You Always Marry the Wrong Person

I’m really enjoying Matt Anderson’s email newsletter The Path Before Us. If you like ethics, philosophy, and Christian theology, then you’ll probably like it as well. Go sign up here.

Recently he’s been experimenting with the “Advice Column” format. He is a philosopher of ethics after all, and an advice column is fertile ground for considering questions of ethics in relation to concrete examples. I say “experimenting” because he’s not interested in writing a full-fledged advice column. He truly is more interested in the philosophical and theological underpinnings that shape our approach to the ethical dilemmas of everyday life.

At the end of each letter he includes a quotation of some kind. Mostly these come from Stanley Hauerwas, Karl Barth, Oliver O’Donovan, and G. K. Chesterton. If you know anything about Matt, then it’s no surprise that these four figures make a regular appearance.

At the end of the most recent issue on the question of bad marriages, he gives this quotation from Hauerwas:

“Moreover, that is why I always taught ‘Hauerwas’s Law’ to my classes in marriage and the family at Notre Dame: ‘You always marry the wrong person.’ Like any good law it is, of course, reversible. You also always marry the right person. My law was not intended to instill in students a cynical view of marriage, but rather to help them see that the church rightly understands that we no more know the person we marry than we know ourselves. However, that we lack such knowledge in no way renders marriage problematic, at least not marriage between Christians; for to be married as Christians is possible because we understand that we are members of a community more determinative than marriage.” – Stanley Hauerwas

As far as marriage advice goes, I don’t think you can do better than this paragraph from Hauerwas. The idea that there is no such thing as a “soul mate” was one of the most liberating realizations I had as a young college student. Oddly enough, I have Plato to thank for that: his dialogue Symposium includes a speech by Aristophanes who tells a comical (and horrifying!) tale of what having a soul mate would entail–it includes ball-like people smashed together rolling around, suddenly split apart by lightening bolts from Zeus, etc. etc.

Despite having grown up in the Christian faith, I don’t recall anyone communicating to me the Christian vision of marriage like the one Hauerwas argues for. The more theology I read, the more I’m convinced that Hauerwas is right. Marriage is preparation for heaven, and it entails a process of sanctification akin to monastic asceticism. Learning to deny our inordinate desires and to seek the good of another requires a lifetime of work. It’s work that must be accomplished before stepping foot in paradise–the place where our individual wills will be aligned with God’s will, untainted by pride and selfish desires.

I know this vision of marriage doesn’t sound romantic in the usual sense of the word. But in reality, it holds the most romantic potential for married life–a life that eventually leads both persons to communion with God, the end and source of every desire. In a word, marriage can lead to happiness.

Things People Say to Pregnant Women

Weird things people say to my wife, who is thirty-six weeks pregnant, when she is out in public:

I.

A general comment:

  • “Oh my gosh, you look so BIG!”

II.

Another general comment:

  • “It just looks like you’re about to pop!”

III.

Scene: Dentist’s Office

  • Female Receptionist: “So when are you due?”
  • Wife: “October 14.”
  • Female Receptionist: “You should consider wearing all black. It’s much more slimming.”

IV.

Scene: Potluck

  • Middle-age man (unprompted): “I just can’t believe you haven’t gained any weight at all!”
  • Wife: “Oh, thank you.”
  • Middle-age man: “No, really! I can’t believe you haven’t gained an ounce!”

V.

Scene: grocery store–my wife was buying two medium sized pumpkins to place outside our door.

  • Female Stranger (unprompted): “Ohhhh, I see you’re having twins.”
  • Wife: “What? Do you think I look big enough to be carrying two babies right now?!”
  • Female Stranger: “Oh, no! I just thought that you were buying two pumpkins for each one of your babies!”

…nope. Not a thing.

VI.

Scene: grocery store (again). But this time my wife was wearing her work-out clothes (i.e., yoga pants).

  • Male Stranger (again, UNPROMPTED): “Wow! You’re really pregnant, huh?”
  • Wife: “Yep.”
  • Male Stranger: “You’re really brave to be wearing such tight clothes when you’re so pregnant.”
  • Wife: “Well, I’m a fitness instructor, and I just taught class.”
  • Male Stranger: “Oh, really?” *incredulous side-eye*

This guy was 0-3 in this conversation. Really, he was 0-LIFE if you count the fact that he’s a man commenting on a woman’s body, unprompted, in public.

…………………

And now for a PSA from a husband who is not subject to so much commentary on his own body, and who isn’t around for half of the comments his wife receives when she’s at work or out running errands:

  • Commenting on a pregnant woman’s body IS NOT NECESSARY. No one will think you’re being impolite if you don’t mention how pregnant she looks. In fact, she’ll be glad you didn’t say anything at all.