Q: I am a senior in high school and have felt called to religious life since I was in 5th grade. I recently dated a guy I met on a mission trip last summer (super guy and he treated me well), but I broke up with him even though I liked him a lot, because I thought God was still calling me to religious life. Now I’m just confused. I still want to date him, but would it be wrong to since I feel called to religious life?

A: Confused would be a good word for it… As a high school senior, you’re old enough to be seriously discerning your capital-v Vocation, but not really old enough to move on it (the minimum age for entering almost all religious communities is 18, but many prefer you have some college or work experience as well). You’ve felt this call for many years, and yet… dating. It’s certainly an option, and one you’ve engaged with. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with going on dates – but is dating the best idea when you’ve felt a strong call to the religious life?

Let me ask you this: have you ever been frustrated when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone who keeps looking at his or her phone? Have you ever turned in a paper that wasn’t as good as it could have been because Netflix was on in the background while you were writing it? Have you ever read the same chapter of a book over and over again, because you’re busy thinking about the fight you had with your best friend earlier that week and aren’t actually reading a word off the page? Human beings aren’t good at multi-tasking – maybe women are a little better than men (that’s not sexist, it’s science), but none of us are great at it.

If we can’t watch TV and hold a conversation at the same time, how on earth are you supposed to figure out if God’s calling you to be a wife or nun at the same time?

Ultimately, I’d say dating while seriously discerning religious life is not fair – not fair to you, not fair to the guy you would date, and not fair to the religious community you might enter one day. With a religious vocation so heavy on your heart and mind, how could you give either discernment the attention it needs or deserves? Discernment literally means “the ability to judge well.” How well are you going to be able to truly evaluate either vocation while you’re busy living one and thinking about the other?

All young Catholics should definitely give some thought to the priesthood or religious life as real possibilities for their lives. But if a religious vocation is just a passing thought in a young person’s mind, I’d say dating isn’t that big of a deal (and let’s assume that all mentions of dating here imply dating chastely, since living chastity [in all vocations] helps us keep our hearts and minds free). If you’re thinking a little about religious life, and a lot more about marriage, look into religious life a bit and know there’s nothing wrong with dating and seriously discerning marriage.

That is one of the main reasons we date, right? To discern the vocation of marriage? So, conversely, if you think there’s a serious possibility you might be called to religious life one day, not marriage, then it would be best not to tie up your heart – or the heart of a young man – in a dating relationship. He deserves more than your distracted attention, and so do you. How would you feel, if the roles were reversed? If the guy you were dating kept thinking about the seminary? OR, if he kept thinking about dating someone else while he was already committed to dating you?

When religious life has been so heavy on your heart and mind for so long (5th grade through senior year? This isn’t new, this is serious…), how quality could a dating relationship even be? At best, half-hearted. How much time and attention will you give to different religious communities where you might be called to enter, if your heart is growing more and more attached to a guy?

It’s awful trying to live with a divided heart.

So focus on one path, and see if that might be where God really is calling you. Talk to your diocesan vocations director. Get a spiritual director. Connect with religious sisters in your area. Google search religious communities whose charisms match your passions: teaching [Nashville Dominicans, Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus], nursing [Sisters of Mercy], caring for the poor [Missionaries of Charity], the elderly http://www.littlesistersofthepoor.org/], children and mothers [Sisters of Life], even social media [Daughters of St. Paul].

There are many religious orders whose Sisters do a little bit of everything, too [SOLT, Alton Franciscans, Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara]. There are a lot of options!

Be patient, too, with your vocation. Since there are so many options, it might take a while to find the community that is the right match for you. Don’t let that stress you, though – most of us don’t marry the first person we date, either. Pray throughout your discernment and ask God where He might be calling you. The Catechism says not to be troubled if we don’t immediately receive what we ask God for, “for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer” (CCC 2737). Trust that God is at work throughout this time.

We might be able to get away with multi-tasking when it comes to Netflix and cleaning our rooms, but we can’t multi-task our discernment. It’s part of the reason that we don’t date other people when we’re in a serious relationship. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12).

Our vocation is the particular path we follow to ultimately become saints, and as St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” So choose a path and pursue it whole-heartedly, attentive to God’s guidance along the way.

Do you have a question about dating and relationships you’d like to ask David and Rachel Leininger? Email them at Itscomplicated@lifeteen.com and your question could be the next blog post!

About the Author

Rachel Leininger

I work for a retreat ministry called the REAP Team, where it's my full-time job to talk about sex, love, dating, and chastity (which can sometimes lead to some awesomely awkward moments). I love being Catholic, my bearded husband, watching movies, and browsing antique malls. The only thing I have against winter is the fact that there's no baseball. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @raleininger