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.