Husband & Wife Articles


Our ‘Maybe’ Culture

Keeping options open can close off important commitments

By Mary Rose Verret

“The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that he himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one’s self, of the weakness and mutability of one’s self, has perilously increased, and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind.”
    - G.K. Chesterton

Promises of any kind presume self-knowledge and personal commitment to follow through. Do you have a dear friend that is impossible to pin down? Personally, I remember when I was single and about a year out of college when every weekend was wide open. It was hard to commit to someone else’s plans because I did not know what I would want to do when I woke up on Saturday morning. Who would I feel like hanging out with? Did I want to go biking or canoeing? Which church did I want to go to on Sunday? Making no commitments was a safe option because an unexpected offer might come along or maybe I wouldn’t feel like doing what I had committed to.

Over the years, my housemates and I developed a tight-knit community of friends. The days were full and fun in our community of friends who grew in their faith and encouraged one another to become better people. One by one group members began to pair off and get married. Yet outside of our group we saw what we called “serial dating” with no rush to settle down. Dating was more about having fun than finding “the one.” Thus, when I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young adult Catholics, I chose commitment, or the lack of it, as my topic. I discussed Chesterton’s short essay “In Defence of Rash Vows.”

Though written in the early 1900s, the essay perfectly depicts the problem with our modern society’s inability to commit or keep commitments. Pope Francis’ recent comments on the “provisional attitude” of those discerning their vocation today come almost a century after Chesterton. While Chesterton lamented his generation’s inability to commit, Pope Francis laments commitments made by those who do not comprehend the permanence of marriage. It seems that we have forgotten what vows are for. Vows are made because we are weak, to keep us committed when we want to bail out. According to Chesterton, wedding vows are a “yoke” that we put on ourselves:

“The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves.”

Chesterton reminds us that true love by its nature desires to make vows. If you do not know yourself well enough to make this kind of appointment with the future, then you should not get married. If you are not certain that this is the person with whom you want to have children and grow old together, stay away from sex. Keeping your options open should not include destroying someone else’s future.

In today’s climate of hostility toward vows of any kind, it takes good friendships, healing, support, accompaniment, and growth in virtue to make these kinds of binding decisions. Now as a married couple, my husband and I try to provide help and guidance for those who are planning their future. You also can be someone young couples seek out for assistance.

Are you supporting those young friends who are discerning marriage? Are you reaching out to newlyweds and offering accompaniment and community? Marriage is not a journey for a couple to make alone. Sink your roots deep into your parish, build community where there is none, and walk with those who are confused or alone.

Mary-Rose Verret and her husband, Ryan, are founders of Witness to Love and co-authors of Witness to Love: How to Help the Next Generation Build Marriages that Survive and Thrive. They live in the heart of Louisiana Cajun country with their three children, and a fourth due later this year.