An elderly lady attending Mass with her contemporaries once said to her parish priest: "Don't talk to us so much about divorce, we are not ready for that anymore. If we have a husband, we are not going to leave him now". Would that newlyweds, young women and men, could repeat a similar statement: "If I have promised you a love forever, I will not leave you now." It is the deep desire of one who falls in love. I have not met couples who have promised each other a temporary "I love you", an "I love you" with conditions: only as long as you are young or as long as you are healthy, or until you lose your attractiveness.
Forever" is reached by the path of courtship, which is a process as natural and ancient as that of maturity. But if the process of maturity has as its goal the harmony of the personality and, therefore, does not end, courtship must have an end with two possible outcomes: either a goodbye as good friends, or a "forever"... It will be a period of mutual knowledge and attentive understanding, a stage to decide on the next step, the donation of one to the other. As in any human event, psychological and spiritual factors are also involved in this path and can determine its success or failure.
The bride and groom should discern whether they are in a position to share a life project with the other person, whether they are in a position to build a family together.
The purpose of these lines is to accompany those who are on the path of courtship in their decisive questions: Am I mature enough to take the next step? Am I capable of giving myself to a you? We will begin by recalling some general aspects of maturity, to know, so to speak, the score on which the growth in love is drawn, and to warn of possible difficulties.
Maturity in general
Maturity is not a state, but a lifelong process. It refers both to the fullness of being and to its proper development and growth. The mature person is capable of making a project his own. Unlike a fruit, the human being is always ripening and can even regress: he can become green again. For this reason, he needs not only sun and time, but also someone to support him and education in a home that serves as a model.
The characteristics of maturity are order, coherence and the primacy of intelligence and will over the affective world, that complex web of emotions, feelings, passions and moods. Reason illuminates interiority and allows us to intuit, for example, that in a couple's interpersonal relationship there are seasons: not everything is spring or courtship, but there are autumns and winters?
Animals usually manage quite well without their parents, thanks to the instincts connatural to their being. Young humans don't work like that: we need the experience of the older ones, to avoid the same mistakes. Maturity goes beyond growing old: it means maintaining boldness, a smile, enthusiasm and vitality, despite a decline in physical energies. Perhaps Plato, who said that it takes 50 years to make a man, was not far off the mark.
But one does not have to wait for senescence to reach an appropriate level of maturity in various areas of life, including that of raising a family. Women and men mature gradually, each in their own way and with their own psychology. In adolescence, a greater identity is acquired, and the following years are marked by a progressive increase in intimacy. Identity and intimacy are very important characteristics for future interpersonal relationships. Young people are expected to acquire their own vision of the world and of themselves. The influence of the group, the models they choose for themselves and the control of the instinctive forces that are awakened will be key. The adolescent forms a personal life plan.
From childhood, we also mature outside of ourselves. It is this characteristic, or self-transcendence, that will most influence our dealings with other people. How important it is to foster it from the earliest years, when little by little boys and girls abandon the "mine, mine!" that characterizes childhood. Thus they acquire the ability to be faithful and to love, necessary for marriage, which will open the way to integrity, care and wisdom. Psychology confirms that "maturity increases as life separates from the immediacy of the body and self-centeredness." (G. Allport).
Signs of maturity of the bride and groom
Along with these general notes, the bride and groom, who must have overcome the identity crisis of adolescence, have as a goal to know whether it is possible to a common project. For this it is good that the humusIt is important that the base or ground on which you want to build is similar: the culture, language and religion are in agreement and favor a good relationship. It is important that both know their past, in particular their families of origin. The courtship comes with a history, in which there may also be wounds that are projected. It will be necessary to ask if the values and ideals are the same. As Saint-Exupéry wrote, "To love is not about looking at each other, but about looking in the same direction".
It will be the communication in the difference that makes possible the deep knowledge and, with it, the answer to so many questions. Maturity is in understanding the discrepancies, in not pretending to modify them at all costs or to put the hope in a "it will change when we get married". A superficial or dazzled treatment does not allow to see the defects of the other person. This itinerary of mutual knowledge is also hindered today by those who trivialize sexuality, or deny all types of differences between men and women: genetic, physiological, psychological, linguistic, etc.
In order to reap good results from courtship it is essential to respecting the stages. Love knows how to wait, seeks the happiness and the good of the other, rejects the use of any person. No one can be considered a disposable object. Mature couples know that love is not only physical pleasure, and they reach out to each other in their psychology and spirituality. Thus, the eros gives way to a full love, characterized by the capacity for sacrifice and self-giving. A paradox is discovered: that loving implies suffering. The egocentric affectivity of "I love you because you make me feel good" is overcome.. With only physical and anticipated intimacy nothing is seen of all this. "Burning out the stages ends up burning out the love." (Benedict XVI, Speech, 11-IX-2011).
The mature person lives his or her sexuality in a human way. It transforms instinct into tendency: it recognizes a great and elevated purpose in the reproductive capacity, it turns acts into gestures full of meaning. It does not stop at physical communication but opens itself to the spirit. To reach these heights of love, chastity is needed, which is like a vaccine against egocentrism. Whoever is loved chastely knows that he or she is in the presence of unconditional love, and that he or she will not harm him or her. Only if one lives this aspect well does one really get to know the other. This virtue protects freedom and truth, and becomes a jewel that adorns the personality. In this way it is possible to decide the passage from infatuation to complete self-giving in marriage.
It can also happen that, after a period of getting to know each other sufficiently, in which peaceful conversations abound, it is discovered that there is little in common, few points of contact on which to found a stable relationship. It will then be a sign of maturity to interrupt the process, even if a certain attraction persists, since "nothing is more volatile, precarious and unpredictable than desire." (Francisco, Amoris laetitia, 209).
