There is no easy way to pick out a husband or wife. The very idea of ‘selection’ is problematic.
For some it is simply a matter of romance. In which case, the selection problem is avoided. It becomes a matter of emotion and connection. And while romance can get short shrift, there is something deeply right in this way of living. But before I make a case for romance, or something very much like it, I want to explore the idea of selection.
For those who reject romance, who prefer a more pragmatic approach. There is generally some criteria which is employed:
- personality (kindness, humor, attentive)
- skills (cooking, dancing, etc.)
When I used to teach English 111 at a community college in Maryland, the students would write a paper arguing for the most important characteristic in a husband or wife. I was shocked to find that 90% of the papers would invariably select honesty. Honesty was considered something like the opposite of infidelity. I didn’t really see the significance then.
But as I think about dating and marriage these days, it makes a lot more sense to me. Underneath all the criteria by which I might pick out an appropriate spouse, there is another question, and its the same question you might ask yourself if you were buying a car.
Is this one going to fail me.
At the end of the day, I want to know that the one I pick out is going to stick by me in good weather and bad, for better or worse. Because if I’m abandoned, somehow it’s my fault. It’s not just bad luck, I’m the schmuck who always ends up with the lemon. Somehow I should have seen it coming. Or maybe I’m just bad at caring for cars. I’m not very good to them or with them.
When I pick out a car, there is always this fear that picking the wrong one means affirming some cosmic fact about my failure as a human being. At the same time, it is right to expect a certain kind of performance, function, etc., from an automobile. But when the analogy is made between car selection and marriage, the selection process is unmasked as egoistic, unrealistic, dehumanizing and unloving.
With a car, it is reasonable to consider whether it will keep running, whether it smells funny, whether it’s loud, uncomfortable, or looks weird. Is this appropriate for a spouse? I might purchase a BMW (if I could afford it) and expect a certain level of performance and reliability, but do I rightly go into marriage with such expectations?
It is quite different if you love the person you marry. Should they die before you, you should have grief. Should they grow cross with you, a reason to make amends or show patience and forbearance. Should they grow ill, a chance to nurse them and wait upon them. Should they grow unhappy, you might learn to pray and search with them. Even if they should be unfaithful, you should have sorrow, but you need never reproach yourself. For unfaithfulness cannot change the fact that the marriage had been for love. Whether such love continues is another question, and a problem better addressed under the heading of romance.
The problem with selection is the commoditization of the spouse with whom one hopes to get a certain performance out of. The husband or wife is primarily an object of appraisal and judgment. If the standard of a relationship is performance, there is inevitably dissatisfaction and oncoming disappointment.
But what then? Does one simply have no criterion whatsoever for marriage? This seems even more absurd.