Friday, 26 July 2013

Auntie Seraphic & the Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage

Poppets! Never forget that I am not an expert on marriage. I am rather more well-known for having been Single for a long time and not having forgotten what it's like. I'm kind of new on marriage stuff. Meanwhile, I can't just write whatever I think about marriage because (A) if I write that it is absolute bliss, I risk rubbing my Single readers noses in it and (B) if I write that I want to wallop my husband with a frying pan, he (and his friends) will read it and feel sad.

MEANWHILE, whenever I write about how fabulous female friendships are, and how girls rule, and how life is not worth living without female companionship, consider that I live four thousand miles away from most of my female friends and relations. I work from home, and I go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass which is, incidentally, where all the boys are. I have no children. My only pet is a basil plant named Paweł, and he's looking rather peaky.

ALSO, I have been married for 4.5 years, and therefore see marriage rather differently than Single readers, or readers who have been married for 6 months, or readers who have been married for 45 years, or Alice von Hildebrand and other widows.

You must keep all these things in mind, and if you ever feel really lousy after reading one of my posts, I recommend snorting, "Ah! What does she know?" and finding a cute kitten video at once.

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

Thank you for running this blog. It has a lot of good advice. This email originally started out as a comment, but once I realized that it was turning into a depressing monologue, I decided to Ctrl + C and post it into a good old-fashioned e-mail. :-)

May I say that I become increasingly sad (I am usually sad to begin with) whenever I read one of your posts on men & women, ESPECIALLY in marriage?

Frankly speaking, I have never witnessed a happy marriage. However, the little fairy-tale loving section of my soul just will not die, and I continue to hope that there IS such a thing as a happy, passionate, understanding marriage. 

I don't think you *intend* to do this, but you are slowly but surely convincing me that there is not such a thing.  To clarify, I know that love is not the way it's portrayed in Taylor Swift songs. I know that emotions come and go.  But you have shown me that: The passionate feelings experienced within the first couple years of a relationship will go away - and not come back.  A man will never understand you. This one BREAKS. MY. HEART. As an emotionally abandoned/abused child, all I've ever wanted in my life is to be understood. Also, I watched my parents "misunderstand" each other for 25 years. 

I do not know what to think. I am so sad. :-(

Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage

Dear Reader Who Dreams of Happiness in Marriage,

Don't be sad. Well, you can be sad, but there is no real NEED to be sad. The complete and total joyful understanding that you long for is available. 

The thing is, it comes from God. Your heart will be restless until it rests in Him, i.e. after you die. [Actually, some saints manage to be perfectly content with Him in this life, too.]

A good husband is a wonderful creature and a very great gift from God, but at the end of the day he is just another fallible human being and no husband (or wife) can fill the God-shaped hole in any human heart. Still, there's a reason we use "husband" as an analogy for God and "bride" as the analogy for Church, although I have to admit that these are problematic from a woman's point of view. (It helps that male mystics talk about even their souls being female.)

There are happy marriages, indeed! And as for understanding, understanding is built over time. But this understanding is not just "a feeling"or an understanding of a spouse's good points, but a deep understanding of his or her faults, too, and ultimately a coming to peace with the faults, or a noticing that the faults have gone away with work or time. Honestly, this takes TIME [and patience, humility, courage, patience, humility and courage. And patience. Also humility. And patience.]

As for "passion", the honeymoon craziness does wear off, but it flares up here and there, and anyway, it usually [with God's Grace, I should have said] leaves behind a kind of spiritual glue. The spiritual glue gets stronger and stronger. I think the reason why sometimes widows or widowers just turn over and die a week or so after their spouses die is this spiritual glue. Don't think this spiritual glue is less important than "passion." No way, Hosea. 

Meanwhile, if B.A. still acted and felt the way he did when we were engaged, he would probably starve to death: every time I went away on a trip, he would stop eating. And every time I went on a trip, I would cry and live for his phone calls and get nose bleeds, etc. Although that may sound romantic, eight months [actually, two years] of that was really enough. 

Crying for the passion of the early years of a marriage is like crying because it is June, not the first gloriously sunny day in April. For everything there is a season, even the passion of newlyweds. And in fact it is dangerous to think that passion is the be-all and end-all of a happy marriage because people who do tend to get divorced or run around until they realize that it is not. It is necessary to kick-start a marriage (a western marriage, anyway), including the sexual side of marriage, which continues with enjoyment, good-will and jokes, even if without the breathless passion everyone writes about in songs.  

I hope this is helpful. I like marriage very much, and I love my husband very much. I still think he is the perfect man for me, although I know that he is not perfect, and he most definitely knows I am not perfect either. If I sound rather more cranky than I should about the inadequacy of men to be more than just "a part of this complete breakfast", it may be because most of my female friends and relations are far, far away most of the time. 

Grace and peace,

I hope I got across the "spiritual glue" part. Passion is like a basil plant; it springs up and it dies (and you can get more). But love is like in the Song of Solomon: "strong as death." That's the spiritual glue.


Claire said...

