Don’t Break Your Heart When There’s No Hope
Not to sound grim, but if you’re a trad Catholic single girl interested in the life matrimonial, it can be tough. Pickings among potential suitors can seem dismally slim, so when a good prospect DOES show up – tall dark and handsome, dresses nicely, seems devout – it’s aaaalllll too easy to get your hopes up. WAY up.
There’s somebody new! Maybe he’ll notice me. He smiled when we shook hands – does that mean something? Maybe he’ll ask me out!!! Oh, we exchanged three texts about directions to a party! Maybe things will keep going!
And in the end, after a series of tantalizingly brief interactions, without ever so much as asking you out, you see on Facebook that he’s officially dating someone else – someone completely different from you in looks, personality, and even core lifestyle values.
Back to the drawing board.
Why am I always attracted to guys who never look at me twice? you wonder. Why does it feel like the theme song of your prime years is forever Bryan White’s “Someone Else’s Star”?
Well, I’ve been in, and to an extent still am in, that same boat. Growing up, I always figured I’d meet someone in my late teens or early twenties, and be married by twenty-five like my parents were. As soon as I officially turned eighteen, my radar was on high alert.
But as we all know, real life isn’t a fairy tale or an Asian costume drama.
Cute guys came and went, oblivious. Time passed. I finally had my first DATE at age twenty-five – the age I’d long expected to be married by. Over the years that have followed, I’ve dated or at least seriously talked online with close to a dozen guys, some only briefly, some for five to six months. Still single. No shiny rock, or even close.
BUT, over the course of that wide and varied dating experience, during which I even set up a few of those guys with their future wives, and watching several of my friends and siblings get married, I started to notice a few very interesting patterns. Additionally, fairly early in the process, a homeschooled friend had shared a valuable dating resource with me that gave some further intriguing insight into these observable patterns.
So, based on all of the above, I’m here to talk to you today about how YOU can combine BOTH resources in order to:
A) minimize your risk of developing (and then being hurt by) hopeless crushes, and
B) improve your understanding of why couples that work, DO work, so that you can zoom in on potential matches that you actually have a chance with.
Less stress, less drama, more success.
(This is probably also a good time to mention that I run an annual singles weekend that, in the course of its almost seven-year existence, has produced – both directly and indirectly – 16 marriages and counting. Just so you know I’m not a raving crazy female out to trip every single man who walks past. I can usually tell pretty quickly which of those matches are going to work out or not, too.)
Now, I’m not saying there are no exceptions to the basic principles of human attraction that I’m going to lay out. There are. Every couple has a different story and circumstances. But taking these principles into account has saved me a lot of hurt and a lot of heartache, and has allowed me to look at finding a spouse in a more calm, more rational, and more objective manner rather than being swept off my feet by butterflies and raging crushes every time I meet a potential Prince Charming.
If that sounds like something you’d also like to have in your dating toolbox, read on.
The 5 Tiers of Traditionalism
The first big piece of the puzzle came from my friend and former neighbor Johanna Pribble, a fellow homeschooler, when she shared with me a fascinating article entitled “The 5 Tiers of Homeschooling.” This article, written by a Protestant homeschooling mom on her blog My 32 Cents, examined a lot of the then-current speculation surrounding football star Tim Tebow and reality TV star Jana Duggar, and presented a compelling case as to why, in spite of their conservative upbringings and homeschooling backgrounds, the two were not actually a good matrimonial match.
Let the record show that as of 2022, Tim Tebow and Jana Duggar never did end up together – she was right!
In her case analysis, the author used the characteristics of five different conservative homeschooling groups to prove her point. While I highly encourage you to read the entire article, I’m reproducing her five key subdivisions – the 5 Tiers – in somewhat abridged and reworded form below to save on space (and to make the information more obviously applicable to non-homeschoolers). Some of it is paraphrased and some quoted verbatim.
Tier 1: The Rod & Staff Homeschoolers
Rod & Staff homeschoolers include the Amish and the Mennonites and others who adhere to similar ideologies. They are the most conservative of all the groups and place a strong focus on holiness.
