Who wants to get married?

Times are changing. I have just done some family calculations. I have fourteen grandchildren of whom twelve are in their twenties. Of those twelve, three are married (two have children and the third is expecting). The unmarried nine, boys and girls, are all in stable relationships. None of them are engaged, none of them speak specifically of marriage in the offing. I do not of course ask awkward questions about how they conduct their relationships, although this is obvious for those who are living together. I need hardly say that all of them have, so far, chosen excellent partners by my judgment, and they are all close to me. In a week I get more hugs from beautiful young women than most do in a month of Sundays. I am a happy man. But a concerned one.

The situation is novel to me. I got engaged quite early on in my first serious relationship and, although National Service was a delay, we got married as soon as possible afterwards. It was, for the record, the day that Nasser took over the Suez Canal, so the Sunday Express next morning had Nasser at the top and my wife at the bottom. She was the better looking.

Being a grandfather, and so without direct responsibilities, we are free to talk easily about serious questions, and so our conversations do turn to marriage – at least at a theoretical level. I try to get across the fundamental difference between a sworn, committed relationship and one which is held together by just the feeling of love, and perhaps an ambition for the future – which may not be identical in both cases. There seems to be no point at which each partner has to decide whether the relationship is for keeps. The message which comes across to me is: why commit when you don’t need to? There’s time enough to wait until you start a family for that. But I have a sense of people sliding, incident by incident, into marriage – without stopping to think. The statistics which show that this is a dangerous course do not apply to them. Their situation is always different.

But I have every reason to hope that all these existing relationships will end in happy marriages, lots of great grandchildren – and a future as blessed as mine has been in the past. And so, I pray.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Who wants to get married?

  1. osseo says:

    Quentin – I echo your prayers. How fortunate our generation was to grow up in a society which assumed (for the most part) that sex should be confined to marriage! If I were a young man at university today, how would I behave? Like many others, very likely. I am by nature gregious (if there is such a word). So I am eternally grateful not to have been exposed to such temptations.

    I have mostly younger (and slightly fewer) grandchildren than you. Two are formally committed to partners. One ceremony we attended: another we felt unable to, thereby (understandably) causing grievous – and so far unforgiveable – offence. Soon we shall have a second great-grandchild, but the new one has no genetic connection with us at all. But nevertheless to be accepted as family. Customs change – we must do our best in new circumstances.

    • John Candido says:

      I think you meant ‘gregarious’, osseo.

      • osseo says:

        Interesting suggestion, John. Both your word and mine come from the same root ‘grex’ – a flock. But ‘gregarious’ seems to emphasise sociablity – while ‘egregious’ means someone who stands out from the flock in some way. My word was intended to imply the opposite – someone who would tend to follow the flock whatever it did. This usage however is not so far generally recognised – ‘egregious’, in fact.

    • John Candido says:

      Sorry to hear that there was offence taken when you and your wife felt that it was not possible to attend a ceremony. One possible way to get around such thorny issues is to simply go, smile and put up with the relationship ceremony, thereby avoiding offence.

      The disapproval of the ceremony may be a strictly private matter for the both of you, where sensitivities and the need for harmony between family members is a paramount value.

      Your attendance does not mean that you approve or sanction either their relationship circumstances or the ceremony selected by them. If somehow, they both were aware that you and your wife’s attendance is going to cause grief for both of you, they might have personally approached the both of you and given you the choice to attend, or not to attend, with no resentments, blaming, or disharmony to speak of whatsoever.

      All of the above is my ‘two bobs worth’ of free ‘armchair’ advice, and relatively easy for me to type up. Every circumstance has its own uniqueness and its own variables.

      It might be helpful if people think of the difficulties that a diplomat or an ambassador to another nation-state are subjected to, day in, day out. There are many other professions and indeed any job or relationship where diplomacy or tactfulness was applicable or advisable, on both sides.

      In my own circumstances, I keep banging on about the value of buying a copy of or attending a course on ‘Parent Effectiveness Training’. All of the circumstances where diplomacy and tactfulness are needed are covered in this mighty book by the American psychologist, Dr Thomas Gordon PhD.

      • osseo says:

        Well, to have gone would have avoided the offence that a failure to attend caused. But had we attended we’d have had to pretend to be thrilled, which we were not. Leaving aside the ethics of the false pretence, it might well have not concealed what we really felt – which might have caused greater offence than not coming. More generally, it raises the question of whether there are ceremonies that one should not countenance by attending. We may well have been wrong in this particular case (leave that aside). But suppose we’d been invited to a polygamous marriage – would it have been right to go to that?

