One concern that pops up frequently in the comments and forums of CatholicMatch is this: “He’s in his 40s and he’s never been married—can he commit?”
The two most common answers seem to be:
1. No. If he hasn’t settled down by 40, he never will.
2. Yes. If he’s in love, all will be well.
As a man who did not get married until his mid-forties, I can tell you this: it can be done, but not easily.
I learned the hard way that you cannot make a 180-degree turn toward a fulfilling Catholic marriage after decades of self-absorption. I lived on my terms, around my own schedule, to my convenience. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about anyone else; it was just that I found it more convenient to put myself first. It was comfortable, and marriage is not about being comfortable. It’s about willing the best and highest good of your spouse. It’s about doing something for someone else, even when you don’t feel like it. That is true love.
It’s also easier to put off marriage when you’re a man. This is a harsh fact of life, but it is a fact.
I wish I could reassure all women and say, “Of course he’ll commit.” But that is simply not the case.
Don’t be afraid to ask him why he hasn’t yet married. Don’t just accept an answer without asking for clarification.
My dad once told me (when I was in college), “Erik, you’re going to meet a million women in your lifetime, and half of them will be “the right one.” Sounds unromantic, huh? The simple truth is that doesn’t take a whole lot to make a marriage. It takes two people of similar values, who are attracted to each other, and who want the same things in life. The big things. If a man tells you he hasn’t met his “soul mate” yet, it means he has been looking for the “perfect woman.” And there is no such thing. He’s been unwilling to face the fact that no one is perfect. Consciously or unconsciously, he’s still unwilling to accept that ALL relationships mean compromise.
Our culture is to blame for most of the false ideas we have about marriage and relationships in general. Being told that happiness is to be placed above all, it’s no wonder so many relationships fail.
Ask him if he has he been discerning his vocation. Hear him out. He may have had a conversion of heart late in life. I did. Talk about your expectations in marriage. Talk about how you would face challenges together.
Don’t think that the hard work is over if you become engaged. Engagement is still a time of discernment. He may seem as if he is on cloud nine all the time he is around you. He may say that you’ve changed his life and he’s finally happy. But the fact is that his life has not yet truly changed. Over time, when the thrill of newfound romance wears off, he will come back to earth, as we all do. As the saying goes, keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half-shut afterward.
It would be easy to adopt the rule: “Don’t date men who are over 40 and have never been married.” But don’t do that. Ask questions. Discern. Communicate!
I’m one year into marriage, and have never been happier. I can look back now and see how modern culture warped my sense of happiness. I stopped living for myself and started living for my marriage. I abandoned the popular idea of “follow your bliss.” I discarded the incredibly naïve notion that personal comfort and “fulfillment” (whatever that is) was to be put above all else. Until I stopped thinking of my wife as an addition to my life, I was unprepared to start a life with her. I had to die to myself, and start living as half of a new creation. My wife and I are one; the old me is no longer. It’s a daily realization.