Friday, November 30, 2007

Catholic Marriage Counseling and the Triathlete

Engaged Encounter LogoAt first thought, a getaway up in the mountains of Santa Barbara for you and your fiancé might sound romantic. Heck, that might even be your idea of a perfect honeymoon! But throw in 39 other engaged couples, a priest, a few couples older than your grandparents who will lead the weekend, separate male and female dorms, and psychological warfare, and you have what the Catholic church likes to call: Engaged Encounter.

Being a skeptic, and having watched “License to Wed” twice, I was looking out for subtle signs that the church was trying to tear me and coachancé apart. The first effort to test our relationship came on the drive up. We left LA at about 4:30pm, arrived in Santa Barbara around 7:00pm (when we were supposed to be there), then were faced with this sign on the narrow windy mountain road up to the church: ROAD CLOSED. When the little old lady called me the night before we left to ask if I had any questions, why didn’t she tell me that the only road in all of HER directions was closed? It was a test. I swear.

When we finally arrived, pooped and hungry, two pair of 80 year-old lovers signed us in, then proceeded to get crackin’ on our lessons, because we had 44 hours to pack in every major discussion we could possibly have over our lifetime, and going to bed at 9 was, apparently, a practice only held by young triathletes in their 20s and not 80 year-old marriage nazis who no longer needed beauty rest.

Journals were set on all of our seats—journals that would soon be filled with the key to a long and happy marriage, according to the octogenarians. The first page was titled: Introduction. The first question? Why did I come here this weekend? My answer? Because the Catholic Church said I had to, and I love spending time with my coachancé, and I want to see how many times I can make him cry in one weekend.

That’s right, coachancé is the perfect guy; he is incredibly romantic, and infinitely better at expressing his feelings—especially if they’re mushy—than I. So I made a “Coachancé Boo-Hoo Tally” and kept note of each time I made him cry, and what page in the journals did him in.

Some of the journal topics: Openness in Communication, Morality in Christian Marriage, Sex (which I did not want to discuss with the aforementioned 80 year old lovers), Becoming a Family, Forgiveness, and, of course, Giving the Catholic Church All of Your Money. One of the most poignant parts of the weekend was called “Betrothal”. We had about half an hour to ourselves to basically write marriage vows, then share them with each other, and with the entire group, if you were so moved. I’ll admit, that made me cry, but I just had LASIK, so I was using eye drops like crazy and had an excellent excuse for the tears.

One guy got up and did his best impression of what I’d imagine 50cent’s proposal would be like, ending with “P.S. baby, countdown to lockdown!” The old people didn’t know what to do with that one.

All in all, Engaged Encounter turned out to be a wonderful thing. The one in Santa Barbara is absolutely gorgeous, and has a great hiking trail close by (which you can sprint to in the 1.25 hours you get to yourself over the entire weekend). The old people have great stories, if you can get over the fact that it takes them about an hour to tell each one, and there is a lot of time for self meditation…which could be fabulous if you have the ability to sit still for more than half an hour. I was not blessed with this ability and ended up drawing cartoons all over my entire journal.

It’s neat to meet other couples getting married soon, even if you only get to talk to them over meals. And finally, it’s a great opportunity for you and your fiancé(e) to confirm all of the reasons why you love each other and are getting married in the first place. And if you discover anything new during this weekend, good luck. It’d be scary to be getting married within the next half a year and not have already discussed finances, kids, past relationships, etc., as many of the super-Catholic-I-will-not-live-with-my-boyfriend-of-8-years-until-we’re-married couples there had not. But to each his own.

Happy Self-Exploration with Priests and Old People!


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