New Course: Concepts Made Clear

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

One telling aspect of a marriage proposal is that the man usually has a bit to say. Even if he doesn’t actually put it all into words, he needs to be ready to give an account for himself and why he is making this specific proposition, to this particular person.

For this reason, in the stories of the proposal we tend to focus on what the man does and says. In the retelling we want to know just how he did it. We tend to take the response for granted.

But the proposition had to take the form of a question. All the man hoped and planned is completely dependent on something outside his control and far beyond his right to demand. Will you…?

Is there any word so beautiful and powerful as ‘Yes?’ A woman’s yes to the proposal of marriage—which of course is solemnized in the ‘I do’—stands out from all other yes’s in natural human interactions. And indeed, this word can express what is at the heart of being a wife—and more generally at the heart of being human. Human life always demands recognizing and receiving the various aspects of the gift of what it is to be a human creature, and the natural plan for our flourishing according to our specific state in life.

I am convinced that in some important way a woman has a deeper sense of the significance of her ‘yes’ than the man has of the significance of his proposal. If you ask a man whether this proposal and its upshot will change everything and become central in his life, he will surely answer in the affirmative. He knows conceptually how big this is.

But a woman feels it—in a way he usually doesn’t. At an intuitive level the import of a life-long and total commitment is profoundly present to her.

Part of this situation is that generally marriage in its fruits will be more directly and concretely all-consuming for her than it will be for him. A man tends not to comprehend this. He needs to learn to see it, and even feel it. As the marriage proceeds it is likewise often she that first senses the unique and at times overwhelming challenge of the married state. She tends to discover first just how different she and he are in how they think, feel, and approach life. Isolation and loneliness, and at times a profound fear can first rear its head in her.

From the start a woman has a natural sense of the ever-mysterious reality of marriage—and what it will demand of her. Perhaps men and women married for some time come to recognize this, and they look back, at themselves and at other people getting engaged and married. And they tremble for both of them, and perhaps especially looking through the eyes of the woman.

May you and your husband grow in understanding of each of other and of the mysterious reality to which you have committed yourselves. May your yes bear great fruit: its natural, but oh so hard-won fruit, for you and for others.

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