Saturday, January 4, 2014

Marriage Preparation

"Ahh. The so-called 'dating' practice." The tone in his voice evoked sadness, disappointment and patience all at once. I don't recall the question, but I do remember the tone. It was used by a member of the Universal House of Justice. He was sitting on the corner of a desk, relaxed as could be, talking with those of us who were working in the office. This was in the early 90s. I also don't recall much else of his informal answer, but those words, and that tone, have stuck with me for years.

Why did he speak of dating in that manner? And what did he mean by "so-called"? Those were the questions that I had to ask for so long, before even beginning to come up with an answer. Those questions, of course, led me on a search for looking into the various methods of finding a marriage partner that would not elicit that tone of his that said so much.

As you may know, I am very happily married, and talk about my wife a lot here. She is truly one of the most wonderful things about my life, except that I don't think of her as a "thing", but I'm not sure how else to phrase it in that... phrase. She is one of the most wonderful aspects of my life? Parts of my life? However I phrase it, she is the wonder in my life.

For some reason, as of late, I have been asked many times how it was that we came to realize that we wanted to get married. Why was it that we never dated? How would I recommend people to go about finding a marriage partner? Those are great questions, and I'm really not sure why people ask me. Aside from having gotten very lucky, and Marielle suffering the temporary insanity that enabled her to say "yes" to me, who am I to answer them?

But let me go back a bit. I had been involved in the dating scene for years, and while I dated some pretty amazing women, none of them either made me sit up and say "Here is someone I'd like to spend the rest of my life with", or if they did, they felt otherwise. No complaints, mind you, just a simple reality that I acknowledge.

Back to that comment, though: "The so-called 'dating' practice." A date is, quite simply, a social appointment arranged beforehand with another person, or the person with whom that appointment is made. When "dating", you are making a commitment to another person to reserve your time for them on a regular basis, and promising not to become intimate with another person. Usually there is also the implication that you will not make social appointments with another person, with whom you may become intimately involved. (That was tough to phrase, even with the help of the dictionary.)

How useful is this for finding a marriage partner? Personally, I don't think it is very useful at all.

What I am going to say here, I have said many times before, but I think it still bears repeating.

The purpose of dating is, to me, to find a marriage partner. But the best way to find a marriage partner is to get to know the character of the person you want to marry. (Thank you, 'Abdu'l-Baha.) When dating, we put on a nice face, a good front, and try to be on our best behaviour, which is not how we normally are. So how is this conducive to truly getting to know someone? I would say it isn't.

Looking at my own life, shortly before Marielle and I got engaged, I tried something unusual in my circle of friends. I stopped dating. Instead, I recognized that I had a large number of acquaintances. In fact, I think we all do, if we only take the time to recognize it. Out of that large number of acquaintances, there are a good sized number of friends. And then, out of those friends, there are my nearest and dearest friends, those people for whom I will go far out of my way to spend time with.

It is like a pyramid. Acquaintances on the bottom, and above them friends. The next tier up are my close friends. And I (rightly) figured that the woman I would marry would be in that top tier. So I began to look at those people even more closely. If they were single and female, I began to "check them out".

I asked one of them if they wanted to go in on a gift together for a mutual friend. We took $20 and went to the store to buy a gift. And that settled it. Great friend. Not a chance for marriage.

Another one I asked if they wanted to help me cook a dinner for a group of us. We planned the meal and got the groceries, and all looked fine. Then we were in the kitchen, and I decided that she and I would make great friends.

In the meantime, there was Marielle. We slowly began to get to know each other, after having seen each other around the Baha'i community for some time. We discovered we had similar interests, and began to do some small service work together. To aid us in this, we began to study the Writings together. And all the while we went to movies with friends, had dinner with groups of people, and on and on.

One day the Baha'i community sponsored the Wildfire Dance Group to come in to Winnipeg, and for some reason there was a dinner that nobody had prepared. It just slipped through the cracks. And so I said to them to come over and I'd feed them. I rushed home, back to my small apartment, and began to hurriedly get all the food in the house ready for them. My roomie at the time made a large salad, while I asked Marielle to put all the cans of beans in one pot. I quick-thawed some chicken and got it ready in the oven. Marielle was finished with the cans, so I asked her to blend some syrups I had (including Rooh Hafzeh) and make a drink for everyone. (She just told me that she thought it was going to be awful, but was amazed at how delicious it was.) I had a vision of a quick meal for at least 15, but probably more like 20, and choreographed my friends to help prepare it as soon as we could, for the group had another performance later that evening.

As we all sat down (on the chairs, on the floor, in the hallway of the building) to eat, I eyed Marielle a bit more closely, for working with her like that was just like dancing. It was awesome.

I think this was when I realized for myself that there was something there. But even then, neither of us were interested in a relationship at the time. (Looking doesn't mean that you're actually interested in finding just yet.)

But back to other things, like dating and intimacy. Those two really seem to go hand in hand, and I really need to address that here, for if I don't, then what's the point of this?

Just a few points on intimacy. First, when you become intimate, you don't really see the individual any more: the infamous rose coloured glasses. You see some sort of idealized version of them that usually has little to do with reality. And when you want to investigate character, reality is your best friend. Now these glasses may help after the marriage, but not before. When getting to know the individual, you really want to keep your head and your vision clear.

The second point is that intimacy differs from person to person. You see, relationships are all about a heart-bond, or a soul connection. The physical actions that bring about that heart-bond are different for each person, and do not necessarily require full sex. For some, holding hands is going too far. But either way, full baby-making coitus sure seems to bind the hearts together, regardless of who you are. It just seems to be the way we are made. I mean, look, if sex were merely physical, then rape victims should suffer the same degree of trauma as a victim of a physical beating. Obviously they don't. There is something deeper happening. (My own opinion, of course, and nothing official.)

The third point is that checking each other's character does not require physical intimacy. That has nothing to do with character. Intimacy has to do with building the spiritual bond. As my wife said, when a child is born, there is already that deep spiritual bond between the child and the parents, whether or not the parents recognize it. But for two fully grown adults, they need to do something to create that bond, and sexual intimacy is one way of doing that.

A side point here. When we become intimate with someone, our heart is somehow connected to them. If we lose that relationship, either through a breakup or a divorce, it is like that part of the heart is ripped out. And while I don't know from personal experience, I've been told that separation through death, painful though it is, is not the same. Regardless, the heart is not meant to go through the pain of breaking up over and over again.

And that, to me, is one of the main reasons that this man lamented over the practice of dating. This practice binds the heart over and over again, encouraging the intimacy before it is appropriate. And then breaks it over and over again as we search for that right person.

And then, when we finally find the right partner for us, all we have left to offer them is a wounded heart.

My wife and I both were previously married, and we both came into our relationship scarred. It has taken us a long time to try and help each other heal those scars, and we are still working on it today. But now I can truly thank God that we were guided to each other in a safer, more compassionate way, a way that we felt was recommended to us in the Writings.

If we can encourage others to drop the whole dating thing and, instead, investigate their partner's character more carefully before making that commitment of the heart, then our own personal pain will have been worth it.

Ah, who am I kidding. I'm with Marielle. It's already worth it.

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