At lunch on Sunday I was told about a Polish archbishop who thinks there are too many annulments. Speaking as a Catholic who had an annulment almost 15 years ago (when I was a baby), such opinions can be like cold water down the spine.
"Apparently the greatest number of annulments are granted in the United States," said my informant.
"Maybe the greatest number of invalid marriages are contracted in the United States," I said.
My informant allowed that this might be so, and continued to reflect upon the opinions of the Polish archbishop.
"Apparently the archbishop thinks there is an abuse of the reason of immaturity," said my informant.
"Perhaps quite a lot of Americans marry when they are immature," I said.
My informant acknowledged that this could be so.
I believe that it is so, and furthermore I know it was so in my own Canadian case, for I was tremendously immature when I was in my early twenties, and in my late twenties, and was not really fit for marriage until my early thirties. To some extent this was my very own fault, but to some extent, yes, society is to blame.
There is a cult of youth, and when I was young the Baby Boomer generation was hanging onto its own youth with utter desperation. There was a 1960s revival in the 1980s, and so young and old wore miniskirts and did the twist and felt that we had missed something central to human civilization by not being at Woodstock. The message we got was that the 1960s, when the generation previous was young, were a sight better than right now, more idealistic, more special, more youthful. Adulthood was for squares, and when my work first appeared online, I got a comment from some aging hippy that although I might be younger than him in years (he was sixty), he was younger than me, really.
He seemed proud of that.
Anyway, when I was a teenager, American and Canadian teenagers were coddled and swaddled and told these were the best years of our lives, and we watched films in which THE PROM was the culmination of everything but also our last hurrah before COLLEGE. College was held out as the great golden ticket to our dreams although actually nobody ever mentioned how much work you really ought to do while you are there.
Ah, work. Work, work, work. But I am not going to talk about work work. I am going to talk about the work you do when you travel. This is because I honestly believe that the best way to gain maturity fast is to go by yourself to a foreign country, a country where you do not speak much of the language, and survive. Other people will say "Get a job" but I had lots of jobs as a teenager and by 21 still had all the maturity of a rubber duck. No. In hindsight, my parents should have sent me to French Canada every summer and told me to get jobs there. Oooo-oooo! How scary. And that's not even a foreign country.
People think of foreign travel as fun, but foreign travel is a weird kind of fun. It is a kind of fun where you have to deal with crushing amounts of bureaucracy and airline restrictions and sometimes even having your bra prodded in case its underwiring is attached to semtex.
It means you are suspended in thin air for hours at a time with usually only the vaguest notion how that works and then plunked down into crushing bureaucracy in a foreign language.
It means you have to figure out, on perhaps very little sleep, how to get from the airport to somewhere else, preferably not by being robbed or raped by a pirate disguised as a local cab driver.
It means you have find a bed, and then you have to amuse yourself--by yourself or among complete strangers (e.g. a Contiki tour group)--for a week or more, in very novel circumstances.
This can only lead to growth. My sadly inherent immaturity was chipped away a little bit more this past Saturday when I remembered that the Polish for lift was "winda", found the sign saying "winda", discovered that this "winda" was broken and looked for another sign saying "winda." Then another chip went missing when I remembered that taxis can be found at the "postoj taksowek." And then a big chunk came off when I confronted the first taxi driver in the queue--who was younger and scarier looking than the driver behind him--and said, in Polish, "I want to go to this address. How much does it cost?" (NB He wasn't a pirate. He charged only 19 zl and was a perfect gentleman.) Come to think of it, though, that whole night of sleeping rough in Gatwick airport was probably the most maturing of all.
So my solution for the immaturity inherent in the many North Americans with the misfortune to be like myself is to travel to foreign (especially foreign LANGUAGE) countries alone and just survive. Planning is key, and I also advise learning enough of the language of the foreign country to get by. This is interesting but also difficult and boring and, sadly, "difficult" and "boring" seem to be the magic ingredients.
The other wonderful thing about travel is that it is very often a cure for a broken heart. If your heart has been thoroughly squashed, there is nothing better for it than getting it over a very large body of water, e.g. the Atlantic, to feel better and get some perspective. You see places that have no association with the heartbreaker. You are too busy trying to remember the local word for "bathroom" to remember that thing he said once. You see astonishing sights that, unlike that thing he said once, you will never forget.
It's too bad that travel tends to be expensive (sigh....), but the thing to do is to work and budget and scrimp and save until you have enough. And the difficulties and boredom of this working, budgeting, scrimping and saving will also add to the maturation process.
P.S. An all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean does not count.