Amy Bonaccorso graciously answered all my “interesting” questions about her great new book I reviewed last week, How to Get to “I Do”: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women. I think you’ll find the interview a great read in itself. Thanks, Amy!
I so enjoyed “How to Get to I Do.” What made you want to write the book?
I found that Catholics and Christians in general had a lot of dating problems, and their books weren’t very helpful. Typically, the books were written by well-intentioned people who nevertheless lacked real-life relationship experience themselves. As a consequence, the books tended to be formulaic and didn’t help people distinguish between idealistic and realistic expectations.
Or, books were more theological than practical, and reading them was insightful to a degree, but led to a very academic approach to relationships that didn’t always translate well into real life.
This whole situation frustrated me and I wanted to help. I started writing and sharing my ideas with friends during my engagement. I published articles and started a blog after I got married in 2008. Everything was very well received and readers felt that I was providing a unique angle on the subject, so it led to a book deal with Servant Books in 2009.
Are your surprised by the interest from other types of people than the intended audience? For instance, the book could potentially be a great resource for older teenagers as they begin to discern their vocation and plan for the future.
The intended audience was single Catholic women in their 20s-40s, yet people of every category are reading the book. Married people are interested because they may know single family members or friends who they want to help. Men are curious about the book because they can learn a lot about how women think and what they want. One man told me that he thought the book was very “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and could be turned into a series. Another man told me that he obscured the cover of my book so he could read it without embarrassment while he rode the subway. A Methodist told me that most of the book resonated with her, regardless of the Catholic title.
Teenagers are usually already thinking about relationships, so I think it would be a great book for them to read too. I didn’t put anything in there that would be inappropriate for them (I know parents worry about that). I emphasize the importance of women knowing who they are and not wasting time when discerning a vocation. Chapter 2 is “Discernment is Empowerment.” Most women do their discerning in college or in their early to mid 20s – so teens could get a head start by reading the book. It’s also good to plant some healthy relationship concepts early, because even devout women absorb a lot false ideas and impossible expectations early on. It can be hard to get them to see reality at that point.
As a mom who feels a certain attraction to discouraging dating (my protective husband is fond of joking, what’s wrong with arranged marriages?), I found your description of dating versus courting pretty eye-opening. Can you give some guidance to parents who might be either years away or very near to their children dating?
Lol! Well, different authors have slightly different definitions of “courtship.” Some concepts are more rigid and old Europe than others. But overall, they aren’t anchored in the real world. My first chapter is entitled “Living in the Real World.”
Courtship vocabulary itself is inherently confusing and potentially misleading when 99.9% of the people in Washington DC, for example, are going out on “dates.” Once couples are committed, they may be “together” – it’s not common to hear the word “courting,” even among couples who have read courtship books.
If parents encourage (or mandate) that their children come into the dating scene using outdated language, they’re putting them at a disadvantage and setting them up for failure. The kids will seem out of touch. And forget about a man asking a girl’s father for a first date. A guy recently told me, “If I did that, the father would call the cops or think I was crazy.” People just aren’t comfortable with it.
Also, the “courtship” philosophy seems to have this built-in assumption that men are going to jump through a million hoops for a woman. Fathers love that. Naturally, they want to protect their daughters. But, most of those same dads wouldn’t have jumped through those hoops for their own wife. Maybe they like to fantasize that they would have! Women who are dating want to see men as knights in shining armor too, and believe that they will slay dragons to embrace them, but that is a fairy tale. If women put up too many hoops – they aren’t going to get married. They need to carefully select only a few meaningful hoops and be realists.
Parents can help prepare their children to be good spouses (or good clergy) by fostering a holistic and integrated approach to religion. It’s good to know doctrine, and it’s also important to know how to put faith into practice in our everyday lives. Emotional maturity and human virtue are needed to make everything work! If Catholicism is only rules and history to us, relationships will suffer as a consequence because a critical piece of the puzzle is missing.
Parents should also try not to communicate an assumption that their daughter’s life and relationships will follow a 1950s script of graduating from school, marrying their sweetheart, and only being a homemaker. Women these days need to be equipped to deal with a myriad of situations in a confident manner.
As I read your book, I was racking my brain trying to think of any other young, recently married Catholic woman giving dating advice and experience, and shockingly, I couldn’t think of one. How do you think you provide a different perspective from the usual Catholic advice in this area?
I’m very practical and a realist, yet still present a Catholic perspective. My advice is anchored in experience, and experience is a brilliant teacher. That separates me from a lot of other writers.
I don’t dismiss women’s concerns and say “Don’t worry, God will provide the perfect husband for you.” Or, “Don’t ever settle for anyone less than perfect – no matter how old you are.” These were the blissful lines of misguided advice I was given. My take is more grounded. The truth is that we need to give God opportunities to provide. Sitting back and doing nothing limits what God can do for us. Women need to be pro-active about finding positive relationships. The men I have spoken to agree with this assessment. We also need to be mature and recognize that we are looking for a mortal man – not a dashing character in a novel, movie, myth, or legend.
Do you have a favorite chapter or section of the book?
I personally found the “When Holy Rollers Don’t Measure Up” chapter to be groundbreaking in Catholic publishing. I talked about the elephant in the room and it felt good! I am so happy that I was able to give so many women a public voice. Many of my girlfriends had experiences with devout Catholic men who displayed abhorrent behavior, or who were just shockingly immature and irresponsible.
Most Catholic writing suggests that finding a man who is super devout and prayerful will solve every relationship problem. This is simply not true. While women ideally want to share their faith with their spouse, they need to look beyond their checklists and make sure who they are with has a good heart and will be there when times are tough. Unfortunately, just looking for someone who goes to Mass frequently doesn’t offer any guarantees on that front.
Explain a little the pitfalls of “the secular sisterhood,” a term you coined for women who are hyper-pious, but have trouble in the real dating world.
This was another one of those elephant in the room topics. Secular sisters sabotage their relationships in a lot of ways and seem to be part of a club of single church mice type of women. They may measure every man against an impossible standard that he has no hope of meeting, even if he is truly decent and would make a good husband and father. Perhaps they are very focused on theology, but struggle with the more subtle emotional cues that are so instrumental in real life relationships. Maybe they want to marry an idealized theologian archetype, and hold out until they are suddenly 40 and still alone. A lot of Catholic women are also very inclined towards tradition, but outdated expectations on etiquette and roles can trip them up in dating.
It’s not hard for women to break out of this self-defeating rut – they just need to change their thinking.
Do you think your views of dating have changed the longer you have been married?
I have been married for two years and have talked to many people about their relationship problems. I am less patient with “soft-edged” writing in the Catholic community or “soft ball” answers to hard questions. We need more honest, credible material that will resonate with fast-paced and successful professionals.
I’m also probably more convinced than I ever was that singles need the support of married people in their lives. While not every marriage is ideal, I have found that couples can usually provide valuable sanity checks in a crisis, like “No – the way that guy is treating you isn’t okay.” Or, “Chill out, this is not that bad…not every day is going to be like your first date.” I think it’s really important to encourage couples to help their si