Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to get married

I've recently come to the conclusion (ok, it wasn't recently, but I've recently had it hammered into my skull like the tent peg that went into the head of that guy in the Bible) that "dating" is stupid.

It's stupid and destructive. It damages kids, teenagers (I could cite the stats, but we all know, don't we...we remember), it damages people who would just plain like to get married and stop all this idiot messing about. It damages people who fail in the 'dating game'.

In fact, the term 'dating game' is pretty appropriate. It's playing games with your heart and with your future.

And it's vulgar. Quite frankly, it's undignified and should be rejected on those grounds alone.

So where does that leave those of us who would like to be married but find the 'dating game' repellant? I think we are in a pickle. The old rules, and the structures are pretty much eradicated. It used to involve families, and other interested parties. But we don't have those anymore. In fact, the tidal wave of divorce, that hit the West Coast just about at the time my mother was getting into her encounter group lifestyle in the early 70s, has made it extremely difficult for people even to believe that getting married, let alone staying that way, is even possible.

When I was going into grade five, I had come out of a hippie 'free school' ("Sundance"... I kid you not) and my mother noticed that I didn't know anything. The hippies were so busy encouraging us to express ourselves that they forgot to teach me the times tables. (Thank God I already knew how to read, and lose myself in a book). When she panicked and realised I needed to be sent to a real school, I asked to go to a Catholic school. It was rather a new environment, I'll tell you. I went from a place where nearly all the kids came from single-parent "families" to one where nearly all the kids came from normal homes, two parents and one house in which they had lived all their lives. (I didn't exactly fit in...)

I think that was about 1975.

By the time I left St. Pat's and went into junior high, three years later, nearly all the kids' parents were divorced.

It happened that fast.

Is it any wonder most of the people I knew, out there in the secular world, before I managed to climb out of the mire, regarded marriage as some kind of sick joke? The idea that people get married and stay married, that they take it seriously like in the Olden Days, would make most of my old acquaintances laugh. No one even knows how to do it these days. I mean, apart from the whole "getting together" and "having a relationship" stuff, what else is there to do?

The Jews have an idea. I have one Jewish friend: Rabbi Yehuda Levin. He lives in New York and has nine kids. He's a pretty young guy, by modern standards, to have kids who are old enough to get married, but the last time he was in Rome, he told me he had to get back to New York to arrange his son's wedding. He asked me, as he has done every time we've met since the first time nearly ten years ago, when I was getting married. It's a big thing for Jews, I guess, and they still know how to do it, because their social system hasn't been blasted to smithereens by the Asteroid.

And they also think "dating" is stupid. Spiritually and morally dangerous.

Traditional Jews lead a modest social life. Teenagers don't date or go to parties, and boys and girls don't spend time with each other socially. While we're growing up, we don't get into emotional entanglements worrying about how popular we are, or who is more popular, or who we're going to go out with.

None of that happens at all in our community because we think it's unfair. It's not nice, and it doesn't do any good. The result is that when we're ready to get married, we're not playing any games. It's not a popularity contest and we're not trying to impress anyone.

When we're ready to get married, we go about it honestly and sincerely. We don't marry the wrong person because we might have been trying to impress somebody or compete with someone. All that is eliminated. We find somebody to marry, we get married, and the marriages last. Divorces happen, but rarely.

We start to date when we're old enough and serious enough to think about being married. When we do go out, it's with someone who has the same values we do. Usually, we come from families who know each other, or we have a mutual friend who thinks we're compatible and introduces us.


After we are introduced, we spend time together, and we consider marriage. We want to get to know what's on the other person's mind, what kind of life they want to live, what kind of life they have lived, things that have to do with being married. We wouldn't go to a movie because we want to get to know each other, not a movie. We don't want to waste time doing a lot of activities; we prefer to spend the time talking. We're not looking for a thrill; we're looking to get married.

It's a good system, and a considerate system. It takes into account that people have feelings.

For example, in our tradition, while a man and woman are dating and thinking about marriage, the dating is kept completely secret. They don't talk about it and they don't go where people are going to see them. If it doesn't work out, nobody knows. [And there are no breaks in the social sphere everyone has to continue living in...good idea.]

If it were public, people would wonder, "Why didn't you marry him? Is something wrong with him?" Or, "How come he didn't marry you? Is something wrong with you?" This way is more discreet.

If it works out, everyone is thrilled. If it doesn't work out, no one knows and no one gets hurt.

This seems like a pretty sensible system. It assumes that everyone has the same goal and works in a compassionate way to helping people attain the goal.

So, where's ours? What are we doing about this as Catholics? As "Trads"?

