At the outset, foryourmarriage.org is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The website discusses dating, marriage, parenting and much more. The dating information, in particular, reminds me of how misguided my romantic modus operandi used to be. Need evidence? Think of the following as a Public Service Announcement on the folly of superficial romance.
Valentine’s Day will be here in a few weeks so I should probably start planning my annual no-date. It will take six seconds. Since I’m not taking myself to dinner or giving myself expensive gifts or writing myself a poem to be memorialized in the Cupidic hall of fame, not much to do.
You see, at the present time I’m flying solo. Apparently, I’ve been given some cooling off time in the romantic fridge. It also seems that I’m living in a figurative desert. Since I’m not being rained upon by romantic possibilities, an umbrella is the last thing I need. God, is all this your doing? Was I really that bad at love? Can I assume this respite won’t last forty years?
Where do I begin?
I’ve loved six women in my life (fortunately, it wasn’t at the same time). Ultimately, I was not the man they wanted me to be so we quietly parted ways. My life was privileged having known them but I was too stupid to know it.
Any one of them would have been a great wife and mother (although I will say that religion was rarely part of the conversation since I was an atheist). They were smart, giving, beautiful and fun. Some of the relationships lasted a short time but one lasted for more than a decade. Nevertheless, when the time came to commit, I couldn’t do it.
Is the reason as trite as a fear of commitment? Intimacy? Or something else? I never wanted to fail as a husband and father; did I think I would? Perhaps I was too emotionally immature as evidenced by my frenetic dating, serial monogamy and succession of women I didn’t love, only conquered.
On the jerk meter, I was never a womanizer in the lounge lizardly sort of way. If anything, I just enjoyed the merry-go-round. I also think my perfectionist judgmental tendencies didn’t help matters (more on that below).
I wanted the perfect woman and God forbid if they didn’t measure up. I became highly critical. Not openly, though. I generally kept my disapproval to myself.
So in time, I just walked. And I never gave much of an explanation. In most cultures I would be considered a bastard.
However, another thought is those relationships happened when I was chasing career, money, power, pleasure and so on. When God was not an part of my life. When Christianity, Catholicism in particular, was seen as a rigid cult for boring, straight-laced automatons. Therefore, with shallow priorities, I possessed a superficial perspective. The following will demonstrate this viewpoint admirably.
My friend knew a perfect girl who happened to work for him. He thought we should go out together. After declining several times, I finally got a sneak preview of her. I said yes in two milliseconds. She was gorgeous. Two kids as well. Okay, I had to think about that but what the heck, she was a churchgoer without any obvious tattoos. I relented.
Observation #1 – Superficial.
The big night arrives. She lived in an apartment and gave me a tour of her place. First, pictures were everywhere. Of her and guy A, her and child one, her and child two, her and child one and two, her and guy A and child one, her and guy B. Excuse me? Now I’m getting a little confused. Furthermore, her kids are like one and less than one. Did she steal one of them?
Observation #2 – Judgemental.
As her story unfolds, I realize she’s one of those Jerry Springer bachelorettes who have had multiple children by multiple men without ever murmuring, “I do.” Now don’t get me wrong, I know love works in mysterious ways, but the whole time I’m walking around I’m stepping over toys, clothes, food, there’s Cheerios stuck on the wall, her carpet is more spotted than a Dalmatian, and the place has this weird smell, like Calcutta after a spring shower.
Observation #3 – Perfectionist.
First, second and third impressions can often be wrong. Right? “Do you want to sit? Maybe some wine?” she asked.
Declining her offer, I tell her we’re going to be late for our dinner reservation, so off we go.
I won’t detail the gritty facts, but it seemed clear to me that she was having a terrific time. “You look like my uncle, you know. I thought he was really cute,” she purred.
Compliments are always nice but the uncle reference was a bit odd.
She was drinking gallons, obviously in a celebratory mood, and besides being occasionally engaging, she managed to tell a few tasteful anecdotes about her procreative life. Our conversational topics, if I remember, weren’t particularly deep or soul-searching and I’m sure I did a lousy job of listening. Then I made a tactical error. At her request, I bought another bottle of wine. Unfortunately, she was the sole partaker. I had only been sipping on the same beer for an hour because I know a dead-end when I crash into it.
Then it really started. Stories of her affectionate felon father, how her first boyfriend lost two hundred pounds and then turned real mean, how she’s seventy-five percent certain that child two is Sean’s (important to point out that neither guy A or guy B is Sean), how we can’t go back to her place for a drink because her babysitting half-sister is staying over and so forth.
Dead-end or not, this was bad news.
Observation #4 – Superficial jerkdom extraordinaire.
As she droned on, my mind was fairy dancing on clouds of escapist fantasy and then it hit. Migraine. The kind people get before they have a stroke. I thought my eye was falling out and I halfway expected my brain to start leaking out my ears. Then somehow, and I don’t know how because the pain was destroying my will to live, I managed to hear her tinny voice say she loved her little daughter more than her little son. Her boy had a cleft lip, she said.
Even I had standards. When it comes to parenting, I have a rule that should be etched in granite. Love your kids the same!
Anyway, I managed to get her home, gave her a hug, left, and never did get around to making plans for date number two. I think I was traumatized by the entire evening.
The dichotomy between the sacrament of marriage, the visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace and my past dating behavior is breathtaking. It’s no wonder I’ve never been married. However, all of that was before I got on the road to Damascus. Before I believed in God. Before I recognized the extraordinary gift of love and marriage. Perhaps it’s silly of me to say, but I’m a romantic going forward. Grounded in God. And excited about the possibilities of sharing my life.