"I sometimes wonder what if I hadn't settled and married my husband". A woman-- a practicing Catholic and all-- said this to me a few years back in a casual conversation in the midst of her daughter's summer camp.
This woman was living the Catholic girls' dream: married to a Catholic man and with one child (so far) whom she home schools. For many, this is the dream. Yet these words are haunting and I'd never want you to have to say them. That's why I'm writing. Actually, this is the main reason we started this blog.
If you'd like to be called out on what I call the "Catholic Settling Syndrome", please read on. Stop reading here if the quote mentioned above doesn't bother you.
Most times blogs like this are written by women already married who have the amazing story to tell about how they didn't settle and BAM! here came the man of their dreams. (Read Jackie and Bobby’s story here). But I am not writing with a bam-man! story. I'm writing from a place in which many of you may find yourselves right now: single and no such glorious story to tell just yet.
Normally, when we read these stories we think to ourselves, "Lucky them, but that won't be the case for me". There is a huge error in this thinking. The devil wants us to believe that we will never have a beautiful story to share and so we shouldn't ask, pray, or wait for it. We should grab what we can now since it won't get better.
Remember, the devil is good at taking truths and twisting them up. So, of course it's true that our love story won't be the same. Yet we cannot submit to the thought that because my love story will be different, it will be less beautiful. No, dear sisters, this is not true. Our hearts are just as worthy and created for genuine love like the women whose love stories inspire us.
It's probable that like me, you're a single woman trying to live out your faith in this world and also hopeful for marriage. What could I possibly have to share with you since I'm in the same spot? Just three words. Do not settle. Do not let your desire and longing for marriage and commitment, lead you to enter into a relationship and possibly even marriage, just for the sake of it.
Only for the dress, the wedding, and the comfort, many have jumped into marriage with someone they cannot even relate to on more than a spiritual level. Don't get me wrong, the most important bond you can ever share with someone is your love for God. However, so many factors need to be taken into consideration too. Am I physically attracted to this person? Do we share the same values? Do we share the same expectations? Do we relate on a human and emotional level? Am I excited about getting to know and live with this person until death? (Because that's what marriage vows mean, "until I die" not "until I'm tired").
And when I say getting to know and live with this person, I mean the actual person. Not the fantasy of a person you've created; not the perfect man you are deluding yourself to believe he is. No one is perfect and everyone has hang-ups. So this person, the one you cannot change and who is who he is, are you willing to commit your life to him?
If you're not excited about this person now, why think that somewhere down the long years of marriage you will magically become happy with him? Settling in your romantic relationships is really not God's will for your life; it's the devil’s. Why is that? Because after a year has passed and the wedding pictures are all framed in your new home, the doubts will start to creep up and you will be taunted by the reminder that you settled. Your heart wasn't fully in it and so by then your heart would be on its way out. The depression, and possibly the divorce, would soon follow.
I would never wish for any of you, or for myself, the thought of "What if I hadn’t settled and actually waited for what I knew in my heart I needed?" The moment you settle in your romantic relationships, especially as they move towards marriage, is the moment you give the devil a wide open door to bring you to a place of regret, confusion, and anxiety.
When you don't settle and allow yourself the freedom to wait for the right person, fall in love, and become excited for a life together, you allow yourself the strength you will need to fight for this marriage later on when things get rough. Your passion for this person in the early stages of your relationship will fuel your commitment to choose him everyday and love him well without regrets in the other seasons of life.
So what's my advice? A few weeks ago I told the girls of my chastity group the same thing I tell you now: "Let's DREAM! And when you dream, you dream BIG!" We each proceeded to make a list of the qualities we wanted in our future husband. Things like patience, kindness, honesty-- and a fan of horror movies-- were among the traits they read out loud.
How about you? What would you want to see in the man you are walking down the aisle to marry? Grab a paper and pen. I encourage you to make a list and to dream big. That list is your standard. It's the standard you will be holding the men up to who approach you romantically.
The disclaimer here of course is that their taste in movies can differ from yours and that you mustn't be obsessive when it comes to physical traits, thinking, "Oh I can't date him because he has blonde hair instead of black or his ears are too big". Come on ladies, let's be real. Of course we must be physically attracted to the person but don't nitpick. Last time I checked, our physiques wouldn't hold up to a Photoshop fantasy either.
It also shouldn't go without saying that though a man may be patient, they're still allowed to have moments of impatience. Or though a man be kind, there will be moments of rash statements or hurtful interactions that will require apologies and reconciliation. This is the human condition and we, women, are not the exception.
So when I say don't settle, I am not saying require perfection. I am saying know what you want. Know what's important to you and what you won't compromise on. Then this leaves you free to open yourself up to genuine interaction with the opposite sex. Interactions where you're not wondering, "What does he think of me? Does he like me? Am I his type?", etc. You’ll become free to be present and simply receive those who come into your life. There will be no more of this constant clinginess and need to be accepted for fear that, “You won't find anyone better".
Instead, we will leave them free-- because I hope one important thing on your list is that your future husband freely chooses you. That his choice of you is not a result of his fear of not finding someone better or settling for the sake of getting married, but because truly he has seen your goodness and desires you. He will be able to say with you, "You are altogether lovely, my beloved" and "You have ravished my heart" because, "Ah, at last this one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh".
Cheers to you and happy not-settling!
Rocio Perez is currently living in Ethiopia where her days consist of orphanage visits, English classes, chastity talks, and UNO nights with friends. She has lived in a discernment house called Casa Guadalupe and served in the chastity ministry, Corazon Puro, as well as other groups within the Catholic Church. Rocio considers herself indebted to John Paul II and hopes to spend the rest of her life sharing the Good News of the Theology of the Body. She loves to dance and enjoys good chocolate and bold sunsets.
Image by: [Marisel Rodriguez https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariselrod/]