When Katie Reidy was in her early 20s, her idea of romance sprang from Hollywood's concept of it.

"I was a hopeless romantic," she said. "I expected the knight in shining armor to come in and sweep me off my feet, and everything was going to be perfect."

The way she approached life also was rooted in a secular mindset.

She liked to party. She felt lonely if she wasn't in a relationship. As a consequence, she behaved in ways that got men's attention, she said.

"I saw everyone around me doing that, so I thought this is what it is," said Reidy, 32, from Palos Park, Ill. "I wasn't catechized in what the Church taught about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man, and who we are for each other."

Then she heard about theology of the body, which is based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II about the truths involving God's original design for human sexuality. She learned more by attending several Catholic singles conferences over the years.

She said she realizes that, before understanding about the theology of the body, she was "completely lost."

But now, thanks to understanding the pope's teachings on sexuality, she has changed -- especially after returning to the sacraments, such as receiving the Eucharist and going to confession.

"I knew what my integrity and dignity was growing up," she said. "I had that as a child. But I killed my conscience so much that I lost it along the way. But now I have restored my dignity. I've never felt more at peace in my life."

Individualistic society

The theology of the body was addressed recently at the National Catholic Singles Conference in the Chicago area. One of the speakers, Father Thomas Loya, a member of the Theology of the Body International Alliance and Tabor Life Institute, said there are several major obstacles facing Catholic singles. One is the breakdown of the family because of divorce, he said. That creates dysfunctions and disorders in people's characters and personalities, making it harder for them to enter into committed relationships. And, second, society is very individualistic, he said.

"The basic ethos of our culture is very inward directed, very self-directed," Father Loya said. "That is the complete opposite of being espoused, which is when you die to your self and give yourself to the other, and you are committed to each other for life."

What he suggests is that Catholic singles remain open to others who may be a potential spouse, but not constantly seek a relationship.

"Live first and foremost as the best Christian you can be, the best Catholic you can be," he said. "You're doing it, yes, as a single person, but put your sights on personal holiness, personal integrity as a Christian. Hold on to your desire. Desire is good. And keep your heart and your eyes and ears open. But don't pursue it. I think that is the difference. That is when people run into a lot of frustration. Pursue, rather, personal integrity, and the relationship part will come as it's meant to come."

He also said the Church advocates that people live spousally, even if they are single. What that means is people need to give of themselves. That will allow them to focus outward, on others, which will make their lives more fulfilling, he said.

"It's all summed in the word 'gift,' " he said. "To live giftedly. That is the way a single person will find fulfillment and meaning in their singleness."

Seeking fellowship

One of the ways J. Eschbach, 36, has found helpful is to seek fellowship first. It could be online, in the form of a Catholic dating site, he said, or in the form of community.

"My biggest advice is don't worry about dating," said Eschbach, from Hoffman Estates, Ill., who is in a relationship with a woman from Georgia he met on a Catholic online dating site. "Get like-minded cool friends who have the same values and faith. Online is a great resource to do that. Once you get that base in place, you uncover all the places that devout Catholics get together, and you start learning more about them, and then I think your whole social world opens up, and then the dating will come automatically."

Several single Catholics at the conference said that patience -- and faith -- are key to figuring out God's will while being single.

Psalm 37 has become a "lifeline" for Cecilia Schwartz, 29, from Grand Rapids, Mich. Her favorite lines from it are "find your delight in the Lord, who will give you your heart's desire," she said.

"The Lord knows I desire to marry a holy Catholic man," she said, "and I know he is going to fulfill that promise."

She recalled praying recently that she will be patient -- even if it means waiting 30 years for the man for her, she said.

'Turn it over to Christ'

Mary Vigil, from Washington D.C., said that she keeps the big picture in mind when she feels frustrated with the dating scene: that her time on earth and all its obstacles do not compare to living an eternity with God.

"We may not be getting everything we think we want or need in our lives -- whether that be getting married, having kids, whatever that may be -- but we are called not to compromise ourselves," she said. "We are called to live the way God wants us to live. To be open to his message and follow it, no matter what, keeping in mind that no matter what you're suffering or whatever happens in this lifetime, you will get God's promise in the end."

Reidy, who is not involved in a relationship now, said one of the biggest changes she has felt in her life since she started getting closer to Christ was emotionally. She said a misconception among some Catholic singles is that their frustrations and troubles will disappear once their faith lives deepen.

"A lot of Catholic singles do almost fall into that desperation or despair because they're thinking, 'I'm walking with Christ, and I'm still not finding anyone,' " Reidy said.

She said she used to be extremely sad or worried about relationships in the past.

"I would be completely consumed," she said. "I've noticed a drastic change in me. I can't explain it, except that now when I have those (negative) feelings, they last just a moment. There's a peace and confidence now. You can turn it over to Christ. Before, you couldn't because you were by yourself."

Perseverance needed among singles

Anthony Buono started Ave Maria Singles (www.avemariasingles.com), an online service dedicated to helping faithful Catholics find their future spouses, in May 1998, a time when secular dating sites were just starting to populate the Internet. Here are some of his thoughts regarding his ministry.

Our Sunday Visitor: What's the biggest gripe, or frustration, Catholic singles face?

Anthony Buono: A major frustration for Catholic single people, in general, is how difficult it is to meet people and find that one person they are praying to meet. The Internet has made it easier to come into contact with many more people who share your religious beliefs than any other method.

However, the major frustration with online dating for Catholic singles is the challenge of dealing with the process and its realities. Since it is such an "unnatural" way to meet a person, it can be hard to know whom you are dealing with. I think there are understandable trust issues that develop with online dating. And those who have been using online dating for quite a while have developed some understandable skepticism about the process.

Online dating takes thick skin and perseverance. It takes confidence in who you are.It takes time and effort. It takes working on yourself and growing, while also doing the work of interacting with others. In the end, online dating is a tremendous blessing to Catholic singles today because it truly does provide opportunities to meet people that no other method can offer.

OSV: How do parishes minister to Catholic singles?

Buono: The same as they do to married persons. At the pastoral level, the parish offers the sacraments. At the parish community level, the single person has a wealth of opportunity to give himself or herself and practice that self-donation that is required in marriage.

It used to be that parishes were the central focus of the local community, and it was natural to find a spouse through the channels of families in the community. That is not the case any longer. Programs at the parish are geared to families. Maybe there is a young adults group or dance now and then. But, once you have met the few people of the opposite sex who turn out for these events and determine they are not the one for you, there is a need to go beyond the parish.

OSV: How can parishes do a better job of ministering to Catholic singles?

Buono: I don't think this is the parishes' job. Let Catholic singles create their own opportunities at the parish level. Let them unite all single people in the parish, or neighboring parishes, and start groups for men and for women, and have those groups interact at times and have dances, etc. Let these singles find a priest willing to chaplain their group. But don't expect the poor parish priest to figure this out for them.They are already overtaxed.

Carlos Briceno writes from Illinois.