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College as Marriage Market

Friday, April 5, 2013
Andrew Cusack sent me this, as it was written by a friend of his at the New Criterion:

 In 2008, when I was a college junior, I went home to New Jersey one weekend to visit my family—and almost immediately regretted it. My mother seemed more interested in my romantic life than my academic life: "Have you found a boyfriend yet?"

I dated a lot in college, which really means that I usually had a boyfriend. I was fun and at least outwardly cheerful, got involved with a few groups and causes on campus, spoke up in class, had zany hair, got noticed. 

I was also intensely thoughtless, and had an idea at the time that the more boyfriends or admirers you had, the more successful you were as a woman. This is a really stupid idea, but that's the message I had taken on board, so I went out with guys way longer than I should have, for the sake of having fun, attentive boyfriends, and then broke up with them, sometimes rather abruptly. I looked Betty, but I acted Veronica.
Not being entirely heartless, I felt rather bad about my "fickleness." I was frustrated both with myself and with the guys I went out with. How come I got bored so easily? How come I never met a guy I wanted to permanently commit to? And even though I took an extra year to complete, graduation was looming, and my mother had said it was easier to meet men in college than afterwards. She, of course, had married a brilliant PhD student she met as an undergrad. 
I think I'll lightly skip over what happened next, for once. And--guess what? I discovered that there were still single men around after graduation. There were single men in grad school. There were single men at work. There were single men in parishes. There were single men all over the place. There was absolutely no reason for me to have dreaded my college graduation as the cut-off point after which there would be no more single men. (And for the record, I was better-looking at thirty than I was at twenty-four.)
What did make meeting good men more difficult, after college graduation, was being married (naturally) and then divorced because the experience of an unhappy marriage was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my sheltered life, and it seriously messed with my head. The annulment procedure, though necessary, was for me traumatic. 
I know a woman, a beautiful woman, who married a college boyfriend who was awful to her, and even before she got divorced or her annulment, met a wonderful man. They were friends, nothing more, because, of course, she was married. However, when she got her divorce and then her annulment, they were free to marry, and did. Now they have children.

When she told me her story I was grateful because until she did I was the only annulled woman of my generation I knew, and until then I didn't know anyone who knew firsthand what I had gone through. But at the same time I was hit with a wave of despair because it had worked out okay for her in the end. Even before she had escaped her agony, she had met the right man. Did God love her more than me? I feared so.
This was foolish, and although it looks like I remarried too late to have children (the elephant in the Seraphic Singles room), I don't think God loves me any less than a woman who has children. Indeed, I think He may love me just as teensy-weensy bit more, for He sides with the poor, the ill, the widow, the orphan, the refugee and the barren, and He's just got a different job for me. 
And part of that job is to tell the truth about Single Life, and the truth is that your college graduation is NOT NOT NOT your marital expiry date. God has a plan for you, and it may involve you marrying a college sweetheart, but it just as easily may not. 
Sure, if you are inclined to early marriage, then you should be open to meeting guys at college and having "just a coffee" when asked, and giving a marriage-potential guy two more dates/chances before deciding if there's a spark. As soon as you know you just couldn't marry him, then let him know you don't see a future for the two of you. As Catholics or other Christians, we should be above having boyfriends just for the sake of having boyfriends.  But please, for the sake of your future happiness, don't force yourself into commitments because you think there's something wrong with you if you don't feel committed by fourth year.  Everyone is on a different schedule. As hard as it would have been, I was supposed to wait it out.