Friday, January 16, 2009

What Does It Mean To Grow Outside of Yourself?

A young lady who read one of my articles asked me to further explain my statement that finding a good spouse can mean “growing outside of yourself.” What does that mean? I’ll attempt to unpack that statement here.

Ideally, Catholic women want to find a Catholic man with good character, of course. It doesn't always fall into place like a puzzle though...sometimes there is work and compromise involved. This reality is not always discussed in the Catholic literature, but real life is oftentimes messier than idealized dating guidelines! Keep in mind that the majority of the “courtship” books sold to Catholic singles at events are written by people who have never been married or by clergy. I believe these intellects are genuinely trying to be helpful, but much of the advice is simply too idealistic to be applied to real life 100% of the time.

A snapshot of real life looks like this: I used to help with RCIA classes, and many people become Catholic because they are inspired by a girlfriend or boyfriend. Just because one person was not Catholic didn't mean that Jesus wasn't there. I became Catholic because a former boyfriend introduced me to the faith in a positive manner. My husband became more interested in the faith, largely because of his relationship with me. Jesus acts through people who love Him and none of us is a finished piece of work.

Further, stats say there are MORE practicing Catholic women than men. Some Catholic women will marry men who are powerhouses of faith when they meet them, others won't. Still, others will choose to remain single and commiserate with their friends over their single status forever. There is a choice to be made...and sometimes that involves choosing to be realistic after a certain age and settling on some things to marry, OR choosing to be a "secular sister" of sorts and live independently. Most women who email me about this topic don’t feel called to religious life or celibacy. They feel called to marriage and are following the advice they get, but something isn’t working. They can’t find a lasting connection with someone who is a “suitable spouse.”

Sometimes, our own thought patterns can block us from finding a suitable spouse. Have you considered that maybe God is putting someone who is suitable in your path…but you are too rigid in your thinking to see him? “Reaching outside of yourself” can be the missing link.

When things aren't perfect in a relationship (they typically are not)...that's when people "reach outside of themselves." There are usually gaps between ourselves and others that need to be bridged to form a long term relationship that works. For instance, even though I identified myself as a "conservative" or "orthodox Catholic" when I was single and going to faith-based events, I usually found that there were one of two things that I disagreed on with other Catholics who identified themselves the same exact way. People are just that way... they differ.

A lot of the people I know who are unhappily single get overly bent out of shape when they realize that someone close to them or a prospective partner doesn't agree with everything they think up. Surprise! That's just life...and if someone really wants to get married and hasn’t been in luck, it's best to find ways of constructively dealing with that "gap" that exists with everyone. People who can't tolerate any differences can remain alone, and nit-pick everyone and everything. Of course, the caveat to compromise is always that everyone has a limit and it’s wise to know what it is.

The benefit to reaching outside yourself is that it makes for a wiser, more well-rounded, compassionate individual. It’s a strong and loving way to live rather than fearful. When you put yourself in someone else's shoes, try to understand another perspective on the world, another person's just makes you a better person. It's worth it to learn to peacefully co-exist with people who have minor differences of opinion.

Consequently, people in happy partnerships tend to have stronger immune systems! Neither me or my husband have been sick since we got married in June and I used to regularly get sick during the cold months!

So anyway--I hope this was helpful.