Ask Lisa: What does Virtue have to do with Dating?
Question: You talk a lot about virtue in your articles on dating. What does it look like or can you give examples of it on a practical level?
Remember the story of David and Goliath? The one where a small shepherd boy claims an unlikely victory over a warrior giant in an all or nothing battle with nothing but a slingshot? When you imagine it perhaps you picture David going into battle with only his slingshot and a prayer, but it wasn’t quite like that. Yes, God’s hand was surely with David at the battle, but it didn’t just show up that day. Long before his battle with Goliath, David was preparing.
Before David’s epic battle he was a shepherd boy. That’s right, he watched sheep all day. It sounds like an uneventful life, until you consider that fact that a shepherd doesn’t just stare at sheep, he protects them. During his days keeping watch David was practicing with his slingshot, so that if a predator came along, like a lion or a bear, he would be ready to smite the beast, which is exactly what he did on several occasions.
When no one was looking David was building the skills needed to use a slingshot with ease and perfection, and when he had to use those skills he was getting into the habit of being brave. And while he couldn’t have foreseen just how badly he would one day need those two abilities, he was still cultivating the virtues necessary to save his people.
Virtue: A Good Habit
The Catechism defines a virtue as “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (CCC 1803). Basically it’s a good habit that’s easy for someone to do. And just like any good habit, or skill, we gain it through practice. Anyone is free to pound on the keys of a piano, but if they have not been trained in the art of playing the piano, they will only make noise. It is only the person who has dedicated time and energy into learning how to play that is truly free to make music.
The same is true in dating relationships. Any single person is free, or allowed, to enter into a romantic relationship with someone, but if they want to be free, or truly able, to love and be loved they must gain the skills necessary to do so, and those skills are called the virtues. Even if you aren’t in a relationship right now, you can practice them, so when it’s time, just like David, you’ll be ready.
Breaking up with Virtue
The virtues are divided into two categories: moral and theological. For simplicity sake I am just going to address the moral, or human, virtues in this post. The moral virtues are each categorized under one of the four Cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Below are their definitions, an example of how they apply to the world of breakups (which can be a challenging time to be virtuous!), and how to practically practice it.
Prudence: A prudent person is wise and makes good decisions based upon their informed knowledge of right and wrong. For example, a prudent person gives a potential relationship careful thought and consideration, and doesn’t enter into it flippantly. If at any point in the relationship they realize that it is no longer right, then they break it off. To practice this virtue, work on making thoughtful decisions rather than always acting out of impulse. Weigh your options and consider their positive or negative consequences.
Justice: The world understands justice to be what others owe us, but traditionally justice has been about what we owe others. A person who practices justice is fair and looks at others as a soul with dignity who deserves to be treated with respect. For example, if a just person cannot see a future with someone they are dating, they breakup with them because they do not want to treat the person as a thing that they are using to just fill a void. To practice this virtue, work on loving people for who they are, not for what they can give you.
Fortitude: A person who has fortitude is courageous. For example, they are not afraid to breakup with someone because they don’t want to hurt their feelings or because they are afraid that if they do then they will be mad at them. If the relationship is no longer right, they do the courageous thing and break it off. To practice this virtue, face a fear, step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something you’ve always run from.
Temperance: Temperate people can restrain themselves and have self-control over their body and emotions, not the other way around. A temperate person does not date people just so they can fulfill their desire for physical or emotional pleasure, they practice chastity and if they discover that a relationship puts them in a situation where they cannot do so, they either breakup or place boundaries on their relationship (like not being alone together in a dark room). To practice this virtue occasionally fast from little things, like salting your food, dessert, or warm showers, so you can learn to tell your body who is in control.
If you work hard to obtain and continually practice these four virtues, you will develop the skills needed to be free to love and be loved.
Be saints, it’s worth it!