To say that parents are the primary educators of their children is not simply to claim that the authority of parents should be protected and upheld. This is true, we should uphold it, and society and the government should respect the fundamental right of parents to make educational decisions regarding their children. But the claim that parents are the primary educators of their children is much more than an assertion of parental rights. It is also a statement of the simple fact that from the earliest age children look to their parents to understand the world around them and their place in it. Parents mediate the world to their children, and a large part of how a child understands reality is the result of his or her experience as a person in a family.
A clear example of this mediation is the indispensable and irreplaceable role of the father in the education of his sons in the area of human sexuality. A father’s authority to teach is intimately connected to his living example as the father of his children and the husband of his wife, the children’s mother. Simply because he is the father, his sons naturally look to him as a role model for the proper treatment of women, imitating how he cares for their mother and sisters. The father has a privileged position from which he can teach his sons about God’s plan for human sexuality and fruitfulness, unfolding this topic in its proper context and full dimension. This is an area where it is simply not possible for a school to adequately assume the father’s role.
What follows are some practical considerations regarding how a father can educate his sons. These considerations are partly based on my own experience with my older sons. And while this essay is specific to the father-son relationship, much of what follows also applies to how a mother could go about talking with her daughter. Ideally it is best if boys feel comfortable talking with their father about these matters, and girls go to their mother. In some situations, where one of the parents is missing or unable to provide guidance, then it is obviously necessary to make do with the particular situation as it is.
Getting the right message out first…
If possible, it is best to present one’s son with information about God’s plan for human sexuality before he hears a version of this plan from another source. Just as a big deal is made in the business world about a company getting an important message out first so as to be able to manage the message, sometimes through hiring a public relations firm, so a father should let his son know that God has a wonderful plan for human sexuality before he hears about a different version of this plan elsewhere. If a boy first hears from his father that human sexuality is part of God’s wonderful plan for life, then any reductive presentations of the topic that he encounters will be less damaging. The boy will also be more likely to feel comfortable coming back to talk to his father about anything that is bothering him.
In times past it was less likely that a boy would be presented with a deficient view of human sexuality at a young age. This is not the case today. Even if a young boy does not himself view material that presents human sexuality inappropriately, it is likely that some of his peers will have been exposed to such material. His first introduction to this subject could be from a conversation on the playground. So it is important that parents reach their children with the right message first and then support this perspective throughout the formative years.
Parents initially pass the right message about human sexuality to their children through ordinary family interactions and through a few messages that parents should deliberately get across in a natural way. Children see that their parents love and respect each other and that this love overflows to include the whole family. This good example is very powerful in conveying truths about human love.
A father can make this early formation of his children even more effective by verbalizing a few particular messages to his young ones. He should tell them (more than just once) that he is very thankful to have met their mother, to have been lucky enough to have this wonderful woman say yes when he asked her to marry him, and to be able to spend his life with her and the wonderful family that has resulted. In this way the child will gradually see the unfolding of human sexuality in the context of a loving relationship between his mother and father, coming to see that children are the result of the loving relationship between a husband and wife. Parents can consciously choose to follow this approach even though it may also naturally happen without any planning. The normal experience of human love lived in a family and occasionally spoken about should be adequate for a boy up to about fourth grade.
The first planned father-son talk…
Around fourth grade a father should have the first of a few “planned talks” on the topic of human sexuality with his son (and mothers with daughters, but this is not the topic of this article). I first spoke with my oldest son, Michael, when he was in fifth grade. I told him that I had something that I would like to talk about with him and set a day and a time. We drove to a nearby park with some trails that meander through the woods. We started to walk and I told him that I wanted to tell him about God’s plan for human sexuality, that this is a very beautiful and good plan, and that it is under attack today by people who want to ruin it. He listened attentively and asked some questions which I patiently answered.
At the end of our discussion I told him that it is best if boys hear about God’s plan for human sexuality from their fathers and that this happens for many boys. I also told him that some boys may not hear about this from their fathers but learn some of this in other ways, which is not as good. I told him that he should not be the one to teach anyone else about what we had discussed. Specifically I told him that he was not to fill in his brother Thomas (16 months younger) on this topic (or anyone else at school). And I told him that he needs to be strong in defending what is right in these matters; that if he hears anyone speaking badly about these things he should tell them to stop and, if necessary, tell me or another adult depending on the situation. He seemed to understand.
