Busted Halo
feature: sex & relationships
July 6th, 2009

M.E. and Me

Memories of my Marriage Encounter childhood


The endless reminders

There were endless reminders of the fact that my parents were leaders of Marriage Encounter, daily rituals that were absent in my friend’s homes. These included an hour spent “dialoging” each night, my parents demanding “quiet time” to write updated letters to each other in their journals. (Think Facebook circa 1982.)

There were also the evening “one-ringers” that I despised, when the phone in our kitchen would ring once, I would get up to answer it, only to be hung up on. My parents finally admitted that “one-ringers” were an M.E. thing — another member would call and ring once to signal that they were thinking of you. One night I answered it and it was Frank; “I’m just calling to say I love you!” he said. I hung up on him.

By age twelve, I had tried everything I possibly could to sabotage my parents’ participation in Marriage Encounter. I threatened to run away. I pretended to be vomiting in the bathroom the mornings of charismatic Mass. Perhaps the most desperate among these attempts, however, was the night that the police came to our house during one of the weekly meetings. I had called them anonymously from the rotary phone in the basement. I pretended to be a neighbor complaining of the “noise level” coming from our house, which was nothing more than five or six married couples singing and praying. They never knew it was me who had ratted them out.

What was it about my parents and their public displays of both religion and affection that mortified me? Sophocles once said, “The weight of the world is love.” As an adolescent, Marriage Encounter was indeed the weight of my small world, the proverbial cross I had to bear, and it was heavy.

Years after these episodes of adolescent sabotage I look back and wonder why I acted that way. What was it about my parents and their public displays of both religion and affection that mortified me? Sophocles once said, “The weight of the world is love.” As an adolescent, Marriage Encounter was indeed the weight of my small world, the proverbial cross I had to bear, and it was heavy. How could I have known it meant much more? In college, I would listen to the words of Neil Young who put it this way: “Only love can break your heart.” Somewhere between Sophocles and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young I finally learned two things: 1) That love could be a burden; and 2) It was supposed to be.

Lasting friendships

Though my parents retired from Marriage Encounter when I was in high school, the friendships born from that time remained. Twenty years later, I would see the faces of the Marriage Encounter couples again. I was now an adult, standing next to my father and three brothers. In a surreal moment, I looked around the room and saw the same sea of faces from the meetings in our living room over twenty years earlier. They were aged and somber, as they stood in line at my mother’s wake. One by one, they embraced my brothers and me.

Frank the “prank caller” was now in his early eighties; I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years, yet the first thing he said was, “I love you.” Nancy and Henry had been at the hospital the morning my Mom died. I remembered Ray and the belt buckle he was so proud of, the one I relentlessly made fun of; he wouldn’t be there as a few years before he also had died of cancer. I thought of Father Al, who insisted on coming to my college graduation party in the mid 1990’s, even though by then he could no longer walk. I missed the robust man in my memory that occupied so much of my parent’s time, who was usually loud at the dinner table, and who often embarrassed me in front of my friends. He had become frail and quiet. Watching my dad carry Father Al’s wheelchair up the stairs, I felt humbled and small. The only words I could think of were, “The weight of the world is love.”

I longed to go back to days past, to a time when my biggest problem in life was that my parents loved each other and God and went public with it.

I realized how little I knew then about love, and that whatever I did know about it now, I had learned from these people from the past who still occupied my mind and heart no matter how hard I had tried to forget them. I longed to go back to days past, to a time when my biggest problem in life was that my parents loved each other and God and went public with it.

I no longer lament the “normal childhood” that was not meant to be mine. Back then, I took for granted that I grew up surrounded by a community of people who believed in marriage, despite its inherent hardship, and in celebrating lives that were built on faith, love and loyalty. A common biblical phrase from years of overhearing the Marriage Encounter meetings still echoes in my mind: “Love one another as I have loved you.” It took me twenty-five years to realize that the thing about the couples in Marriage Encounter was that they truly meant it.

Pages: 1 2

The Author : Carolyn J. Martone
Carolyn Martone is a graduate of Fordham University and the State University of New York at New Paltz. In 2012 she received a three-month artist-in-residence fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, where she finished the screenplay, "Upstate," which is in development for television. She lives in Los Angeles.
See more articles by (16).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Bogie

    We just attended a ME weekend for the first time and despite the interesting content the delivery was very cult-like…we escaped just in time and don’t intend on going back!

  • Tim

    Very touching. I laughed and almost cried. Obviously a story from the heart and dripping with love and lessons of love. Thank you for sharing.

  • CherylK

    This post is both incredibly funny and incredibly touching. I’m stopping by to congratulate you for having this post chosen as Post of the Week from The Smitten Image. Hilary is very selective in her choices so this is indeed an honor.

  • land of shimp

    This was very touching and brought a tear to my eye towards the end.

    I remember being in the car not that long ago with my son, and the car in front of us had a “If the Rapture comes, somebody grab my steering wheel!” sticker on it.

    My son said, “I kind of want to rear-end them.”

    And I, not quite done raising him yet although he is twenty, said that life can be very threatening and confusing. That those people had found their lifesaver in this sea of life, etc. etc. and then ended with:

    “But I still kind of want to rear-end them.”

    I didn’t, of course :)

    I’m so glad your parents had such a wonderful group of friends, who clearly were very loving, but the bumper sticker stuff still drives me insane.

  • Cricket

    Hi Carolyn –

    Wonderful post. I passed it along to a friend (http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com) who selected it for one of her “Posts of the Week.” Just in case you were wondering what that was about.

