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Choosing Spouses: A Growing Problem
and an Attempt at a Solution


Marian T. Horvat

St. Paul wisely wrote that it is better to be single than to marry, since the unmarried person has much more time to dedicate to God and contemplate Him in His works. This principle is especially valid today, when we see the Holy Mother Church being attacked from within and without, and urgently needs our help.

But it would be unrealistic to pretend that all young people will follow this evangelical counsel and be single. The majority of them want to marry. And some have come to me asking advice on how to date, how to choose a good spouse etc. Since there are many good books coming out on ‘courtship,’ which is different from dating, I won’t give concrete advice. Instead, I can offer an orientation based on the principles of Catholic organic society. But first, let me point to the expanding problem that youth face on the normal university campuses today.

The problem: The permissive ambience of our universities

To face the problem, we have to consider a sad reality, which is the amoral ambience of most of the American colleges. Nowadays, universities are no longer exclusively for young men or for young women. Both sexes study together, live together, and – it is shocking how we abandoned the notion of original sin – sleep in the same dormitory. It is not difficult to realize that living on campus almost all the time, lacking the surveillance of family or chaperons, the youth have many opportunities to embark upon all kinds of sexual adventures. I don’t use the expression “romantic adventures” because, in many ways, romanticism is dead. It died with the mystery that used to surround the more gentle sex.

The betrothal of Our Lady as seen in the Church of the Holy cross in Seville

The betrothal of Our Lady with St. Joseph
Church of the Holy Cross in Seville
Today, it has been replaced by a kind of animal attraction, where what counts is the satisfaction of the hic et nunc (‘here and now’ desire). Virginity, chastity, purity have become abstract notions for young men and women in most of our colleges. A heroic struggle is needed to maintain these Catholic ideals. This debased situation is getting worse, not better, every day. It is why so many parents are advising their children to stay at home, and why so many youth are agreeing. The Gospel teaches us that it is better to go to heaven without an eye than to go to hell with two. Let me further paraphrase the verse by saying that it is better to save the soul of your children without a degree or a Ph.D. than to lose them eternally with this dispensable apparatus.

However, in the minds of many, going off to college is the means young people can meet new people and, especially for young women, to enlarge the pool of potential spouses. This is a myth that needs to be dispelled. For, according to a recent college survey by the Institute for American Values, even the practice of “dating” is dying out on today’s campuses.

The reality seems to be quite different. The expressions that reflect what is going on in these ambiences are as vague, aimless, and vulgar as the environment they reflect. According to the report, young people don’t date, they “hang out,” which means that young women and young men spend loosely organized, undefined time together, without making their interest in one another explicit [Good-bye to the feminine mystique!] Or there is “hooking up,” which was defined by respondents as “when a girl and a ‘guy’ get together for a physical encounter” without out any commitment.” [I dispense myself from giving the report’s further explanation of what “physical encounters” mean. I just register here my strong protest to this procedure.] From “hooking up” a couple can become “joined at the hip,” which signifies an intense but, again, vague relationship that basically means being together all the time. But even then, the couple rarely goes out on “dates,” an out-of-date practice, apparently, on the modern college campus.

The survey, which questioned college women about what is going on at college co-ed dorms, reveals the sad legacy of women’s sexual liberation. The women in the report agreed that it is rare for college men to ask them on dates, or even to acknowledge when they have become a couple. Many men no longer feel the need to initiate the relationship, nor the duty to pay the bill for both when they do go out. And it is the women who report feeling confused and guilt-ridden in their relationships with men.

And what do women really want? The survey reports that it found that most of these college women want a committed relationship and look forward to a marriage that will last. But it is obvious that they have few norms or counsel to guide them toward their goal. In its conclusion, the survey lamented the virtual disappearance of adult participation in, or even awareness of, how today’s young people find and marry one another. The report’s conclusion: “This appalling situation should be seen as a major social problem, and should end.”

