1. Marriage is for life
If someone says: “I love you for five years” or “I marry you for five years but later…I have to reconsider it again, I may ask for a divorce…” Who likes to hear these words? We feel that there is something wrong in this approach to marriage and we are right; this would not be a real marriage according to our human nature and dignity. We deserve much more than five years. Our human nature and dignity asks for a decision for life, without putting conditions to love. Unfortunately we realize that a falling out after some years of married life is quite common.
2. Courtship is a very important preparation for marriage.
Marriage is a very serious step. We bind ourselves for a whole lifetime. Therefore, a period of courtship is necessary; a period of time during which a person can get to know sufficiently well his or her lifetime partner, before making the decision to get married.
During the period of courtship, the man and the woman have to help each other. Human love should not be selfish; marriage is a life of dedication and service to the other and one has to be well prepared. During this period, the most important task is to know the dispositions of the other’s soul, the spirit with which he or she will face married life.
Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. We are persons, a marvelous unity of body and soul; to surrender our own body to one’s spouse signifies surrendering our own self to him or her; honest sexual language demands a commitment to lifelong fidelity.
When a person is not yet married, there is as yet no true commitment; there is no marital bond and a free decision to be with the other for life has not yet been made. (Let us be honest!). If he or she has not committed his or her freedom totally, as the other deserves because of his or her dignity as a human person, one have to admit that the possibility of changing his or her mind in the future still exists; therefore the totality of the gift of oneself would be lacking. Pre-marital relations are a lie.
(Perhaps with an example we can understand this better). If before marriage, one of them suffers an accident in which he or she is disfigured, the other one could decide not to marry that person anymore and it would not be an injustice. There was no true commitment of married life yet. But for a married couple, it would be a terrible lack of justice to leave the other. In marriage, the commitments radically changed their status in life. They promised each other to be faithful in any circumstance.
Those commitments of a married person, so radically change his or her life that a period of courtship is really important and necessary to prepare them.
Courtship should be seen as a time of testing, a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity and the hope of receiving one another as a true gift from God. They should reserve for marriage, expressions of affection that belong to married love and help each other grow in chastity and love (cfr. Pope John Paul II address on the 6 of Feb. 1993).
3. Consequence of the truth about love and courtship.
Man and woman complete each other but expressions of love cannot be governed by feelings alone. We are humans. If the couple does not act prudently, progressively concupiscence can end up governing the relationship and reducing it simply to sexual attraction, each one becoming an object for satisfying personal desires, lowering the relation to the animal level, contrary to the reality of the human person. We should be governed by our mind, which is above our feelings, ready to give ourselves to the other out of love, not out of selfish feelings. For this reason, prudence has always advised that the length of the engagement before marriage be relatively brief (one or two years seem enough to acquire a deep mutual knowledge). External guarantees of stability, such as provided by age, professional situation, house, cannot be forgotten.
Authentic human love is an instrument of sanctification and those in courtship have the obligation to preserve it from selfishness; they are laying the solid foundations for their future stability and fruitfulness.
4. Men and women are different.
Men and women are different; in body and emotions.
Men can easily get aroused. Women are not aroused easily to sexual pleasure. Even if a woman loves someone very much, she may stop some kind of advance which is not proper. For men, this is more difficult. She has slower rising of sexual desires. This is a kind of protection for her, part of the plan of the Creator. This difference in behavior corresponds to the way God made man and woman; it is obvious that the consequences of a sexual act in a man are different from that in a woman. Men do not get pregnant. Women can get pregnant. Women get more trapped, so to speak.
Their hearts are also different. A man can separate sex from love. The average young lady does not generally separate love from sex; for her, feelings of romantic love and sexual desires are closely related.
For the man, sexual desires come suddenly; can be intense and not necessarily related with the heart. He does not feel deep emotions of love and tenderness; he wants immediate satisfaction and pleasure. The woman should understand that the biological and psychological conditions of the man are different. ( Cfr. Jimmy Achacoso, Documentation Service, Philippines, July, 1998).
True friendship is impossible if one allows lust in it. Lust disturbs the capacity of clear discernment and calm thinking. The physical attraction should be subordinated to the spiritual level, to mind and reason.
Courtship is a time for holiness, a time to pray, a time to cultivate a love in which the spiritual, emotional, affective aspects are well harmonized and open to the consequences of a married life. A time to fall in love not only in a sentimental way, just because of feelings. But to fall in love, using the mind, the heart and the freedom to chose, for life, a person who has the qualities to be one’s husband or one’s wife until death, and who will be the father or the mother of one’s children.
6. A practical approach.
Some suggestions for the period of courtship:
a) Sincerity. To discuss seriously important topics: children, finance, home, in-laws, work, etc.
b) To avoid travelling alone with him or with her.
c) To avoid certain places, late-night meetings.
d) To get to know his or her friends.
e) To get to know his or her workplace.
f) To seek advice from parents and mature persons.
g) To avoid less decent way of wearing clothes.
h) It is good to have serious disagreements that are quickly solved. In married life these will occur as well.
i) Prayer for happy marriage.
Based on a publication about the topic: DOCUMENTATION SERVICE on Courtship, Dating and going steady, Philippines (1998). Special thanks to John Paul II and Jimmy Achacoso. Written and arranged by Jose Pedro Libano M.