Return to Neverland

PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Love is in the air … sort of. Professor Theophilus addresses two young ladies' romantic dilemmas.

Dating Peter Pan

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I've been friends with a guy for about eight years, since we were both freshman in college. After graduation, we took jobs in the same city. We get together once or twice a month for full-day adventures in which we go to museums, have long conversations over coffee, go to church together, take photos together, see movies, and go out for lunch or dinner. Usually we split the bill. I maintain that these outings are dates; he disagrees.

During the first year we knew each other, our relationship was romantic. Afterward we grew apart and had serious relationships with other people. Now, we're just really good friends. Neither of us have been in a serious relationship for about three years, but we've still kept our relationship platonic — we don't even hug. But lately, I find that I do have feelings for him, and I think that they are somewhat reciprocated.

However, he says he doesn't want to pursue a relationship with me, or with any girl, because he doesn't think he is ready to get married, and is questioning whether he ever wants to get married. I think he is being immature, as he isn't preparing himself either for marriage or lifelong singleness; I think he just enjoys the benefits of being a bachelor.

I want to break off our friendship, but he says that I am being selfish. Is this kind of selfishness wrong?

Reply

Your name wouldn't be Molly by any chance, would it? No, of course not. You're real; she's fictional. But she could have written your letter. Molly is the girlfriend of long-running Office Hours character Mark Manasseh. They've been dating for several years. The problem? Same as yours. He doesn't admit that they have been dating or that she is his girlfriend.


There is a calling to marriage and a calling to lifelong consecrated celibacy, but there isn't any calling to permanent adolescence. That's not a vocation, it's a condition.


I congratulate your clear vision. For years I've tried to convince my readers that social activities with the opposite sex are inherently unlike social activities with the same. Call them what they are: Dates. Even if we regard them as platonic, they have a different quality. If continued, they arouse different expectations, and they lead to different things. The difficulty is that you can't convince people of what they already know, especially if they are shutting their eyes to it. Your eyes are already open. Good for you.

I also want to congratulate you for your maturity, realism and courage. Why for your maturity? Because one of the things it means to be grown up is to discern and prepare for one's vocation. There is a calling to marriage and a calling to lifelong consecrated celibacy, but there isn't any calling to permanent adolescence. That's not a vocation, it's a condition. But I see that you have a firm grip on the Peter Pan Syndrome.

Why for your realism? A young woman who does have a vocation for marriage would be nuts to throw away her youth hanging around with a man who won't get serious. The biblical "threescore years and ten" pass more quickly than we think. Besides, one of the purposes for which God ordains marriage is children. After a certain age, fertility plummets like a stricken dove. I am guessing that you understand this too.

Finally, why for your courage? As you see clearly, then there comes a point when you must say to a young man, "Now make up your mind." But to do that takes firmness of mind. What if he refuses? What if he says, "I can't decide whether I want you as my wife, or whether I want any wife — why can't we go on as we have?" But refusing to choose is a choice; the meaning of "I can't decide" is "Here is my decision: I want you not as my wife, but as my entertainment." You have the valor to say "goodbye."


You aren't selfish to prepare for your vocation, or to avoid what might keep you from following it. He is selfish to tell you that you shouldn't.


If all my readers had such a firm grip on things, I'd be out of a job. But at the end, your valor slips. You listen to your feelings instead of your judgment.

You want to break off the relationship, but you hesitate because he objects. Do you need his permission to break up? No, he needs your permission to continue. What claim does he have on you? I thought the whole point was that you want to have claims on each other, but he doesn't. He says you're being selfish. Amazingly, you agree. You ask guiltily, "Is this kind of selfishness wrong?" My dear, you have got it backwards. Marriage and lifelong consecrated celibacy aren't selfish desires. They are callings. You aren't selfish to prepare for your vocation, or to avoid what might keep you from following it. He is selfish to tell you that you shouldn't.

After eight years, you were right to put this man to the test, and he has made his choice. Continue as bravely as you began. If God wants you married, and if you cooperate, then He will provide the man.

Peace be with you,
PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

Hold that Last Thought — Will he Really?

Dear Professor Theophilus:

I've always trusted that God would provide a husband for me. It's just that He hasn't yet. Or has He? I am starting to get a little confused.

The problem is the lack of prospects. I don't meet anyone in my job, and my church is so large that it is really hard to get to know each other with hundreds of youth meeting in large meetings. And my network consists mainly of girls.

I've pictured my future husband as a real warrior for Christ, intelligent, caring, a real leader. There is one guy, though, who doesn't match all my expectations. He is a friend — I haven't spent any time alone with him because I didn't want to encourage him — but I think he might be interested in me. From a lot of little things, I can tell.


Do you have to be in love to marry?


He faithfully leads a large and important church ministry, his moral standards are high, and he's trustworthy, intelligent, and kind. On the other hand, he's not generally liked. The way he talks to people is sometimes offensive. He's loud, messy, and self-absorbed. He eats unhealthy food, and he doesn't always act with consideration toward others. I've always thought that this guy needs to be married, but whoever does marry him has a big job ahead of her. He says himself that he needs and desires a girl who will be direct and correct him when necessary.

