One of my good friends just went through a breakup. We talked about it over the phone, and I could hear the heaviness in her voice. She thought she was going to marry this man. She thought he was part of her vocation. The dream had been clear: wedding, children, and happily ever after. But the breakup shattered that. She was crushed.
While I am married to my true love now, by no means do I forget the high stakes of a vulnerable heart. There’s nothing anyone can say to take away the pain of a breakup. That said, now that I’ve experienced getting to (and living in) the married vocation, I’d like to share five truths hard-won from both my dating experience and study of Catholic teaching that I’d wish I’d known about dating (and breaking up) from the start.
1. God has a plan for you (really!)
When I was in the desolation of unrequited love, the actual outcome of a happy marriage wasn’t something I could imagine happening for real. I couldn’t see the future, but the truth (which we know by faith, no matter how hard it may be to remember or accept) is that God really does have a plan for each of us. Plans to prosper us. Plans for hope and a future. During a breakup, it hurts knowing the future won’t play out the way we thought, but the pain doesn’t make God’s plan any less true.
2. Breaking up is not failure
Dating is not an end in itself; dating with marriage in mind is a wise move. That said, we must remember the purpose of marriage: holiness. The pursuit of holiness can (and should) start while we date (and while we’re single!). Therefore, the only real failure of a romantic relationship is if it leads us away from God. And even if it did, God can use a breakup to call us back to him. He is with you always, and God’s love for you does not depend on how fast you find a spouse or even how well you go about doing it. Breaking up with a partner can even be an opportunity to get back with God, as he uses both positive and negative experiences to invite us back into a relationship with him.
3. Marriage is not a destination (It’s a journey)
After five years of marriage, I can attest that marriage is not an instant “happily ever after.” Don’t get me wrong; the fruit of a healthy marriage includes immense joy! Yet, as marriage is the union of two flawed people, spouses will (often unintentionally) hurt or disappoint the other at some point. God uses all these ups and downs (before and during marriage) to form us into the saints he intends for us to be, and spouses serve as imperfect partners in getting there together.
4. God loves you more than your ex (or future spouse) ever could.
God seeks you out without tiring. He longs for you to spend time with him, to grow closer to him, and to fathom even an inkling of the depths of his care for you. Let God love you. Let him hold you in your heartache, and let him show you, through the Gospel and the Sacraments, what he has prepared for your soul. Practically, this can look like a number of Catholic traditions, but most importantly, it means prayer, which at its most basic is retreating into silence and asking God to be present with you.
5. Our community can lift us up
God does not leave us to suffer alone. We are not made to date in a vacuum, and certainly not made to suffer in one. Friends and family are there to support you. Do not be afraid to lean on them, as I hope my friend felt able to lean on me.
If a breakup has you down, let God lift you up, understanding, like Christ, that the suffering of Good Friday gives way to the glory of Easter. You are not a failure in God’s eyes. God waits for you like a bridegroom at the altar, and will never abandon his love for you, promising, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Originally published July 22, 2020.