- Interaction – Tier 1 homeschoolers try to remain largely separated from the world to remain unpolluted by sinful influences. Their children spend time with their own siblings or other children from Tier 1 so they will not be adversely affected by bad examples.
- Family Structure – Tier 1 families follow a patriarchal model. Wives are homemakers and submit unquestioningly to their husbands. Children are taught obedience and strong discipline is enforced. Extended education is considered unnecessary, especially for girls.
- Mode of Dress – Tier 1 is committed to modesty and simple living. Their clothing is loose fitting, covers most of the body, and is plain. Women wear dresses that extend to the ankles, thick stockings, and practical shoes (no heels/stilettos allowed). Hair is kept long and pulled back in simple styles so as not to draw attention.
- Relationships – Tier 1 follows a courtship or betrothal model. Parents and families are heavily involved and young couples are always chaperoned. Practically all physical touch is prohibited prior to marriage.
- Media – Tier 1 places strict limitations on media. No TV or movies. Music is hymns or non-contemporary folk music. No pop or rock music. Internet and computer use is limited to business and educational purposes.
Tier 2: Skirtwearer Homeschoolers
Skirtwearers are also very conservative, but not as strict in certain areas as the Rod and Staff homeschoolers.
- Interaction – Tier 2 families are more social than Tier 1, participating in homeschool and community activities. Interaction with nonbelievers occurs but is limited. Children have some exposure to more worldly children but it is carefully monitored.
- Family Structure – Tier 2 is patriarchal, but Tier 2 wives are more open and outspoken than those in Tier 1. Tier 2 children are strongly disciplined but their education occasionally includes a few outside classes and activities with homeschool groups. Conservative Christian colleges are acceptable for boys and sometimes for girls.
- Mode of Dress – Skirtwearers are modest and always wear dresses and skirts, but are more fashionable and place emphasis on looking feminine and pretty. Skirts extend well past or at least cover the knees. Swimdresses are worn in the water. Hair is often long but often with more contemporary styling than Tier 1. Simple makeup and jewelry are allowed. Men are clean cut and wear shirts while swimming; mixed swimming is taboo outside of immediate family.
- Relationships – Courtship is the norm. Family is heavily involved and siblings often serve as chaperones. Handholding and brief (especially side) hugs are permitted; some forbid frontal hugs. Strong emphasis on guarding your heart and saving your first kiss until marriage.
- Media – Tier 2 allows limited media usage in their homes. Occasional Christian, G-rated, or older movies and TV shows on DVD are watched. Internet is used under close supervision. Music is often a big part of family life and social gatherings with children playing at least one instrument. Some secular music, like movie soundtracks and light pop, is permitted, but it cannot have any sexual content or profanity. Rock music is still anathema.
Tier 3: The In-Between Homeschoolers
Tier 3 is harder to categorize because in some things members are 2s and in others they are 4s. Very rarely will they embrace a view from Tier 1 (other than holiness, we hope!), and never any belief from Tier 5 except for urging children to choose a successful career, especially boys. They are ultra-conservative in some things, but mainstream in others. For example, they may not believe in watching any movies that aren’t rated G, but may be fine with women wearing pants. Or they could wear skirts all the time, but be okay with watching R-rated movies that have been edited to remove any sexual content. There can also be some overlapping of tiers – for example, you could be a Tier 2 with Tier 3 leanings. (From a trad Catholic standpoint, I tend to categorize Tier 3 as predominantly Skirtwearing, but they see shorter skirts that barely cover the knees as acceptable, wear loose pants for exercise or necessity, and their media usage tends to lean more toward Tier 4.)
Tier 4: The Trendy Homeschoolers
The Trendy homeschoolers are much more mainstream than Tiers 1, 2, and 3 and generally fit in well with secular society.
- Interaction – Tier 4 homeschoolers are involved in a wide spectrum of activities. While the majority of their educational and social experiences occur within the homeschooling sphere, they also participate in intramural sports, take classes at community colleges, and participate in activities like speech and debate clubs, English country dance and ballroom dance lessons, etc.
- Family Structure – Tier 4 is not patriarchal. Traditional husband and wife relationships are followed, but Tier 4 views marriage as more of an equal partnership, with the husbands making the final decisions when there is a difference of opinion. Moms drive kids to lots of activities. Extended education is strongly encouraged for boys and for girls.