I had thought that in the Trad community there was more or less consensus on the "dating is for marriage" thing. I had assumed that the people who called themselves Trad Catholics had, more or less, the goal of living like normal, sane, grown-up people. That they rejected, along with the idiocies of NewChurch, the parallel rubbish in the secular world of "dating" and courtship.

Nope. Turns out not.



Ingemar said...

As I moved away from college, I began to see the rationality behind both traditional arranged marriage and holy celibacy.

In the former case, marriage involved more than just the bride and groom, it also considered the families of both, and the family to come. It involved the mobility of assets and was *ahem* the most intimate form of networking.

Then came the 20th (or perhaps 19th?) century, when marriage was about "luv" and "feewings". Individualism and nihilism struck (I wouldn't blame everything on The Asteroid, as America was never heavily Catholic) and when one spouse wouldn't fulfill the other's whim, the marriage ends.

In the latter case, well... living fully for God is best accomplished without distractions. Also, celibacy fits in with the whole cenobitic lifestyle (alongside fasting, poverty and loving one's enemies).

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Oh, sorry. I use the Asteroid metaphor rather loosely. Sometimes it means Vatican II and sometimes the Sexual revolution.

And sometimes some other thing.

It really just means "That huge really bad thing that changed a lot of stuff". You have to pay attention to the context.

Anonymous said...

Trad Catholics don't get married if they want to preserve their class status. The ones who get married are the ones comfie being lower class. Orthodox Jewish people preserved a lot of other stuff along with arranged marriages, like businesses that provide employment to your own people, and the practice of owning apartment buildings you can rent out to the fecund young, and you do not lose caste by stuffing an apartment full of the results of your fecundity. Thus they fill up whole neighborhoods. Catholics mostly don't do this. If you want to marry and procreate, it's going to be lonely and you're going to be broke and you're going to get guff from your relatives. So a general habit of marrying has failed to establish itself.

You're REALLY pretty though, I don't understand why no one has married you! - Karen

R J said...

I fear that Anonymous at 9:14AM is right, especially on the subject of social class. Social class is a subject that Australians, in particular, are not supposed to talk about (regarding Australia, we might well adapt Jilly Cooper's witticism about the English aristocracy, so that it reads: 'An Australian is someone who would much rather say "f**k" than say "elite"'). In particular Australian trad Catholics are not supposed to talk about it.

But it preoccupies plenty of people. (I can't speak for other countries, but one reason why relations in Australia between diocesan trad Catholics and SSPX adherents tend to be so bad - there are of course exceptions - is that the latter are much likelier to be of blue-collar backgrounds, and much less likely to be university-educated, than the former.) Meanwhile my own findings on the topic of trad Catholics and marriage are all too similar to those reported by Miss White.

HJW said...


Gold star sticker for Karen.

Everyone pay attention. This is how to become teachers's pet here. It's so easy to be my friend. You just have to be nice to me and laugh at my jokes.

Aaron Traas said...

I've only had one "long-term relationship", other than that that I had with my wife. I dated a woman at the end of high-school, and that lasted for 6 years. At the end of it, I realized I didn't want to marry her. If I really had loved her that much, I would have married her sooner. So I broke it off. She thought, at the time, that we would get married a few years off, as I had lead her to believe. I wronged her, greatly, by unintentionally leading her on and in general not being a real man.

I then discovered my faith, and a few years later started the discernment process for the priesthood. I sensed at the end of that process that God wasn't calling me to that life.

I then "dated" about a dozen women or so, but the dating was focused, like a discernment. They each lasted between 1-5 weeks, where I decided, after getting to know them, that I didn't want to marry them.

I then met the woman who is now my wife. After I asked her out, it took me 2 days to tell her I wanted to marry her. Unfortunately, due to financial reasons, it took a year for me to propose proper, and an additional year to actually get married.

I never even thought about the dating in secret thing. It kinda makes sense. The thing is, our culture simply doesn't provide a formal mechanism by which we go through the process of discerning marriage, and so people like me had to learn the hard way.

Mark S. Abeln said...

Trad Catholics of a certain age are almost invariably new to this sort of thing, and so we really don't know what else to do other than what we learned in the 1970s or 80s

Trad Jews have been living their system since nearly forever. But we have to start from scratch. It is hard. Perhaps those who are now children will make fewer mistakes in the future.

Anonymous said...

I think your generation makes life and living too hard. It's just not that hard. As I said to my daughter (who will probably read this) once, "You just get up in the morning, do what you have to do, and go to bed at night." In between there are fun times and not so fun times. It's life.

