I feel like I’m taking crazy pills and living on Mars. I’ve ready my second article in so many days about a woman who “bravely” left the man she promised to love forever. Both hit home to me: the first is a celebrity with millions of people who consider who a role model (and gave 56K Facebook likes to her “brave” decision). The second is a fellow online entrepreneur who grew a large blog at the price of her 2-year marriage.
Abuse and annulments aside, I just can’t deal with this!
When did it become brave to be selfish?
When did it become brave to lift up the, “Me, Me, Me” banner and wave it over your entire life like a magic wand, undoing all of the promises you’ve ever made?
I can see a few roots. Liberalism, for one, that puts “you do you” on a pedestal. But also the damage we’ve all had done to us by others. In a world without boundaries, where no one stands up for the truth, standing up for something selfish starts to look an awful lot like “taking things into your own hands” and “finally living your real life.”
My heart breaks!
My skin crawls!
Can we turn the angle, friends? Let’s call out some of the #RealBravery we see day in and day out but don’t stop to appreciate.
I’d like to commend the bravery of my parents, for staying married 30+ years despite 6-month military deployments (with my mom alone with four kids at home), serious communication and compatibility issues, and computer addictions.
I’d like to commend the bravery of my husband’s parents, for staying married 30+ years despite infidelity and health and mental health issues.
I’d like to commend the bravery of my husband for staying with me and supporting me through 2 years of therapy and (it turns out) possibly self-imposed infertility even when he wanted children (and countless other flaws I have).
I’d like to commend the bravery of famous actors who put their career on pause to be supportive spouses and parents (Angela Landsbury’s 2nd marriage and Greg Kinnear’s marriage come to mind, but only because I looked them up on Wikipedia recently).
…That’s all I’ve got for now, but I really want to know:
Who do you want to commend for showing #RealBravery?
P.S. Before we get into this big Internet fight, please know one of my closest friends is divorced and going through the annulment process. I’m not saying it’s never okay to end a marriage (especially when it comes to situations of abuse and mental health issues). I’m saying it’s not brave to end a marriage because you aren’t willing to sacrifice your idea of what you want for your life for your spouse.
“I don’t know if I love you, but if I don’t, I know I want to.”
After more than a year of dating, that’s the closest I’d come to having the boyfriend I’d been sleeping with say he loved me. It was a hot summer night, and he was dropping me off at my house after we spent the day together.
You’d think this — in addition to his serious addiction to pornography — would have been enough of a “Get the heck outta there!” warning to back away, but for some reason it didn’t register.
Instead, I wandered inside my house in a daze, wondering what it meant that my boyfriend really wanted to love me. He wanted to (he was good), which meant he couldn’t (because I was bad?), which meant I was unlovable (really bad, then?).
I’m not here to relive sad memories. I’m hoping that hearing this story might show you what could be going on in the life of someone you know. Picture your daughter, or your niece, or your best female friend as a 16-year-old and replay this scene in your head (and believe me, it’s possible. Kids are having sex as early as fifth grade now, and if they aren’t having sex they know someone who is or they’re talking about it). Looking at it now, it’s despicable. It’s ludicrous.
I wish I had a clear answer about what would have turned my path back then. M parents raised me in a Catholic church and I was half-involved with youth activities. But some perfect storm of emotional vulnerability and insecurity left me wide open for the influence of a cute boy who wanted to hang out with me.
What can you do for that person in your life now? I don’t know. Anything I wish my brothers had done (find this guy and beat him up, demand that we stop seeing each other, reveal everything to my parents) would have been very painful and awkward at the time. But I wonder how much it would have helped to have a strong relationship with someone who would have given me the tough feedback I needed to hear.
Here’s a small selection of things I didn’t know then that I know now:
If someone doesn’t love you enough to want you to have a beautiful life and a strong marriage, why do you think they love you enough to be worthy of sleeping with them?
If you have to “do things” in order to keep a friendship or a relationship, you’re better off without that relationship.
As I learned in reflecting on Strange Gods, I don’t pretend it was up to someone else to “save me” from these bad decisions. I moved forward in this relationship because I had no relationship with God. At the time, it felt like it was John or bust. And then a sort of Nightingale Effect settled in and I began to deeply love the one-sided relationship I was having.
