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Choice of a Marriage Partner - III

by Fr. Gerald Kelly

Agreement

Again we can argue from the requirements of ordinary friendship to the needs of marital companionship and say, if there must be agreement and harmony in all friendship, then a very high degree of such harmony is required in marriage. There should be a mutual understanding regarding religion and art and music and recreation, in reading, in conversation--well, in everything.

A mutual understanding, that is, the parties have enough in common to come to harmonious compromises even in little things. They agree on big things, as we said before, and they know how to settle their little disagreements. When people achieve this kind of harmony, they avoid a prevailing situation that goes something like this: Jean likes a bit of poetry, but John likes to engulf himself in wood-pulp magazines; and when either one tries to read just a little bit to the other, things begin to go wrong in the house. Jean enjoys an occasional dance or theatre party, but John much prefers to sit with his shirt unbuttoned and his slippers hanging just over his toes and read his magazines or the newspapers until he begins to snore.

The day comes when Jean decides she will have her dance after all, and John lets her have it; and after that many things happen, and now the little house that looked so nice when they were married has a "For Rent" sign in front of it, and John is living at the company boarding house, and Jean shares an apartment with a girl friend of hers. And the two children oh, yes, they are out with the Sisters at the orphan asylum.

Silly? Decidedly, but things like that happen. Just read the daily newspapers and see what a variety of trifles are listed under "mental cruelty" or some such charge for divorce. We are quite willing to admit that practically all such things could be ironed out by a decent spirit of self-sacrifice on both sides. But it is not common sense to leave everything to the manifestation of a spirit of self-sacrifice after marriage. Furthermore, there are some fundamental differences that you can practically wager will not be ironed out after marriage. Therefore, before marriage, the sane thing to do is to put infatuation aside and face the realities of life by checking up on the things belonging to married life that might make a tremendous difference in regard to this agreement factor. The following may be helpful questions in that matter:

Is there at least a reasonable degree of similarity between you in regard to the recreations you like? Could you both enjoy staying at home in the evening, especially. when children come? Are there any habits now that not only get on your nerves but which you find it extraordinarily difficult to overlook? Do both fit into about the same kind of social life? Does each get along with the other's family? Have both sufficient health for marriage? What are your respective habits of life: cleanliness, orderliness, good manners, good grammar? Are you able to harmonize judgments on things that pertain to family life: food, kind of house, furnishings, and so forth? Have you the same religion and same standards as to practice? The same attitude towards children and their education?

Do you feel at ease together, whether you talk about the weather or make love? If you do not meet for some time, are you able to take up where you left off, with something of the naturalness of a family reunion, or do you have to try to work up an acquaintance all over again? Has he a nagging, or reforming disposition? Do you see his failings, and are you willing to tolerate them; and does he admit them and is he willing to get over them? With children in mind, would you say that this person would be just the right other parent for them? Has he a sense of humor? Can he keep a secret?

Is it a wife you want: Can she cook? and make the house a home? Has she that womanly quality that instinctively puts things in order? (The Notre Dame Bulletin once cited the fable of a wise old fellow who tried this experiment: He was looking for the right girl, so he dropped a broom near the door. Five young women entered and stepped over the broom; the sixth picked it up. The wise man proposed-and there is much to be said for his wisdom.) And would this girl be a real mother; would that be a vocation for her? Could she bear children and sacrifice for them? Could she give the child that early introduction to God that would so fill his soul that he would never forget? Is she convinced that motherhood is an all-day and an all-night job; that it is the normal perfection of womanhood, and that those who take it right are enriched by it, no matter what sacrifices are involved? How does she speak of children? How does she treat them? What do her younger brothers and sisters think of her?

Is it a husband you want: How does he like children? Does he like to work? Can he hold a job? Has he a sense of responsibility? Is he "grown up," or does he have to be pampered? Too jealous? A braggart? An alibi-artist? Is he courteous?

You can multiply such questions till you are weary of it. They are not exactly a court-martial, but it is good to go over them because they bring one down to earth and keep one from estimating things merely on the score of fascination. Many points of agreement cannot be tested out before marriage, but often enough risks, at least glaring ones, can be easily recognized. Those about to be married must keep in mind that theirs must be a universal companionship. It is a psychological fact that you can work with some people, but you cannot play with them; you can play with others, but you cannot work with them; you can work and play with some, but you simply could not live with them constantly. In marriage you have to work together, play together, live together on terms of the utmost intimacy. And it lasts a long time. That requires great harmony in many things. What would be your score?


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