10 Tips on How to Date a Priest
Valentine’s Day being upon us and my being an expert witness in the matter, I feel it incumbent upon me to share my best wisdom in the small matter of how to date a priest.
I’ve met people who believed that when they were ordained, God would take away all their romantic emotions and leave them pure and holy in order to get on with saving the world. Trouble is, no-one ever told God that this was what should happen and God isn’t in the sublimation business. Indeed, a more healthy way to look at clerical life is to remember that it is supposed to be at its heart about being very much yourself and very much about living life with passion. That means all kinds of passion. Oh yes, that kind of passion too. Secondly, accept that clergy are people not like anyone else.
- Firstly, accept that clergy are people, just like everyone else.
Hath not a priest eyes? Hath not a priest hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a lay person is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? Well no – if you tickle us we might laugh but we might also worry that someone might tell the bishop that tickling has occurred. (This applies even if the bishop is tickle-positive). If we go out for a Friday night boogie and a beer, we are probably going to enjoy it more if we are somewhere where everyone else in the gin-joint doesn’t normally see us in a dog-collar. Hearing a confession (from a third party) in the middle of a date can be a bit of a passion killer. Try very hard not to fall in love with anyone who claims to be celibate or who is supposed to be celibate. Some parts of the church insist on celibacy for clerics. Not all of those clerics manage it. However falling in love with those clergy tends to be bad news for the people falling in love with them. Indeed, this situation generally seems to me to be a lot worse for the lay person in the relationship than the cleric. Here there be dragons. Clergy feel they can ask anything they choose to ask when on a date. Deal with it. Oh, this one is very unfair and no mistake. The thing is, most clergy are perfectly at home in the realm of the emotions. We are used to people telling us how they feel and we are used to listening for what people are not telling us. We know the questions to ask. At best this can make us sensitive, at worst intrusive. We are used to operating the midst of the blood and fire of human relationships. There’s not much you can say to us that will shock us. This can lead to intimacy (or worse, apparent intimacy) developing quite quickly. Beware! You can’t compete with a vocation so you might as well collaborate with it. Know from the beginning, from the very first inkling, from the first fluttering questioning that one day might lead you to wonder whether you might perhaps, possibly, tentatively pick up the phone to ask the person for a date that if you ever issue an ultimatum demanding a choice between you and the vocation then you will lose. Either the cleric will stick with the vocation and dump you or you will end up forever tied with someone in mourning for what might have been. You might as well work with a vocation as fight it. You don’t have any choice anyway. It is almost impossible to have an good relationship if you don’t meet
as equals. There have been relationships which have developed and worked between clergy and members of their flocks but oh, there are real issues here. It is almost impossible to have a successful relationship where you don’t meet as equals. Clergy dating members of their own congregations are in a position of influence over them. Some denominations are so cautious about this as to have rules and guidelines about it. None of these guidelines are there to encourage you. If you are in a congregation and find yourself falling for the priest, it might work better if you are able to join another congregation whilst you are a-courting. Geography and all kinds of personal issues may make this impossible but the the reality that this might be a good idea is a fact not a fancy. If you find a member of the clergy attractive in their dog-collar, don’t be surprised if the same clergy-person is not interested in you. This one is really quite important. If you are turned on by the idea of dating a priest then stop, step aside, have a think. If you are all excited by dating someone in holy orders then don’t waste your time with this any further for it is doomed from day one. He or she isn’t going to be interested in you if they even get a whiff of the fact that you are interested in them because of their role rather than their personality. Not for an hour, not for a minute, not for a second. If the very idea of dating a priest yanks your chain then you don’t need a priest you need a therapist. (And don’t fall in love with your therapist either). Clergy have a whole load of expectations put upon them about sex. They may not share these expectations. The whole world works out its neuroses about sexuality by piling them all onto the clergy. Don’t be surprised if things are complicated. Also, don’t be surprised if the person finds themselves to be frustrated by the expectations of their denomination/congregation. No-one knows the cost of ordination when they say yes to it. No-one. The private lives of people in public life are not private and no-one knows what this will feel like when they are first ordained. This is just the ways things are. The cost is high. It is more likely to work if faith is a common factor. The bible has quite strong admonitions against Christians taking up with non-Christians. This is for practical rather than theological reasons though those admonitions were written when people thought the end of the world was just around the corner. Clergy in particular inhabit a religious world and it is only natural that they are more likely to have relationships which work with people who understand that. However, there are no guarantees here. Sometimes relationships work for reasons that no outsider will ever be able to fathom – love will find out a way. If you don’t have faith in common though you are going to need a lot in common besides. Don’t be deceived by their public profile and behaviour, most clergy are very shy and private. Hard to believe, isn’t it? They speak with such sophistication and can articulate such complex religious ideas in public with wit and wisdom. However, ask them to be honest about their own feelings and say clearly what they want from life and clergy can go to jelly just like anyone else. (See number 1 above). Remember too that like lots of people in the public gaze, they often keep a bit of themselves very private. The church rewards introverts who behave as extroverts (and vice-versa, actually, but outward-acting introverts are most common). Start dating a priest and there may well be bits of themselves that they know very well how to keep hidden from view.
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