So that’s where I’d start. If you’re concerned about a loved one or you want to be a part of the team that prevents these kinds of things from happening, start with God. Start with relationship. And start right now.
Your turn: Where do you think bad decisions come from in the teenage years?
PS Wrote this post to the Casting Crowns channel. My husband loves them! What do you think?
Are you ready for some Catholic hypocrisy?
I had sex with boyfriends before marriage (unfortunately). I also lived with my husband before we got married (before we converted).
And… it’s something I deeply regret.
Living together before marriage didn’t ruin our lives. In fact, it made some things easier.
We put off “the big day,” which was expensive, embarassing (for me), and stressful.
We put off questions about kids, because no one asks about that until after you’re married.
We also had a free pass to focus on our education and our careers. After all, you don’t have to “work on your marriage” if you don’t have one, right? You just get to spend time with the person you love. You’re two people who choose to be together every day you wake up, and there’s no pressure other than that. You’ve got all the benefits of marriage without the politics and statistics of broken homes or social stereotypes.
What’s not to love?
As it turns out, plenty of things.
Here’s my case against living together before you’re married, and if anyone has a time machine, let me know so I can go back to my 15-year-old self and read this aloud to her:
What’s the Big Problem?
Contrary to what my parents implied while I was growing up, living together before marriage wasn’t a guild-ridden and shameful experience. It felt really liberating and modern. It didn’t cause us to be shunned by everyone we knew because everyone we knew would give us the slow, understanding nod about how old fashioned it was to NOT live together.
But do you know what it did do? It caused major delays.
Looking back, I can see how damaging it was to go through the relationship steps without the grace of the sacrament of marriage.
As an unmarried couple living together before marraige, we were broken individuals trying to love each other how we had learned to love. For me, that meant relying on sexual behavior as a barometer of our relationship (which lead to a lot of miscommunication), and for my husband that meant doing his best and hoping it would work out (and being bewildered when it got uncomfortable).
We also kept secrets from each other, thought and acted selfishly, and experienced incredible stress anytime something went wrong in our relationship or in our lives (AKA “Things aren’t perfect right now but we have a right to things being perfect — ACK!”.
Unlike our marriage now, there was no third person, no Holy Spirit, no sense of grace to carry us through the inevitable tough times.
When you live together before marriage, you aren’t getting away with something; you’re missing out on something.
You aren’t avoiding a bad decision; you’re delaying the best decision you’ll ever make.
You’re also depriving yourself and your partner of an infinite source of love and support.
The sacrament of marriage is a gift straight from Jesus. That means that A) it’s important, so hey, maybe you need it even if you think you don’t? and B) Why would you pass up the opportunity to have that player on your team?
Why Is This Happening?
The heart of the epidemic of people living together is not:
- The old fashioned institution of marriage
- The sexual revolution, modern feminism, or social justice
- Religious hypocrites
The heart of the epidemic of people living together is due to each of our individual experiences of brokenness, shame, abuse, and selfishness.
When I considered living together with my husband, I was escaping a traditional patriarchal view of marriage in which I was to be saddled down with kids and used and abused as a mother for the rest of my life. I was taking love and sex (what society told me were “the best parts”) and leaving behind all the baggage.
When my friends live with their partners (and buy houses with them and go on vacations and join finances), they are taking as much good as they can and avoiding as much of the perceived downside as they can. They are leaving the baby and taking the bathwater, with no idea what joy that (poopy, smelly, screaming) baby can bring into their lives.
The List Goes On
My basic thoughts laid out, here’s a list of the common arguments I hear from cohabitating couples paired with what I’d like to say to them:
- “I don’t want someone to be forced to stay with me if they want to leave.” Will your partner leaving you now hurt any less 30 years from now? If anything I think it will hurt more. You can’t escape pain or betrayal by hiding your feelings. If anything, marriage is a way to clearly communicate the expectations you have for your relationship, thus establishing the boundaries that will help it succeed. You have to re-learn that it’s okay to trust someone and to expect things from someone. You have to learn to forgive and be forgiven within your relationships.
