Updated: Sep 26, 2019
What I would say to my younger self, if I was given the chance.
Dear Younger Self,
I know you won't believe me, but you are happily married now, to a good, noble, handsome, amazing, virtuous man. I know you would like me to tell you how I got here. And maybe I will. But first, you need to hear me out on something: Please don't be afraid to be single until this man comes along. Please stop lowering your standards. Please stop staying in relationships long after you know they are bad. Please stop being so afraid.
A Good Relationship
Younger self, you need to know your standards. You need to think about what you need in a husband. Allow me, an old married woman, to help you out a bit:
A potential husband must...
be a virtuous Catholic.
make enough money to support me and children without my having to work. (see first bullet)
desire as many children as God would give us. (see first bullet)
be someone I could obey for the rest of my life. (see first bullet)
That's it. It really doesn't matter how he looks. It really doesn't matter if he's awkward. It really doesn't matter if he's rich. It really doesn't matter if he doesn't enjoy your favorite hobby. It all comes down to virtue.
If he's virtuous, he will be committed to fulfilling his obligation to the marital debt and providing enough money so that you can stay home with your children. If he's virtuous, he will adore the Divine will, and want as many children for your family as God will give you. If he's virtuous, he will be a dutiful family leader, one that is wise and prudent.
And, listen closely, if he's virtuous, he's Catholic. Period. If you can't be saved outside of the Catholic Church, you can't be perfected outside of it either. Non-Catholics do not have the sacraments. If he's a non-Catholic and has ever committed a mortal sin, he is not in the state of grace and therefore cannot merit because he has never received the Sacrament of Penance. Stop hanging your hopes on a conversion, too. (Yes, I know about that non-Catholic you are dating. And I know about the next one you will date, too. But I'm telling you, you will never know if the conversion was just for you until it's too late.) Besides, how can you marry someone who's job is to get you to Heaven, when you have a fundamental disagreement on how to get there?
Listen: There is nothing in marriage you cannot overcome if you are striving for virtue and you marry someone who is, too. They don't have to be perfect. They can make mistakes. But they've got to have the fruit of virtue to show that they are serious. If he's not virtuous? Run, and run far.
A Bad Relationship
Being single is far better than being in a bad relationship, dear younger self, despite what you think. Why? A bad relationship can ruin your life spiritually, physically, monetarily, and so on. A bad relationship can lead you straight to Hell. But first, you need to know what makes a relationship bad anyways, because I'm pretty sure you've never thought about it.
You see, any dating relationship has three parts:
If any part of these is bad, the relationship is bad, and you need to get out of it. Your intent should be marriage. If you are dating just "for fun" or if the two of you aren't in the position to be married in the near future, it's a bad relationship. When you get married, you have to be financially ready to support children. If you aren't, you shouldn't get married. If you won't be in the near future, you shouldn't date. It's that simple.
The person should have the criteria we discussed in the previous section. This one can get a bit tricky, though. Especially if you have not known them long, bad and mediocre men can appear virtuous while trying to win you over, and virtuous men can appear mediocre because they are shy or awkward (or maybe just humble!). This is a huge reason to have an authentic Catholic courtship (a separate letter for later), because it will prevent your intellect from being clouded by emotions and sins of impurity, and it will give you ample time and opportunity to discern what kind of man this person is. However, in the meantime, here are a few things that can help:
Ask him about pornography. Be polite, but direct. If he seems to have sincerely battled and conquered pornography, that is one thing. But if he in the midst of the battle now, now is not the time to date him. He can come find you when he's conquered it. Because listen, even if he is battling valiantly, if he is still in the habitual state of sin, you cannot help him and he cannot help you (he needs the help of other men). Period. This has to be conquered before any kind of courtship, and I mean conquered and squashed like a little bug. Of course, the man could be lying to you about having conquered it. But how he reacts to the conversation will tell you a lot. Just be vigilant, because a porn or self-abuse addiction always, always will have effects in other areas. Which brings me to my next point.
If the two of you are in habitual sins of impurity, you are not ready for marriage, and thus not ready for courtship. End the relationship. Even if you are chaste, but it is because you are the one setting the boundaries or saying no, end it. You have to enter courtship with someone who has mastered the virtue of chastity, because I promise, the virtue doesn't just spring up over night when you get married. I don't care how much you love each other, if you are habitually committing any sort of unchastity (all of which are mortal sins according to St. Alphonsus, but I know you have never heard this before), get out now. Unchastity with you means that he is willing to break a marriage vow. If he'll do it before marriage, he can just as easily do it in marriage. I promise there are men that have mastered chastity, so don't waste your time getting led to Hell by someone who hasn't.
Finally, the effect of your relationship should be good. In other words, your relationship should make the two of you more virtuous. If it is not making you holy, it is making you unholy. If it is not leading you to Heaven, it is leading you to Hell. If it is causing you to sin mortally or to willingly stay in the occasion of sin, get out now. It is a bad relationship.
Why Does It Matter So Much?
Okay, you think, so maybe I'm in a bad relationship. Does it really matter all that much? Yes, it matters so much, foolhardy younger self. It can change the course of your life. Allow me to elaborate by addressing the excuses I know you are using to justify staying in your bad relationship.
