Monday, 15 March 2010

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Last Sunday, I rankled the hearts of many when I was asked by the female pal of a 19 year old man how he could rise above his undeserved heartbreaker reputation. I advised that he stop dating girls when he just wants them as friends. To do this, I suggested he stop getting girls alone and instead associate with girls in groups.

This was not a general attack on male-female platonic friendships (especially between people who've been friends since infancy) although, in solidarity with Modest Millie, I doubt that men and women should try to be friends in exactly the way women and women are friends. I believe that there must be a certain added modesty and reserve on both sides. Sleepovers, for example, should be right out. So should changing clothes in front of one other, if there is an alternative. (In amateur theatricals, I noticed, there is not always an alternative.) And no 35 year old Single woman on earth should have to be woken up by yet another phone call by yet another cute male friend who just needs mothering.

So for the record, I believe that men and women can and should be friends, but I counsel them to be aware that not even platonic friendships are androgynous. Men are men, and woman are women, and both groups must take care. Women are begged to respect men's sexual weakness and dress prudently before them--very well. We shall, but let men themselves take care to respect women's emotional weakness and behave prudently before us.

That being settled, let me move to today's topic, which is the quest for romance and marriage for their own sake. I think this quest is stupid.

Marriage is fraught with temptations, difficulties and distractions. St. Paul saw this and wished all his flock could be like him--blessed with the gift of celibacy. The early Christians saw this, and they abstained from marriage in droves. Both St. Paul and St. Augustine had to argue for the goodness of marriage. But they both believed that the celibate life, a life of virginity and dedication to heavenly things, was the better. This is, in fact, the tradition of the Christian Church.

Today, however, Catholics are happy to throw away celibacy with both hands, ASAP. The times are such that we feel grateful and edified when our fellows do this by getting married, not by getting blind drunk on frosh week. Seeking honourable marriage is, to say the least, a cut above such abysmal behaviour. However, I suggest that going out into the world simply looking for someone to marry is putting the cart before the horse.

If you get married, you get married to an individual person. You don't get married to just anybody, cross your fingers, and hope it all turns out. Well, people do, of course, as I saw on Traveller Weddings. Getting married to a man you hardly know because you've saved all your life for your wedding and now you're old by your community's standards (e.g. 22) is a bad idea. However, there are non-Traveller women who go into a crowded room of strangers with just the same idea: I'm old, I've saved for my wedding, I'll marry the first good guy who comes along.

This goal-oriented approach to social life can blind men and women to the actutal personalities they encounter. If you go to a social event with a checklist of what you want in a man, you won't actually get to know any man in himself: you'll just reject him if he doesn't fit your list. In the process, you might miss out on a good future friend, a mentor, a teacher, an inspiration or a potential work contact. The goal of any social event, I think, is to meet people and learn about them, just because it is a wonderful world and humanity is fascinating.

Being rooted in reality is key. If you think all the time about falling in love and getting married, you might start wilfully blinding yourself to the flaws of any man you find attractive who finds you attractive. You might start blaming yourself for disloyalty whenever it becomes blindingly obvious that The Boyfriend is rude, boring, abusive, childish, arrogant, on the make or not as attractive as you first thought. And being a woman, you are more likely to wail "What's wrong with me?" instead of admitting that there's something wrong with him.

You might also wilfully blind yourself to your most obvious incompatibilities. For example, I knew from the age of 18 that I should really marry a Catholic; interdenominational marriage is, in fact, frowned on by the Baltimore Catechism. And yet again and again I dated non-Catholics. This gave me a reputation for openmindedness, but it also gave me a reputation for being fickle since none of these relationships lasted. Maybe you know that, given your values, you should marry only someone of your ethnic background. That's fine! Only you can say what your absolute values are. But meanwhile, get out there and meet all kinds of people, and see them for who they really are, even if they are highly eligible bachelors from your ethnic group.

I understand what it is like to be 35, unmarried and lonely. Your parents are growing old and even your youngest buddies are sending you invitations to their weddings. But what I don't understand is why some Catholic 20 year olds are more interested in marriage than in meeting lots and lots of people, studying at the feet of a master, or travelling the world. The only really valid excuse I can think of, unless they have indeed found Mr. Right very early, is that their hormones are raging and they want to remain chaste.

Well, there are ways of dealing with hormones which I won't get into, as chastity education (as important as it is) isn't my bag, baby. But I am sure that seeing people as potential friends and acquaintances instead of Husband Material/Not Husband Material has something to do with chastity. Perhaps we could call it Social Chastity.

How, then, do you know when a friend or acquaintance is husband material? Well, in my case, I went to Scotland to make acquaintances into friends, and I ended up falling in love. Being reasonably seraphic in my Singleness, I was not in love with love. I just fell in love with a unique human being with a unique history. I felt an enormous sense that I was called, not to marriage per se, but to marriage to this unique human being, and not to any other.