- “We’re already married in our life, so why get married just for the piece of paper?” Clearly if it was just a piece of paper, it wouldn’t be a big deal to you. In this case, it seems like people who don’t get married don’t do so “because they don’t think it’s important,” but because it’s important beyond belief and they don’t think they deserve it.
- “I just want to have fun.” Then you’re too immature to be a functioning member of society, let alone have sex with another human being. Go play laser tag.
- “Sex is about pleasure.” Look at your partner deep in the eyes. Is the purpose of their existence to give you physical pleasure? If someone else was dating your partner and they whispered that phrase to you in a bar, would you stand for it? Or would it sound like they were using your partner as a selfish tool for their own gain. Beyond that, do you ignore or otherwise not care for your partner when you’re not having sex? If you’re trying to make this argument, it’s more likely that you have some commitment and honesty issues than that you don’t think marriage is worthwhile.
- “We’re not ready for it.” You’re a wuss. You’re putting something off. You’re afraid of something in your future, and you don’t want to get started. Here’s a thought: whatever’s coming, wouldn’t you want to face it with this person legally, socially, and spiritually committed to you? And vice versa?
- “We want to make sure we’re compatible.” Ah, the most practical answer of all. How much sense this made to me 10 years ago! But all I can say to this is that if you love someone, if you want to sacrifice the rest of your life to their best health, if you would sleep in the hospital bed with them to tend them when they’re ill, and if you want to help them get into heaven… does it matter if it takes you a year to figure out who takes out the trash? Does it matter if you aren’t “good at sex” and you have to learn about it together? And would it really change everything to learn that they have a weird habit or preference that they need to go to counseling for? Looking back on my excuse, this is the same as “We’re not ready for it.” You’re just a wimp and there’s something you’re hiding from. Embrace it, grow, and make the plunge to either separate or get married!
I say these things as lovingly as possible (though I’m sure I’ll get some sass in the comments about being rigid or encouraging people to marry willy-nilly). I say these things as I wish someone had said to me when I signed my first lease with my now-husband and snuck around the adults in our lives. I say this with love and compassion for how much people are suffering (acknowledged or not) when they choose to live together before they get married.
Attention: Major Delays Ahead
As my husband is fond of saying, if we could go back in time we would never stop slapping ourselves for things we said, did, and thought during college and shortly after. Maturity has a way of replaying events in your life back to you and it’s frustrating to think of how right it felt to you at the time.
To all couples who are living together, I have to ask: if you aren’t ready to make this commitment… then why are you letting your body, finances, brain, and emotions make a commitment?
You’re setting yourself up for a lowercase-d “divorce” by not getting married, because eventually you will separate the family unit you have made and you never even gave it the support it deserved through the sacrament of marriage. Or, you’ll stay together in a perpetual twilight state of “two individuals who decide to have sex every now and then,” and that’s kind of like trying to behave like a toddler through your tweens.
While our culture (including myself at age 24 and many many of my friends now) are content to stop with “What feels right,” I think we all need to take a look at anything that comes to us easily. Today, it’s all too likely it comes straight from Screwtape under the label “modernity” and “getting with the times,” and it leads straight to a personal hell of your own making.
As a Catholic, this is probably a super weird opinion to have. And, honestly, maybe it’s a leftover from my days as a secular feminist and it’s something I need to work through still. But either way it’s something I’m here on this blog to untangle, lucky you!
Musings of a Michigan Man is a thoughtful blog that I’ve loved reading over the last few weeks. However, one of the themes that comes up a lot on his blog and in his posts (especially the comments of the one linked above) is about how the purpose of marriage is procreation. This is a really common sentiment in the Church and — it seems to me — particularly among men. And I have a problem with it.
Hear me out! I don’t have a problem with it being true (or with Michigan Man, a guy I’d love to call a friend) — it is true. The purpose of marriage is children. The purpose of sex is children. The greatest purpose Catholics have on the planet I think is, arguably, children. But approaching it like that from the start is a little disordered and can be a bit of a turnoff for Catholic women like myself.
