11 August 2007

Romance, Dating, and Marriage

Let me just say, I am thoroughly--entirely--opposed to modern "relationships." This includes "hooking up" and "friends with benefits," but, surprising to most people, it also includes dating. That's right, I said it, I'm opposed to dating.

Now, there are (generally speaking) two schools of thought on people like me. The first, into which I imagine all my non-Orthodox readers will fall (and, I'm sure, some of the Orthodox ones), would view me to be an aberration; most of my Orthodox readers will probably say, "He must want to be a monk." Well, there's the question: do I want to be a monk? Well, no, I don't want to be a monk.

Now, you're wondering--if I don't want to be a monk, and I'm against dating, then what in the world could I possibly expect out of life?

Good question.

You will notice, I think, that I'm not opposed to marriage. Of course I am not; Marriage is a blessed Mystery of the Church--just as holy as are the Eucharist, Confession, Monastic orders, Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Unction. If I am blessed enough to be married one day, I will be happy in that. But there are some things that I feel about modern attitudes toward marriage, and most of those feelings end in distaste. Marriage is a Mystery of the Church, a Sacrament. It is not a legal right, and it has nothing to do with civil law. If civil law chooses to recognize the union of two people that comes about through Marriage, fine; but there must be no talk of a right to marry...this is simply not the case. Just as those outside of the life of the Church cannot participate in the other sacraments, they cannot participate in Marriage either. Hence, what is typically thought of as "marriage" in modern times is, in fact, civil union. These may be conducted by whomever (from Protestant pastors to wiccan high priestess to members of the ruling bureaucracy). Civil recognition does not a marriage make.

Marriage is a state of askesis--a practice of the ascetic life of a Christian. It is not a socially-sanctioned (or Church sanctioned) license to have sex. It is a calling to deny the ego, deny the passions; no healthy marriage can be founded with two egotists living together, bound together by the sacrament. Neither does a healthy marriage have one partner's ego subsumed into the other's; that would not result in the health and salvation of both partners...in fact, it causes one person to participate in the sins of another, and so, both are condemned. A healthy marriage is founded on mutual love; there must be three persons in a marriage for it to be successful. There is a Trinitarian reason for this assertion, and this is why there can be no true Marriage outside of Christianity. As our example in the divine Godhead shows, there can only be unity through trinunity; we must be a model of the mutual-indwelling love as we see in the Holy Trinity. Therefore, any marriage must have the man, the woman, and the Holy Spirit. We are called to get outside of our own selfishness, being perfectly united in love to our spouses; we can only do this through the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God to us. Christian Marriage, then, is the true restoration of man's condition in Eden, where God observed "it is not good for Man to be alone." Adam and Eve were united to each other through their mutual communion with God.

The question then, is, what does this have to do with dating? The answer is, everything.

Modern notions of dating and romantic relationships are, ultimately, antithetical to this understanding of marriage. The conditions of what passes for romantic involvement in contemporary society do not train people for Marriage; what they do well, however, is train people for divorce. Openness to another person necessarily entails a great deal of mutual vulnerability; when this vulnerability is violated (through the termination of a relationship), the soul is scarred. With enough scars, over time, the ability to open up and be vulnerable is lost. At this point, you can end a relationship on a whim, and it would hurt very little (or, at least, much less than it should). Is it any wonder then, with people marrying later and later in life, after years of intense relationships that have eventually deteriorated, that people approach all relationships with a certain pragmatic cynicism? I, for one, see these as precisely the conditions necessary for a gigantic divorce rate; I see the egotrip that everyone (absolutely everyone, and in our culture, to the nth degree) is on, and that pragmatic cynicism, leading to the idea that a relationship is only as good as what I am getting out of it. It is also why people (especially women, but also some men, who have been raised by Hollywood romance-comedies) have no understanding of what a healthy relationship is; they expect to be fully and totally complete with their partner. And, of course, because we're all flawed, fallen human beings, we will inevitably let each other down. When this happens, that world we've constructed around our partner is shattered, and we can't help but toss it away, because it has become worthless to us. But if that relationship was with God, through mutual communion in the Holy Spirit, the focus of the relationship would be entirely different. It would be a relationship, not just a pale imitation.

Woody Allen once observed that "Sex without love is an empty, hollow experience. But as empty, hollow experiences go, it's one of the best." Sadly, this statement almost totally encapsulates what's wrong with dating in our society. We'll settle for emptiness, for hollowness, for meaninglessness, because having something with meaning would be too much like work.

But, this is why I absolutely will not marry someone outside of the Church. This is also why I absolutely won't engage in "dating"--three dinner dates, a movie, followed by regular sex (which is the general rule of thumb, but, I suppose, some variation occurs on an individual level). Forget it, I value relationships more than that. I refuse to have something that is a pale imitation, when I know the real thing exists. If God wills it for me, he will bring it to me in his time, when I'm ready for it. Until then, the best thing I can do to find a wife is to walk as closely as I can with God--if I'm not in total communion with him, how will I know when I find the right woman?

OK, enough of this.

Glory be to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Pax vobsicum.


Brigitte said...

great points. so you will court her?

Justinian said...

So, on this courting thing...

I'm not even sure if I know what that means. It seems to me that courting is pretty much what I'd consider to be dating, minus the pre-marital sex. I suppose I'm ok with that, because, almost necessarily, the increasingly hypothetical woman with whom I hope to one day be involved would have the same view on this matter as I do.

My problem is, all the nice, Orthodox girls in my area go to one of the two really, really "ethnic" parishes--at neither of which have I ever felt welcome. Not even at food festivals (I am neither Greek, nor Slavic).

I've been told that St. Tikhon's and St. Vlad's are great places to find a wife, if you happen to be a young Orthodox guy who is looking toward the priesthood. I'm not sure how I feel about that, and then, that brings up that whole, sticky "what if I am supposed to be a priest?" thing.

Eh, conundrum. That's what it is.

Brigitte said...

Sorry you never felt welcomed at the ethnic parish get-togethers. Maybe part of it is the cultural thing...Russians esp. can seem rough until you get to know them. Then you realize that those blank stares you got really were blank and not malicious...most of the time, haha :)

Chocolatesa said...

Marry me!! I'll move!

(jk-about the marry me, I wouldn't mind moving though if I did eventually find a husband far away) loll.

Yeah there seems to be a lack of suitable orthodox marriageable-age guys in my parishes too :P

Oh well I'll keep praying!

Anonymous said...

Very well expressed, Justinian. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. How the beautiful sacrament of marriage has been polluted and desecrated! The truths you shared here should be taught in every church.

Justinian said...

Well, I don't know that it's ready for homily-usage just yet...but it is definitely where I am on the subject of marriage.

Thanks for the compliments.