Monday, 9 May 2011

What They No Longer Tell You about Marriage

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.


Ginger said...

In my observations, I've found that men are much more easily converted to the religion of their wives than the other way around. I know far fewer women who have brought their husbands to the Faith than men who've brought their wives.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. However, I'm not married and thus I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. Even though I believe the man to be the head of the household, I know myself and I doubt I will actually live up to that once (if) I will get married. Mostly because I have seen firsthand how horribly this can go wrong with a bad partner (talking about evil people here, not just someone who isn't perfect). So I guess the whole issue is just about trust.

Seraphic said...

It isn't. It's about being a woman married to a man, as you will discover. Either you will enjoy knuckling under (at least occasionally) and your marriage will be happy, or you won't, and your marriage will be miserable.

Marry a man you love and honestly respect and who shares your core values, including your religion (if it truely is a core value), and you will be fine.

Seraphic said...

Yes, sometimes wishy-washy Protestant husbands convert to Catholicism and sometimes even staunch Protestants convert to Catholicism. Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic women, however, are on the Pill.

Give me an instance of a contemporary devout Muslim who was converted to Christianity by his wife, and I'll be impressed. I've met exactly two Jewish male converts to Christianity in my whole life, and they weren't converted by their wives.

Anonymous said...

"Marry a man you love and honestly respect and who shares your core values, including your religion (if it truely is a core value), and you will be fine."

I wouldn't want to marry a man who doesn't fit this description, so I guess I'll be fine. :-)

Clare C said...

I know men and women are different, but women and women are different, and men and men are different. People are individuals, not just patterns, and methinks you oversimplify too much. I have to run to an interview, but this is interesting, thanks for posting.

Seraphic said...

One can only do so much with a blogpost. If you need a fuller (more nuanced and book-length) argument, you might also find interesting F. Carolyn Graglia's "Domestic Tranquility."

Another Clare said...

I know that you enjoyed the Royal Wedding, so I'm sure you heard that Kate Middleton removed the line about obeying her husband from her wedding vows.

This change has been getting more and more common.

In marriage, even if you are supposed to obey your husband, what if he's wrong? Even a good man who shares the same values with you can be flat out wrong on things sometimes.

Eliz... said...

Kate Middeton dropped "obey" but it's my understanding "obey" isn't, nor ever has been, a part of Catholic wedding vows. Nor is the bride given away.

But, ultimately, obey (or submission) = trust.

Seraphic said...

You betcha. I'm talking about an orientation here. I'm not talking about what you SHOULD do. I'm talking about what you DO do.

Heaven only knows what bad, stupid, weak things women do against their conscience "because I love him."

If you fall in love and marry (or just move in with) a bad man who does bad things, you will find yourself going along with the bad things and maybe doing bad things yourself. If you fall in love and marry (or just move in with a good man), you will find yourself going along with the good things and maybe doing similar good things yourself.

Really, there's no reason to swear to obey. If you love a guy, you might very well just find yourself just doing it.

I hope I'm making this clear. Women are seriously influenced by the men they sleep with and generally want to make them happy so find it easiest to go along with what they want.

This is why it can be problematic to be a Christian woman married to a very non-Christian man.

Hilary said...

Dorothy, you definitely have Trad potential. Men are in charge. Women need to learn to suck it up.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

B TW, this is the first post I've ever read on this blog that hasn't made me want to rip out my own intestines and strangle myself with them.

I've been wanting to post more about how men are in charge and feminism has cheated women out of their happiness, but haven't been able to figure out how to do it politely.

It's been a major problem for me, finding someone who has even the barest potential to be the boss o' me. Most of the men who've been attracted to me have been little boys looking for a "strong woman" to be their mummies. Nauseating.

Seraphic said...

Yep, I figured. If you felt my little beady eyes staring at you philosophically, it was just me waiting for you to bring up the topic. I didn't have a hint or clue on where you were at re: issue until Thursday morning at approximately 10 AM, which is a record.

Usually I get pulled into a secret location (closet, library, taxi cab) for a private consultation within an hour or so. You, no. Absolutely nothing and then a roundabout story about a rabbi.

Anyway, the boss o' you may be out there. I will turn my diamond-hard, Jesuit-trained mind, which used to be so good at dogmatic theology, onto the topic.