I'm not in love with this guy, but I do appreciate his company, and see that this is mutual. I see that he appreciates my frank opinions. And I do think my encouragement has helped him grow. A part of me tells me that he needs someone just like me to see his weak and strong sides for what they are. Since I have had quite mixed feelings towards this guy, I have avoided being alone with him.

How do I know this is not my future husband? Is my interest just my mother instinct that wants to help him? And is it selfish to care about my needs in a relationship as well? Do you have to be in love to marry? How much importance should I give to common sense, to just knowing we would be a good team? Since I, of course, have faults as well, should I hold his against him?

Reply

I can't tell you whether you should marry this man. Perhaps I can answer your other questions, and perhaps I can help you understand yourself a little better.


[Love] isn't a state of the emotions, like "being in love," but a state of the will. Otherwise it couldn't be promised.


You ask whether it matters that you aren't in love with the man. If by "being in love," you mean being in that particular state of delighted obsession with the beloved, which our culture began to cherish in the late middle ages, then it isn't a sin for two people to marry without being "in love." It is, on the other hand, a sin for them to marry without love — each must have a mutual, deep and firm commitment to the other's true good, and they must have a mutual and total willingness to join their lives. When a man and a woman get married, they actually promise love in that sense to each other. It isn't a state of the emotions, like "being in love," but a state of the will. Otherwise it couldn't be promised.

On the other hand, romantic excitement can help, especially at the beginning. To some people it matters a great deal, so you have to ask whether you would miss it. Even more indispensable is simply liking each other and finding pleasure in each other's company. It's not so clear to me that you like this man much. Plainly, something makes him interesting to you. But you also find some of his qualities repulsive, and you describe your feelings about him as "quite mixed."

What should we make of his bad points? I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that he eats unhealthy food. C'mon, at a certain age, almost all young men do. You should worry, though, that he's loud, self-absorbed, and offensive to others. You say that he's not generally liked; it sounds as though there are some good reasons for this. You wonder whether you are expecting too much in a man. Well, that's possible. Your conception of the ideal husband could be summed up in the word "Hero." In practice, though, you seem more likely to set your sights too low than too high.

What should we make of his good points? Don't be too impressed that the man leads a large and important church ministry. It makes no difference to holiness whether a man makes his living by leading a church ministry or laying bricks; what matters is that he do it all "as though unto the Lord." The fact that the man has shown himself to be moral and trustworthy is much more important. The fact that he is kind would matter too, if it were true; it's just that I can't help wondering how kind he is if he speaks to people offensively, as you say he does.

Why are you interested in him? You've mentioned only two strong motives for attraction. One is what you call your mother instinct, your desire to fix him. Maternal feeling is not a sound basis for marriage; a husband isn't his wife's child, nor is a wife her husband's mother. The other motive is fear of not finding anyone. Instead of being afraid, why not start looking? You say that it's difficult to meet young men at church youth group because there are too many young men there; don't you see something odd about that statement? Is it so hard to turn to the fellow sitting next to you and ask him his name? He may not be the group's leader, but remember what I said about godly bricklayers.


Neither of you has a duty to marry unwisely just because neither of you is perfect.


How much importance should you give to common sense? The answer is "A great deal." You and your future husband can do without continuous romantic excitement, but you can't do without the practical requirements for a solid partnership. I only urge you to think more carefully about what you mean by making a "good team." Of course you should make a good team, but I think you are getting that mixed up again with finding a guy you can fix.

Finally, considering that you too have faults, is it selfish to "hold his faults against him"? That's the wrong way to ask the question. God wants marriages to be happy; asking whether a man's faults are serious enough to make marriage with him miserable isn't being selfish. By the way, he ought to ask the same sensible question about you. Neither of you has a duty to marry unwisely just because neither of you is perfect.

It may seem as though I'm stacking the deck against your friend. Not really. Remember, I don't know him. I'm only pointing out that so far, you haven't made a good case for marrying him. That may not be his fault. You might discover better reasons for marrying him than you've mentioned, and your mixed feelings may sort themselves out in his favor.

Peace be with you,
PROFESSOR THEOPHILUS

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Professor Theophilus (aka J. Budziszewski). "Dating Peter Pan." TrueU.org (January 10, 2008).

TrueU.org is a community for college students who want to know and confidently discuss the Christian worldview. It is an apostolate of Focus on the Family.

Reprinted with permission of J. Budziszewski.

THE AUTHOR

J. Budziszewski (Boojee-shefski) earned his doctorate from Yale University in 1981. He teaches at the University of Texas in Austin, in the Departments of Government and Philosophy where he specializes in the relations among ethical theory, political theory, and Christian theology. The focus of his current research is natural law and moral self deception. J. Budziszewski is a former atheist, former political radical, former shipyard welder, and former lots of other things, including former young and former thin. He's been married for more than thirty years to his high school sweetheart, Sandra, and has two daughters. He loves teaching. He says he also loves contemporary music, but it turns out that he means "the contemporaries of Johann Sebastian Bach." He deserted his faith during college but returned to Christ a dozen years later and entered the Catholic Church at Easter 2004. Among a number of other books, he is the author of Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students, How to Stay Christian in College, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man, and Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. J. Budziszewski is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2008 J. Budziszewski




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