Monday, 31 January 2011

Getting Serious

Once again I read an article about how the prime baby-having years are between age 20 and 35 and how "career women" should stop putting off having children because they will be sorry.

My usual response to such articles is to click away or to write a snappy little comment about how the problem might not be "career women" as much as it is "lazy, commitment-hating men"--although, of course I know that that is not always the problem, either.

When I was 23, I had three suitors, each of whom would have married me, which I don't mind telling you for this startling situation has never been repeated. I didn't much like it, either, for I wasn't in love with any of them. Possibly I was a lazy commitment-hating woman. Possibly I had the emotional age of 12. And, anyway, God's plan was that I would marry B.A. at the actual age of 38, not that I knew that. I eventually caved, decided I was in love with one of the three, married him and was divorced by age 27. Yay, annulment tribunal!

At any rate, I always try to balance remarks about the strange social circumstances the Sexual Revolution has thrown us all into with thoughts about God's Plan. Many aspects of the Sexual Revolution fly in the face of God's commandments, but He allowed the Sexual Revolution to happen. It's a mystery.

What I think I can safely say is that men and women both waste a lot of time, energy and money on people who do not want to marry them. American-style dating, once a means to an end, has become an end in itself. Women sleep with their boyfriends, which in France would be known as "taking a lover," and this does not always translate into marriage and babies, although babies certainly happen and, if allowed to be born, usually stick around longer than their fathers.

Someone commented under the article I described above saying that infertility was women's fault because women drop their knickers too soon and too often, and this makes men immature and spoiled and unlikely to make commitments. I found this statement rather ahistorical because men have always managed to find women to have sex with them, even if only for pay. What is new, though, absolutely new, is the idea that any and every woman could and should have sex before marriage. This is absolutely unprecedented in the West. Even before Christianity, the Germanic tribes who roiled and boiled across Europe were very strict about female chastity.

The marvellous thing about female chastity--you might not think this is marvellous, but try to see it objectively--is that it often separates the sex tourists from men who just want to marry a "nice girl" and settle down. I don't want to get too romantic about this: there are lots of nice non-Catholic girls whose idea of chastity means not sleeping with their suitor for a solid six months after meeting him. (I always think it's a bad idea to ignore the fact that lots of premarital sex-having women marry their boyfriends and live happily ever after.) But sex touristy- type men do not hang around waiting for six months, let alone for wedding prep classes, unless they have a stubborn, sociopathic need to conquer, and these men—thank God—are rare.

But alongside physical chastity there is something called emotional chastity. Emotional chastity means not hankering after people who do not love you. Almost everything we have been taught to find romantic--unrequited love, going into a decline for love, writing impassioned love-letters, standing outside our ex-girlfriend's window holding up a ghetto blaster playing "In Your Eyes"--is actually irrational and extremely stupid. The early 19th century has a lot to answer for. I reserve special blame for Goethe.

This is why I do not think anyone should date a person for more than a year without discussion of marriage. Male psychology being what it is, I don't think the person to mention marriage should be the woman. And if the man doesn't as much as mention marriage within that year, I think the woman should dump him.

Now that I have more male readers, I expect a flurry of comments saying "How can you know within a YEAR?" And my answer is that if you are an adult, and out of university, you should know within a year. If you don't, stop wasting your girlfriend's time. Meanwhile, women should take the incredibly painful revelation that their boyfriends, whom they might very well and unwisely love very much, don't want to marry them on the chin. If he doesn't want to marry you, he is Mister Wrong, and continuing to date him or even to sleep with him or let him move in with you, is not going to change that. Get out while you're young.

If there's anything I can't stand and that I certainly hope to undermine, it is the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. I don't think people (especial women) should make informal years-long emotional/sexual commitments to people who don't know if they want to marry them or not. I think people should make dozens of friends and acquaintances, and that women treat regard the men who court them as old-fashioned suitors--with kindness but with a certain reserve. "Can I call you my girlfriend?" is no substitute for "Would you marry me?", although these days, of course, the second question usually follows the first, if it is asked at all.


Steve said...

Male feedback:

Yeah, Seraphic's dead right. One year is enough, and if you're not certain by then, she's not the one for you.

Easy, huh?

dark but fair said...

A betrothed woman's feedback:
Way to go, Seraphic! I love this post! And you are absolutely right! A lady should not wait more than a year for the gentleman to make up his mind that he wants to marry her. Our time and our hearts are far too precious for that.

sanabituranima said...

Yes. This.

A few things I learned from a two-and-a-half year relationship with an agnostic:

1. If he makes fun of Catholicism, break up with him.

2. The Catholic teaching on pre-marital sex is right.

3. "Poly-amory"/" Having an Open-relationship" is one of the stupidest things ever.

