It’s been more than ten years since I first noticed something odd about the generally pleasant—and generally Catholic—students at the college where I teach. The boys and girls don’t hold hands.
Let that serve as shorthand for the absence of all those rites of attraction and conversation, flirting and courting, that used to be passed along from one youthful generation to the next, just as childhood games were once passed along, but are so no longer. The boys and girls don’t hold hands.
I am aware of the many attempts by responsible Catholic priests and laymen to win the souls of young people, to keep them in the Church, and indeed to make some of them into attractive ambassadors for the Church. I approve of them heartily. Yes, we need those frank discussions about contraception. We need theological lectures to counter the regnant nihilism of the schools and the mass media. But we need something else too, something more human and more fundamental. We need desperately to reintroduce young men and young women to the delightfulness of the opposite sex. Just as boys after fifteen years of being hustled from institutional pillar to institutional post no longer know how to make up their own games outdoors, just as girls after fifteen years of the same no longer know how to organize a dance or a social, so now our young people not only refrain from dating and courting—they do not know how to do it. It isn’t happening. Look at the hands.
In our swamp of miserable statistics, let me introduce another that is often overlooked. In 1960—back when Wally Cleaver was wearing a jacket and tie to join other boys and girls at a party, for playing records and eating ice cream and dancing—in that already souring time, almost three out of four Americans aged 24 were married (72%). Now that number is…