This was a comment in the combox, and I loved it so much, I thought about it during my flight to Toronto and I reproduce it here as an Auntie Seraphic letter:
Dear Auntie 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?)
How Will I Know
You don't have to marry this boyfriend.
That is the most important thing I have to say. I don't care how much you like him, or how long you've been together, or how happy you are when you get some breathing space away with your girlfriends, or how happy you are when you see him again.
I don't care if you've been talking about marriage for a long time, or if you've been kissing him so hard and so long, you have permanent beard rash, or if your boyfriend's mother has picked the names of your possible children, or if you've mentally picked the wedding hymns. You don't have to marry him. Dating relationships end all the time. That's okay. Marriages ending horribly in divorce, one or the other or both saying,"I never really loved you"--that's not okay. That's terrible.
Once upon a time, like 110 years ago, all Single women who weren't nuns were at a serious social disadvantage. They expected to marry, they learned from other women how well they were expected to do in the marriage market, and they were vastly relieved when their husbands turned out not to beat them or drink too much. They married young, quickly, and not necessarily for love.
Those days are behind us.
I cannot imagine why any woman in this day and age and hemisphere, when social forces attack marriage with all the power they can command, would marry a man unless she was head-over-heels in love with him.
Marriage is not a lifelong honeymoon vacation in a Caribbean resort. Marriage is washing dirty laundry, washing the kitchen floor, making boring everyday meals, sex, burping at inconvenient times, snoring, backing each other up in public, laughing at a joke you've heard 345 times, taking out the garbage because even though he said he would he didn't, picking up the snotty handkerchief, pregnancy 'moments' (or actual pregnancy), going to church, squabbling and laughing together almost every day. Laughing if you're lucky and in love, that is.
Sometimes relationships run their course. You date an exciting man for a year or more, and it goes flat. He's your comfortable habit. You're his comfortable habit. Or maybe you started dating in high school, and you grew up and he hasn't yet, or vice versa. You're great pals. Pals who make out. (Which you shouldn't be, as I have decided in my super-conservative middle age.) But if you don't want to marry him, you shouldn't marry him. You don't have to marry him.
I didn't have time to get bored with my husband. I fell in love with him something like 48 hours after we met in person, and he fell in love with me something like 48 hours after that. His heroines--including Dame Emma Kirkby, Helena Bonham Carter and Iris Murdoch--were a lot like me in some ways. My heroes--tweedy intellectual types--were a lot like him. And we both had something the other had always hoped to find in a member of the opposite sex. He was so cheerful, funny and friendly. I was so supportive of his conversion to Roman Catholicism. We were both adults--36 and 38 respectively, our homes were thousands of miles apart, and we both fell madly, crazily in love. We were married 8 (7.5?) months later. I gave up my country for him, and he gave up...hmm...the ability to spend his entire paycheque on himself.
Now it is over two years since we met, and it was all I could do to drag myself away from him this morning at Glasgow Airport. And, two years on, I know some things I didn't know two years ago. For example, he snores. Very loudly. So loudly I wake up and have to put on ear protectors. And he doesn't like how I wash dishes because it is not exactly the way his granny washed dishes, and he claims I leave greasy fingerprints on doorknobs. But he is the most beautiful person in the world to me, and probably around tomorrow I am going to have a hysterical sobbing fit because I am all the way over here in Canada, and he is all the way over there in Scotland.
Marriage is a calling, but it has several parts. You feel vaguely called to marriage in general. That's part 1, and nice, as it goes. But then you meet someone--a SPECIFIC someone---someone good and mature and kindly--with whom you fall madly in love and who falls madly in love with you. You both feel a strong conviction you're meant to get married. That's part 2. Then you marry in church, taking those binding, solemn vows before God and your community. That's part 3. You're not 100% called to be married until you take those vows to that specific person.
In short, if you don't KNOW--don't KNOW with all your heart--that you want to be married to this man, don't marry him. Travel. Get a job. Get a professional degree. Don't get married just for the sake of getting married. Get married because you think that if you don't marry the man who loves you as crazily as you love him, you will die.
Married love is friendship caught fire. A great blaze at the beginning of your marriage may settle down, but it ignites the logs of married life so that it burns brightly and warmly for decades. Sexual attraction is the tinder, good character, patience and maturity are the logs, but romantic love is the match.
Don't sell yourself short. I hope this is helpful.
Grace and peace,
P.S. If the well-meaning priest is in a religious order, ask him if he would have been as happy and fulfilled in a different religious order. If the spiritual director is a married woman, ask her if she'd turn her husband in for another, somewhat similar model. There might not be such a person as a soul-mate, but men are not interchangeable. I admire other deeply attractive men. (Marriage doesn't strike you blind and insensible.) I know lots of good, attractive, fun, intelligent, Catholic men. I wouldn't trade my own man for any or all of them, even if they came with a million dollars and the secret of eternal youth.