  2. Horace says:

    As I recorded earlier in this blog I met my wife-to-be when she was 16 and I was a first year medical student. Five years later, when I had learnt that I had passed my final examination, we took a walk along the cliffs above Graball bay and I asked her to marry me. she replied
    “Don’t be silly, you haven’t got a job – how could you support me?”
    She was, of course, quite right! A little over 2 years later we did get married, (when I had done my required year as a registrar in a General Hospital) and had obtained a proper post in Maida Vale.
    Now, a little more than 63 years later we are still happily married!

  3. MB says:

    Quentin,

    A long-time reader here, but first-time commenter, as I find this is a question that occupies me as a father. My question might seem be accusatory, but I do not intend it as such, as I am a regular reader and value your perceptive of insight. I am really interested in more practical aspects. My several children are all still in single-digit ages, so you have many more years’ experience on me. But my question is this: I would hope that my children, and my grandchildren, would know without even asking that I disapproved of them “living together” before marriage. I would be disappointed, perhaps, if they were naive to the idea that I would not be pleased with their cavalier attitude towards the moral laws and sacraments I hold dear, and that I desired them to hold dear as well. When the culture at large does not share our values, how can we go about transmitting them to our children and grandchildren? How do we inspire them to see our Catholic patrimony as something to be embraced even against the culture?

  4. Martha says:

    MB, You have hit the nail on the head as far as my thinking goes. How indeed do we inspire our children, as you ask.

    I grew up well before the second Vatican Council, and its movement towards more unity with other denominations, and faiths, and with much of the world in general. I considered myself, as a Catholic, to be different from Protestants and non-Cathollcs, and I suppose I was rather proud of that difference. Looking back, I think the emphasis was probably a little more cultural than religious or spiritual, not entirely, but tilted in that direction.

    I think now we need to be even more truly religious, we must show our children how to pray from the heart, to love God and have a real relationship with Him, so that they understand the reason for keeping His commandments is to do what He wants, as well as being ultimately for our own good.

    They do need to know that if they persevere in being Catholics their way of life will have to be different from that of many of their contemporaries. The time has come for us to stand up and be counted, we must be in the world but not of it, very difficult in today’s society, especially for young people leaving home and going to university as so many do now.

    Realistically, they will only manage it if they learn, usually through their families and through devout and active parishes, and ideally with the help of good schools, to truly love our God, and particularly o accept that this will mean humbly following a different way of life to most of their contemporaries.

  5. galerimo says:

    I have been trying to think of ways within the Christian ethos of joining together other than marriage. Ways of being in the world and nourishing new life. I have met people for whom marriage has been a disaster after all the good will and self sacrifice a human being could be expected to offer. There is tragedy in people’s lives when not being able to have or adopt children.

    I think, as well as our own children we have obligations and roles to play in the lives of the children of our communities and society in general. Without necessarily being married.

    I wonder too if parents in Catholic families ever open up conversations around the values of living lives in response to a felt need to give a life to God.

    I ask myself if friendship and companionship are functions within a healthy society that have lost a lot of their true value and meaning, perhaps because of the sexual revolution.

    And beyond the Christian ways….

    A troupe of Chinese Dancers are taking this city by storm at present with their amazing terpsichorean skill – many of the women have had ribs removed and avoid child bearing in pursuit of their art.

    And regarding the ways of the world you can see my naiveté clearly when I tell you that only recently did I came across “friends with benefits”, in my own social circle. So a person can live quite happily alone but have an arrangement with such friends when the need arises!!

    So to get to your question Quentin, the short answer I would give is – gays and unhappy celibates.

    I have to add that I really take my hat off to those who have responded here – Quentin and Horace and MB with relationships worthy of great celebration – and John with your wisdom and encouragement to stand in the shoes of the other in pursuit of diplomacy and tactfulness – hard to think of values more central to marriage.

    You might consider carefully tipping a piece of head gear in my direction when I tell you that my own marriage is a real treasure and now in its 39th year – the stage at which, I am told, couples begin to look like each other before they buy a dog that looks like both of them.

    We are the proud owners of two overweight miniature daschunds!

    Time to place a full stop I think.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Follow your conscience is meant to many ‘I have the right to exclude children by contraception for a time until I am ready or for ever.
      It invalidates the marriage convenant and concedes the right to enter a Sacramental marriage.
      RC teaching even to the point of NFP.