It won't last forever. Dear Daughter of God, if you are in a relationship that you already know will not last forever, do not stay in it and let your heart be trampled. Getting out sooner will always hurt less than getting out later. If you are not dating for the purpose of marriage, you are only practicing for divorce.
I can turn it into a good relationship. No, you cannot. Not while you are in it at least. The only conceivable way you could turn a bad relationship into a good relationship is to end it and revisit it when the intent, person, and effect is good again. This means after all habitual mortal sins are abandoned and the virtue of chastity well-mastered.
Our love is so strong and we are so meant to be and all of that is more important than the fact that this is a bad relationship. First, naive younger self, what you are feeling is not love. Love is willing the good of another. If you are willfully staying in a bad relationship, you are not willing the good of the man, or yourself, so you love neither this person, nor yourself. What you are feeling is emotion. Intoxicating, convincing emotion...and one that can be completely contrived by demons. Did you know that? Demons can manipulate our emotions. Please, for my sake, stop listening to them. Second, I will give you a test to know if you are meant to be. Raise your left hand. Examine it closely. Is your ring-finger devoid of a wedding band? Then you are not meant to be. Once there is a ring there, you will know you are meant to be with this person forever! Oh, happy day!
Younger self, I know what I am talking about. Can I give you a glimpse into marriage to show you some realities that nobody talks about?
You will be so sick in your first trimester of pregnancy that whether or not you eat that day depends on whether or not your husband will take the time and energy to cook you a non-smelly (and usually very specific) meal.
When you buy a house and what kind of house you buy will be completely dependent upon how morally and fiscally responsible your husband has been in the past.
Your entire financial trajectory (retirement and big purchases) will be entirely dependent on your husband's spending.
There will be very hard decisions to make, ones that the two of you might not agree on, where you will have to take your husband's decision as final and live with it.
Your children will be so formed by their father that they will closely watch anything he does and try to emulate it.
Whether or not your children continue practicing their faith when they leave home will almost entirely depend (statistically) on whether or not your husband continues to practice his faith.
You will have to undergo the biggest trials of your entire life with your husband, and how he handles it and encourages you will be a big factor in determining whether or not you keep your faith and persevere to the end.
Do you see why who you marry is so important, younger self? You are choosing the person who will help get you to Heaven. We are not guaranteed Heaven. If you have faith right now, thank God for it! We are not guaranteed to keep it! If you are in a state of grace now, if you have virtue now, thank God for it, because were He to withdrawal His grace from you for one second, you would fall. That is why we can never be presumptuous with our life, especially when we are making life-changing decisions, like who we will marry. That is why we have to choose someone who is virtuous, because we have to have good help.
Our Fear Revisited
Dear Daughter of God, soul made for the love of God and the joys of Heaven, be not afraid. Do not be so afraid of being single that you stay in a bad relationship or lower your standards. It will never be worth it. God loves you, and wants you to be in Heaven more than you do. He wants you to be happy more than you do. Do you trust Him?
For, ultimately, this is what our fear boils down to. We are afraid of being alone. We are afraid of being unloved. We are afraid we will not have kids. We are afraid we will not be taken care of. We are afraid of so many things, because we do not trust that possessing only God is sufficient.
If you need to be single right now, take the leap and do it. If you are single, but are weary, be fortified in your decision to wait for someone worthy of marriage. Remember that the goal of your life is to get to Heaven, and for that purpose, being single is far preferable than entering into or staying in a bad relationship. Trust God. Adore the Divine Will. He knows what is best for you and what you need. He knows if you need to marry, who you need to marry, and when you need to marry, for you to be the holiest and happiest. The question is: do you trust Him?
If this is something you struggle with, and I know you do, because you are my younger self, I have a few suggestions:
Practice custody of the mind. Reject any thoughts of fear. Don't dwell on them. Swat them away like flies.
Make frequent acts of trust. "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in Thee," or something to that effect.
Make frequent acts of surrendering your will. Fast. Say often, "Not my will, but yours be done." Read Uniformity to God's Will by St. Alphonsus Ligouri (link in General Store).
Spend 15 minutes a day in mental prayer. Meditate on God and His goodness, His love, and His sovereignty. Meditate on the horrors of Hell and the joys of Heaven, and how short our earthly life is in comparison with eternity.
Being single is a cross to bear, and I don't wish to make light of it. But it is a cross that will make you holy if you embrace it for however long God wishes you to carry it. Think about that word, "embrace." We are supposed to love and welcome our trials! Why? Because God has permitted them for our good, and for us to get to Heaven. Nothing else matters.
Your Future Self
If you are reading this and you are in a bad relationship: I was once in your shoes. I knew it was bad, and I made every excuse to stay in it. It wasn't even bad by the world's standards, but I knew it was wrong. I lied to myself and told myself I would never find better and if I did find better, I would never deserve better because of my past sins. But you know what? One day, by God's grace, I said "Who cares? Who cares I might never find someone else? Who cares that this will hurt like the dickens? God is still God, and getting to Heaven to be with Him is all that matters."
So I did it. I broke up with him. The very next day, I met my husband.
And you know what? I absolutely don't deserve him.
"Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach." Mother Angelica