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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dating, Relationships, and Virtue

I can't tell you how many people I've known who get into one bad relationship after another. And, of course, we've all heard of the people who keep getting lied to, cheated on, or worse. When one hears them discuss their problems, it seems to me there is a common thread connecting them.

One problem that seems consistent in all of these cases is that they don't seem to be screening their dating partners for virtue. They'll screen for looks, money, common interests, sense of humor, and so on - but never consider their integrity, honesty, or other such traits.

Part of this comes from a prevailing mythos that seems to have been building in this country (the United States) for some time now. That mythos suggests that there are "no bad people - just bad choices." It also paints any sort of discernment as "judgmentalism" which is allegedly to be avoided at all costs. Apart from the fact that this mythos is extremely harmful to ethics and society in general, it also makes for bad relationships.

For instance, it's quite common to find people dating someone who is married. They'll think that this is okay because they themselves aren't married. Never does it occur to them that if this person is cheating on their current spouse, that they may cheat on them someday. Note that I'm not talking about the sort of relationships where a person may be married but separated, or where there are understandings between marriage partners. I'm talking specifically about cases where there is deception.

Instead, the focus is on the immediate circumstances only. They think, "well that spouse of there's is just bad" or "things aren't working out between them." So the fantasy continues that since they will be a good partner and things will work out with their relationship, that there should be no reason for cheating right? Wrong. Such folks are paying no attention to the nature of the character of the person they are seeing. If that person thinks that it's okay to cheat when one has sufficient impetus to do so, then there will be nothing stopping them from cheating with you.

And believe me - the impetus will come someday - it is inevitable. That is, unless you truly think that you are objectively the most beautiful person in the universe. On a planet of billions, it is guaranteed your spouse will run into many he or she finds attractive. It is also guaranteed that, in the normal course of highs and lows, any long term relationship will reach points where things are tough. And when those conditions pass by, someone with an outlook that cheating is permissible will cheat if given the opportunity. It has nothing to do with you or the relationship - it has to do with your partner's character and his or her outlook on relationships.

And this is not just about cheating. It has to do with trustworthiness and integrity in all matters, from birth control, to finances, to a willingness to compromise over differences, and more. This is why, if you want a good relationship, you simply must screen your dating partners for virtue. Observe them over time. What do they say? What do they do? Try to get a sense of what sort of ethos they live by (if any). Are they just following their desires wherever these impulses take them, like a dog, or do they have some sort of principles they live by? And observe - don't ask them because they will always tell you they have principles. What counts is if they walk the walk.

Of course, sometimes people simply aren't compatible and they end up going their separate ways, so there are still issues of common interests and compatibility. But if you start with principled people, then you can be more certain that, however the relationship works out, you will be treated fairly and considerately.


  1. one must also consider one other thing, and it may indeed be the most illusive issue, ones own dedication to a virtuous lifestyle. introspection is difficult because it is often impossible to be objective about ourselves. From personal experience i can truely say that i was not able to recognize that i was floating down the river on a brick until confronted by incredibly unpleasant circumstances. when those circumstances forced the issue, i was compelled to re-evaluate my own levels of committment. Once re-awakened, i found that the real issue was not my partners shortcomings, but my own. what are we bound to get in return if our own lifestlye is closer to amoral than virtuous?

  2. Very true - treating others morally tends to engender the same. Objectivity (a shade of Reason in my system) is essential, as you point out.

    You also bring up a good point about amoral lifestyles. We don't really have an epidemic of evil people, so much as one of amoral people. However, one will often find that "amoralism" is only an illusion, which lasts as long as the time until a major test of character.