- Mode of Dress – Tier 4 adheres to a standard of modesty but their standard is not as strict as Tiers 1-3. Shorts, skirts that end above the knee, tank tops, skinny jeans, and necklines that show a hint of cleavage are worn, and although dresses and skirts may still be worn for church, pants are predominantly worn during the week. Hairstyles and makeup are contemporary. Men adhere to more modern styles as well, such as skinny jeans and more extreme hairstyles. Men swim shirtless, and girls may wear one-piece bathing suits without other cover-ups.
- Relationships – Courtship or intentional dating can be used by Tier 4, but couples can spend time alone in semi-public places. Parents’ approval is sought, but their involvement is limited. Physical contact such as handholding and hugging, and even chaste kissing, is considered acceptable before marriage. Many save the first kiss until engagement.
- Media – Tier 4 families listen to both secular and contemporary music in many styles with only a few limitations for profanity and sexual content. Television is permitted in the home. Movies can be G – PG-13 with some exceptions made for R-rated movies if they are edited or if a program like Vidangel is used. The internet is widely used by both parents and children, but blocks are often put up to prevent access to pornography.
Tier 5: Liberal-Minded Homeschoolers
Tier 5 homeschoolers are often indistinguishable at first glance from the modern world, leading members of Tiers 1-4 to sometimes question their religious sincerity.
- Interaction – Tier 5 is very involved with the secular world. They often attend secular and even very liberal universities, prioritizing high paying, successful careers.
- Family Structure – Tier 5 families are never patriarchal. Parents are often more devout than their kids and the kids sometimes challenge their parents’ beliefs. Tier 5 is also often made up of former Tier 1 and 2 members who became disgruntled with the restrictions of those tiers and rebelled against those restrictions.
- Mode of Dress – Tier 5 regularly wears clothing that scandalizes members of Tiers 1 and 2. Short shorts and skirts and low-cut necklines are worn in public, although somewhat more modest attire may still be worn to church. Ultra-trendy fashions are common for men and for women.
- Relationships – Dating is the preferred method. Handholding, embracing, and kissing are accepted and even promoted.
- Media – All forms of media are generally accepted by Tier 5 with pornography/sexually explicit material being the only line drawn. R-rated films are considered acceptable. Almost all forms of music are considered acceptable, with a few exceptions.
Is this bringing any lifestyle parallels to mind from among traditional Catholic families you know?
It sure does for me!
The tier system makes even more sense when the author explains: “While it is possible to marry up or down one tier, marrying up or down two tiers doesn’t happen. There are simply too many differences for a marriage to work unless one of the tier members changes their viewpoints and moves to a different tier.”
So, Miss Tier 2, you’re interested in that cute guy whose sisters wear skinny jeans during the week? Probably not going to happen. Not only will you not agree on standards of dress, but you most likely will also not agree on the types of movies, TV shows, and music that are appropriate for your future children to be exposed to.
Now, that’s not to say that cute guy necessarily agrees with his sisters’ fashion or media choices. If he really wishes they would wear skirts all the time, but is powerless to make them do so, then Miss Tier 2 has a chance – maybe. Not all members of the same family always belong to the same tier.
Let’s take a look at the second principle.
The Family Similarity Standard
My dad and brothers are all 6-foot-plus, slim to average weight, well built, and anywhere from reasonably good-looking to, I dare say, very good-looking. They’re smart, practical, and capable in manly stuff like car repairs and handling power tools.
Why is this something that has a negative impact on my love life?
The average guy who shares those qualities (and whom I find very attractive) is looking for a Miss Model who’s an 8 to a 10 on the figure and beauty scale, and I’m . . . not. I’m tall and broad, a bit on the heavier side of average, and 6 feet tall in heels. I don’t fit the general picture of what guys like my dad and brothers tend to find attractive, no matter how much they may say I look nice. They’re related to me – they’re biased.
Let’s take a closer look at those sometimes subconscious biases.
