These days a good Catholic man is hard to find. But Catholic women don't have to give in to the 'have as much as you like for as little as possible' mentality, say Anna Arco and Anabel Inge The scene is straight out of a New York sitcom: three girls in their mid 20s sit around drinking coffee, yammering about their mothers putting pressure on them to get married to a nice professional boy with the same religious background. They Icvetch and they gossip, talk about silly things like getting their nails done, but in the end the conversation reverts back to men. The difference, though, is that they are in London and they aren't looking for the nice young Jewish doctor of the stereotype, but for a nice young professional who will take them to compline.
Mary.Anne and Elizabeth (the names have been changed) are pretty, vivacious Oxbridge graduates. Their City careers are going in the right direction and they have no shortage of invitations to drinks parties, dinners, theatre trips and dates. But Mary and Anne have both recently broken up with long-term nonCatholic boyfriends for one key reason: neither of these men were receptive to their faith. Sunday observation became an irritant in their relationships and ultimately their boyfriends could not cope with what they perceived was an outmoded belief in God, the Gospels and the Pope.
Elizabeth makes sandwiches for the young people's group at her local parish when she has the time, but is still resolutely single. To be fair, she doesn't go there with the main intent of finding a husband, but she admits it's at the back of her mind.
"I don't want to sound superficial." Elizabeth says. "But when I linger around after Mass for coffee, there seem to be only women or young families. The men who haven't dashed off after Mass or aren't married are just slightly bizarre."
Mary says that the Catholic boys she grew up with have, on the whole, very little time for the Church, are dating non-Catholics and rarely go to Sunday Mass. "They are not particularly interested in raising Catholic families or even getting married," she says. "I wouldn't mind marrying a non-Catholic, if I can raise Catholic children, but it would just be so much easier if he were Catholic to begin with." So is it really true that Catholic men are hard to find? More women attend Mass than men, and tend to be more involved in parish life. This has been the case historically and even more so now. Outside of urban centres, the ratio of men to women is even more disproportionate.
For Anne, the difficulty lies not so much with the fact that fewer men attend church than women but more with the fact that there are very few natural social situations in which to meet Catholic men. She misses the ease with which she used to socialise with other Catholics of her age at university.
"I used to go to the 6pm Mass at the Oxford Oratory. There was a natural drift towards Browns for dinner or the Eagle and Child for a drink afterwards. It wasn't pre-arranged at all. You'd just bump into people you knew from college or elsewhere outside church and then wander down St Giles together. Otherpeople would join randomly and you'd meet friends of friends. I know some people called it the Cocktail Ma-a-a-ass derisively, but there was a real sense of a natural community.
"In London it's a lot more anonymous, even in my parish, which is friendly. It just feels a bit weird meeting new people at church, rather than knowing them from before and simply going for a drink with them afterwards. It's just a bit unnatural, kind of like you don't have any real friends to hane out with and need to make new ones at church. I don't know. I know it's a geographical issue as much as anything7Most of the Catholics I know in London do not live in the same parish as each other."
Mary and Elizabeth agree with Anne's point and add examples of their own. They gossip about the friends who have already married: one couple met on a trip to Lebanon with the Order of Malta when they were 16 and have been married since they were 20 and another couple they mention went to Mass on their second date. On the whole, they would all much rather meet their nice young men in a nonchurch setting or at an event that is not organised by their parishes.
But not all single girls looking for their Catholic dream-boat feel this way, and Catholic dating services, similar to J-Date (a Jewish online dating service which has the slogan "Why is this site so different from every other site"?) proliferate.
September saw the launch of a new online dating site in New Zealand called Catholic Matchmaker, and Catholic matchmaking sites abound across the globe. Catholic Match, for example, was originally an American website, but now spans the world.
Here members create a profile with all the usual information (height, age, eye colour. hair colour etc) and then are asked whether they agree with the Church's teachings on papal infallibility, the sanctity of life, pre-marital sex, holy orders, contraception and the Eucharist. The answers to these questions show up on their profiles. I joined to see what it was like.
Within 20 minutes of signing up. I had been offered an electronic bouquet of flowers by Selwyn, 32, whose profile says: "I'm down to earth, fun lovin with a very good sense of humour. Honest and kindhearted. Hard workin' individual and loolcin' forward of meetin' the one, the only one to share the rest of my life with.... i've got goals but need the other half to fulfil it together." Selwyn is looking for someone "similar like me, honest, down to earth with a very good sense of humour... lookin' for someone that would be a good mother to my child and also a good wife where we could spend the rest of our lives together, fulfil all our goals and live happily with each other". Frank from Galway and I are chatting about politics on Catholicmatch messenger and "Handsome John" has looked at my profile. Could online dating be the way forward in the quest for a Catholic husband?
The Catholic Unattached Directory, which is based in Dartford and Dublin, offers both an online service and an old-fashioned postal service. Run "for practising Catholics by practising Catholics", it promises a "modem, very gentle, simple, safe and fun way to meet new people-. It boasts almost 3,000 members across Britain and Ireland between the ages of 18 and 80.
The advantage of organisations like the Catholic Unattached Directory or Catholic Match is that the question of celibacy is dealt with straight away. Sarah Smith, another single Catholic Londoner, says that society's changed sexual mores make the problem of finding a compatible and Catholic relationship increasingly difficult.
"Marriage numbers have fallen and one of the biggest contributors is because people are choosing to live together over the ultimate commitment of marriage. To find out whether a couple is truly compatible for marriage, the wisdom of the Catholic Church teaches its followers to develop a loving and chaste relationship, a test which requires real love and courage that provides the couple with the true freedom and clarity required to make life decisions. When you are living with someone, you are not free, physically. mentally or emotionally.
"Another factor is 'Pizza Love', as it has been described. This has actively encouraged people to 'have as much as you like for as little as possible'," she says.
Elizabeth finds this sort of attitude the greatest hurdle in starting relationships with non-Catholics, and it is why she hopes to find that nice Catholic boy.
"Every time I'm on a second or third date with a non-Catholic ," she says, grinning wryly. "The moment comes after dinner where the guy suggests going up to his flat for a cup of coffee. That's usually the time for the harrowing explanation of Church teaching on sexuality and the argument that follows which alternates between wheedling and angry bullying. Needless to say, that's when the nice invitations to dinner or the theatre cease coming and the whole thing falls apart."
The other two girls nod sagely. Still, despite the difficulty in finding that good Catholic man, they are optimistic. It doesn't look like they'll be praying to St Raphael, patron saint of happy meetings, any time soon. The subject turns to hats to wear at other people's weddings, and Anne, Elizabeth and Mary are off into the world of clothes and gossip.