  6. ignatius says:

    Whenever I get opportunity to hold forth on the subject I always tell people how wonderful it is and how the constraints are safeguards not hindrances. On the other hand I would not blame a very unhappily married couple if they seperated.
    I do not have the benefit of many years experience here, we have only been married for 25 years now. I do have the experience though of having been quite promiscuous until the age of around 35 at which age I became a Christian and was celibate for 5 years before my wife stepped in to rescue me! I would not not recommend the uncommitted life to anyone
    It’s old heads on young shoulders I know but there is little to compare with the wonder of the two becoming one..slowly, steadily, over the years as life works its way on love. If I regret anything it is that we did not meet earlier. My daughter is 22 now and a very committed catholic, we never pressured her at all but we did live our lives before her eyes and we did take her to church and have most likely prayed for her every day of her life.

    • Alan says:

      Ignatius – “I would not not recommend the uncommitted life to anyone”

      The double negative is a slip?

    • Martha says:

      Yes, Ignatius, example is the best teacher, though no guarantee of course.

    • Alan says:

      Ingatius –

      For the uncommitted life you wouldn’t recommend I’m wondering if there is any/some hindsight at work. If you were in the same position again, knowing how lack of commitment in those relationships would pan out but not knowing that you would ever necessarily meet the right person, would you do things substantially differently … waiting for the right person forever with the prospect of it never happening?

  7. Martha says:

    We have found it difficult to tread the line with some of our children’s decisions, though not, so far, problematic invitations. Living with partners before marriage in their earlier years, was relatively clear. They knew we did not think it was right, though we were unable to make the reasons clearly acceptable to them. We did not visit the couples’ homes, they slept separately when they came to us. It was unspoken but understood I expect because this was temporary and would change when they married.

    How to handle the situation when one of our children decided to end a marriage, and leave the spouse however, has been quite another matter. There was no obvious or apparent reason and very little explained at the time, no need to go into all the details. We started off with encouragement, to reconsider, to go for marriage counselling, to understand that all marriages go through difficult times etc., both families prayed and enlisted all the help we could in that direction, but to no avail. So, the stage of acceptance was reached, the freedom of adult children is God given, and they must make their own decisions, but still after a number of years, we wonder, and probably always will, about all the gradations of suggestion, encouragement, influence, and persuasion which were involved on our part, the wish for support and understanding, which we tried to give, and the desire for approval, which we could not. The thought that it is not ours to give has not made it any easier.

    • galerimo says:

      Well done Martha. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult all that would have been and may still be at times. You don’t sound at all like a “victim” in any of it. It is clear that your faith and your mothering are very strong.

      I recently dealt with a mother whose daughter informed her of her upcoming abortion on the morning of the abortion itself. All catholics, mother and father, daughter and son in law. It was a terrible blow. Really awful at so many levels for everyone involved.

      I think there are few real tragedies in life and things like breakups and dying are not among them. Sadly they are all part of our human condition.To be without the experience of love – giving it or receiving it – that is real tragedy and your story tells about a lot of love in very conflicting circumstances. Good for you.

      Not everything gets resolved.

  8. Martha says:

    Well, galerimo, thank you, though we do really look on it as a tragedy for all sorts of reasons, particularly because of the effect on the rejected spouse. We have to trust in God that He so often brings good out of dire situations, and to have that hope for society in general, with its lack of commitment, and so many families adrift and broken. You are right, not everything gets resolved in this life, but we have to try. God needs our help. “He has no hands but ours,” as Mother Teresa says. Our young people need more and better religious and marriage preparation and support to have much chance of remaining strong and steadfast.

  9. Martha says:

    Also, I meant to say how dreadful it must be for the mother, and whole family to be told about an abortion, helpless to intervene and not able to comprehend how their daughter could do such a thing. I sometimes think about the mothers of (other) murderers as well, and all evil doers, they must suffer unimaginably.

  10. Iona says:

    …. especially when it is your own grandchild that is being aborted.
    All five of my children have “lapsed”, ceased attending Mass once they were 16 and I stopped insisting they come with me. One is married (not a church wedding), one is getting married next month (again, not a church wedding – at least, not a Catholic wedding), one is engaged and planning to marry next year. The engaged ones and the not-yet-engaged ones are already living with their “partners” and have been so for some years. I don’t really see what I can do but accept the situation. They all know that I’d rather see them married (even if not a church wedding) than living-with. They also know that I’m absolutely against abortion. I happily visit them, married or no, and get on really well with all of them and their spouses/fiances/partners. I’m not recommending my approach, just describing it.
    By the way, Galerimo, I didn’t understand your “friends with benefits” reference.

    • galerimo says:

      Well, Iona I am a bit subdued now in light of the serious conversation we are having at present.