    I had a few laughs over this one. My parents did “Cursillo.” Not quite the same, but close enough. I get it. I really do.


  • gaelikaa

    Some things are just not for everyone…
    congrats on POTW mention..

  • gaelikaa

    Some things are just not for everyone…

  • Ann-Marie

    This was such an entertaining look at a throughly wacky situation. You put so much heart into it. Lovely. :)

  • rosiekg

    I was just laughing with a singing friend of mine this morning. She sang “I love you truly” at a funeral recently. I told her, if it was his choice, he would have, as I told her, “some goofy song about never finding another you” at my Mom’s funeral… And then I found this. Beautiful. Heartfelt. Touching. It’s good to know there are other people in the world tortured as I was in my childhood by parents who loved each other. And I love you, too!

  • Ed & Dee Grahan

    We made our Weekend in ’76 and it truly changed our lives. It reminded us of why we got married — to be with each other, not against each other.
    We were involved in leadership in Philly and were going out to speak to couples in a Church to encourage them to make a weekend. Our 12 yr old dtr was really upset, “you’re going to that ME thing again!”
    We sat here down, and said “you knew us before our Weekend, and you know us now. Which way do you like us, — we will become that couple.” She liked us better since our Weekend. “Do other children deserve what you now have?” “Yes.” “Well we are going out to talk to parents so their children can have what you have. You decide, do we stay or go.” “Go” And She never complained about ME again. She and her husband have made a Weekend, as well as one of our sons. We are working on our other daughter and our other son to make a Weekend.
    Great story, by you. We have met so many couples as the ones you wrote about. Much success in your writing, and wish us success as we continue to work to invite couples to make a Marriage Encounter Weekend.

  • Anni of Finland

    I also felt the pain of M.E and the failing marriage of my parents during my early teens. Luckily, despite the effort, it ended up in divorce.

    My dad found his current spouse in M.E. so it wasn’t a total waste of time after all, at least someone got laid!

  • Eileen Marr

    Stumbled on to your site and account of your parents encounter. I read it because my daughters experienced a lot of this stuff when growing up. To read it from your point of view has helped me to understand that they were right all along. My unrealistic expectations of them to join in all the lovey attitudes mustve confused them because they had already experienced love within our family. So what was mum going away to all these retreats. It was the Beginning Experience I went to after my marriage broke up for the second time.I tried to join in all the activities, entertaining others life experinces, wheeping and whailing to Bridge Over Troubled Water. Oh yes I did it all. Till the last evening, when viewing how more than cudly some of the priests and team were! my experience fell appart and I thought what have I got myself involved in now. Catholic Woodstock! What a perfect description I can’t stop laughing. Thanks so much for bringing us back to reality. God Bless

  • Shannon Greenhaw

    I am one of the kids from the above posted guy. (hi Dad, study hard) Loved the artical!!
    Along with our 3ft ME sign in the livingroom, we also had pesonalized M.E. plates on our big green van. My parents had bright yellow shirts with the ME sign and “We are Lovers” on the front and “Pat loves Judy” and “Judy loves Pat” on the back that they wore. I have also never known them to leave in the car without giving the three car horn honk.
    (the one ringers did drive me nuts. To this day I do not get up to answer the phone till it rings twice!!)
    We still talk about the Garrets, Browns, Blumes, Shepards and so many others that were as close as family.
    I grew up thinking that Fr Chuck Gallager was darn near as important as the Pope! I will never forget the National Convention in LA that us kids got to attend. I think it was theamed “Year of the Family”. My parents loved each other deeply and had an unshakable Faith, and I know ME helped shape that.

    Shannon (Cunningham) Greenhaw

  • Pat-n-Judy Cunningham

    What a story. I found out about from your dad. I am now a seminarian with him here at Blessed John XXIII. I am from ND but when we were in ME it was when we lived in Kansas. Our kids grew up in a home just like you. We had a 3ft x 3ft ME sign hanging in our living room. We were the first executive couple for the Dioceses of Salina Ks. It was the most wonderful time in our lives. Our kids now in their 40’s still talk about it with great affection. I have sent the article to them. We believed we could chance the world… and we did. On our headstone will be the ME motto.. Love one another. And next to it will be .. We did.
    Keep Writing!
    Patrick Cunningham

  • Carol Mungo

    There’s a New World Somewhere” how many
    meetings and prayer groups did we sing that song, the laughter, the sharing, the
    weekend planning, the phone calls, busy,
    crazy busy at times, Fr. Chuck and Fr. Harry, Bro. Ben and Fr. Jack, I have to
    admit I miss those times and HDIF dialog.
    Thank you so much for that beautiful sharing Carolyn and thank you Kevin and Winnie for forwarding this to Judy and Al, I love you and God Bless

  • Marilyn

    I smiled; I laughed; I cried. Thank you.

  • twoinlove

    Our kids also grew up as children “of the movement” in both germany and the U.S. They learned to express feelings and ‘fight fair’ and be embarrassed by the public displays of affection that their parents shared. You eloquently shared the gift of love that your parents gave to you. We hope that it will be the same with our kids.

  • Kevin & Winnie Athaide

    As team leaders for several years in upstate NY, we identified with everything written. We remember Tony & Joan & Fr. Al well. Those were memorable years for us, thanks for the memories.

  • Lori

    well-told,accurate,funny and serious- WWME has moved and affected so many and our larger family is one we treasure!

powered by the Paulists