Last week I met with a reader, and she told me her tale. As I mentioned, I asked many questions and listened to the answers. I tried not to give my opinion or give advice because that is not what I was trained to do in real-life one-on-one situations. But at last I made a statement, and what my reader took from this statement is between her and me and God. I'll tell you what I said, though.
I said, "I am a woman under authority."
If you are a fiercely independent Christian woman, who hates the idea of obedience and giving way and making any kind of compromise, be it social, familial or professional, then don't get married. You might not make a very happy nun, either. But I think you could be a very happy unvowed Single woman if autonomy is really what you're all about. The Single life is a life of freedom. Married life isn't.
This is my second wedding anniversary. I am very happy. I am wearing a little green enamel leaf hanging from a slender silver chain; it is from the 1930s, and B.A. gave it to me as an anniversary present. B.A. is thoughtful, generous man which is great because--like it or not--he's my boss.
I can hear the shrieks in my mind's ear as legions of theology students assure me that this isn't true, or even if it is true, I'm his boss, too, and men and women are equal and have complementarity, blah blah blah.
Cherubs, I've been married twice, unsacramentally and sacramentally, and I know what I know.
"Gosh," I said to my mother about fifteen years ago, "marriage sure is patriarchal."
"You think?" said my mother, who has now been happily married for 41 years.
Let me tell you about husbands. They take us over. They might not mean to, but they do. And despite ourselves, despite everything we've been told, when the husbands are good husbands, we let them. Yes, sometimes it's freaking annoying, but sometimes we're just relieved.
If you travel through big cities in Western Europe, through Frankfurt or near the University of Edinburgh, you will occasionally see a white, Western European woman in hijab. In Frankfurt I saw a tall white blonde-eyebrowed German woman covered from head to toe, with only her face showing (by German law), three steps behind her much shorter, browner Muslim husband. It could be that through independent study, without any reference to men or marriage, this modern young German had decided that strict Islamism was the path for her, but I doubt it.
I'd love to see a study comparing the number of single white unmarried female converts to Islam to the number of single white married female converts to Islam. But my guess is that most women convert to Islam to marry attractive Muslim men or because they have married Muslim men. Muslim men, who can divorce easily and practise polygamy, are rather more eager to marry than Christian or post-Christian men, and most women want to marry. Unfortunately, women don't usually know what marriage really means until we're in it.
My Protestant first husband, who was admittedly a control freak, gave up any pretense at converting to Catholicism or permitting any children of the marriage to be raised Catholic as soon as we were safely married. His grand ideas were that I should go on the Pill and become Anglican like him. Catholicism, in his view, was the religion of "immigrants and peasants."
In marriage, there are not supposed to be barriers in your hearts. But I had to construct a barrier around the part called "Roman Catholic", and it was a very big part. If we had gotten along in other ways, and loved each other, and treated each other decently, which we certainly did not do, there would still have been a barrier around the part of my heart called "Roman Catholic". I would have had to keep it there to guard against my natural wish to please my husband, and he would have been most pleased if I had skipped Catholic Masses in favour of Anglican services and ignored Catholic doctrine about the transmission of life.
My Roman Catholic second husband, who is not a control freak and was tremendously feminist as a student (his unfinished doctoral thesis is on Iris Murdoch), goes to the Traditional Latin Mass. Before I met him, I had been to only one TLM, and I had found it incredibly dry and boring. Now I go to Traditional Latin Mass every week. I wear a mantilla, I try to go to confession almost as often as he does, I put up with all the Anglo-Catholic nostalgia stuff because he is a Roman Catholic now, and that is what matters.
There are no barriers in my marriage. I can trust my husband with all of me, including the Catholic part of my heart. I don't have to worry that it's going to be wiped out or besmirched in my natural desire to please my husband and fall in as I can with his ideas.
After the Easter Vigil, when I discovered my 1940s missal was rendered useless by the 1950s changes, I threatened to go to the Cathedral next year. I was serious, and B.A. was annoyed, and I'm not going to Easter Vigil at the Cathedral next year. I'll be in the back with the Schola again, but with a printout of the 1961 version. Why? Because B.A. would prefer that, and it in no way interferes with my Catholic faith. There's no either/or situation. It's both/and.
The Church used to be upfront about the fact that interfaith marriage often destroys the faith of the Catholic party. Catholics aren't really supposed to submit to it. You still need a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic, and two dispensations to marry a non-Christian, and you are still warned that marriage with a non-Christian is not sacramental. It is naturally good, but it is not supernaturally good. But many priests act like this is just mindless bureaucracy to get around, "Catholic shit" as a parish priest told the giggling Protestant I didn't, in the end, marry, realizing that I still wanted--as I had always wanted--a CATHOLIC husband.
Other religions are tough on mixed marriages. In Islamic law, Muslim men can take Christian wives, but Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian husbands. I do not know why this is, but I certainly can guess, not only given the status of women in Islam but the psychology of human marriage.
"Wives, obey your husbands" is not only a Pauline commandment, but a description of how marriages often thrive. Islam is not so hot on Muslims being subservient to Christians, just as mediaeval Christians were not so hot on being subservient to Muslims and Jews.
In unguarded moments, perhaps, female readers write to me saying how much they long to give themselves. Male readers don't write to me very much, and when Single men write to secular advice columnists, they don't talk about giving themselves. They talk about getting. They want to get a wife (or a girlfriend or sexual release). They want to have a family. Men don't read romance novels in which the protagonists "give themselves" or "are taken" by powerful, commanding, possessive figures. But women read such romance novels by the cartload. And psychologists and feminists in the 1970s and 1980s wrung their hands over the zillions of women who indulged in "rape fantasies." I forget who they blamed for women's "rape" (really, "rough seduction which we can enjoy but for which we can't be blamed") fantasies; probably the patriarchy. Heaven forfend that some (or most) women actually have an innate desire to be ruled by attractive men after all.
Anyway, now that there's coffee dripping down your screen, I'll leave it at that. I didn't swear to obey on my wedding day, but I sort of do anyway, and I don't always like obeying, but mostly because countless people have indicated that wifely obedience is somehow shameful. Pleasing my husband and falling in with his ideas just seems like the most natural thing to do, and so I'm really glad he's a devout Roman Catholic. I never have to choose between Our Lord Jesus Christ and my earthly husband, and for that I am truly thankful.
I would never recommend interfaith marriage to a woman like me.
P.S. If someone chimes in "But what about men?" I will scream. Men. And. Women. Are. Different.
Update: Whoever at "catholicanada" who is copying and linking to my work without my permission, please stop. I don't know who you are, and your site looks like you're claiming an episcopal authority you certainly don't have.
Update: B.A. is now afraid you'll all think he is a horrible tyrant. He isn't. I'm not talking about men saying outright, "Do this and do that", and women saying, "Okay, honey". I'm talking about a certain orientation within marriage or within women towards the men with whom they are in a serious (or what they think is a serious) sexual relationship.