Dear Auntie Seraphic,
I'm in a worrisome situation, and was wondering if you can advise me.
I've been reading your blogs for some time now, and I remember your writing that you had doubts about marrying B.A. (who was the right man for you), and also that you had doubts about marrying your first husband (who was the wrong man for you). So you know what both legitimate and illegitimate doubts about marrying a guy feel like.
Although I'm not about to get married, some of my friends are engaged, and I've been asked how one knows if one's doubts about marrying the guy should result in calling off the wedding. This worries me a lot. I really don't want to see any of my friends in unhappy or even mediocre marriages, but I'm realizing that real decisions to marry don't usually involve 100% certainty.
Perhaps I should also tell you that all of the engaged couples I know share a solid Catholic faith, and are from approximately the same background, so I guess it's really a matter of individual compatibility, not clashing values.
In light of your experience, how on earth should I advise them? How does one know the difference between good and bad doubts? Do you know of any good books that would be helpful further reading?
Dear Worried Advisor,
Ironically, one of the most important things I was taught at ministry school was "Don't Give Advice." What we were taught to do was to ask questions for clarification. These questions were pitched so that those being ministered to would arrive at their own answers. Although this doesn't fit very well in written correspondence or blogs, I firmly believe that this is best in conversations.
Therefore, if engaged friends ask you if they should call off their weddings, the safest thing you can do is to ask them questions.
Such questions might include, "What's happened to make you feel this way?" and "What would breaking off the engagement feel like?" and "Have you spoken to your fiance about this?"
Meanwhile, you are labouring under a misapprehension. As a matter of fact, I was 100%sure I wanted to marry B.A. from four days before he asked me to think about doing so. Later, the thought that our wedding might be delayed in any way made me cry. A week before the wedding I was in morbid fear lest he die before his plane landed. We had only one serious tiff before we got married (about an interfering neighbour), and I got cold feet only on the day before the wedding, when bridal nerves had sent me almost over the edge.
In fact, I was so sure so soon that I wanted to marry B.A. that afterwards when friends with boyfriends pondered aloud "Is Pookie the right man for me?", I just assumed Pookie wasn't.
Perhaps this was a bit harsh, though. Some women need to go through their discernment out loud. Also, I was 38 when I met B.A. and had gone through a lot in life (not to mention five years of therapy) and therefore knew who I was and what I wanted when I saw it; I was no longer the confused, self-deluded and easily-bullied 25 year old I once was. Finally, and very importantly, having established an identity as a Happy Single Woman, I had no wish to marry for the sake of being married. In fact, getting married to B.A. put a spoke in several career paths, alas.
From my experience then, I can derive other questions like "Why are you marrying X in the first place?" and "Would you be just as happy marrying someone else?" and "Are you still in a process of discernment?" and "Would postponing the wedding make you feel frantic or relieved?"
It could be that your engaged friends just feel like talking--discerning out loud--and are not actually hanging onto your opinion. If they have serious doubts, why they are talking to a peer instead of to an older married couple, a priest or their intended is a mystery to me. Of course, it could be that they are terrified of what X might do if the wedding were called off, so you might want to ask "Are you afraid to discuss this with X? If so, why?"
And now, questions for you: Why do you feel at all responsible for the marriage decisions of your friends? What do you enjoy about it? What don't you enjoy about it? How would it feel to say, "Goodness, I couldn't possibly advise you on something so important! Have you thought about talking to [your mother, your fiance, your priest] about this?"
That said, I once talked a very good friend out of getting married "just to get it over with" and an even better friend out of marrying the twice- (now thrice-) divorced headcase she had had a baby with. I did this by asking them questions that helped them come to their own answers, and I have never regretted this.
In the very rare (I hope) situation in which you feel absolutely certain an intimate friend or family member is making a terrible mistake, you can write to the priest officiating the wedding to say so, giving your reasons. He will put the letter in a file, and if the marriage goes ahead but turns out to be no marriage at all, your letter could help to free your friend or relation from a sad situation.
Grace and peace,