Most Catholics will agree that it’s not only wrong to have sex before marriage, but it’s stupid: It confuses you and just generally makes things more complicated, especially for women. But marriage-minded virgins don’t automatically attract or recognize suitable mates, either. When deciding about marriage, it’s not enough to check off the sin-free boxes and expect a perfect relationship to fall into place.
So how are we women supposed to know if we’re making a good choice, saying “yes” to someone who at least gives us a chance of building a strong marriage and a happy home?
In a depressing article that explores the economy of 21st-century relationships, Cheryl Wetzstein of The Washington Times concludes,
“When women collude to restrict men’s sexual access to women, all women tend to benefit,” [sociologist Mark Regnerus] said ... “f women were more in charge of how their romantic relationships transpired … we would be seeing greater male investment in relationships, more impressive wooing efforts, fewer hookups, fewer premarital sexual partners … shorter cohabitations, more marrying … and more marrying at a slightly earlier age. In other words, the price of sex would be higher. It would cost men more to access it.”
However, he said, “none of these things are occurring today. Not one. The price of sex is pretty low.”
So the secular world is catching on. Writing for Faith and Family Live, to an audience that already accepts that sex and marriage should go together, Lauren Warner advises:
Date to marry. Don’t date someone who you wouldn’t marry. And on the same note, don’t date someone who you wouldn’t want to have children with. Can you see this person pacing the dark halls of your home at 2am, comforting a screaming newborn?
This is reasonable advice, as far as it goes, but it’s oversimplified. How are you supposed to figure out what a man is like without dating him? It’s true you shouldn’t invest years and years of your time hoping that your loser boyfriend will start to develop the qualities of a good father and husband, but do you have to spend some time with a man to find out what he’s really like—it’s not as if men carry around signboards listing their assets and defects.
Also, some men never think twice about marriage or babies until they find themselves 90% of the way there with the right woman—and then they step up and amaze everyone. So what you see when you’re dating is not necessarily exactly the same as what you’ll get when you’re married. And man and women grow and improve during the life of a marriage, too.
The truth is, it’s kind of a crap shoot. We can make reasonable choices, but much about relationships is unpredictable. What to do? Speaking as a woman who is crazy in love with the man I married almost 14 years ago, I’ll share my experience.
When I met my husband-to-be in college, two things set him apart from previous boyfriends.
First, I wanted to be a better person when I was around him. Not prettier, not smarter or funnier or more impressive or harder to get, although all of those were also true—but better. Even as I shook my head over his lamentable taste in music and had my grievous doubts about his sense of humor, I had the unshakable sensation that I was in the presence of someone who deserved the very best of me. It wasn’t that he demanded it, by words or implication—it’s just that staying who I was around him would be like showing up for Mass with ratty pajamas on. I wanted to do better, and no one else had made me feel that way. (Yeah, I said “feel.” So sue me, I’m talking about falling in love!)
The second thing was that, every time I imagined having children with him, I would think, “Oh, I hope they inherit such-and-such a trait!” or “I hope that particular gene is dominant!” My other boyfriends had seemed good enough for me, but I sometimes caught myself thinking, “Yeeesh, I hope our kids take after my side.” I was already trying to protect my future children from being anything like their potential dad—a huge red flag.
You’ll notice that these two reasons were about him, but were also about me and our future children. Selfish? Sort of. But it’s a woman’s instinct and duty to plan for a strong, soft nest for the family, to scope things out so that there’s a chance at a healthy, happy life for everyone.
So how about you? If you have a good marriage, what made you decide to take the plunge? Or if you backed out of a relationship that was headed toward marriage, what were the warning signs? I hereby give you permission to use the word “feel”—it’s not everything, but it’s not a dirty word, either.