's best for me, and I'll keep you around as long as you're on the same page."
While the idea of love may be fading amidst the onslaught of messages we get about relationships from the world, it is still what humanity craves and what the future hopes for. It's why Bill and Joan are so popular with the kiddos. Their marriage, grounded in respect, is what the kiddos want for themselves one day.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.