Back in March at the Behold Conference I had the pleasure of sharing a few conversations with Amy Bonaccorso. She’s the author of the award-winning book, How to Get to ‘I Do’: A Dating Guide for Catholic Women. (Full disclosure: I have not yet had the opportunity to read Amy’s book, although it is on my to-read list with about a million other books. So many books to read yet so little time…)
Despite the fact that I’ve been blessed enough to snag my “I do” – it’s been almost 10 years since my husband and I exchanged vows – Amy and I really connected because I mentioned how hard it was for me to find a good, Catholic man to marry. And so I ended up with a very good, non-Catholic man. Some might say I settled and if settling means marrying an incredible, selfless man that makes me happy day after day than that I did.
Amazon’s description of Amy’s book says this: “Forget about Prince Charming–he doesn’t exist–but plenty of good men are waiting for a woman like you to throw away the checklist of idealized mate material and settle down with a real man.”
Well, when I was single, I was bound and determined to find my own Prince Charming. Not only would he be dashing, witty, kind, brave, a good provider, but he would be Catholic – the verb and adjective kind. A man who loved his faith and lived it. Now I briefly dated a few nice guys and several jerks in my quest to find my Catholic knight. Then I started to hang around my campus’s Catholic Center (there was no Catholic Match back then), and I flirted with the few single Catholic guys there were and was just so tickled when one of these guys who was a regular daily Mass attendee – a guitar player to boot! – asked me out on a real date. Because he was Catholic and I’d been praying to meet a Catholic guy, I forgot everything else on my mental checklist. I told myself this was the man I was supposed to be with. No matter that we fought a lot and that I wasn’t very happy when we weren’t attending Mass together or going on a run (another interest we shared). Our relationship ended very badly, and I still continued to pursue him for a few months despite how he treated me and was frankly rather stalker-like, because the truth is, there weren’t tons of available faithful twenty-something Catholic men in the South where I grew up. I thought he might be my only chance.
In chapter 7 of her book, Amy discusses “growing outside of yourself.” She explains this phrase in-depth in this post, but here’s a quick snippet or two:
“Ideally, Catholic women want to find a Catholic man with good character, of course. It doesn’t always fall into place like a puzzle though…sometimes there is work and compromise involved. This reality is not always discussed in the Catholic literature, but real life is oftentimes messier than idealized dating guidelines! Keep in mind that the majority of the ‘courtship’ books sold to Catholic singles at events are written by people who have never been married or by clergy. I believe these intellects are genuinely trying to be helpful, but much of the advice is simply too idealistic to be applied to real life 100% of the time.”
She also writes,
“Sometimes, our own thought patterns can block us from finding a suitable spouse. Have you considered that maybe God is putting someone who is suitable in your path…but you are too rigid in your thinking to see him? “Growing outside of yourself” can be the missing link.”
After the bad breakup, I swore off dating for over a year and decided to go to law school. I’d never thought of becoming a lawyer, but I was preparing to attend Notre Dame Law School largely in part because of the higher ratio of Catholic men. Ironically I found myself on the campus when I had just been reunited with the man who would become my husband and spent a lot of time praying at the grotto about what to do about this heart of mine that seemed to betraying me by falling for a non-Catholic guy. I remember my dad joking with me that was it really necessary to pay $20,000-plus to land a Catholic spouse when I had a great guy right in front of me who was crazy about me? And this came from the dad who married his Catholic high school sweetheart and had always encouraged me to look for a man who would share my faith.
No, entering a mixed marriage wasn’t a part of my plan, but it was a part of God’s.
I won’t say it’s always been easy. I’d encourage single Catholics to pray and seek a Catholic spouse, but I’d also encourage them to be open to God’s will and to dating people who may not be their vision of Prince Charming (or Princess Charming). Likewise, I’d encourage those who did marry within the Church to be supportive of those in mixed marriages. It can be lonely. You can feel like you don’t really fit in anywhere because your non-Catholic friends don’t understand the big deal; yet, you may feel like an outsider with your Catholic married couple friends. When you go through periods of spiritual dryness, which we all do, your heart aches because you wish your spouse could encourage you. When you hear about other couples praying together, you wish your prayer life with your husband consisted of more than just him joining in on family prayers like mealtime blessings. I once said it’s strange how one of my life’s greatest blessings – marrying an incredible man who makes me laugh, provides well for our family, is a great dad, and is generous, handsome, witty, and kind – is also my heaviest cross. I long for his conversion, and I am powerless. But, again, it comes back to God who is all-powerful. He is a revolutionary. I wrote that recently in another post, but it’s true. Marrying a non-Catholic has challenged me like nothing else to trust, to be not afraid, and to believe that God is a mover and shaker. He changes things. He may not change circumstances, but God can change me, my husband, anyone.
I don’t like to write about this much because my marriage is such a personal thing, and my husband is also a very private man, but I know it helped me to find someone like Amy who understood my predicament and was not about to judge me or how faithful I am or was when I decided to tie the know to someone who wasn’t part of the Church. Maybe my honest sharing will help someone else out there.
Also, Amy recently invited me to participate in a live web chat on this coming Monday, April 23rd at 7 p.m. EST. The chat will be focusing on “growing outside of yourself,” and a priest will be offering his insight as well. The web chat is video-based, so be sure to have your web cam ready and have the latest version of Flash installed. You do need to RSVP/register for the free event here. Hope some of you will participate!