When we arrived home Thomas was very curious. From his perspective, Dad had just left to have an important discussion with his older brother, and he wanted to know what it was about. He asked Michael several times and all Michael would tell him is that he completely refused to talk about it, that he would hear about it from Dad when the time was right.
This would not do for Thomas, so I agreed to take him out to talk with him. I had a similar talk with Thomas, going to the same park and walking along the same trails, about one week after doing so with Michael. Thomas was in fourth grade at the time. Since then, I have had similar initial talks with two more of my sons, Joseph and Stephen, when they were in fourth grade. At the end of each of these talks I emphasized that I am happy to answer any questions, encouraging my sons to feel free to come and talk with me if they have any concerns in this area.
The following are some points that I think are helpful to keep in mind when getting ready to have the first father-son talk about human sexuality:
- Begin the talk with God. Rather than mentioning that this is “how babies are made” or “how human sexuality works” or even “I want to tell you about human sexuality” start with something like, “God has a beautiful plan for human sexuality that I, as your father, want to tell you about.” The reason for this is that all the impure lies about this topic are mixed with partial truths that are corrupted by reductionism, by only considering part of the truth in a limited context. Referring to this as “God’s plan” avoids this reductionism right from the start by setting the proper context for the discussion. Once St. John Paul II was asked why there is so much art in the Vatican that shows a great deal of the human body, including sexual organs and such. The questioner was wondering if the Vatican was guilty of displaying pornography. St. John Paul II wisely answered that pornography is not pornography because it shows too much, but rather because it shows too little. He meant that there is not a problem with showing the beauty of the human person through good art; the problem is in showing a person as reduced to his or her sexuality displayed in an objectified way, reducing a person to an object. This pornographic objectification of the person can be done very effectively through suggestive clothing as well as by the lack of clothing. The essence of pornography is reductionism, not how much of the body is revealed.
- Tell the story of how you met your wife. This story should be told as more than a simple lesson in family history; it should be told to make a few key points. Explain that as you got to know your wife you recognized that she is a wonderful woman with specific virtues (name some), someone you wanted to be with as a companion for life, and someone who would be a good mother. Gradually your love deepened, you decided to ask her to marry you, and she accepted your marriage proposal. Mention that this is the way families typically begin; that in God’s plan a man and a woman meet, get to know each other, fall in love, marry, and are blessed by God with children. Mention that children result from God blessing the married love of a husband and a wife. The great goodness of God’s plan for human sexuality will naturally come across as you tell your story. Your son will understand how God builds into human nature the desire for marital love and a family, even as he sees it as a “grown-up thing” that he does not relate to experientially yet.
- You do not need to get heavily into the mechanics. Part of modern reductionism is our inordinate attachment to efficient causality (which is only one of four types of causality, the other three being material, formal and final) as the primary means through which things are explained. People today think of explaining how a thing functions as more or less explaining what there is to know about it. The mechanism by which sexuality works is not bad knowledge to have, and if your son asks questions about the mechanics it is best to answer them. But a father’s initial explanations should be more general and integrated into the full meaning of human sexuality, which certainly cannot be reduced to mechanical function. It is good to talk about how in God’s plan a man and a woman fall in love and get married: that as a married couple they come together in the “marital embrace,” that in this “marital embrace” there is a wonderful contribution by the man and a different but equally wonderful contribution from the woman, and that these contributions combine when a new human person is formed in the womb of the mother. Explain to your son that this new person starts out very small and grows quickly. Is it not wonderful that God makes it happen that a new baby comes about through the love of a mother and father? For older boys it could be helpful to go into more details, even if not asked directly. The important thing to keep in mind is that this conversation should take place in the context of the full meaning of human sexuality, which is God’s plan, and not reducible to a mechanical process.