Perceiving out-of-tune notes
The idealization of the other is a danger that breaks the harmony of the relationship and can be perceived from outside the couple, like an out-of-tune note. It can be the result of multiple factors, as for example the complicity in the vice, which blinds and does not allow to see the defects. When looking at reality from the point of view of pleasure, the shortcomings of the personality remain on an unattainable plane. On the contrary, realism leads to loving the other person with his or her defects, and not only in spite of them... It is not a matter of looking for a perfect you and knowing if I am attracted to him or her, but of understanding that this ideal does not exist and of asking oneself serenely: will I always be able to talk to this person?
On any maturity note you can lack of healthy tension. Signs of this tension are true love capable of sacrifice. Those who are anchored only in pleasure, in an uncontrolled sexuality, may find an equilibrium, an appearance of unstable and self-enclosed security. "We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit." (Francisco, audience 27-V-2015). Psychology shows that a sexual relationship always leaves an indelible mark. Premature initiation of sexual activity can lead to the sterility of love, and even extinguish the pleasure that was sought.
It happens as in the exploited land, which needs more and more chemicals to become fertile again. Healthy tension is missing, looks become cloudy. And, paradoxically, new unhealthy tensions are created, such as a false sense of fidelity, reflecting rather an emotional dependence, towards the person who has been an accomplice in the relationships. This exaggerated tension damages the strings of the soul and pays with disillusionment. It opens the way to a series of superficial relationships, in which everything is all the same, in the culture of the disposable.
The priority of pleasure obscures the deep purpose of sexuality and sex. It leads to being satisfied with "feeling good and nothing more", to living disconnected from the ethics necessary to build one's personality. The exaltation of pleasure seeks justifications beyond good and evil, such as the slogan "the body is mine", reminiscent of childhood. This way easily leads to a rejection of maternity and paternity. The spirit is unable to fly, because it has lost its wings, it lacks the tension of true love. The relationship of courtship and the maturity of each person cannot be analyzed only experimentally. Nor can it be measured by "tasting", as one would do with an apple: if after the first bite I notice that it is not ripe, I leave it; if I don't like it, I throw it away and look for another one. It bears repeating: people are not used.
Forever" is possible and cannot be improvised. These words should sound as a background note. It is necessary to remember that women and men are capable of making definitive decisions. This is what the Pope said to the bride and groom: "Please, we must not let ourselves be defeated by the 'culture of the provisional'. This culture that invades us all today, this culture of the provisional. It doesn't work!" (Francisco, speech 14-II-2014).
In order to be in a position to make definitive decisions, it is necessary to accept the possibility of being wrong. Nietzsche warned that, unlike animals, human beings possess the capacity to make promises. It should be added that he is also capable of keeping them. And without faith in an eternal destiny, this is more difficult.
In courtship, harmony can only be achieved by an interpretation that two people are trying to to do well. It will be better if we try to tune every string, both those of general maturity and those of the Christian message of the beatitudes. These are a program centered on love, with practical suggestions to distinguish the true goods from the mirages, to sound the right note at every moment.
Throughout the concert, there will be no lack of fatigue. There are more difficult moments and notes that are hard to reach. As Thibon wrote, "The obstacles are made to overcome them. Love, colored in the beginning by an illusory perfection, due to desire and imagination, will not be able to last without will.".
Speaking of courtship, St. Josemaría said that, "Like any school of love, it must be inspired not by the desire for possession, but by a spirit of devotion, understanding, respect and gentleness". It is a process that requires time and dialogue. Sometimes there are many internal and external challenges that make it difficult. It is not possible to achieve harmony in the midst of so much noise. It is also necessary to "disconnect" from anonymous networks and encourage fun, interests and friendships. off line, to get to hear.
To summarize, the main notes of harmony in courtship are: to consider love as sacrifice, to respect and love the other, to move from instinct to tendency, to control emotions with intelligence, to know how to wait and to be open to a fruitful dialogue. The process should not be so short that it prevents knowledge, nor so long that it leads to routine. Love, like music, has something immaterial, which seeks the good of the person we love and lasts in time.
The orchestra conductor
"The alliance of love between man and woman is learned and refined. I allow myself to say that it is an artisanal alliance. To make of two lives a single life is almost a miracle, a miracle of freedom and of the heart, entrusted to faith". (Francisco, audience 27-V-2015). To achieve this, a Christian has the loving assistance of the Holy Spirit, who can well be seen as the orchestra conductor. When he acts in the soul, harmony is achieved.
The maturity of the engaged couple is a long process that begins in childhood. Marriage preparation courses are not enough, but an extensive catechesis is required, especially in the family of origin. It is there that one learns that a good life project is worthwhile and that one acquires responsibility. It is there that one understands the language of the body, the psyche and the spirit. If we want many young people to say I "I will love you forever and I will not leave you", we need to enhance the value of coherence and identity, foster dialogue and mutual knowledge, true wisdom of the mind and heart. In this way they will be able to create new currents, rather than going against the current, they will joyfully influence many others.
In this adventure they count on the help of God's grace and that of others, also to renew love every day. We are not inert pieces of ebony or ivory on a piano keyboard. The harmony that is attempted will be imperfect, proper to free and imperfect beings. In the trial period that is courtship, it will be useful to ask oneself, and to ask the Lord, if one is in conditions to continue towards a common project with another person. This song written by Paul McCartney is a good reflection of the anxiousness to elucidate doubts:
Ebony and Ivory live together
in perfect harmony
Side by side
on my piano keyboard,
oh Lord, why don't we?
Physician and priest.