Friday, 22 October 2010

Both Attitudes are Okay

Some men and women never wish to marry. They long for something they feel is greater than that--some adventure or calling, something spiritual or temporal or both. And as long as this desire precludes using others for sexual gratification, there is nothing wrong with it. Saints almost without number have chosen lives of virginity or celibacy in religious life and/or the priesthood. Others, like Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier, have lived Single lives of Christian service without taking vows. These men and women are all prophetic, living in their day what will be true in the Kingdom of Heaven: no marriage.

However, most men and women do wish to marry. Marriage is the natural end of the human person, a state our bodies are made for, and the great guarantor, not only of the human race, but of the stability of human society. There is no shame in wanting to marry.

Sadly, women often feel ashamed for wanting to marry. For millenia there have been misogynist jokes about the rapaciousness of women and how we want to get "our hooks in" and all kinds of nonsense. Alas, some churchmen of old were responsible for promulgating some of this rubbish, but I tend to forgive most of them on the grounds that they never in their lives actually sat down with a thoughtful young woman and had a good chat. St. Thomas Aquinas knew the writings of Aristotle better than he knew any woman; he went into a monastery as a tiny boy, he went into the Dominicans as a young man, and when his family kidnapped him, they shoved a hooker into his room. Really, he did not have many opportunities to discover that women can be just as brainy as men.

Some young women go so far as to internalize misogynist attitudes and brag that unlike other women, they are not interested in getting married. They are above all that; they have higher ambitions; they want to be the next Charles Bukowski, the next Damien Hirst, the next Donald Trump, blah blah blah. Women like that love to be the highest (or only) woman on the man's-world totem pole. They simply believe men and "men's stuff" are ontologically better than women and "women's stuff"--although they would never ever word it that way.

So, on top of all the garbage promulgated by men, some contemporary women have added their disdain for the majority of women who "just want to get married," and it's all tremendously stupid. Gloria Steinem, who proclaimed that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, spent her pretty days dating rich and powerful men, and then married Christian Bale's father.

Most men and women want to get married, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What is unwise is to announce your passionate desire for marriage on (or before) first dates because all men and women want to be loved for themselves alone and not as the necessary adjuncts to the married state. Neither do they want to be seen as walking wombs or sperm banks. There is a happy medium. On the one hand, we shouldn't be ashamed of our desire to marry. On the other, we should be sensible and sensitive to the feelings of others.

I get a number of emails from women who feel guilty because they do not feel 100% happy when their friends announce their engagements. My attitude is that of course they don't feel 100% happy. For one thing, their friendships are going to change, and change is scary. For another, it feels very uncomfortable when your circle of Single friends shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. It leaves you wondering if you will be the only Single girl left, alone and palely loitering. Possibly it brings back the agony of being the last picked for teams in gym class (as I always was) or, eek, standing awkwardly with your back against the wall during school dances (as I always did until I was 14).

The emotional upheaval around weddings is inevitable and staggering to experience or even witness. It is like a force of nature. Suddenly bitter Single friends snap at brides-to-be, brides-to-be cry. Single friends feel lonely or guilty; Single friends cry. It's a mess.

I remember getting a phone call from a friend, a wonderful, pretty, fun woman who was going around the bend emotionally because she wasn't married yet. She was losing hope, and she couldn't understand why she was feeling like this.

"It's because [your housemate] just got engaged," I said. "This a perfectly normal reaction."

Happily, this cheered my friend right up. Well, she wasn't entirely cheered up, but at least she had been told her feelings were normal. Meanwhile, the fate of most wonderful, pretty and fun women befell her: she got married two years later.

Most people do get married, which can be both a hopeful and a lonely thought. It is hopeful if you wish to marry, and lonely if you don't. Fortunately, there are enough seriously Single people out there that, if you look, you will see that there are whole communities of serious Singles, communities that are happy to share the occasional supper or retreat with a non-vowed serious Single like you. And married couples, like BA and me, are very happy to spend time with interesting serious Singles who are content with their state in life.

Meanwhile, because most people do eventually get married, another of my mantras is to be the right person and then marry the right person. When I say "Don't settle," I don't mean you should hold out for a millionaire or supermodel. I mean that you should hold out for an truly admirable and sexy-to-you person whom you love and who loves you.

*Update:Forgot the footnote, which was "Yay, SMCS October Dance, 1985!"


MargoB said...

"or, eek, standing awkwardly with your back against the wall during school dances (as I always did until I was 14)*."

....yes? Where is the footnote?! (Or is that * there to tease us?)

Christine Falk Dalessio said...

Your forgiving comments regarding Aquinas' social limitations made me grin. Great post- I'm married, but I do ministry with a lot of amazing single folks, and if you don't mind, I'll continue to read on...

Seraphic Spouse said...

Welcome, Christine!

Oh, Margo B! I forgot to take the * out! Well, now I will have to write what I wasn't going to--just to be fair!