I am your sister in Christ; I am also your friend rooted in reality. Between the ages of 22 and 25, I prayed fervently to St. Anne, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and all the other friends in heaven who promise to make spousal matches. I was looking for a St. Joseph of my very own, after briefly discerning religious life during college and realizing it wasn’t for me. Once I knew that I wasn’t called to live in a convent, I began the search for the perfect Catholic gentleman. I wanted an intellectual (would we meet reaching for the same Chesterton book?), someone my parents would adore immediately, and most likely someone I would meet at Mass or Theology on Tap. I attended so many Catholic networking events in the cities where I lived during that time, certain it would be where I would meet my future husband.
When I turned 25, I did meet someone… a gruff, burly man working in entertainment in Los Angeles, who just happened to be Jewish, with no interest in converting to the Catholic faith. But we had other values in common, like family, community, and love for nature. Seven years later, none of that has changed, and we are newlyweds. Our journey was not necessarily what I imagined for myself at 25 – and our wedding was not either. We got married in the time of COVID, with our parents watching via video stream and our handful of witnesses wearing masks and standing six feet apart. My expectations came crashing down hard when we had to postpone our original wedding date, but the joy of our tiny marriage was real because of who I married.
But I’m not here to tell you the details of my story (albeit it is pretty good and full of divine intervention). Instead, I want to share with you what I’ve learned about relationship expectations as a faithful Catholic called to marriage, which is that – to the surprise of some – virtue requires us to open our hearts and pick our battles (proof: St. Therese of Lisieux’s life in the convent).
Here are a few suggestions for how to adjust potentially unrealistic expectations you may have of the person you hope to marry.
1. Your future spouse probably has hobbies that are different from yours and those of a monk.
While I didn’t grow up gaming and honestly don’t really get the appeal, my husband has a weekly video game night with a bunch of guys he connects with virtually, and they play as a team. It is one of his best stress-reducers after a long work week. And who am I to judge? It’s not violent, and if it was, we could have a conversation about whether or not that particular game affects his demeanor. As a lifelong soul searcher, sure, I would love to see him pick up “Confessions” by St. Augustine on a Friday night instead. But if I’m choosing to do my nails or watch “Under the Tuscan Sun” in my free time, then why shouldn’t he be able to use his time in the way that he chooses? For the record, my husband is also a ceramics artist, a gardener, and the best cook I know.
2. He or she might not be who your parents – or even your best friend – always had in mind for you.
My parents expressed skepticism when I told them I was certain my vocation was to marry a non-Catholic man. I met my husband at the wedding of two Catholic friends who also found the match odd and frankly, disappointing. I felt downtrodden by the uncertainty of others, even when I was certain in my own heart. I wanted everyone to recognize our chemistry instantly and thought affirmation would come easily if it was my vocation. But Christ was the first to teach us that true vocation is not always easy. Over time, my parents and friends were able to see the love between us, and the same beauty and goodness that I see in my husband. While they usually want what is best for us, the important thing to remember if others aren’t sure about your partner is to ask yourself earnestly – what do you want?
3. Perfection doesn’t exist outside of Jesus Christ and Our Lady.
If I asked you to list your sins, we call that Confession. If I asked you to make a list of the sins you don’t want your future spouse to commit, we would probably call that unattainable (aside, of course, from the biggies like infidelity). Every human being is marred by original sin, and no matter how hard we try to overcome our flaws, any married couple can tell you that they are present daily. God willing, you will find someone who loves you for you and all your shortcomings – I am lucky enough to have done so. And in the same way you wish to be loved despite your imperfections, you must learn to love another despite his or hers.
Everyone has their own non-negotiables based on lived experiences, and it’s okay to keep those in mind as you look for a spouse. But if we find that we cannot change our beloved, can we love them anyway? (Spoiler alert: you won’t change anyone overnight or maybe ever, especially when it comes to picking their socks up off the floor.) While my husband is not actively involved in my faith life, I know that he loves me because of who I am in my entirety, including my spirituality and religious grounding, which is the soil from which the rest of my character springs. And I see the Holy Spirit emanating from him when he cooks me an incredible meal or gazes at the mountains. He often teaches me with his generosity, from organizing neighborhood trash cleanups to buying hats and socks to hand out to LA’s homeless.
The overarching theme here is not letting an unattainable ideal or an impulse to check all the boxes prevent you from finding true love. There are incredible people out there, both inside and outside the Catholic Church. Chemistry is important (in my experience) as is a shared value system and vision for your lives together, plus of course conversations on the big three: sex, children, money.
But open your heart to see the true person in front of you. You could be so pleasantly surprised at where it leads.