March 23, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Dreams, expectations and current realities

Cynthia DewesSome of our “grands” are making nesting noises, as in getting married. I can’t imagine how we’ve progressed to this stage of life already, but there you are.

This circumstance leads me to reflect on marriage and what we quaintly used to call “courtship,” then and now. The dreams and expectations for these events seem to have changed. I’m not sure the realities have changed, but I believe our perceptions of them have.

Courtship, the preliminary time spent sizing up a prospective mate before marriage, used to involve dating. This meant going with your steady boyfriend or girlfriend to the movies, to ballgames or even to church together if your parents were looking antsy.

If the prospect was revealed to have a mean streak, no sense of humor or what girls called “Roman hands and Russian fingers” that was the end of that particular courtship. Today dating seems to mean sleeping with casual acquaintances to pass the time before the real thing comes along, whatever that may be. Ad infinitum. Go figure.

Of course, healthy physical attraction is still a big reason for seeking a partner when we’re young. Being “hot” is a necessary quality for young men and women to possess these days, but it’s certainly not new. We just didn’t call it that.

Whatever we call it, it creates an emotional and biological urgency that leads to raising a family in what we would hope to be a stable living arrangement. The problem today is that marriage is often not the living arrangement of choice, and we may wind up living in an actual stable, certainly not the fairytale bungalow with the white picket fence.

Some of us remember when women worried about marrying a “good provider” because their job was to stay home and raise kids, while the men’s responsibility was to go out and work to support the family.

Men, on the other hand, sought girls who would be “good wives and mothers,” creating pleasant homes to which they returned daily for renewal and support.

That was the paradigm of an ideal marriage, but it really sounds passé in these days of two wage earners, house husbands and the like.

Fidelity is another idea which used to be required in marriage, and that idea usually worked. I’m constantly touched by the large number of long-married and truly happy couples among my friends and acquaintances in a time when serial monogamy rules.

Although expectations may be different, it seems to me the realities of marriage remain the same. First, there needs to be the physical attraction to get things started. Then, there’s whatever time is necessary to get to know each other but not—pay attention here—in the “biblical sense.”

That kind of knowing only leads to complications which will probably be destructive to us personally, to any children we may have and to our relationship. Things like starting a family before we’re ready to be parents or mistaking short-term lust for love that should last a lifetime.

Next is the preparation necessary for practicalities that lie ahead. That means having an education in place, a marketable skill, goals for what a family should be, and a shared vision of working and loving together into the future.

Most of all, we need to include God in the marriage through daily prayer and gratitude.

After all, God is the Creator of the whole thing and us besides.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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