This sense, although driven by feelings, was nevertheless very rational. It was absoluted rooted in religious faith, and although I knew I would have to make some very serious sacrifices (like leaving my country) I knew there would be no painful compromises. Marrying B.A. was exactly what I was supposed to do. If you have that kind of conviction about a man, baby, you don't need my advice.


Claire Christina said...

When I sometimes get antsy about marriage, at 23, it's because of the large family I desire and feel called to. Though I am thoroughly enjoying grad school and the flexibility of travel that accompanies youth and singleness, I also realize that the sooner I start having kids, the longer I can have them easily and healthily. It's not hormones; it's a somewhat overly-self-aware biological clock.

Seraphic said...

Vocation is a call from the outside, not just a conviction from the inside. How do you KNOW you're called to marriage and many children? What makes a call different from a wish?

Having gone through the 3 step process of feeling called to marry B.A., B.A. calling me to marry him, and taking my marriage vows, I am now absolutely sure I am called to marriage. Only when I saw B.A. at the front of the church was I 100% sure that's what God wanted. (I was 100% sure that's what I wanted, but God could have told B.A. it was time to "come home" instead of allowing him to live long enough get to the church--my biggest fear, let me tell you.)

I am not sure I will be called to biological motherhood although I feel that I would make a good mother and want to be a mother. But I will know I have been called to biological motherhood only if and when I get pregnant.

Meanwhile, if God wants you to have many children, He will make it so you will have many children WITHOUT you having to get antsy about it at the age of 23.

Claire Christina said...

I didn't mean to suggest that such a feeling was reasonable, but since you said that you can't imagine why someone in her twenties would want to settle down rather than enjoy her singleness, I thought I'd share my two cents, for I know I'm not alone in this experience. (Or perhaps I've misunderstood you?)

I don't KNOW that I'm called to marriage and many children, but I do think I am and I want to be, and Our Lord knows that I'd be perfectly happy for Him to change my mind. I'm also not usually antsy about marriage, and when I am, a brief reminder of exactly what you wrote in your last paragraph is usually enough to put me at ease.

I also know that looking for marriage is unlikely to be effective anyway, and will just drive me batty. Well said: ". The goal of any social event, I think, is to meet people and learn about them, just because it is a wonderful world and humanity is fascinating."

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

Oh yes, sorry. You're quite right--many people dream of having big families and, of course, sometimes the younger you get married, the sooner you start having kids.

I think I blanked out because of parents of large Catholic families telling me I was lucky in a way for marrying so late. They adore all their kids but... Well, the grass is always greener, isn't it?

Sheila said...

Well, my mother had two kids until she was 38. From 38 to 45 she has had 4 more kids, and she isn't quite sure there won't be any more. So, though statistics are technically against having a big family while marrying late, it is quite possible. And, of course, God can't call you to have a family that he doesn't provide a dad for at the appropriate time. ;)

Great post, Seraphic ... the last line made me smile!

theobromophile said...

Hum... how to say this (because I don't actually disagree with your main point!).

I absolutely agree that the wrong way to go about finding a spouse is to look at every Single man out there as a potential husband, then wed the first decent one who comes along. But neither am I enamoured of the notion that one can flit through one's twenties and thirties while turning up one's nose at matrimony, then expect an ideal spouse to fall into one's lap exactly when one wants it. (Having lived in Boston for many, many years, I've seen quite a lot of this behaviour. It's not good for chastity, not a sensible way to go through life if one wants marriage and children, and seems disrespectful of both the Single life and of Married life.)

IMHO, it's a subtle pronoun issue: you don't look to find a spouse; you look to find the spouse - the spouse that you are supposed to marry.

Deirdre said...

Agreeing with the obromophile I think - while setting out to find a husband....any husband, is putting the cart so far before the horse that the horse can't see it any more...finding the one I am supposed to marry (hoping and praying all the while that he does, in fact, exist), surely must require some effort on my part? I trust in God, that He will bring this man into my life at the right time, but should I expect this man to knock on my front door one day and introduce himself?

Seraphic said...

Deirdre, my father knocked on my mother's front door one day and introduced himself. Something had been delivered to his student digs, and he thought maybe it was meant for next door. So he knocked on the door of next door, and my mother opened it.

My father told his housemate, who told me the story 18 years later, "I just met the most beautiful girl next door."

They've been married for 40 years.

Expect? No. But get out of the house, live with confidence and joy, answer any doors with a smile.

Deirdre said...

I'm laughing so much, thank you - that's such a great story about your parents. You know I wasn't talking literally about someone knocking on my door, (but clearly that's not beyond the realms of possibility), all I meant was that in "getting out there" and living my life, and maybe coming across the odd man of interest, I give him a chance, I remain open to the possibility (initially) that this could be the one I was meant to meet, I have to - or how will I recognise the One if/when he comes along? And if he isn't, as has been the case thus far, I move on. ... but you're right, no expectations, but you know what I'll be thinking next time my doorbell rings ...