4. If a man has been traumatised by an abusive home and because of this thinks the institution of marriage is intrinsically evil, (or, indeed, if he's jut a general commitment-phobic) then his mind *may* be changed by intercessory prayer and counselling, but NOT by
a. giving really "good" oral sex
b. losing weight
c. saving up for breast implants
d. baking him a cake
e. agreeing with him even when he's wrong
f. letting him sleep with other women
g. saying "but you're so pro-gay-marriage! If you were a girl, you'd marry me"
h. writing poems for him
i. pretending to like something he's interested in, which actually bores you to tears.
j. fawning over his friends (to the point that they think you fancy them)
k. push-up bras
l. attempted emotional blackmail
m. ingratiating yourself to his mum (to the point she finds it creepy)
n. buying stupidly elaborate gifts you can't really afford
o. paying for everything
p. choosing the A-levels you think he'll approve of, over the ones you actually *want* to do
q. anything else along these lines

leonine said...

Those sorts of articles make me batty. I always want to say, "Well, what am I supposed to do about it?" It's not like my early twenties were scattered with marriage proposals. In fact, I don't know of any young woman who had a proposal or half a dozen and turned them down to focus on her career.

Klarth said...

Also from a male point of view:

There are different things that affect the rate at which you progress in a relationship. How often you see each other, how willing are you to let others into your life, just to name a few.

That being said, a year sounds reasonable enough for you to "know" if you'd marry the girl. But I feel (again, male point of view), that bringing up the topic of marriage too soon can generate expectations that can be hard to follow up. It would be nice if you could just tell a girl "I really believe you will be a great wife" without her immediately expecting a ring within 6 months.

That's why guys may be hesitant to talk about "the M word" until they are truly ready to get married.

Seraphic said...

My eyebrows almost fell out, and I'm sure one or two eyebrow hairs went grey. Listen, never ever ever tell a woman that you really think she will be a great wife [for some guy, not necessarily you] some day. Gee willikers. You boys are going to kill me at this rate.

It's okay (in fact CRUCIAL) not to mention the M word unless you are seriously thinking about marrying the girl you are about to utter the M word to. The fact that men are more reluctant to marry Miss Wrong than women are to marry Mr Wrong has saved a lot of people from utter misery.

But if you don't know within a year that, as great a wife this girl will make somebody, she is not the future Mrs You, 'fess up before the 1st year "anniversary" gift exchange and go on your way.

In short, NEVER mention that a girl will make a great wife unless you think she will make YOU a great wife. And if you don't by 11 months of dating, break up.

Look, I can make an eyelash fall out, just by thinking about it.

Boy: Gee, Sarah, I really think you'll make a great wife one day!

Sarah: Oh, Billy! Do you really mean that? Oh my gosh!

Billy: I didn't mean for ME, necessarily. I meant in general.

Sarah: I hate you now.

Billy: But I said something nice!

Sarah: What you said was stupid and thoughtless. Nice is "I really think that's a great dress you're wearing."

Billy: Oh.

Sarah: Don't bother calling.

Catholic Pen said...

Amen to your last comment!

Anonymous said...

It's true that women who have, er, SBM ("sex before marriage") often end up marrying their boyfriends. That's what I often used to tell myself; that's what a friend told me the other day when I made an anti-SBM speech to her.

What I eventually worked out, though I hadn't the wit to remember it for my friend, is, yes, SBM women usually do get married - but to which of those SBM boyfriends? The first or the 20th? The one they liked best or the one who came along when they were frantic to marry? And if they were lucky enough to marry a man for whom they felt a durable passion, in time for them to have children together, how much emotional (and perhaps physical) damage had they sustained in the interval?

In a nutshell, how many potentially enduring loves get wrecked by SBM and its cousin, STS - "sex too soon"? These are all questions to ask the young to consider when contemplating these issues.


Dominic said...

Further (if concise) male feedback:

Spot on, Seraphic!

Seraphic said...

Clio, quite right: it's never a guarantee. The number one reason why men and women should not have pre-marital sex is that God has forbidden it. Yes, there are other, more worldy concerns, too of course (higher chances of cervical cancer, etc). But basically, we abstain not because we worry about whether this will increase or decrease our chances of marriage but because GOD SAID SO.

All I want to say is that women (not practising Catholics) who do decide to have pre-marital sex often go about it a lot more sensibly than say, practising Catholics, who know very well it is a sin, but do it anyway, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

I keep thinking about now-married non-Catholic friends who lived with their boyfriends before marriage, and it is inconceivable to me that they would not have been very careful and thoughtful about deciding who and when to sleep with.

I fear Catholic (Evangelical and, heaven knows, Muslim) women throw their brains out with their integrity when they think "Well, it's a sin no matter what, so..."

Sofie said...

Does the one year rule extend only to discussing marriage, or is it a one year from meet to nuptual mass? I have started discerning marriage seriously with my boyfriend (we have been together 13 months) but I don't think the actual wedding will happen for a bit. Cause for worry?

Anonymous said...

My dear Seraph, I do understand about doing things, all things perhaps, because God Said So. But - and I beg your pardon if I am being thick here - surely God always Says So for a reason? And is it really somehow neglecting our duty to God to contemplate what that reason might be?

Many religious people begin with the idea that God Says So but slowly crumble away from their early certainty under repeated questions and attacks from the secular-minded. often, it's only after years of observation and alas experience that they are able to work out the "whys" of no SBM for themselves, and by then much damage may have resulted.

