“…for a common life is above all things natural to the female and to the male.”
Aristotle, Oeconomica

Even as marriage between a man and a woman is undermined, ridiculed, or simply set aside, we naturally feel the power and poignancy of a man proposing to a woman. This particular form of human interaction holds an almost limitless interest for us. We want to hear the whole story, even when we already know how it turns out in the end.

Surely this is because in the proposal so much of that amazing reality called marriage is implied, foreshadowed and already embodied.

A man proposes to a woman. He is in love, and through the eyes of his love he starts to envision an utterly unique reality: life together in marriage. He senses that it is his to step forward and initiate it. He needs to know what he wants—for himself and for her—and how to go about achieving or at least starting to achieve it.

But one of the most remarkable things is just how little he actually comprehends when he proposes. How can it be that such a rich and solemn binding can be initiated by one in many ways unprepared to enact it? How can his proposal be worthy of a yes?

For sure, he must demonstrate some requisite things, such as an appropriate level of maturity and other-centeredness, not to mention a certain material readiness. He needs to be the kind of man who is ready to learn what he doesn’t even know he needs to learn.

At the same time, a central reason this proposal is so worth considering, is in the astounding natural reality of marriage itself.

The full reality of what he is proposed and (might be) received will long and to some extent always exceed the couple’s comprehension. What they are agreeing to do together has an objective structure outside of their choosing. It is a structure that will, if they let it, challenge them and stretch them to the point of breaking. Yet it also has the amazing power to reward them, and many of their loved ones too(!), by being the vehicle and context for their good intentions and their yet unformed and untested generosity to come to fruition. Their fidelity to one another and to a rich natural plan that continues to unfold itself before their eyes yields fruits that never could have been imagined, much less planned by these two lovers, even in their wildest hopes and dreams. Here is the catalyst and context to find their truest selves.

Marriage, and the consequent household, is as much something we continue to discover as it is something we make happen.

“Will you marry me?” What an incomparable invitation! -–an invitation to a road at once well-worn and likewise full of what must remain surprises until we get there. So while the reality itself remains surprising, perhaps we should not be surprised at this: once again, and here especially, the natural plan is astoundingly good. If we are but willing to see.

Next week: When a Woman Says Yes

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