Dear Auntie Seraphic,
I was just reading one of your recent columns and something prompted me to remember a conversation I had with a friend awhile back. She and I are both single and (reasonably) convinced that our vocation is marriage.
Anyway, I was telling her that the last several men who have crossed my path, although practicing Catholics, have not been suitable. Somewhere in there, mention was made of my long-time-ago engagement to a man who ended up becoming a priest. I said that we had shared such a deep connection that it is hard to settle for less than that level of intellectual/spiritual/interpersonal intimacy. I felt like he really "got" me. My friend observed that obviously it was not God's will for me to marry him because he is a priest now. Was it possible that I was maintaining an attachment to what he and I had shared that is blocking me from being open to the men God is now bringing into my life? Even if I don't have the same sense of connection, she thought, if God's vocation is for me to be married, then I shouldn't let the lack of "that kind" of connection be an obstacle.
Needless to say, that doesn't sit well with me. If there isn't that kind of connection, i. e. if I don't really get him, and he doesn't really get me, I can't imagine what the point of being married is? I don't think I could be bothered.
Once upon a time, we had a rock-solid sense that marriage was for life and that no matter hard it got, once we were married, we were stuck. However, we also believed that being Single was worse than being married, unless we were called to the priesthood or religious life, and those ways of life could also be very hard, and if we went into them, we were just as stuck.
Today only a minority of people in the West have the same confidence in marriage, priesthood or the religious life. And at the same time, we are incredibly naive. When we make our fatal choice, we tend to think marriage, priesthood or religious life is going to fabulous 99.9% of the time, and if they aren't, then we have made a terrible mistake and must move on, pronto.
Now this is not to say that people do not make terrible mistakes. Marriage, priesthood and religious life are not supposed to be ghastly 99.9% of the time, either. We are supposed to have a period of preparation for each, to make sure we aren't making a mistake: engagment, seminary formation, or novitiate. And bad stuff still happens. How happy am I, for example, that my divorce was relatively easy. My annullment was not, but, hey, neither is chemotherapy, I've heard.
But divorce seems easier than staying married when the chips are down, and marriage is increasingly seen not as the bedrock of society but as a lifestyle choice.I have personally heard one nervous bride being told that if her marriage doesn't work out she could always get a divorce, as if her groom were a cardigan she wasn't sure about but could be returned to the store if she kept the receipt. But this flies against what we know about marriage as Catholics, and in general and barring early death, we have only one shot at it.
Therefore, if you are going to get married, you are going to have to be absolutely darned sure that (A) you yourself are capable of maintaining a marriage for the rest of your life and (B) your fiance is the kind of man you could rub along with happily for the rest of your life.
Now, when my mum was 23, she was capable of maintaining a marriage for the rest of her life, although I don't know why, other than that she was born in an entirely different world from the one I was born in. I certainly was not capable of maintaining a marriage when I was 23, or 25, or probably even 30. How much of this I can blame on society is an open question. But, happily, by the ripe old age of 38, I was capable of it, and I did get married, so that is my own answer to A.
Now, my own answer to B is a bit hilarious, but bear with me. Essentially I fell in love with B.A. within 48 hours of meeting him and miraculously kept my mouth shut about it up until a few days after he had realized he was in love with me. The question of whether he "got" me never crossed my mind. Mostly I was in a turmoil of "OMG he's so smart, funny, sexy, devout, loyal and perfect, I hope he likes me. I really, really, hope he likes me, and now I must think of something else or I will brazenly seize him in my seraphic arms." And then when we were engaged but cruelly divided by the Atlantic Ocean, he stopped eating and I was in a welter of fear lest one of us die before we could be married. On our wedding day, I was half-insane, and he was a skeleton.
Now such transports could have led to disaster, and probably would have had we been but 20 years of age. But being practically middle-aged and both (thank the Lord) gifted with senses of humour, the inevitable moment when the lovestruck haze rolls away to reveal the landscape for what it really is, was not so bad. B.A. was still smart, funny, sexy, devout, loyal and, if not perfect, at any rate perfect for imperfect me. The long-term weather forecast is looking good.
So what I am telling you is that the only reason for getting married that I can think of in this day and age, this enlightened era in which single women can make their own money and even adopt children, is that you have fallen madly in love with a man of good character, who has fallen just as madly in love with you, and that you both think you will die if you don't get married to each other. The shared memory of this madness will get you through the hard parts, if only to make you both giggle nostalgically. It's impossible to throw pots and pans when you're giggling nostalgically.
But as for a man "getting you", this is where I will make you sit up in shock. My husband, whom I love sincerely, and who loves me sincerely, does not, in fact, "get me." The man is brilliant and few women could ask for a better intellectual companion, but he does not "get me." There are dark moments when I am overcome by some grief, and he is giving me a philosophical lecture, and I am tempted to wallop him with a pillow. But then my Guardian Angel never fails to murmur in my ear, "Men are who they are, and not who you want them to be." At which point I become calm, wait for him to fall asleep, and then, going to the sitting room, call up a woman on the phone.
If you are expecting other sexy men to be as woman-like as your now-priest ex-fiance, you are in for a shock. I like to say that it takes a man three years of ministry school to learn what women know from the schoolyard; I suppose some unusually empathetic men go into the seminary already knowing a thing or two.
In short, I would stop worrying about whether a man "gets you" and think more about whether you would like to go to bed with him every night of your life, wash his socks and listen graciously to his philosophy of housework because that, my dear S4L, not pastoral counselling, is what marriage is. Well, okay, there is also a lot of giggling. There is approximately 99.9% more giggling than satisfactory "I-feel" heart-to-hearts. And, if you're me, endless hours of watching "Country House Rescue" and "Antiques Roadshow" on TV.
Update (21:35): Incon-CEIV-able! "Country House Rescue" is on again!