Is it impious to explain that God's natural laws regarding human behavior (I mean the ones he instituted as part of our biological natures) are not arbitrary, and that it's a great risk to break them? Doing so will not lead automatically to unhappiness or punishment (any more than doing right always leads to happiness) but to defy the natural law is to court misery and alienation not only from God but from one's self.

Sigh. I feel as if I am trying to tease out an obvious point that nevertheless eludes me here, and I apologise for going on at such length about it.


Seraphic said...

Yes, Clio, of course He does, but that is not the point of this post. Obviously His reason is not "...because nobody will ever marry you if you have sex before marriage" because this is quite not true for all times and all peoples. I will point out, however, that men do not usually like the thought of other men having had carnal knowledge of their beloveds and try not to dwell on it.

The principal thing to stress to women, I think, is that a man who truly loves them will wait to have sex (and vice versa: a lot of women put sexual pressure on their boyfriends), and a man who doesn't, won't.

The whole reason that I brought up women who sleep with their boyfriends and are yet not tossed out like used tissue, is to observe that non-Catholic (or non-practising Catholic) women very often use their heads and themselves delay sexual activity until they are absolutely sure this is the man for them and that this man loves them.

Sleeping with a man is no guarantee that he will ever love you, but it does not necessarily destroy love he already has.

I hope this makes it clearer. As you know, I don't like chastity lectures, and readers can easily find the whole sad list of terrible things that premarital sex can bring in its wake elsewhere.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I agree, Auntie, especially on the sex tourist vs marriage material separation. Also, the "can and should have sex or live together" arguments make me feel really.. cheap. The "test drive" theory of intimate relationships treats the other person like a product, worse yet like something for sale at the used car lot. It's so saddening.

Not Auntie, but Sophie asked a question about 1 year to nuptial Mass -- I don't think that's what Seraph was saying. That could well be over-hasty. I think if at 1 year, marriage is not part of the discussion, it's time to move on. Otherwise, commit and set a date. There could be other factors that mean the date is a bit distant (military deployment, finishing school, etc.). That's just my understanding of it, both based on what Seraphic said as well as what my mom said (she felt that her year and a half engagement was a bit long, but they were finishing college).

Seraphic said...

Oh, yes, Sofie! I mean that marriage should be something that is being discussed in a year, not that you meet and marry within a year.

In fact, I discourage the meet-and-marry-within-a-year thing to anyone under thirty, unless you have had an unusually grown-up life, e.g. been out of school and working since age 18. Most of us born after 1960 simply remain functional teenagers for a sadly long time; that's just the way our culture has worked out.

One great thing about adult Single Life is it gives you a chance to come to terms with who you really are, not who you hoped you would be when you were 14, etc.

CC said...

Regarding Sofie's question, I think I can offer my own experience as a good example. My husband and I knew within a year of dating that we would be married, but we were only 18 when we began dating, and both of us were students. Others have made marriages work in those circumstances, but for us it would have been impractical and unwise to marry before finishing our educations and getting jobs. We became formally engaged after dating for three and a half years, and married a year after that. Many of our friends did the same.

It would also be really hard for Catholics to marry within a year of beginning courtship, since many parishes require six months or more of marriage prep. That would make courtship very short!

SarahClaire said...

Hi Seraphic!

I have a request/idea for a future post: How does one *know*?

Lots of well-meaning priests and spiritual advisors have told us that you could be perfectly happy with more that one person and that having one single soul mate is a myth. This is reassuring, but a little confusing when you're trying to figure out who should be your mate, since most other people you ask say "someone you can't live without!," or "when you don't even think about anyone else" (unlikely, there are lots of attractive people in the world), or "you'll cry when you leave him to go on vacation" ;) or even worse, "you'll just know."

I ask this rather selfishly in part, because I'm in a "relationship" with a guy I love and trying to discern whether he's 'the one.' It's complicated by the fact that we've been together a long time, so the firework, can't think of anything else, swoony feelings that everyone claims are the main sign aren't even there all the time anymore, and he's the first person I ever dated, so I can't really compare.

(Plus, sometimes I like it when he's not around or when I go on long-ish trips with my girlfriends and without him. But surely that can't mean I don't love him?)

Sofie said...

Oh thank goodness, you had me worried. I was thinking, I always agree with Seraphics advice but one year is not gonna happen! Thanks for the clarification!

berenike said...

Dear Sanabitur:


Not a wine critic said...


I ask this rather selfishly in part, because I'm in a "relationship" with a guy I love and trying to discern whether he's 'the one.' It's complicated by the fact that we've been together a long time, so the firework, can't think of anything else, swoony feelings that everyone claims are the main sign aren't even there all the time anymore

Welcome to marriage, kiddo.

The question is not, do I swoon every time this guy looks at me? (That's just obsessive and unhealthy.)

The question is, am I gonna be comfortable with this person, most of the time, and are they gonna be willing to deal with the less than perfect? Am I willing to deal with the less than perfect?

If you aren't, and especially if he isn't, marriage is not for you.