- A good opening to going deeper into this topic is telling your son a bit about how he will start to change in a few years to become a man. Mention that there are differences between boys and men, and girls and women. Men have more hair on their arms and legs, bigger and more powerful muscles, a deeper voice, need to wear deodorant, and need to shave. Boys change into men by going through puberty. These changes take place over a few years and typically start in about seventh grade, earlier for some and later for others. These changes are very good and part of God’s plan, although some things about going through puberty can be challenging. It is common for a boy going through puberty to start to notice and even like girls and women in a different way. Along with the changes in one’s body there are changes in one’s heart as well. God wants us to keep our hearts clean and reserved for love. Some people are called by God to do this through a celibate life and others are called to do this through giving one’s heart to one woman in the holy vocation to marriage. God could call you to either path and you will be happiest if you pray to know God’s plan for your life and then follow it when you see it. Because of sin the human heart can be a traitor; it can seek for comfort and fulfillment in things of this world rather than in God. The things of this world are good, as coming from God, but if we only think about the things of this world and forget that we are just passing through this life on the way to heaven then we will not be thankful and happy but rather covetous, anxious, and sad. Sin has wounded us, but God is there with His grace to help us when we turn to Him. When someone is very young he might think that he will be happy if he has the right toy to play with. We know that getting the right toy does not really make a little child happy for very long, and so we encourage him to share, which is a good way to not be attached to things. When a boy going through puberty starts to notice girls in a new way he needs to remember God’s plan for human love. If it is his vocation to marry a wonderful woman someday then these new movements of his heart will find fulfillment in loving and cherishing his wife once they marry. In the meantime it is important for him to save his heart for this woman he will someday marry or for a higher love if God calls him to celibacy. The virtue that allows him to do this is called chastity.
How long should the first father-son conversation be and how much should be covered? I think the answer to these questions is that it depends. If the first of these father-son conversations takes place around fourth grade there is not really that much of a need to cover things in depth. The main point is to have this conversation as a way of getting the right perspective to your son before he hears other perspectives, which he will. The first conversation does not have to cover everything. A good rule of thumb is to present the basics in the right way and then let your son’s questions guide how much further to go in various areas.
Ideas for ongoing father-son conversations…
After the first father-son talk other conversations should follow. These conversations may happen because a son comes to his father with questions or because a father realizes that it has been a while since the last conversation and that it is time to gently initiate a further conversation. If a boy has questions about these matters he hopefully will feel comfortable going to his father. In many cases, he may be shy or embarrassed. In thinking about each of his sons a father can usually tell when it is time to connect. If a year or two go by and all seems well it still might be a good idea to go for a walk with your son and ask him if he remembers the earlier conversations about God’s plan for human sexuality. Your son will appreciate you taking the time to ask him if he has any questions and using this as a chance to again cover the beauty of God’s plan and the virtues that we are called to live. What follows are points that could guide additional conversations or, in some cases, could be brought up in the first father-son talk as appropriate:
The virtue of chastity…
Chasity is the virtue by which one possesses oneself so as to be able to love others with the pure love that God pours into our hearts. It is a virtue meant for everyone, married or single. A chaste person is someone who does not seek to use other people for his own benefits or pleasure. A chaste person is someone who can love in the best way possible because his loves are all in proper order. It can be a struggle to live this virtue. In talking with young boys it is probably enough to just let them know that we are called to have a clean heart and that if at any time you have questions about this you can always ask me, your father, or ask a priest in confession. In talking with older boys it can be helpful to talk about the practical side of striving to live chastity, how to “guard one’s eyes” and “guard one’s heart.” A great story to bring up is the fall of the great King David, who is called “a man after God’s own heart.” David’s fall starts with his failure to guard his eyes. He looks at Bathsheba in the wrong way and one thing leads to another, culminating in the planned murder of Uriah. Even so, David repents when corrected by Nathan the prophet. Talking about this story with your son can be a good way to teach about the struggle to live the virtue of chastity, as well as the healing mercy of God.
- It also is helpful to mention the virtue of modesty. Modesty is one of the virtues that support the virtue of chastity. Through modesty we live a natural refinement and elegance. Children should be told that not only should “private parts” be covered, but that one should dress in such a way that no part of one’s body is inappropriately displayed. Boys should wear shirts, even on the hottest of summer days. Of course, a boy will not wear a shirt when swimming, but after leaving the water and toweling off it is best if he puts his T-shirt on just for the sake of greater modesty. Even if a young boy sleeps without a pajama shirt, it is best if he wears one prior to getting into bed. Parents do well to explain these details as a way to live with more modesty, a word that helps distinguish between something that is seriously wrong and something that should ideally be better.
