I heard a shocker the other day. One evening, while out with a few girlfriends, a man approached my sister-in-law and started flirting. It had only been a few months since she and her husband had exchanged wedding rings, so she happily flashed him her diamond and turned back to her friends. The guy was not put off. Instead he said, “Hey, it’s okay with me if you have a husband. I mean, how serious is your marriage, anyway?”
I was stunned. I could see this guy’s questioning an existing dating relationship, my sister-in-law is a very attractive young woman, but to completely brush off an existing marriage?! The guy’s question was outright vulgar, but it got me thinking. What if all married people asked this brazen question of themselves on a regular basis? When we have an argument with our spouses, what if you and I were to ask ourselves, “How serious is my marriage?” Are our marriages worth the humbling work needed to reconcile as quickly as possible, or are we going to pout or shout or talk behind our spouse’s back until we “win” this one? When someone other than our spouses flirts with us, what if we were to ask, “How serious is my marriage?” Would we still entertain this so-called innocent banter, or would we turn away and purposefully refocus our romantic thoughts on the one to whom we said, “I do”?
Really, why is it that we willingly work 40 to 70 hours a week to further our careers, or bury ourselves in 30 years’ worth of debt in order to own a home, but think that a marriage ought to be capable of running on cruise control? Is it because there is no entity out there bestowing awards or promotions on us for having the Best Marriage of the Year? Perhaps. Personally, I think we are also flat out lazy and easily distracted from any pursuit that requires a long-term, personal investment, but especially from one offering no material reward.
Frankly, I think we’re a bunch of suburban cowboys living in a gas grill world. We want the flames of love, ignited with just one sparkling courtship and wedding, to keep leaping high while we go off and grab a beer. But marriage is not even remotely like a gas grill. Marriage, by its very nature, requires a long-term, personal investment, and not even on eBay will we find a bottomless tank of pressurized love to keep our marriage sizzling in our physical or emotional absence.
Marriage is, however, the grandest adventure for which two lovers could ever sign up. To find an activity parallel to the true adventure of marriage, we’d need to step away from our gas grills on our electrically-lit decks, hike over our automated sprinkler systems in our chemically green lawns, and envision “just the two of us” on the wide-open prairie surrounded by tumble weeds, lowing cattle, baying wolves, and outlaws. Under such a vast and starry sky, building a modest campfire and simply staying alive would require our complete and shared attention. We’d stay the warmest if we slept on the same side of the flames sharing bodily warmth and taking turns tending the embers and listening for the wolves and the outlaws. Remember that guy who flirted with my sister-in-law? He was an outlaw, trying to steal from my brother-in-law, and our gas-grill world has made his job all too easy.
On this point a shout-out has to be given to the Catholic Church for teaching Natural Family Planning as the only morally acceptable way of determining family size. Where artificial birth control and sterilization foster an always-available, gas-grill mind-set about sex, there is nothing quite as adventurous as NFP where spouses have to work together closely to keep both the love- and the life-giving elements of sex burning brightly. Thank you, Catholic Magisterium, for pointing married couples toward the campfire mindset.
If we will tend to our marriages like real cowboys tend their campfires, then our marriages will be infinitely more capable of keeping the chill of apathy, affairs, and divorce at bay, and of allowing the warmth of Christ’s love to fill both of our hearts. So from one married person to another, “Just how serious is your marriage, anyway?”