Turn-Offs Aren’t Great for Babies
Here’s a true gem from Scott Hahn’s book about the mass, The Lamb’s Supper, that opened this can of worms in my heart:
The various forms of sacrifice [throughout the mass and throughout the gospel] include one positive similar meaning: life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.
For people who don’t have a serious issue with sperm like I do, this might not be a big deal of a statement. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that hearing this (on my audiobook as I walked) stopped me dead in my tracks. I rewinded. I listened again. I rewinded. I wrote it down.
This changes everything and, (if you’ll forgive me for using you as the scapegoat, Michigan Man) it explains why the typical Catholic phrasing about marriage, women, and babies turns me off so much.
“Girl Surrender” Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It
Growing up in the 90s (and in my formative boyfriend-girlfriend relationship), feminist power plays were the lay of the land. My mom stayed home to raise 4 kids while my dad was deployed, literally giving over her body and mind for the good of her family for years. When she looked to me, her only girl, and reflected on a lifetime of sacrifice, her motto about relationships was more like “Don’t get married!” or “Do everything you want to do in life before you get married!” because of her experience.
In my formative girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, my boyfriend wanted things from me (namely sex) and it was up to me to make the play and keep the guy by fulfilling your side of the bargain (which at the time I was very consensual about fulfilling). The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly).
Later, when the effects of relationships like this began to dawn on me, being distant, using sex as a tool, and controlling or suppressing my feelings was the “power play.” I got really good at it, hence the blog title of Sarcastic Catholic.
Finally, we can pile on all the secular media, headlines, music, movies, and everyone else in my life who said sex was power and it’s time for women to use it. Specifically, “Girl Power!” and now “Girl’s Run the World!”
The result of these forces? A girl who is not about to surrender anything.
I became a perfect example of the modern feminist: highly educated, highly opinionated, unrestrained, and loud about it (after all, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” right?). I was anti-Catholic, pro-“spirituality and equality” and pretty much toted the party line on everything else.
I was trained to control every area of my life. I planned my education, my career, my dates, and my relationships. I was the one who said “yes,” and “no,” and I had all the power.
So when the moment came to have sex without contraception — to in every sense of the world surrender my body (for the pregnancy itself), my mind (to the pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression), and my future (my career and whatever else that would sideline as I was consumed by children) or even my life (with all those wonderful stories about mothers having near-death experiences or passing away during labor) — is it any surprise that this girl (who doesn’t give an inch in any area of her life) had a panic attack?
I’m Surrendering Now, With Caveats
Naming the problem — that’s the real power. And that’s what I’m doing week by week as I untangle these complicated emotions during EDMR counseling. I’m point-by-point identifying and replacing disordered experiences with the healing love my adult self, who has access to the Truth, Christ, grace, and everything else wonderful.
(And man-o-man can I say these sessions are working? I am nowhere near finished, but I can already see a big difference in my day to day ability to process emotions and in my sex life with my husband).
I’m learning to surrender now, and it’s really showing in my relationship with my husband. I still have caveats that I need to clear out in order to fully submit to God (and I still haven’t worked up to having sex “to completion” yet), but I am heartened by the progress I’ve made in just 5 or 6 weeks of working at this.
Still, at the end of the day, I completely understand why I and other women today don’t want to hear from a man of God that “marriages and women are meant for children,” even though it’s true.
What I want to hear — what resonates with my spirit, even if it’s semantics — is that “Our love will be so overflowing and mutually self-sacrificing that we will be transformed by having children together.”
Side note: We’ve even started replacing how we talk about sex around the house or in jokes or in TV shows with Truth-oriented language, which is so corny but really helps me differentiate between what my husband and I do and the lies that come from the world. For example, instead of “doing it” and “boning” it’s “mutual, self-sacrificing love,” and “making love,” etc.
Because it’s not as simple as “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” It’s “first comes love, then comes Christ’s love in your marriage, then comes mutual self-sacrifice and self-giving, then comes a baby.”
To leave that part out tells a story of power, not of surrender and transformation; a story where the man has the power and the burden falls on the woman, and that’s simply not true.
There’s so much more to this story, but that’s as far as I can dig into right now without composing a novella. I’d love to hear thoughts from women and men on this topic, because I know I’m not alone and I know there are some who disagree with me!