The prevailing wisdom among religious orders and clergy I talk to and read, seems to be that before deciding on the priesthood, the religious life, the single life, or any unmarried lifestyle, the discerning Catholic should do some dating.
Is this the right attitude? I understand the reasoning, but my problem is this:
What of people who have great difficulty doing the whole dating thing? Those who, for whatever reason (financial, aesthetic, personal, ideological, whatever), are just not easily marketable in that sector at this point in time - which is a problem no matter how Catholic the demographic you target (to anticipate that response). It seems odd that I can’t try doing “X” if I have a great deal of difficulty doing “that which is mutually exclusive to X.”
Is trying dating first really the most strategic method?
I think it is important to make sure that one is not going into religious life to avoid the intimacy of marriage. By dating and being a well rounded person I think you are able to make a better decision.
I wouldn’t think it would need to be a mandatory prerequisite though.
No! This is actually the wrong way to approach your vocation. If you suspect that God, may be calling you, take about a year away from girls to more carefully discern. You may have a vocation to religious life, you may not, but you need to be careful and not entangle yourself with a girl BEFORE you discover your vocation. Otherwise, if later you do discover you have a vocation, the relationship will cause you a lot of heartbreak. Trust me, I have seen this so many times.
Spare yourself and and discern more carefully before you throw yourself into a relationship. Jesus is a living person and has a concrete will for your life.
To an extent, I agree with you: one cannot simultaneously discern a vocation that involves celibacy and be in a romantic relationship. However, I don’t think that the advice is “get into a relationship and see how celibacy measures up while you’re in that relationship”. I’ve taught CVOL to teens in CCD, and I always ask whether they’ve thought about being married (most, if not all, raise their hands) and then I ask whether they’ve thought about a religious vocation (almost none raise their hands). I then challenge them: how can you know what God has in mind for you, for your vocation, if you haven’t even considered it?
Same thing goes here, I think. How can a person discern a vocation to religious life if they’ve never considered whether God wants them to marry? Now, trying to discern both simultaneously isn’t a good approach: you can’t discern the priesthood while you’re in a romantic relationship with a girl, just as you can’t discern married life (by dating) while in the seminary! But… there should be time for both discernments, and I think that’s what the OP’s advice is (or, at least, should be): discern whether God is calling you to married life, too. If all you attempt to discern is the priesthood, to the exclusion of discernment to married life, then you’re not really discerning at all. Does it take ‘dating’ to discern married life? Maybe, maybe not. But, if you’ve never really considered marriage, then dating – not a long-term romantic relationship, but just going out on a few dates – may help you discern whether God is calling you to marriage or celibacy.