I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood, the second generation of European immigrants. When I started dating, I was sometimes asked: This girl you‘re going out with, is she Catholic? Is she Slovak?
Those questions may seem odd now, but they mattered back then. Remember that the Catholic church had only recently concluded Vatican II and was just starting to embrace other faiths after centuries of condemning them. (Of course, the animosity worked both ways.)
And many of the immigrants in my neighborhood were trying to preserve the culture and the valued traditions that they brought from Europe. They were afraid of losing their heritage in the new land.
With that backdrop, those questions made more sense.
If Catholics started marrying Protestants, those theological assertions of superiority would soon evaporate away in the warming light of everyday love. If people from one ethnic background started marrying into others, new traditions would be created and the old ones would fade a bit with each generation.
That’s why to many people, your relationship wasn’t about finding someone who fit you; it was more about you finding someone who fit them.
And this wasn’t true only in my upbringing. When I was growing up, black people were prevented from dating or marrying white people in many states. If we go even farther back in time, royalty were prohibited from marrying commoners. Women were given as barter in marriage so powerful families could consolidate their influence or improve their finances. What the marrying couple thought of it really didn’t matter.
Throughout history, marriage has functioned as a ball-and-chain to try to confine others to a certain religion, culture or custom. It’s been more about promulgating a way of life than about encouraging the couple who is starting a new life.
I’m guessing that you could pick any couple from any moment in history and find that someone objected to their relationship and argued against it for any number of reasons. Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself. The arguments are as old as marriage itself.
And the essence gets lost in the arguing.
Here‘s a question: If someone really cares about you, do they fixate on whether the other person meets their standards? Or do they ask whether this person makes you laugh, helps you feel loved, brings out the best in you, challenges you to grow? Do they share your joy?
Two of my good friends got married over the weekend. Technically, it was a commitment ceremony because the state won’t acknowledge weddings between gay people. These two women stood in front of their family and friends and pledged to care for each other as best they could. They spoke of how the other completes them in many ways, makes them laugh at many times, gives them much hope, brings them much joy, and instills a sense of the divine in their everyday lives.
They promised to try to love one another, as they are loved by God.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Will human beings ever stop trying to make others’ relationships conform to their own? Will we eventually reach a day when we pay more attention to how someone loves instead of who they love?