This post is such a breath of fresh air! It does a great job of summarizing many of the realistic attitudes about men and marriage that are one of the things I love about this blog. And I love how you always bring it back to God being the One we were created for. Why don't more married people say these things you are saying, Seraphic? :)

And a piece of advice for your sad reader -- I'm 29 and no prospects of marriage in sight and sadness definitely comes and goes. But three things have been a huge help for me as I fight to remain joyful. 1) daily adoration (or just heart-to-heart prayer for non-Catholics or those who can't make it to regular adoration -- the daily examen is a good example of this), 2) keeping in touch with girlfriends, especially commiserating with other single girlfriends if you've got them (there are a dwindling number of these in my life, but I've found this blog a good source of solidarity as well), and 3) having meaningful work or study. Other interests, volunteering and stuff helps too but I've found the above 3 the most effective. and then there's always kittens and chocolate! :)

Maggie said...

Beautiful, honest post Seraphic. I firmly echo Claire's second paragraph above, but may pose an answer to her first question ("why don't more married people talk about our ultimate longing for God?"). I'd guess it's either one of two things, or perhaps a combination. 1) the universal vocation to holiness/longing for God that can only be filled in heaven *can* be glossed over in our understanding of the Faith, even by the best-intentioned people. Often we focus so much on the pursuit of a particular vocation (priesthood/religious life/marriage) that we miss the forest for the trees; we miss the ultimate vocation (holiness/the union of God and mankind[Church]in heaven). and/or 2)perhaps married people (conjecture, since I'm not married) are so happy (or so miserable) in their marriages, that looking past the "icon" of marriage to the reality of God's pursuit of us might be hard.

Detachment. I'm learning it very slowly, but detachment helps *a lot*

Sheila said...

Can a married lurker add a word?

Married people have a really hard time telling the unmarried about marriage, because we don't want to be public about it. Sometimes I hate being married. Sometimes I am so dippily happy to be married I'd be intolerable to anyone who wasn't.

But I definitely think the passion returns. It stops being an all-the-time swoon, but it shows up rather often, especially if one's husband takes business trips and you miss him like crazy. Togetherness can sometimes lead to taking one another for granted.

No man can understand you ... without being told. No man can understand you ... the way your girlfriends do. But aside from these caveats, understanding is definitely within reach. It's a matter of communication, of seeking to understand more than being understood, listening, and so forth. I would say my husband understands me better than anyone except my mother. That's because he loves me enough to pay attention to all the details which most other people aren't interested in. But my mother will always beat him out because she is female and actually GETS me.

I think the single life is great. But don't get sour grapes and convince yourself marriage isn't nice, because it is -- provided, of course, that you marry a Good Guy, and subsequently are willing to put as much effort into the relationship as you would like your spouse to.

Anonymous for this comment, please said...

Reader Dreams of Happiness in Marriage, I feel your pain! I'm lucky enough to know men who really do understand me (so it IS possible for men to understand women!), but I still can't think of many long-term marriages I'd want to be in; none of them seem to bring joy to the spouses lives. And I wonder if I am being silly and unrealistic in hoping that it's possible for one to take delight in her husband for decades, and for her to be closer to him than to anyone else...

alliecat said...

I've been reading a lot of Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) lately--preparing for possibly becoming engaged to my boyfriend--and he has a lot to say about the phases of romantic love. He claims there are two: being "in love," and the lasting love that follows that. He also claims that the 2nd type of love can be just as fulfilling (albeit differently) as the 1st, IF you and your spouse make a conscious effort to choose to love each other in concrete ways every day. He has published many books about love in general, for people in any situation: single, dating, engaged, married. I have read his original, The Five Love Languages, and my boyfriend and I read the one for dating/engaged couples, Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married. Both were EXCELLENT. The thing I liked most about them was that, although I like theory, they were so PRACTICAL! They give you specific things to do in order to show love. And it's really so simple! Not only have they convinced me that my boyfriend and I have the tools and ability to be happy together once the intense love fades, but it has made me see other relationships in my life differently. My mother's requests that I do things for her no longer seem irrational and irritating. Instead, I see them as ways that I can love her, and our relationship has become much better.

Anyways, that's my plug, which I hope will help someone, since I, too, worried that I might not be happy in marriage.

Seraphic said...

I know many happily married couples, but the only marriage I'd want to be in is my own.

Of my friends, only one married a guy I thought was super-cute, as in "Oh my goodness, your husband is such a dish! I mean, um, um, is that the TIME? Must go." But fortunately, I like all the husbands of my married friends, and think they are good guys.

I have to say that just because an outsider can't see the joy that marriage brings to a couple's lives doesn't mean it isn't there. And meanwhile, marriage becomes an everyday family-type arrangement, strangely similar to when you were a kid, only now you are one of the bosses. You get up, you eat breakfast, you go to school or work or on errands, you come home, you do chores, you make dinner, you eat dinner, you watch TV or do whatever, you go to bed. The biggest difference is that instead of your parents or your brothers and sisters, you live with your spouse and your kids, if you have them (and you're the co-boss). It's great, and it's the stuff of life, but it's not the Beatific Vision. And just because it's not the Beatific Vision doesn't mean there's something wrong with it.

The take-home point is that movies, love songs and TV shows are all FICTIONAL. They sell you on a dream of "the perfect marriage" which is just a cartoon. Some married poets and married novelists often "get it", but do have a look at their biographies before you take their word for what marriage is like.

I think the reason the divorce rate is so high--and in Scotland it is mostly women who file for divorce--is false expectations around marriage. Women expect men to think like women (or act like men in songs), and men expect women to want what men want. Women have to say what they need, and men have to believe them and talk about it.