As a twenty-year old arts student with one year left of my degree, I admit it must have been natural for some people to respond to my engagement last year with less-than-enthusiastic sentiments. Sure, there have been no issues with the guy – the parents think he’s great and so do all my close friends. However, most of them where initially hesitant at my acceptance of his proposal, seeing as I had only known him for two weeks.
Gladly, I can now say they have been won over. I think this is partly because it wasn’t a purely emotional decision. In fact, emotion was the last thing to come into it, for on my part the decision was initially one of an intellectual nature.
Actually, that’s not quite true — it was, first and foremost, a highly spiritually charged matter; and so sacred I’m not willing to disclose details here. Let it suffice to say that I was convinced in my head and then in my heart I was meant to marry the man who is now my fiancé.
Nevertheless, in a society where marriage is generally not held in incredibly high esteem, it has been challenging coming up against persons who do not adhere to the traditional vision of marriage nor view it with the reverence which we both believe the sacrament merits.
I’ve received comments such as: “Wow, that’s awesome! So, is he moving in with you?”, “That sounds nice…but you’re so young, don’t you want to live a little more before you settle down?”, “What! You’ve never dated anyone else- how do you know that he’s ‘the one’?”
Well, to the first I usually just say, “Ahhh….no.” I can’t help but think how unromantic and dismally dull that would be. If marriage were merely the difference between having a ring on my finger and changing my last name, I don’t think I’d be sold on it at all.
To the second I usually reply: “Well, I’m happy to say that I don’t think life ends with marriage.” And to the third: “Should I date every male on the planet to make sure I marry the right one?”
I don’t think our experience is the only authentic one. That would be naïve. But there surely is always an element of faith in vowing to share your whole life with a person, believing that he is in fact the one you should be making the promise to.
It seems to be an exclusively modern trait that scepticism and cynicism are paraded as intellectual virtues, and rationality understood as the supreme good. I don’t wish to sound anti-reason, but I would like to see in my own generation a proper respect for the faith factor. I don’t lament modern culture, only certain characteristics of it, like the exchange of the ideal of marriage — a purely selfless love that says “Yes, I want to give my life to you, completely and utterly!” — for a more pragmatic, calculating approach.
Not to say, either, that one should not be realistic about the difficulties associated with marriage. That’s a prerequisite for the potential realization of any legitimate ideal. It’s precisely because I have witnessed and acknowledge the trials as well as the delights of my parents’ marriage and that of other married couples I know that I entertain a certain apprehension as well as excitement for mine.
I know my beloved and I won’t get it perfect — we are human, just as our parents and the couples I had in mind while writing this are human. It’s incredibly challenging living in keeping with the Catholic tradition in a world which sees it as either out-dated, a mere lifestyle choice, or a garment to assume on Sundays then to hang in the closet every other day.
We have both been lucky enough to have been taught, however, and have come to truly understand that only by cherishing the ideal of marriage and having faith in God to realize it in our lives, can the ideal be one day attained.
Veronika Winkels is studying for a BA at Melbourne University, and has a special interest in issues surrounding marriage and courtship in contemporary society.