N.B This blog post is from a lay guest writer.
NOTES FROM A BATTLEFIELD OBSERVER
I write this from the perspective of a fifty-something Catholic father with three grown children. Watching my children become young adults has given me a ringside seat from which to view many of the follies and customs of today’s young people, around dating, courtship, and views on marriage. What follows is practical advice.
It seems obvious to me that “love” is almost wholly misunderstood, and because it’s misunderstood, it’s highly overrated. That tingle you feel – it’s most likely just a touch of eros. This is not enough on which to base a permanent relationship. Not even close. You young folks who think you’ve found true love, in the process of courtship, most certainly have not. You won’t know true love until after many, many years of self-sacrifice in marriage. No, what you feel now is, at best, an intuitive sense of the potential for fruitful permanence. At worst, though, and all too often, it’s only that aforementioned “tingle” which, when it inevitably recedes, leaves you confused and often causes you to look elsewhere to renew the feeling.
Three basic rules which I advise you to follow. This is based on my practical observations, but also is reinforced by the constant testimony of the Church:
· Do not marry a non-Catholic. Just don’t. To do so is a surefire recipe for a slow-motion train wreck of discord through the long march of family life events. If you do not agree on the most basic things—the purpose and of life, marriage, and marital relations; if you don’t share an incarnational and sacramental view of things; how can you build a solid natural foundation together? What will it be based on? The fact is, having similar “values” (to use modern-speak) without reference to the Source, is to build an empire on sand. It may not collapse completely, but why would you handicap yourself from the start? Look around you: how do mixed marriages fare? Even if the Catholic spouse keeps the Faith, do the children?
There may be certain rare exceptions here, where you are called to be the instrument of your spouse’s conversion. But unless there is definite, tangible evidence of this situation, don’t assume a miracle will happen. Statistically, it won’t. Be very prudent, calculating, and even somewhat mercenary here. An easy rule of thumb: “not Catholic” means “not an option” for marriage.
· Co-habitation is not only a grave sin, but it’s also nonsensical from almost any perspective. It is a form of purgatory, but without the promise of eventual beatification. It is play-acting, a simulacrum of marriage: yes, with its sensual benefits, but it opposes the development of real love, because there is no permanent commitment. The couple encounters a situation where eros blooms for a while, but then naturally recedes. And without the “no-looking-back” commitment of Catholic marriage, the couple cannot forge forward into real self-sacrificial ground. Throw in an “accidental” child, and it becomes an utter disaster. You must avoid co-habitation at all costs, no exceptions.
· Age differences between spouses matter. Why do you think previous generations held to the model of an older man / younger woman in marriage? There’s actually a great deal of wisdom in it. The fact is, young men and women mature at quite different rates. An 18 year-old woman already has all the basic abilities to assume marriage and motherhood: fertility, energy, and yes, even an innocent sort of judgment that expresses itself in gentleness and sweetness. A young man at that age, however, generally does NOT possess the self-control, wisdom, or experience, that he needs to become a father, provider, and protector for a family. For a young man, it may not be until his late twenties until he begins to show promise in this role.
At least a solid 3-5 year age difference between husband and wife is desirable. This accommodates the different maturation rates of young men and women. Even 8-10 years’ difference is not too much in some cases.
Remember, that in the final analysis, you are not judging a potential spouse on the basis of “love.” Rather, assuming there is at least some mutual attraction, you must assess in a potential spouse that all the fundamentals are sound: the Faith, a solid family background, a reasonable prospect of long-term employment, a personality capable of learning and growing in real, self-sacrificial for another. If any of those fundamentals are missing, be very, very careful pursuing permanence. Life is long. The road at times can be hard. Do not add to the burden before the journey even begins.