      Reading your own post I am amazed how often I come across similar situations of next generation catholics splitting off from some of the faith practices of their parents.

      Like you too most parents, in my circle, valiantly carry on their practice of Church attendance and adherence to the orthodoxy they have grown up with. But there is an unexpressed sadness about it.

      In my case it gives me something to pray about and I constantly ask God to keep my non-practicing family close and safe in God’s love. And selfishly I suppose I sometimes protest to my daughter that I will have no one to say a prayer for me when I am dead and gone.

      I don’t know if I am more pleased that she has acquired immunity to that sort of emotional pressure or more sorry that she doesn’t go to mass. Having your own mind about things is a gift from God too.

      And since you asked, and with the greatest respect, “friends with benefits” are people a person knows you will engage with them in sex when the need arises, enabling both parties to continue with their single (and apparently), contented life styles.

      There you go. I will blame you for any reprimand I receive from Quentin.

  11. Iona says:

    “Friends with benefits” – the mind boggles! “When the need arises” – what is this, an essential vitamin?
    To be fair to my family, neither I nor my husband was a Catholic when we married, though we had each in the past explored the possibility of becoming Catholic (one of the factors we had in common). I crossed the Tiber about 8 years into the marriage; my husband did not follow me. Hence the children grew up with the example of only one parent attending Mass regularly, while the attitude of the other varied between “Do as your mother says” to “I don’t see why they have to go”. Football matches being arranged for Sunday didn’t help.

    • Martha says:

      Indeed, Iona, the situation you mention would have an enormous influence, and in our family, to be fair also, a mental health condition in one child, not diagnosed until adulthood, has had repercussions which we trust Our Lord takes fully into account.

  12. Martha says:

    “In my case it gives me something to pray about and I constantly ask God to keep my non-practicing family close and safe in God’s love.”
    Yes, Galerimo, the thought that any of them could be outside His love is unbearable, how can we hope to attain heaven, and they might not. God knows their hearts and the reason for their choices. We pray that they know not what they do, or don’t do, and that we/I may be forgiven for our faults and failings in bringing them up which must have played a part in causing their choices, good and bad. I remember the first time one of our children and spouse chose not to come to Sunday Mass when staying with us. We asked if they would like to come out for the early celebration, or would they prefer to come later in the morning, and there was a calm reply, tinged with a hint of defiance, do we have to come at all? Well, no, not if you really don’t want to, or words to that effect. Lots of better replies /I could have saids since, Our Lord will miss you coming maybe. Up to that point we had hoped they were just about hanging in with their faith at least. Anyway they didn’t come, and the sky didn’t fall in. It tends not to on these occasions, though one could wish for a tangible show of reproof.

    We tried not to bring “emotional pressure” to bear, but in practice it is very difficult to avoid. We found with the marriage problem especially, that even the expression of our opinion, let alone more explicit advice or encouragement, could be interpreted as pressure or control, and be held responsible for causing stress. However clearly we try to say, and show, that our children have to make their own choices, and are pleased to see that they can learn to be independent, they love us, they want to please us, they know what are our real wishes for them. How do we act this out in real life situations when a new ‘partner’ is on the scene for instance, polite acceptance, tolerance, open arms?

    “And selfishly I suppose I sometimes protest to my daughter that I will have no one to say a prayer for me when I am dead and gone.”
    This is a very sad result of the situation too, and thank you for the reminder to arrange with the parish and charities, religious orders for prayers and Masses, always hoping that the lost sheep may return as well.

    • ignatius says:

      Alan, re:
      “..For the uncommitted life you wouldn’t recommend I’m wondering if there is any/some hindsight at work. If you were in the same position again, knowing how lack of commitment in those relationships would pan out but not knowing that you would ever necessarily meet the right person, would you do things substantially differently … waiting for the right person forever with the prospect of it never happening?..”

      This relates to the ‘friends with benefits’ discussion. At the time I was talking about, some 30/40 years ago, the idea that one could have passing relationships with friends was alive and kicking, I did a lot of it. None of us thought that the occasional fling was anything other than that, but there was always in the background the thought that it might ‘lead somewhere’
      The person I am now and the view I have is largely shaped by the product of finding faith and 25 years of an essentially happy marriage, one in which my wife and I grow closer as the years pass, the person I was then had a very different set of values. The reason I would not recommend the uncommitted life to anyone is because of the pain and misery caused by it, especially if this lifestyle leads to unwanted children and abortion; however we should bear in mind that the secular value set I have just described, when held, is quite logical and common sense for the holding of. By this I mean the uncommitted life can seem ethical and considerate when you practice it.

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