Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us twogethow today.
When you’re in your 20s and early 30s, the world of “married life” looks like an amusement park. The newlyweds are on a merry-go-round while other couples are on a roller-coaster and many couples end up leaving the park altogether, choosing to split up after over a decade or so of marriage. It’s one thing to hear about celebrities divorcing, but some people grow into adulthood and watch as friends who married in college decide to call things off. What’s even worse are the couples who marry within the Church, doing the Sacrament of marriage a great dishonor.
So with all the statistics on marriage and the option of cohabitation and “free love” available, how can young adults believe in marriage, let alone start discerning it?
It starts by knowing what marriage is and what it isn’t.
Marriage IS NOT…
1) A Job.
Like the vocations of priesthood and religious life, marriage isn’t a 9-to-5 thing that you can clock out of. It’s a lifestyle, one that demands your all. Being married takes work, but it’s not all work and no play.
2) A Fairy Tale.
Or a Nicholas Sparks movie. Or a romantic comedy. Or a Hallmark movie. Marriage isn’t going to be a story where people will fall in love at first sight or start bickering constantly and end up falling in love with each other. The story of every marriage is different. There will be boring parts. There will be exciting parts. There will be parts that don’t really fit into any kind of movie or “romantic” story. The point is, though, that marriage is the story belonging to the husband and wife and God and as Fulton Sheen said, it will take the 3 of them to make the story a good one.
3) Just About Being Each Other’s Best Friends.
There’s a song by Calvin Harris called “How Deep is Your Love” (no relation to the BeeGees song of the same name) that has a lyric that goes “So tell me how deep is your love, can we go deeper?”
Married love goes way deeper than mere friendship. According to the Theology of the Body, marriage is becoming one flesh with your spouse, giving yourself body and soul to someone you trust with your life and your heart. It’s not always about treating your spouse the same way you would treat a friend. Many of my married friends don’t have everything in common with their spouses. (Example: My friend’s husband watches Game of Thrones while she prefers musicals.) The friendship between spouses is just as special as “BFF level” friendship. It’s just different.
4) Going to Complete You
Like many young adults, I wanted to be in a relationship for the sake of just having somebody. My anthem throughout college was Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” And I’m very certain many young adults are still singing that as their anthem. Or “On My Own” from Les Miserables. Or “All By Myself.” But here’s the thing, people. Your spouse is a human being. The reason Fulton Sheen says “It Takes Three To Get Married” is because God needs to be a part of marriage in order for it to be complete. The spouses both pursue Heaven together with their eyes towards God and not just on each other.
So don’t seek out a relationship just because you want to have somebody or you want to have the experience of going out. A friend of mine recently started dating again for the first time in years and while she’s having a great time going to new places, she genuinely likes the guy that she’s going out with. She’s not using him as a meal ticket or a placeholder until a better guy comes along.
5) About What We Want
Marriage isn’t what we get out of it. It’s about serving each other. I’m pretty sure all of us, married and unmarried, have rolled our eyes whenever we heard this passage from Ephesians.
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
But look harder. It’s not asking for a woman to be doormats and for husbands to be dominant. It’s a passage about mutual surrender. Christ gave his life to His Bride, the Church, and the Church ideally does the same for Him. This mutual surrender is a part of being married. “You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours.” (That’s from Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran.)
So what is marriage then?
1) It’s more than a wedding.
I have a joke that I’m saving for whenever somebody says that Catholic weddings are too long. “Honey, Catholic weddings aren’t too long. It’s just that every other wedding is too short.” I get the appeal behind having the perfect wedding. But life goes on long after two people say “I do.” Marriage is a path to sainthood, just like every other vocation. Which means that there will be times when you find yourself screaming “This is the last time I’m asking you this, put my name at the top of your list.” There will be times you’ll want out. There will be times when the two of you will fall apart. Fight for each other. Ask God to help you fall back together. Whatever problems you have, you’ll come out stronger and more in love than ever. That beats a million dollar wedding anyday.
2) It’s a matter of fidelity.
We don’t just choose our spouse when we enter into a relationship and eventually say “I do.” No matter how hard we may crush on celebrities and athletes, the fantasies have to be put aside for the reality that is our spouse. A happily married actress (who’s been with her man for over a decade and married for four years with him) said “The grass is greener where you water it.” Cultivate your marriage and let it grow. When God enters into the marriage, faithfulness to Him can increase faithfulness between spouses. (Results may vary, of course.)
We choose our spouse every day when we choose to stay with them over the cute hired hand or a fictional character or the young intern in the cubicle next to us. We choose them when we stop thinking about “What if I was married to so and so?” We choose them when we let ourselves be vulnerable to them and let our armor down.
3) It’s just as much about children as it is about each other.
Ideally, marriage is about creating a family. Some couples aren’t blessed with children, but can be called to adopt or become foster parents. Then, of course, there’s the old Catholic joke about having 7 kids and homeschooling them until college. (Rebecca Frech, I am looking right at you, sister!) But it’s not just about procreation. Mark Hart and his wife still go out on dates to renew their love for each other. There needs to be just as much investment in each other even after kids come into the picture.
4) It’s going to be different from every other relationship.
I’ve said before that real love is one where we maintain our authenticity and integrity. It’s not going to be the teenage love where we feel like our significant other is all we know and we would die without them. Love isn’t obsession or something where we lose ourselves in the other person. We mutually surrender to our spouse and make ourselves vulnerable, but that love should not come at the cost of losing our souls. Real love is something that leads our souls closer to heaven.
5) Marriage is beautiful.
We all stand in awe at the sight of a bride in white. There are many words to describe her, but beautiful is the one that comes to mind the most. Couples out together, parents with kids, families with babies in church? All of these things are beautiful as well. And it’s through the beauty of marriage that we can evangelize to the world.
Fr. Robert Barron said that it’s hard to resist the power of a beautiful thing. When we are drawn to a beautiful thing, we want to be a part of it. It starts changes us. The more we understand the beautiful thing, the more we understand what makes it beautiful (the goodness of it) and eventually, we find the truth.
Funny how that sounds so much like falling in love. Marriage starts with finding a beautiful person. The more we get to know a person, the more we understand what makes them beautiful and eventually we find the truth that we want to spend the rest of our lives with this person.
Through the beauty of marriage, people will wonder “how do they do it?” Through understanding marriage, people will realize what makes marriage good. And eventually, the truth comes out: real marriage is about the other person and about God.
There are so many books and resources that can give you advice on what being married is like. I found this wonderful list from Word on Fire while working on this article. I also recommend studying the Theology of the Body and reading The Jeweler’s Shop because that play captures love in all its stages and kinds. If you want to find examples of good marriages, there are saints out there who were married, like St. Gianna, or the soon to be canonized Louis and Zelie Martin.
But even with all this knowledge, we ultimately won’t know what marriage is like until we are married. Deciding to get married is the biggest leap of faith, the same kind of leap of faith it takes to enter into any vocation. Because it takes a leap of faith to fall in love with anything in the first place. That leap of faith, though? It’s a very beautiful thing.
So can young adults really believe in marriage? Yes.