I feel sorry for these young people, because in many senses they are obliged to go through the education process. The world demands it, their families expect it, and so they go. The truly culpable are the ones who planned and installed this permissive behavior that is linked to the modern system of education. Therefore, j’accuse [I accuse] the agents of the Revolution. I feel sorry in particular for the young women who are still looking for commitment and marriage, and are often pressured to follow the horrible “rules” of this anarchist behavior. Will they be able to achieve the stable and enduring marriage they want after this prior sexual promiscuity? We are seeing the answer around us…

An attempt at a solution

Prior to our times, which have become “unclassifiable,” the choice of the spouse seemed to fall into three different schools:

First, there was the most popular one, the capricious school of romantic choice. Romeo meets Juliet, and suddenly something magical happens. He is in love, even though he knows little to nothing about the habits, morals, family, religion or mental stability of the lovely Juliet, object of his most noble desires.

After a while, sometime longer, sometimes shorter, Romeo realizes that Juliet is not an angel, but a human being. She has this or that defect – a light mustache that she no longer bothers to dissimulate, the habit of snorting in her sleep, etc. Juliet experiences a similar disillusionment: Romeo has an intolerable temperament, showers only twice a week, finishes gulping his meal in five minutes without conversation. The golden bubble blows up, and both fall into the sour reality. We know how so many of these romantic adventures end, either in a long life of suffering [by one party or both] or in divorce.

Then there was and still is a second pragmatic school, which takes a very different approach. Usually, its adepts have already experienced the disillusions and deceptions of romance. Basically, it boils down to this: Marry for money -- to guarantee a stable economic future. The adherents of this school say: “After all, love and beauty will go, but money remains…” At least this is the myth. I don’t believe in this affirmation, since I have seen many wealthy people became poor overnight – a fall in the stock market, a new business competitor steals the market and clients, a local factory cannot compete with the world market. These are just a few examples that occur to me. Others who inherit small fortunes spend more money than they can afford, and in a short time the legacy of their parents is gone, leaving them more dissatisfied than before. Therefore, even though I consider this school more reasonable than the first, I don’t advise my young reader to follow it.

But there is a third organic school that is much more balanced, reasonable and normal. In one word it is Catholic. Its takes into consideration that it is the family that models souls in their deepest layers through hereditary factors, through religious, cultural and family traditions and through the teaching of Catholic principles. It realizes that one would find many natural pre-existing affinities between persons who share the Catholic religion, live in same area or region, have the same general social level and have analogous family traditions. It follows the wise maxim: You don’t marry a person, you marry a family.

In this Catholic and organic school, parents and relatives play a role in helping young adults find good spouses. This isn’t considered interference, but good sense.

This school takes into consideration the factor of mutual attractions and likes, with all their imponderables. But it also considers the “ponderables,” that is, the practical and economic factors. A man should be willing to provide, or strive to provide, for a wife and maintain her at a level comparable to that which she is accustomed.

Unfortunately, in so many of today’s marriages, in general the husband and wife seem to have been born on different planets. Each one can be used to completely different family ambiences, each with different religions (or none at all), different moral standards, and diverse social standings. A young lady accustomed to certain social niceties and material comforts necessarily will encounter more stress in marriage if she has to adjust to much less affluence and vulgar habits. A young man with a sound Catholic upbringing can become unsettled when he realizes his beautiful, but basically nonreligious, wife is unwilling or unable to instill a Catholic spirit in his children.

Obviously, families should not marry among their closer relatives, but they should marry those who have more or less the same values and social level. This is what the old families did to preserve the moral principles of their sons and daughters and assure the stability of the family. And this is why parents so often had a hand in marriages of the past. The norms and guidelines for choosing a spouse that sustained this organic school of the Catholic patriarchal family can shock the modern liberal who celebrates complete spontaneity and total freedom of choice in everything. But they appear both congenial and sensible to many young Catholic husbands and wives with young children who have a desire to spare their children the immorality, the misadventures and anguishes they had to go through while “enjoying” all their celebrated modern liberty.

The desire of good Catholic parents for their children with the vocation to marry is that they will have stable, tranquil, peaceful family lives. Such parents desire not only their children’s happiness on this earth, but want to remain a family of souls enjoying eternal happiness in heaven. The momentous problem I raised some paragraphs above will not be resolved overnight. However, knowing and applying the sound principles of Catholic organic society is the beginning of a real resolution to the matter.



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