N.B. Happily married lady stuff ahead, so don't read the middle section if you are seriously not in the mood for it.
When I was a fresh-faced young thing, Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" topped the charts. Back then the woman was a beautiful girl with an innocent, dazzling smile. (She featured on the cover of seventeen magazine before her first album came out.) She looked like the kind of young woman any young woman would want for a best friend, and that any girl would want for a babysitter. She came from a family of strong women: Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick. Aretha Franklin was her godmother, and in her video for "How Will I Know", Whitney consults the Queen of Soul's portrait, saying "I'm asking you 'cause you know about these things." She was so sweet.
Then she married Bobby Brown. And then she started on the drugs. It was a very public tragedy. And I always thought it unfair that such a beautiful, sweet and talented girl could become a skeletal, allegedly battered drug-addict. Rightly or wrongly, I always thought it was because she had married Bobby Brown.
Marrying the wrong person, or being the wrong person to marry, can seriously mess up your life. That's why I blog here day after day, counselling detachment, chastity, prayer, enjoyment of your lives right now, appreciating the love in your life right now. Most people do marry at least once, but many of them shouldn't: they aren't ready yet, or their fiance isn't ready yet, or they've mistaken fancy for real love. The real tragedy is not when a man or woman breaks your heart by not marrying you--it's when a man or woman breaks your heart after marrying you. I hope none of you Singles ever know the pain of that.
(Happily Married Lady Middle Section)
I imagine every happy love story is different. But I will say that I didn't know that B.A. really loved me until he asked me to marry him. I thought he did, I hoped he did, but I wasn't 100% sure. To me, a marriage proposal--freely made--is proof of a man's love. And when I say "freely made", I mean without pressure. There was no societal expectation that B.A. should propose marriage to a woman he had first seen in person less than a fortnight before. But he did, and handed over his most prized possession in place of a ring, and told me to think about it for a month. Two months later he came to Canada, met my family and friends, and gave me a ring.
"We don't recommend this to everyone," said B.A. to a friend with a long-term girlfriend. I especially would not recommend whirlwind romance to anyone under 30 or anyone who has met someone on a package-tour or all-inclusive vacation. But I am confident that I fell in love with B.A. and married him for all the right reasons. These include:
1. he is the kindest, best-humoured man I ever met
2. he is incredibly witty and not at the expense of others
3. he has collected a great number of all the right books
4. he is a church-going Roman Catholic of the sort who loves Benedict XVI with an earnest and filial love
5. he has been a committed Christian since he was 10
6. he loves hospitality--both giving it and receiving it, and so do I
7. he loves historical houses, and so do I
8. he is the sort of man whom my parents like
9. he reminds me in many ways of my brothers
10. he is physically attractive, and thinks I am too
11. he has an interesting job with a salary big enough to support both of us when I am not earning much
12. he suggested I write full time and find a husband to support me
13. he bears wrongs patiently and tends to forget them
14. he is in his late thirties and knows who he is
15. we share many middle-class values, including the deep cultural importance of classical music and eating supper in the dining-room instead of in front of the TV
16. I knew myself and I knew this was a man I'd be very happy living with and eating with for the next 50 years
(Okay, those who are super-cranky today can read from here:)
From this list, it should be obvious that I have a lot of respect for my husband. Indeed, I would be mad not to have this respect, for he is eminently respectable. So to the question "How do I know if I should marry my boyfriend?" I would reply:
1. He's a good man.
2. You love him.
3. You respect him completely and wish you were more like him.
4. You are willing to drop everything and follow him across the world.
5. Being together brings out the best in both of you.
6. Your parents, family and friends like him, too.
7. Together you make enough money to live together as a married couple.
8. You are both grown-ups, which means that neither of you is hooked on Drama.
9. He asks you to marry him in as romantic a way as he is able to figure out. ("Whatever. Fine. Okay. We'll get married. Geez!" is not a good proposal.)
Update: I've been reading the transcript of Oprah's 2009 interview with Whitney Houston. What is clear to me is that Whitney really loved Brown, and took her wedding vows seriously, but that Bobby was the wrong man to marry. He was a weak man, a jealous man, a man who had to be in control. And for whatever reason, Whitney got a sexual charge out of being controlled. This is not normal or healthy. And refusing to speak to your spouse unless he or she does drugs with you is serious emotional abuse.