There are so many lists of tips and tricks for dating, and so many opinions on what to look for in a spouse that I decided to boil everything down to one very simple idea. This comes after my many, many, um, months of living the married vocation, so it is clearly based on deep wisdom and experience. Actually it is based on philosophy, theology, and the hundreds of combined years of patients’ lives that have been shared with me in the therapy office, but my (18 months) of married life seem to be confirming my thoughts here so far.
There is no way to convey how significant the shift is from what is important before getting married to what becomes important after getting married. The fact is that living a single life is so dramatically different because of its independence. Even if you feel like you spend ALL your time with other people, if you are single, you are living a life that is radically more independent than any married person. It’s impossible to know what it will be like to offer the independence of single-hood up in exchange for marital union. In this independence, you have the time and perspective to sit back and think about things like attraction, holiness, virtue, family background, life’s goals, and other particular qualities you might think are important. Once you get married, you realize there is only one thing that really matters for the long haul.
If you are living according to the teachings of the Church, as well as any good psychological, sociological, or rational perspective, getting married is a shift from living alone in that independence to living with another person all the time. Not only all the time, but for the rest of your life with this one person. Has anyone ever asked you the question, “If you were to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could only have one book, what would it be?” If so, you know how incredibly difficult it is to answer that question. ONLY ONE BOOK?! How could you ever choose one book to spend the rest of your life with? Most people can’t imagine that and offer you the option of 3 books… Do I need to spell out the parallel here? You have to choose one person who you will be living with, making plans with, facing life’s difficulties with, raising children with, moving into different places to live with, earning and losing money with, eating good and bad food with, etc. etc. until DEATH do you part. That’s a long, long time.
I know it is difficult to conceptualize how long the rest of your life might be. Try this: think back to when you were 3 or 4– your earliest memory. Think about how long ago that was. Was it 20 years ago? 30? Maybe more. Now think about how long ago that feels like, and project that amount of time into the future. Now double it. That’s how long you are talking about living and breathing and sleeping and not-sleeping next to your future spouse for.
Hopefully I’ve helped to crystallize a slight perspective shift for you single people out there to the point that you might think a little differently about the question, “What’s the most important quality to look for in a spouse?”
Only friendship could make the crazy demands of marriage humanly possible. Friendship makes it worthwhile to give up the radical independence of being single. Only if the person you marry is your best-friend will you be truly happy for the rest of your life in your marriage. This is really the most important –if not only- thing you need to think about when you are looking for “The One.”
Really, that’s it?
What about attraction; does it matter for evaluating good spouse material? Sure it does- to a point. But you shouldn’t have to think about it. If you are wondering, “Am I attracted enough to him/her?” you are not mature enough to be looking for your spouse. Also, if you consider deeply the reality of marriage as I’ve outlined above, you can be assured that the physical beauty and the butterflies that attracted you when you were dating are not what’s going to keep you sane for the rest of your life together.
There is also another deeply important aspect of love inherent in the attraction question. As you get to know a person more, and love a person more, you find the person more beautiful. As you give yourself fully to your spouse, you open yourself to receive more of him/her than you’ve ever received of anyone in your life. You have no idea how beautiful you will come to see your spouse if you truly love in this way. In many ways love between spouses begins on the wedding day. That’s why so many couples look back on their time dating and laugh at how naïve they were. The wedding day is the first day that your body and mind express together the totality of self-gift to another. That is the first day of a lifelong adventure, which is growth in love and holiness.
What about holiness then, does it matter? Sure it does. But any one of you that thinks you are “looking for your St. Joseph” or someone “as holy and pure as Mary” is not ready for marriage, especially the messiness of marriage. Marriage is a vocation; a vocation is a calling from God to live your life in such a way that you “seek to lose yourself that you may find yourself.” In other words, it is a path to holiness. That means that you don’t find a holy person to marry; you become holy through marriage. That means that you are far from holy before you get married. Read: Your spouse will be far from holy when you get married, too. Follow? God-willing, after a long and fruitful married life together, you are both holy by the time you are called to face that final judgment.
What about those lists?
Then of course there are the personality tests, the lists of interests, the cliché Match.com questions and everything else that sells magazines. All of those can be summed up in one quality- friendship. If you find a person of the opposite sex that you can generally feel like you are yourself with, that you can will the good of, that you can imagine taking a road trip cross-country with without jumping out of the car, you just might have found spouse material. Of course you can’t know that immediately, but you can have a generally better idea of what to look for as you plan dates with each other and other people. Does that comfort and willing of the good last over time? Can you make a reasonably good guess that you will feel that way in a year or two based on the person you are getting to know? You’ll know it when you find it.