Monday, 12 December 2011

Auntie Seraphic & How Will I Know?

As we know, not all marriages are love matches. In some cultures, people--especially women--are pressured to marry by a certain age, and for reasons other than love. In such cultures, parents tend to say that love will follow the wedding, and this may very well be true--in those cultures. I suspect that, most of the time, at least among educated people, the bride and groom whose families have agreed that their arranged marriage is mutually acceptable at least like and sympathize with each other. I can imagine a South Asian woman doctor saying to a handsome South Asian doctor, "Our families! Argh!" and the man doctor saying back, "Argh! I know", and each feeling understood and supported by the other.

However, most English-speaking Catholics arrange our own marriages and expect that feelings of deep attachment will precede the wedding. I certainly do, especially since B.A. and I were all gobsmacked about each other when we met. And this is all a preamble to a letter I am rewriting entirely to protect the writer.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am in my early twenties, and I've always been popular with boys.
[Auntie note: This is my wording, so don't get huffy.] I've dated boys long enough to call them boyfriends, but I broke up with every one. I wonder if this is because I am very indecisive, and I wonder how I can stop the dating-boyfriend-break-up cycle.

But my biggest question is how will I know when I meet the man I'm supposed to marry. I've consulted movies, books and my parent on this subject. But my parents and other married people always say "You just know," and that drives me crazy.

How Will I Know

Dear How Will I Know,

I wouldn't put much faith in books and movies! Books and movies have to have simple, exciting plots with lots of drama and steadily growing character development, and life isn't really like that. We develop in fits and starts, and life unfolds according to its own schedule, with a lot of boring bits.

It would probably drive you crazy if I said "You just know" like your parents, so I will try to elaborate on this. Essentially, you make friends with a man who intrigues you very much, and the better you get to know him, the more excited you are to be around him and the more you hope he feels that way about you, too. And when you do find out he does feel this way, you are so happy you feel that your life has become a fairy tale. You might be torn between the excitement of getting married and the dread that something horrible might happen to prevent it. You are a little bit insane. Meanwhile, you have a serious hunch that he will get along absolutely great with your family and friends.

This sounds very exciting, and the western world is packed with women wondering if and when this will happen to them. However, there is no way of knowing if and when, although American marriage statistics, at any rate, do suggest it's more "when" than "if."

It's okay that you are indecisive. That sounds extremely normal for [an early 20-something]. But you know when you are looking for the right book or the right dress and suddenly THE PERFECT THING pops out at you? It's like that. One moment you're just casually looking around a store, and nothing seems right and then (once in a blue moon)--WHAM! Right dress! Hooray!

So don't blame yourself for being indecisive. Just keep on meeting people and going out on dates with nice Catholic boys to see if a friendship or something more might develop. Keep things on a friendly level as much as possible. I know this is difficult because our culture has developed this thing about dating as a highway to "relationships" instead of dating as a way to spend time with friendly men who might (or might not) become something more.

Also, don't watch the clock. Fortunately you are only [early 20-something] and therefore presumably not freaking about growing older, but you have no way of knowing when it is that the Future Mister You will swim into view. It could be next week. It could be next year. It could be when you are 37. Eeek! But whenever it happens--and I speak as one who experienced it at 37--it will be totally worth it and you will be so terribly thankful you didn't settle for someone else.

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

Update: In light of the first comment, I should add explicitly what I meant implicitly above, and it is that both of you have become absolutely certain you should marry, and the sooner the better. And I am talking about adults, not teenagers, or people who started their "fairy tale" relationship as teenagers.

That said, I know two couples of my parents (Baby Boom) generation who did meet as children. One literally met in the sandbox (she whacked him with a plastic shovel), and the other dated in high school, broke up, and got back together.


Sarah C said...

What if you've felt something like that before, but the feeling then faded?

that whole fairy tale feeling you describe was exactly how it was for a year or so when my boyfriend and I first started dating, but going on year 4, it's not really like that any more. Is that a sign I should try and find someone else, see if I can fire it up again, and marry them instead? Because that will probably fade too, won't it?

Seraphic said...

Year 4! Yikes! Of course it doesn't feel like that in Year 4.

Listen, I think one of the worst emotional disasters is to date for years and years instead of knowing that this is the one, and it's time to get married.

Obviously parents, friends and priests will threaten to put you in restraints if you haven't known the person for a year, but I can tell you that one of the first things crazy-in-loved engaged Catholic people in my hometown diocese do is plot ways around the "notify the church one year before the wedding rule." In such situations, friends in religious orders are really helpful! :-D

Meanwhile, I am talking about adults here. I am not talking about people who met at 14 and dated throughout high school. You are not the same person at 18 as you were at 14. You are not the same person at 24 as you were at 20, although the transformation is going to be much less radical. Once you're 30, you're basically stuck as you, although apparently most people get crankier at 50.

I know lots of people in the USA get married at 22, but it strikes me as lucky when people don't marry until they are at least 25 or 26. This is merely because a modern-day person is much more likely to be capable of making a marriage commitment at 25 or 26 than at 22. Of course there are exceptions, on either side. I was an emotional moron until I was about 32.

To be blunt, few things strike me as being as equally boring and stressful than dating the same man for four years. Long-term dating, not marriage, kills off romance like nothing else. Marriage is permanent and serious stuff, and mature people involved in marriage don't mess around with "what if" and "maybe" and Valentine's Day chocolate instead of real, nourishing food. We get on with real life, which includes running a household together, having kids, managing each other's illnesses, squabbling, having sex, buying boring stuff like insurance and washing machines and planning our retirement. We also don't have any buried resentments about not having been permanently chosen yet; two gold rings are proof that we have been chosen and have chosen for life.

Married people also do not feel the same crazy fairy tale feelings we felt during our early friendship or engagement. We calm down a bit, and thank goodness, or we'd never get any work done and no-one could stand to be around us. But what we do have is serious, deep feelings of attachment, and underneath the daily jokes and squabbles is the knowledge that this person is increasingly necessary for happiness and that widowhood would really, really suck.

If you date another guy for another four years (especially if you are under 25), I can guarantee that the fairy tale feeling will fade. I suggest you decide if this relationship of yours, which despite your initial enthusiasm never turned into a lasting marital commitment, has simply run its course, and that it is part of the life of an earlier you. But if on the other hand, you feel like you will suffer terribly if you lose your boyfriend, then I suggest you ask why you're not married yet.

It is a perennial opinion of this blog that no adult out-of-school woman should spend more than a year of her life on an adult out-of-school man if he has not seriously mentioned marriage in that time. This blog thinks long engagements are incredibly stupid and often (not always, of course) just an excuse to have premarital sex.

berenike said...

Aelianus knows a couple (eighties' children?) who knew each other before they were born.