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The major challenge posed by the dating world today—Catholic or otherwise—is that it is just so hard to define.

Most young adults have abandoned the formal dating scene in favor of an approach that is, paradoxically, both more focused and more fluid than in the past.

Hale, who lives in Washington and works for the faith-based advocacy group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says he is looking for a partner who challenges him.

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And Catholics who consider themselves loosely affiliated with the church are more open to dating outside the faith than young adults were 30 years ago.

Yet young people of all stripes express frustration with the uncertainty of today’s dating culture.

Pennacchia was raised Catholic, but she’s not limiting her dating prospects to people within the Catholic faith. “It has shaped how I relate to people and what I want out of relationships, but I’m thinking less about ‘Oh, you’re not Catholic,’ than ‘Oh, you don’t agree with economic justice.’ ” For Pennacchia, finding a partner is not a priority or even a certainty.

“People talk [about love and marriage] in a way that assumes your life will turn out in a certain way,” she says.

You find that there are a lot of older single men and younger single women at these events.

Oftentimes I find that the older men are seeking potential partners, while the younger women are simply there to have friendships and form community,” he says.“It’s hard to express skepticism about that without sounding overly negative, because I’d like to get married, but it’s not a guarantee.” She says that when she’s able to ignore her friends’ Facebook status updates about relationships, marriages, and children, she recognizes the fullness of her life, as is, and tries not to worry too much about the future. “Just being open to people and experiences and meeting friends of friends makes sense to me.” As young adults move further from their college days, the natural social circles within which they may meet new people become less obvious.Many seek out young adult events sponsored by Catholic groups, parishes, or dioceses in an effort to broaden their circle of friends.According to a 2011 Pew Research Center study, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 were married in 1960. While it seems that there are more ways than ever to find a spouse—online dating and social media alongside the more traditional methods of parish events or friends of friends, among others—this array of options can also be overwhelming.For Catholics, discussions of faith can serve as a shortcut to discovering those shared values., I found myself responding to his brief message in my inbox.

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