Marriage: A union and a sacrament

Sergio is a U of T math student, who, at 23, recently got accepted into a PhD program at Cornell. In addition to that soaring achievement, he will be getting married next summer to his girlfriend of seven years, Ernestine.

I sat down with Sergio to make some personal use of his brainpower and get him to share snippets of wisdom that a relationship culminating in marriage no doubt yields. Now, I knew from the start that Sergio’s beliefs about this fairly controversial subject—marriage in the modern age—would be passed through the sieve of the Catholic catechism, but what the heck, I thought. Though I consider myself a child of the New Age movement that is often railed against, there must be something I can learn from him. And there was. So in spite of the preconceived notions that initially made me wary of the interview, I discovered some startling truths. Let me share them with you now.

“A marriage is a union, and also a sacrament in our church,” was Sergio’s first memorable quote. Never before had I had it clarified in such a comprehensible way as to what marriage is to Catholics. Let me explain: for a devout Catholic, marriage is for life. It is forever the way tattoos were before laser removal was invented. Although I hear Jesus said there will be no marriage in heaven. The specifics are currently beyond me, but on with the story.

It all began in grade eleven: Ernestine had newly arrived in Canada from the Philippines, and Sergio resented having yet another ostensibly incompetent classmate being added to his project group. Nevertheless, friendship followed, a stage which Sergio advises all potential couples to go through before dating.

“This is the time to see if you would even be compatible,” he says. “If you can’t be great friends, you likely won’t be great life partners.”

Makes sense.

“Since the beginning, I told her that if we ever break up, that would be it,” Sergio reflects. So no second takes, then. Ah, the solid resolve of the scientific mindset.

“Breaking up and then getting back together gives you doubts, I think,” he continues.

“It’s a weakening of the relationship.” And true to his intent, the two have never broken up during the seven-year period. If you’ve ever broken up with someone you deeply cared about, you know that in the moment you’d do anything to dilute the devastation, the hurt and defeat of the moment. Personally, I think some bitter seriousness and pragmatism at the start of a relationship would be preferable to the quickly accumulating “sort-of” breakups and getting-back-togethers that far too many relationships must endure. I listened on.

Sergio talked a bit about the criteria that every person has in mind for a potential mate. They fall under two categories: “objective principles”, such as religious views, political views, morals, and “subjective principles”, like the way you prefer to fold your laundry. Agreement on matters of the former category are imperative, says Sergio, because matters of principle are usually non-negotiable. “Can a Liberal be successfully married to a Conservative?” I wondered. It depends on how much the liberalness and the conservativeness are part of each person’s daily life, and how much the two were willing to reconcile. Sergio was strategic about being with someone who shared the majority of his beliefs, and I believe his relationship was easier to maintain because of it.

Things got enormously interesting when I consulted my roster of difficult questions. Such as… What is the purpose of marriage?

“To make each other better,” he replied. This response was what dispelled my prejudice, changing it to “This guy really talks some sense!”

How do you distinguish love from lust? “Time. If you are able to wait that long without being intimate, then that’s love,” he says. I remembered that Rochelle, in our last series, had given a similar response. Love, then, is whatever’s beyond the drive for sex, what doesn’t depend on the benefits of sex. Which makes sense, since sex rarely comes before anything else, anyway.

I then asked what preparations go into proposing. “Surety of commitment. Financial stability. Parental consent.” All in all, having weighed the various factors, Sergio and Ernestine have waited three years since their engagement, and seven years since they began dating. They’ll be taking their vows this summer. Both have their parents as models for the longevity of marriage, and both have grown up with the idea of having a family of their own.

But isn’t he intimidated by the sheer prospect of being a married man at 23, before he’s even done school?

Not at all. “It’s much better to be married younger than older, in my opinion, because when younger it’s easier to adjust,” Sergio says. “You don’t have those age-old habits that one develops with age that are then impossible to let go of.” And balancing a grad school workload with romance? “Professors do it all the time,” Sergio pointed out. “They teach, do research, and have families. So if I can’t manage it now, how will I manage it later on?” Fair enough.

My interviewing time had almost run out, but I wanted to squeeze in two last questions. My intent was to have Sergio comment on divorce, and what his perspective was on the reasons behind its prevalence in society.

“Marriage is eternal, and people have forgotten that,” he says. “The change in popular morality also contributed, in that there are things now done freely that in former times were retained solely for marriage. Society has come to accept cohabitation [and] sex before marriage as incontrovertible, and that leads to a lack of seriousness in terms of longevity of the relationship.” This was the point I disagreed with more than any other. Surely most of us know of at least one real-life example where a couple has done all of these things and yet still ended up together long-term, married or not. On the other hand, many books on relationships have cited statistics that confirm Sergio’s words. What to think, then? And what to do?

“Society also seems to have moved from ‘we’ to ‘me’,” Sergio continued, meaning the focus on self-benefit as opposed to altruism. We now think more about self-benefit and not the benefit of the other person. True, sadly true, I think.

What is love? I asked, feeling his previous response naturally led to this. To this Sergio replies: “Well, another divorce factor is our current understanding of love. People understand it as feeling, and it’s not just a feeling. Love is what happens when the feelings go away. True love should persevere even when the initial hype of meeting someone special recedes. Love is about willful sacrifice no matter how you feel.

It felt like divine enlightenment. How do some people stay together for decades? They love in the way Sergio just explained, Catholic or otherwise.

But it’s time to conclude my informal study. It seems that some prerequisites to marriage include having parents whose own marriage is thriving, holding religious convictions that promote marriage, a firm morality that adds seriousness to the dating process, relative financial stability, solid plans for the future, and most importantly, a definition of love that focusses more on giving oneself and not taking.

I hope this has been helpful, everyone. It has been to me. All the same, I’ll be glad to get back to my own life after all this. If you want, please send feedback to I’d love to know what you think!

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