I had an interesting letter the other day, too bursting in personal detail to print, but in a nutshell it involves a recent university graduate in a small community who has discovered that multiple men are interested in her as a potential spouse.
Now some of you are yelling, "Cry me a river!", but I am waving away your yells because this is not always a very comfortable situation in which to be. When I was 23-24, I was in a similar position. (I never was again, and thank goodness.)
Although on paper it looks thrilling to have three men scheming and plotting against each other and you, in real life it can be very uncomfortable indeed. I recall a lot of screaming and yelling, and at the time I was interested in somebody else who, of course, went into the seminary, only to drop out a few years later.
It is very uncomfortable to discover, too soon, that men want to marry you. If you have spent your youth feeling either invisible or clumsy next to your sparkling, more popular-with-boys girlfriends, it can be staggering to find yourself the object of attentions you're not sure you want. It is particularly staggering if you are under 25 and scarier if your suitors are much older than you. You may be pretty sure you want to get married, but you are not sure you want to marry one of these guys.
What to do?
Well, the first thing to do is to be very careful to whom you go for advice. I tried telling a priest about how overwhelmed I felt by my three suitors, and he laughed at me. It was obvious that he thought I bragging. Hmm... Maybe it wasn't such a pastoral tragedy when his own personal life became overwhelming and he abandoned his post to get married. Not that I am still bitter. No.
Unless you know a priest very well, and he knows you very well, I think in this circumstance you should talk to an older married woman, especially one who was the belle of her family, and/or who married later in life.
Secondly, you should try to remove yourself from the stressful situation as much as you can, so as to get some perspective. I know first hand how difficult this is if you and all your suitors are at the same school. Limit how much time you see them. Create a hiding place in a little-used library in which to do your work, or work in your room and let your phone take all messages. Go to Mass earlier or later. Go home for weekends, if you can.
If you like your suitors, tell them that, but tell them you're feeling overwhelmed if you're feeling overwhelmed. Try not to have intimate conversations with them as if they were your girl friends. It is terribly painful when you value a man as a trusted and witty friend, and no more than that, and he persists in seeing you as his next girlfriend or future wife. So cultivate some detachment and exercise some reserve. Yes, this is hard.
And for heaven's sake, don't think you are Anne of Green Gables pursued by Gilbert or Harriet Vane pursued by Lord Peter Wimsey and that the script says you have to give in eventually. You don't. You do exactly what you want to do, and you'll know when you've done it because your heart will be full of joy--not relief, joy.
Thirdly, if you can afford it, go on holiday abroad. There is nothing like an airplane for getting a rest from your troubles. You leave the ground and your love life at the same time. But don't go to a holiday resort like a Club Med. No, no, no. You must go somewhere where the language or at least the culture are so different, you will be constantly challenged by your new environment. Go to Florence and look down at the city from the Piazza di Michaelangelo. Go to Berlin and try to find your way to Unter den Linden. Go to Montreal and walk through the francophone streets until you find Schwartz's Deli and are struck by the sudden blast of almost-forbidden English, shocking in its minority status.*
Travelling does many things. It furnishes your mind with imagines and experiences that you will be able to draw upon for the rest of your life. It challenges your resourcefulness, and forces you to make snap decisions and to make yourself understood to strangers and to make sense of their replies. It gives you some important distance from your ordinary life so that you can get some much-needed persepective and take stock. It helps you grow up.
There was a philosophy professor at the Edith Stein conference--I've forgotten his name--who was all for early marriage. Well, I don't have a problem with early marriage, per se. But I believe marriage is for grown-ups, and it takes longer for some of us to get to grownuphood. This is not necessarily our fault, just as it isn't our fault if we don't reach our full adult height until we're 25. But we can encourage our own growth in maturity if we travel to foreign cities and make our way around.
If you want to get married, but you're not ready to get married, and you're feeling overwhelmed by pressure to get married--travel. Don't, in heaven's name, travel with one or more of your suitors. Find a girlfriend or--shocker--go on your own. If you can't take being alone with yourself 24/7, sign up with a tour group, or a language school, or stay with a friend or trusted friend-of-a-friend who lives in the foreign city, or at least arrange to meet up with one. Consult at least two travel guides, and be safe.
Meanwhile, I say, keeping an eye on the fuel situation, international travel may never be so cheap again.
*Order a medium smoked meat sandwich, fries, and a black cherry soda. Get there by 11 AM or after 2 PM to find a table.
Update: Blogger has erased some of my votes. I do not know why. The self-described anti-Catholic troll is gone, and I don't know if I should feel sad or relieved!