- More on puberty. At some point before puberty is underway, it is a good idea to tell your son about nocturnal emissions. The changes that take place in puberty are good, just like God’s entire plan for human sexuality. One of these changes is that your body will start to produce semen. Semen is the part the father contributes to the new baby that forms in the mother’s womb. The body produces semen in the testicles and the semen builds up to the point where it needs to come out. This typically happens when sleeping and it may happen during a dream that you remember upon waking. It is also possible that you might not wake up during the nocturnal emission but notice when you do wake up that there are wet emissions in your underwear. It is not sinful to have a nocturnal emission while sleeping. On the other hand, trying to stimulate yourself so as to have an emission of semen on purpose is seriously wrong. This is called the sin of masturbation. It is wrong to stimulate oneself sexually either by some type of physical act or by using one’s imagination. Not doing this is part of how one lives chastity, keeping oneself whole and pure so as to give oneself at the right time to one’s wife or to offer this dimension to God alone if called to a celibate life. If you have any questions on this please feel free to ask me or a priest in confession. It can be a bit surprising when one has a nocturnal emission for the first time.
- We are warriors in a noble battle. Educate your son about the battles that need to be fought in our culture in defense of pure love. Remind him that the devil works by trying to corrupt something that is good so as to destroy it and turn souls away from God. Given that God’s plan for human sexuality is such a tremendously good thing, it makes sense that the devil wants to corrupt it. Unfortunately there are many examples of the devil’s work in this area, including immodest pictures that show people as sexual objects and videos that do the same. The devil is the father of lies and he is trying to spread lies about human sexuality, which is really not this way. This type of material is called pornography. Pornography can range from really bad images (what most people think of as pornography) to more common images that also contain pornographic elements (even though most people do not think of these immodest images as pornographic), such as the pictures on magazine covers in a typical supermarket. It is important to guard one’s eyes and heart and keep close to God through prayer and the sacraments. If you notice that any of your classmates or friends are looking at something that they should not look at you should tell them so. Tell them that real men do not look at women like that and that if they would not want to imagine their mother or sister in that way it must be wrong.
- Empowering boys to be able to react strongly. With my third and fourth sons, Joseph and Stephen, I added some additional instruction that was very well received. I told each of them that if anyone ever tries to show him a pornographic image on a phone, he should grab the phone and smash it as hard as he can on the ground and then stomp on it. Then he should tell the boy who had the phone something like: “If you have a problem with the smashed phone tell your dad to call my dad.” After each of my sons realized that I was serious he started to get a dangerous grin on his face. I could tell that he was hoping for a chance to smash someone’s phone without getting in trouble. At this point I told him that I am very serious about this but that he should only smash a phone if he is sure that the image is pornographic. I have yet to get a call from a father or hear about any smashed phones.
- Warriors are not victims. The biggest danger about pornography is that it will stick to one’s heart. Children especially are vulnerable to this and they generally lack the capacity to deal with a situation where someone tries to present them with impure content or situations. For this reason, it is best if a boy hears from his father that he should take charge of the situation to reject this great evil in some way, whether it is smashing a phone, ripping a picture, or even screaming something like, “You are sick! Get away from me.” These responses give a way for a boy to actively reject impurity rather than be paralyzed by it. Child predators know how to exploit a child’s vulnerability. They may leave inappropriate materials out for boys to “accidentally” look at and then follow up with them after they already feel compromised. Just as a knight draws his sword when it is time to fight the dragon threatening the castle, so we need to help our sons understand that there is a time for a violent and strong reaction against anything that presents women in the wrong way or that is perverse in some other way. A boy who is empowered by his father to fight in this way will be much less vulnerable.
- Knights defend women. Part of the battle for purity is also the need to defend and protect women. Tell your sons that there is something very beautiful about femininity and that gentlemen should treat women with refinement and respect. Talk about good manners, such as holding a door for a woman or offering to carry a heave package for mom. Make it clear that a boy is never to hit a girl. It is good to have a double standard at home in this regard. If one of your daughters gets angry and slaps one of her brothers this needs to be addressed appropriately. But if one of your sons gets angry and hits one of his sisters, this should be treated as a much more serious offence. Make it clear that it is never acceptable for a man to hit a woman.
- Our Lady. Encourage your son to have a tender devotion to Mary, perhaps under the title Mother of Fair Love. Turning to Mary for help in areas of human sexuality is tremendously effective. She defends those who turn to her and has a way of straightening out anything that is not quite right. Fathers also do well to invoke Mary’s help before and while talking about human sexuality to their sons.
- It is never too late. And while it is best to take the proactive approach outlined here, reaching your sons before any problems arise, it is also never too late. A father can still do a great deal of good by talking to his older son for the first time. Even in cases where healing and forgiveness are needed, a loving father reaching out to his son with encouragement can make the crucial difference. And no matter how difficult the situation, God’s mercy and healing are always possible.