Several years ago, I was at the wedding of two of my friends. As I was watching the happy couple sway through their first dance, I came to a realization that, while entertaining, really got me thinking. The bride was basically a younger version of the groom’s mother, and the groom was basically a younger version of the bride’s father. Not exactly, of course, but in terms of size, build, general coloring, personality, and broader values.
A few years later, two more friends got married. This time, the bride was short and petite but married a big and tall guy. Guess what – her mom is short and petite, and her dad is a big tall man. This time the groom was blonde while her dad was dark-haired, but the height difference mirrored what she had seen growing up.
Fast-forward a few more years. Two more friends of mine got married. This time the girl, a taller, somewhat sturdier gal, married a big stocky man with almost the same build as, you guessed it – her adopted dad and adopted brothers.
Little by little, the difficulties I was encountering in trying to date shorter men, and why things just would not work no matter how hard I tried to be objective, started making SENSE.
I see it even with my own brothers – while two out of three of my sisters-in-law are a bit shorter than myself and my sisters, they are all still in that same general size and coloring range, and definitely aligned in the 5 Tiers system. Check and check.
Therefore, we come to the principle of the Family Similarity Standard.
If you as a girl have had an overall good relationship with your dad and brothers, you are going to be attracted to men who share a similar height, build, and outlook on life. And while there may be some variability in height and coloring, generally speaking you will not be attracted to someone who strays too far from that standard.
The same goes for men. If a guy’s mom and sisters are slim, trim, and uber-fashionable, he is not going to look twice at Miss Casual Dresser who is a bit on the plus size of average. If his mom and sisters are on the heavier side, though, she may have a chance!
This can also go the opposite direction.
If people have had bad relationships with their parents and siblings, this may prompt them to seek out their opposites when looking for a spouse. A woman whose dad was large but aggressive and intimidating may seek out a small, soft-spoken man whom she doesn’t feel threatened by. A man who is sick and tired of his mother’s all-consuming pursuit of fashion may seek out a woman who shows by her attire that she just doesn’t care too much about it.
While we tend to see these kinds of relationships in movies and books because they have more conflict and are therefore more interesting, real life relationships tend to thrive better with fewer conflicts. That’s not to say they don’t still happen, they’re just not as common. Most modern people don’t tend to have the patience to go through a whole enemies-to-lovers story arc, either.
Remember – if a pendulum swings too far in one direction, it tends to go crashing back in the opposite direction. If it has a nice even rhythm going, it tends to stay within its bounds. The same with attraction parameters.
Putting It All Together
You are probably starting to see now how putting these two principles – the 5 Tiers of Traditionalism and the Family Similarity Standard – to use in the trad Catholic dating world can save you a LOT of unfounded anticipation and dashed hopes. For me personally, it’s been at least as revolutionary as using the Color Me Beautiful system while shopping for clothing. Why waste time shopping for something if you KNOW it won’t suit you? Conversely, why get all excited over a guy who, realistically, is never going to choose you?
We can’t FORCE anyone to like us. We can be as nice as pie, be on our best behavior, dress as well as we are able, and still just plain not be attractive to someone. Either our values, their attraction parameters, or both just do not align. And that’s okay. Better to realize this quickly and move on with heart intact rather than waste weeks, months, or even years pining over someone who will never care – and who will only be made uncomfortable to realize that they’re the unwitting target of a one-sided attachment.
So then, to recap – when evaluating people’s potential for making a match (even if you’re just setting up your friends), you need to look at how they align on:
- Family Similarity Standards – how they compare to your dad and brothers, or, if you’re a guy, to your mom and sisters. This is usually instinctive; generally you will not find someone attractive unless they already meet your internal preference biases. They will also not find you attractive if you do not meet their internal preference biases.
- Tier of Traditionalism – your Catholic lifestyle values. How you dress, how you practice the Faith, your music, your movies, your books, how you speak, your ideas about raising children. These things speak VOLUMES about your long-term compatibility – far more so than your hobbies or favorite sports team. If you can find out this information up front, you can discover very quickly if someone is a viable candidate for marriage or not.
And while sometimes people do select a spouse based on their “tier” first and appearances later, generally it works in the order listed. Attraction first, then vetting.
But this way, you can get a pretty good idea ahead of time if there will even BE that initial attraction.