I had my first "boyfriend" in the 6th grade. We walked home from school together and, in the winter, went skating after school. Then, in high school, another boyfriend who had a Model T Ford and worked in a gas station. Then a flute player in the school band and orchestra. Movies or bowling on Saturday night, school dances, just "being". I had boy friends because I didn't have any girl friends. I always thought girl to be rather dull and having limited interests. Boys were far more interesting.

In my junior year, I walked into French class one day, turned around and saw a new boy sitting across the room at the back. I said, "I am going to marry him some day." He was a senior, newly arrived in town, and making up the class requirement. He turned out to be my boyfriend's new friend, so we met. We began "going together".

It was five years before we were able to marry. There was a year's delay in his starting college, and then four years in school. We were married two days after he graduated and last June we celebrated our 55th anniversary. I have never regretted a day of our lives together, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I love him 55 times as much now as I did then.

It wasn't that hard.

Anonymous said...

The comparison with Orthodox Jews is very interesting, and something that has been on my mind a lot lately, since (for reasons I won't go into here) I have recently been spending time with some ultra-Orthodox families, which has been fascinating on a number of levels.

(More of them than you'd think, BTW, are ba'alei teshuva, 'returnees', people raised as secular or liberal Jews who have become religious, so it's not like all of them are from traditional families.

(Also, they and their families are not perfect either - and do keep in mind that they countenance divorce.)


They have three things we traditional Catholics don't:

1. The men are obliged to marry and procreate, and the most devout tend to have the most kids. It is a demographic disadvantage that our most devout often have religious vocations.

2. They are sufficiently devoted to their own measures of success (level of Torah/Talmud scholarship, how many of your kids are rabbis/rebbetzins, etc) that they will live on a shoestring, forever, to enable it. However, this is made easier in a way by their having:

3. CRITICAL MASS. Since it is not necessary but very desirable for the men to pray in groups of at least 10, and they have to be within walking distance of the shul (and there are other considerations as well, like kosher shops), they tend to bunch together closely. Bunching together means it's a lot easier to socially reinforce each other and live practically all of their day-to-day lives in the Orthodox world.


Paul Smeaton said...

Hilary I'd marry you in a heartbeat. Just say the word.

I'm 22, have no money, but I do live in England and I always laugh at your jokes.

Mark Scott makes a good point. There really really are so few living traditions and common practices shared between Catholics. Most young Catholics have to go out of their way, usually out of their local parishes to meet somebody. And they have to go to places that are distinctively not like their local parishes just in order to find someone with similar values. I tend to call these places 'beacon-points'.

The other thing I've noticed is that with no norms and no shared practices, even amongst faithful Catholics, there's nothing like a consensus on how these things work or are meant to work. Most people don't like the idea of an ideal or a system. Sometimes you can expect people to behave in certain ways because they're a Catholic. Nah uh...

What are we doing about this as Catholics? As "Trads"?

Anybody's guess....

Unknown said...

So Hilary... When are you going to marry?

Fr. John Mary, ISJ said...

Not that what I think is really germane here...being a confirmed celibate and all;
but I do agree with you and have for some time, watching the 'devastation' around me with my family and friends...searching for a mate; being hurt, burned, betrayed...people choosing a mate that is NOT someone who shared common beliefs...the "Romeo and Juliet" forbidden love seems to be the rage and it ends up causing more trouble and heartache.
I don't have a solution; but every now and again I like to lob "this bomb" into conversation when marriage and dating are being discussed..."How's about those arranged marriages, hmmm?"

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Hey Troy...

Go to hell.

You're banned for life. Don't ever comment here again.

Seraphic said...

Hilary, I have a lovely Trad Catholic blog devoted to courtship and marriage issues, as well as being (comparatively) happy while Single. Also a book. Which I would send you for free if I knew your address.

hjw said...

Sorry .... dammit, I've forgotten your name...

but reading your blog just at the moment gives me a strange feeling like someone has sharpened up an invisible ice cream scoop and is using it to remove my intestines.

Dymphna said...

Um. I don't know. I agree that getting married becuase the beloved is smoking hot is a bad idea but I don't want to live like an Ultra Orthodox couple.

HJW said...


I was really only referring to the Jews, as a religious and social subculture that rejects modern mores, having a system that supports people who want to marry, instead of endlessly messing about with "relationships".

In many ways, orthodox Jews seem to parallel the Trads within the Catholic world.

A mere analogy put forward for discussion. No need to be so literal.

Seraphic said...

Re: sharpened ice-cream scoop.

Goodness, how startling! Not the effect I was going for.