Details at home…
Fathers should also make sure that certain practical preventive measures are followed in the home. These details, though very important, are in no way sufficient to protect one’s family. It would be a mistake to think that taking care of these points can serve as a substitute for good father-son communication and trust.
- Watch out for screens in your home. All screens should be in public places where there is lots of family traffic. This is especially true for any screens that are able to connect to the Internet. Many boys and young men get into trouble with Internet pornography by initially simply indulging curiosity. This is much easier to do if one is privately viewing a screen.
- Mobile devices present particular challenges. Any mobile device with Internet connectivity is a potential problem. It is not good for a boy to be able to take a laptop or I-pad or even a smart phone off by himself to view images in apparent privacy. It simply is not fair to place this level of temptation in the hands of a boy or young man going through puberty, making it possible for him to have any image on the Internet available to see in a matter of seconds.
- Filters and parental controls. It makes sense to use filters and parental controls on the Internet.
- Strong family culture. It is best if there is a family culture of reading, and also that watching screens is kept to a minimum. It can be a great family activity to watch a good film together and then discuss it. Avoid a situation where someone feels free to turn on the television or computer and start watching what seems interesting at the moment. Uses of video should be planned and social events.
- Helping honest children to stay honest. Keep in mind that even the best prudential steps to avoid problems in the area of human sexuality by governing one’s home well are only able to help keep an honest child honest. If someone intentionally seeks exposure to particular content, he will be able to get it, despite the best parental efforts. There is much more to educating and forming your son in the area of human sexuality than simply helping him avoid exposure to inappropriate content. In fact, focusing too much on this negative task can actually be deforming if it ends up reinforcing avoidance at the expense of the more positive message that God’s plan for human sexuality is good.
Teens and dating…
As their children grow into young adults, parents will need to carefully consider how they will handle dating. On the one hand, most would agree that parents who forbid any interaction with the opposite sex for their high school age sons and daughters are being too strict and risk rebellion and potential problems. On the other hand, it is well known that an intimate personal romance among a high school age couple rarely ends well.
The very nature of an exclusive personal relationship between a man and a woman is that it is ordered toward marriage and can only be fulfilled completely through marriage and all that this union involves. Ideally a young man and a young woman would only begin such a relationship if the intention is to be open to discerning a vocation to marriage. If conditions are present that make such a marriage impractical at the time and for the foreseeable future then any personal relationship that forms has a built-in tension that is unfair to the couple. There are examples of long periods of courtship that have led to stable and happy marriages, but this is rare and can be difficult. For every high school couple that has ended up happily marrying after college, there are many more examples of broken hearts and sadness. Too many high school students who become involved in intimate relationships end up broken hearted, depressed, or worse. Problems with high school romance can impact all areas of life: academic, social, family, ethical, and faith.
So how should parents navigate these challenging waters? What guidance should parents provide their high school age children in this area? While there is no perfect set of guidelines that covers exactly how to do this, the following general points can be helpful:
- Planning group activities. One healthy way for high school age young men and young women to interact is in groups that are doing something together that has real human value. Examples include parents opening their homes to a planned event such as a game night with various board games or charades. A group ice skating or sledding excursion could work well. Youth groups in local churches often sponsor events with a high tone, including service activities. These events can be lots of fun and a healthy way for teens to interact.
- Parental rules about couple dating. Some parents establish clear rules forbidding their children to date another person as a couple until a certain age or until given specific permission. On the positive side such a rule can help provide specific guidance establishing that it is not acceptable for a high school student of a particular age to form an exclusive attachment, to “date” one particular person. The key downside with exercising parental authority through establishing rules is the danger of fostering an overly legalistic approach. A teenager who longs for the day when he enters his senior year of high school so that he can then ask a girl he likes to “go steady” with him could be missing the crucial point that the gradual development of a dating relationship is a way to discern the vocation of marriage. It is better if a high school student has a trusting relationship with his parents and asks them for advice and guidance regarding possible dating. Parents can still say no to something even if there is not a clear rule established ahead of time.
