“If she’s in her mid-30s and unmarried…you gotta know something is wrong there.”
A fellow devout Catholic actually said that to me once about a woman I was interested in dating. I have to admit a spark of doubt entered my mind, but only for a second. That was years ago, and I never did end up pursuing her (but for other reasons).
But that line stayed in my head as my search for a wife continued, and I often wondered the same thing about myself. I was in my 40s and unmarried. Did people think, “something is wrong there”?
Recently I wrote about men over 40 and their ability to commit. It touched a few nerves. A lot of commenters took issue with the suspicion people have of an unmarried person over 40.
As several people rightly pointed out, over 40 does not mean you are undesirable as marriage material. Egads! That was something I never meant to imply. The simple fact of being unmarried over 40 is not indicative of anything. There are several reasons why someone might be unmarried. I was addressing one issue that I find to be most common in men of my generation: self-centeredness.
It’s easier these days to put off getting married, if not avoid it altogether. You could even make the case that the culture encourages it. We are often confronted with the temptation to put a heavy focus on our own comfort.
But this is not always the case by any means. It’s important to remember there are many reasons why someone is not married after 40:
They have had a bad experience. A bad experience, even just rotten luck, can turn anyone off. Before she married me, my wife went through a divorce and an annulment. Online dating was very uncomfortable for her, and becoming vulnerable was not something she relished. I’m sure a lot of people passed her over when they read her profile, not wanting to take on the baggage. All I can say is I am grateful, because I’ve never met anyone so baggage-free in my life. She is a true gem, and I thank God every day for her.
They wanted to be ready. Another reason people delay marriage is because they want to “be ready.” But you’re never truly ready. And you can’t “find yourself” before you get married. Not truly. At best you can find that you’re someone who wants to get married. It’s in marriage that you find yourself.
A couple of generations ago a man might not be ready to marry until he could support a wife and children. But these days most marriages have two incomes, and it’s much easier to make a living almost anywhere in the country.
It does not take much to make a marriage. By that I mean it takes a few things, but they are the important things. It takes commitment, common values, attraction, and agreement on what direction you want your lives to take. The problem today is that those things aren’t always talked about up front, and people rush into a physical relationship. Once that happens a bond is formed. If you find later that you don’t agree on the big things (faith, children, extended family), you’re on shaky ground. Commitment is difficult in relationships because commitment is difficult in anything in life—and today people avoid difficulty. I think marriage, like most things in life, is simple. That is not the same thing as saying it’s easy.
They held out for someone perfect. I heard from a few devout Catholics who held out for someone who was a virgin, or at the very least someone who had never been married. I respect their perseverance and fortitude, but I think sometimes people can turn discernment into a search for what they want, instead of what God wants. Tobias would have really missed out on something if he turned tail after learning of Sarah’s seven previous husbands. All of them killed by a demon, no less.
They didn’t know what marriage was. I spent too many years expecting marriage to be the way it was portrayed in popular culture. As soon as a prospective mate appeared to be less than perfect, I lost interest. When the head-over-heels feeling waned, I started looking around again.
Perhaps, as in my case, someone just waited too long. By the time I came back to the faith, realized what marriage was, and decided to find a partner, I found I had a limited pool of prospects. Most of the Catholic women I encountered were already married. Many of the ones who were single didn’t seem to know what they wanted yet.
It is true that Catholic marriage means giving totally of self. That is simply at odds with today’s idea of marriage. The quest for “self-fulfillment” is a trap that not only snares most of the secular society, but a majority of Catholics as well. Even if you are not in that trap, you may find many Catholics around you who are.
They’re really shy. Dating can be stressful. Some people find it hard to initiate contact. Some people find it uncomfortable to ask or answer questions. Some people don’t have the confidence to meet people in social settings. There could be a host of reasons why someone has trouble dating. A reserved attitude could be mistaken for aloofness. A quiet demeanor could be mistaken for a lack of interest. You simply never know until you begin to communicate.
Which brings me to my advice:
Ditch the stereotypes and ask questions. It’s easy to fall back on the stereotypes and worse-case scenarios. That will never get you anywhere. You can’t know why unless you ask, so ask. Talk. Communicate. CatholicMatch makes it so easy to communicate with a potential match right up front. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re looking for a lifetime mate. You have a right to know!
I don’t think there is any way around the fact that delaying marriage significantly decreases your chances. But as Catholics we have an ace up our sleeves, and that is the grace of God. If we get down to the business of discernment (and keep it up through the dating process), then we remember that nothing is impossible for God. But we have to remember that: for God. And we have to remember that if it’s God’s plan, then it’s also God’s timetable. We have to die to self, we have to trust God, and we have to persevere.