Of the top, it's probably because you scare the snot out of simply everybody, and that does not add up to an effective process of elimination. Logically, it should, blasting away all the wimpy sand and leaving the gold nuggets who chortle, "Ho, ho! I like a woman with spirit." But I don't think that actually works.

Ugh re: the little boys looking for mummy. We'll tawk.

Incidentally, you have beautiful eyes and flawess skin and a perfecty decent figure, and I could slap you for putting up your frumpish bespectacled photo on LifeSiteNews. How very dare you.

Seraphic said...

Off the top, id est.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the little boys, that's my main frustration too. I want to start a family and I'm a very motherly figure. That means I'm looking for someone who wants to start a family too and that is a strong fatherly figure, not a little boy in a grown body. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

This is good - I'm glad I'm in a time zone that lets me see the comments too. I think there are women who agree with you but would walk over hot coals before admitting it.

I have been good friends with Muslim men in my college days, but didn't date them because they nearly all had arranged marriages awaiting them back home.

Big double standard though. The women here who did sleep with them were treated like w***** by the very same men who treated me like a sister - to the point of walking me home from the gym late at night (I liked to exercise close to midnight and it was a scary walk). They stood on the curb until they saw lights coming on and that I was OK. I've intentionally forgotten names, but could have loved some of those guys if they'd been available. Obedience would have been a small price to pay. (We've lost touch if the CIA is reading your blog. I don't want to be water-boarded).

I remember once breaking up with an American boyfriend, then sitting at the feet of a friend from XXX country, dressed in his native dress (when he was at home) crying and asking for good advice. He didn't mince a lot of words or try to take poor tearful me to bed. I got a lecture on what *I* had done foolishly that was probably pretty close to what his sister would have gotten in the same situation. Men understand men, and he was sufficiently westernized to understand men here.

I would seriously consider marrying a Muslim if he was a good decent man who would allow me to continue to practice my Catholic faith. Does the Church allow this? I believe it does and just noticed I used the word "allow" twice.

This is getting way too long, but I think none of us want to admit we are under the authority of our husbands, parents, Church and I do not believe it has brought us happiness.

Anyhow, welcome home! I am now saving my airline miles to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, with a stop in Malta if I can arrange it. Would like to see where St Paul came aground.

isabella of the north

hip2bsquare said...

Very interesting post, Seraphic. What (if anything) should the few, the proud, your male readers be taking away from this?

Seraphic said...

My first boyfriend was a Muslim, and the virgin-whore thing is indeed interesting to experience. Hold out long enough and, behold, a marriage proposal. Kind of like what we were told dating was in the 1950s in the USA and Canada.

But one serious problem for everyone is that devout Muslim men know that they were not supposed to be having sex with "the whores" back in college and that they're going to have to pay back in some serious, serious way. If they fall in with the wrong set, they might be told that only jihad will wipe out their sins.

An extreme example? Yes. But it would be nice if American college girls thought long and hard about the consequences of their actions before they fall into a Muslim foreign student's bed.

In a clash of cultures, Islam beats brainless decadence absolutely hollow.

Seraphic said...

Oh, hello, Hip! The few, the proud, and the longest-reading, in your case.

Frankly, I'd warn men to be careful of what they tell their wives to do because their wives might actually do it. I know cases in which men gave their wives whole lists of instructions, which they didn't mean literally or at all expected them to follow, and the wives just did them.

It is bad manners to give your wife orders unless the house is literally burning down or if she doesn't brake she will plow into a moose.

Anonymous said...

"I've met exactly two Jewish male converts to Christianity in my whole life, and they weren't converted by their wives."

Yes, well, pray for me, please? I married Jewish-by-birth DH when he was professing Christianity and I wasn't, and then I re-discovered Christ and His Church (partially through his influence), and now he's having a massive faith crisis and exploring Judaism in a serious way and our marriage is suffering hugely. Recently he's expressed interest in sitting down and exploring Jewish/Christian religious disagreements please pray for us both.

Anonymous said...

Don't recommend people read Domestic Tranquillity without warning them about the author's immodest airing of her private erotic feelings, in particular the seriously gross passage where she fetishizes FGM. Unmarried ladies should hand that book over to married ones who can paperclip the offending pages together. - Karen