- Practical expectations. Parents should educate their children in good manners relating to interactions between men and women. There are several traditional norms that governed interactions between men and women in the past. Some of these norms are mostly forgotten (such as when walking with a woman down the street, the man should always place himself between the woman and the street) and some are still generally recognized as valuable (such as a man holding a door for a woman). Parents will need to decide which of these traditional norms still make sense to convey to their children and which are OK to ignore. There is one norm that should be followed and emphasized above all others: at no time should a young man and a young woman ever be together alone in a private place. Unless the two are brother and sister, there is never a time when it is fine for a young couple to be together alone in a house or in a room behind a closed door.
- Father-son and mother-daughter conversations on dating and vocation. A father should have another planned talk with his son before he goes on his first date (see below) and a mother with her daughter. This is best done in the context of talking again about vocation, about following God’s plan for one’s life as the best way to happiness. This is the most important thing that parents can do to help their teenage sons and daughters in this area. This conversation should take place prior to the first date, which might be the school prom.
The father-son conversation prior to the first date…
Parents who are working to avoid the extremes of forbidding all interaction between the opposite sexes and allowing their children to enter into exclusive personal dating relationships will often find that the school prom, typically during the junior and senior year, provides the first dating situation. The prom ideally is a dignified event where, even though a young man and a young woman attend as dates, they are with their peers in a setting that has a higher tone than a typical high school dance (these are not recommended). Some schools do things to help set a higher human tone at this event, such as beginning with a sit down dinner and hiring a live band. In some cases there are even dancing lessons. The prom can be an excellent way to help train young men and women how to interact in a more formal setting.
Prior to the prom (or whatever the occasion of a first date) a father-son conversation could cover the following points:
- Start with a conversation about vocation. It is a great joy for your mother and me to see you grow up into a responsible young man who is seeking to discern God’s will for his life; we are proud of you. Keep praying to know God’s will for your life. Your mother and I fully support whatever your vocation is; it is a great privilege for us to see God’s plan for you unfolding. A call of total dedication to God through a celibate vocation is a higher calling –and a very beautiful one – and if God is calling you to this then great happiness (and suffering – as with any vocation) await if you accept the call. Marriage is also a wonderful vocation and a tremendous way that God calls many to holiness. The vocation to marriage is particularly important in today’s world given the need for Christian families to spread the light of Christ into the very fabric of society (St. John Paul II even went so far as to say that, “The family is the way for the Church…”).
- Guarding the eyes and heart. There is a need to guard one’s eyes and heart to keep the heart clean and whole for whatever one’s future vocation is. If this vocation is marriage it is important to keep one’s heart “locked with seven locks” until it can be truly given to that one special woman. On a date, guarding one’s heart means caring for the other person with refinement and good manners, in a chivalrous way. It also means avoiding anything that could lead to arousal, which may or may not happen as a result of a type of physical contact. If arousal starts to happen the appropriate response is to avoid that type of contact in as natural a way as possible, even if the contact is only holding hands. It is seriously wrong to do anything on purpose that leads to sexual arousal; these motions of the body are meant for the marriage act and to turn on these motions outside of marriage is an abuse of God’s gift of sexuality.
- Dating and discerning marriage. An exclusive and close relationship with a woman makes sense when discerning marriage. Such a relationship between a man and a woman is naturally ordered toward marriage and can only be fulfilled completely through marriage and all that this union involves. Ideally a young man and a young woman would only begin such a relationship if the intention is to be open to discerning a vocation to marriage. If conditions are present that make such a marriage impractical at the time and for the foreseeable future then any personal relationship that forms has a built-in tension that is unfair to the couple. In such situations it is best to stay just friends without becoming romantically involved. There are examples of long periods of courtship that have led to stable and happy marriages, but this is rare and can be difficult. For every high school couple that has ended up happily marrying after college, there are many more examples of broken hearts and sadness. Too many high school students who become involved in intimate relationships end up broken hearted, depressed, or worse. These problems can end up impacting all areas of life: academic, social, family, ethical, and faith.
- Finding the right woman. If your vocation is to enter into marriage, it is important to choose your spouse wisely. Only relying on romantic feelings is not the best method. Look not only for someone to whom you are attracted but also someone who is your equal, who you can converse with about important things. Look for someone who is virtuous and who you think would be a good mother to your children. It is fine to follow your heart to a certain extent, but do not forget to use your reason as well. Does this person share your outlook on reality so that you both will be able to pass a strong family culture onto your children? Is this person someone who will help you grow closer to God? What is most important to her and do you agree with the importance of these things? Does she believe that marriage is forever? Is she open to children?