the Marriage Test
Born and raised a Baptist in the South, my mother was taught a strong Protestant ethic that she hoped to instill in her own children some day. That ethic also made her wary of Catholics and their iconoclastic sense of religion.
Nevertheless, she fell in love with and decided to marry my half-Irish quarter-Italian father who grew up in the Catholic Church. Seeing as how the two extremes of Christianity could not possibly coexist, they felt the most logical choice was to compromise and get married in the Presbyterian Church and convert.
Thus I was born and baptized a Presbyterian. And for 11 years I went to a Presbyterian Church. But when mom and dad split, mom decided we belonged in the Baptist church and that all things Catholic and Presbyterian should remain in Rome and Germany or wherever it is Presbyterians hang out.
And so began the little subtle Catholic bashing from my mom that formed my aversion to Father O'Brian movies and that TV show with Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.
Then I met Christina. And then I fell in love with Christina. And then I proposed to Christina on a bridge in Jacksonville in February and she was cold and I was nervous and when I made her close her eyes I accidentally shut the ring box too loudly and it ruined the surprise and she knew it was coming but she said yes anyway.
And Christina is Catholic.
But mom likes Christina, she says.
So Christina and I are getting married in the Catholic Church since her parents are paying, but we are not going to have a mass or Communion, so her mom is upset but I am happy, and mom is as happy as she can be since her son is getting married in a Catholic Church and dad was Catholic and look how that turned out.
So since we are getting married in the Catholic Church in the state of Florida, there are certain rituals and rites and hoops we have to jump through in order for them to marry us.
The Florida Legislature passed the Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act of 1998 which says that all couples planning to marry in Florida have to read a 16-page handbook on marriage and, God and Father O'Brian forbid, divorce. We have to sign a paper saying we read this handbook when we go to get our license, and the state urges couples to take a four-hour class on marriage. If we take the class, we will save $32.50 on our license.
Thirty-two fifty? It could be $3.50 and I'd sign up. I'm going to be a 23-year-old newlywed whose number is on speed dial at the collection agency used by Visa and Mastercard. Not to mention Columbia House (I still maintain I DID NOT order and agree to pay for that John Tesh CD) Thirty-two dollars can go a long way as far as I am concerned.
But the Catholic Church ups the ante. They not only want you to take marriage preparation courses, they won't marry you in their Church if you don't. The Pontifical Council for the Family (don't try to say it out loud; I tried to say it for three hours and got a headache) began a draft of guidelines for clergy and marriage counselors to use in pre-marriage therapy in 1991. It was completed and distributed in 1995, giving me just enough time to save up for a down payment on Christina's ring, which, when paid off, should allow me enough time to correctly pronounce Pon-tif-i-cal.
So since we're getting hitched in Jacksonville and it would be somewhat inconvenient to drive the 75 minutes (105 minutes if Christina is driving and we don't have a tail wind behind us), but the PCF wants us to go through all these motions, we decided to meet with the priest in the Catholic Church across from campus.
We met with Father Gillespie (no relation to the late jazz great, though his jowls were about in proportion), and he sat us down in his office (he was fifteen minutes late, but he is a priest, so something told me I really couldn't say much, plus, Christina would have killed me) and we spoke for about an hour as to what we had to do to keep up our end of the whole marriage bargain.
Gillespie gave us a packet on the Sacrament of Marriage which told us how important marriage is and how you need to work with each other to make the marriage work, and it's an ongoing enrichment process. We need to provide a certificate of Baptism and proof that we weren't already married, and of course, the BIGGIE: the Dispensation, which says that we will raise our children Catholic. I guess there goes my chance to tell all the Priest jokes I learned from Mom.
After we met with his highness or whatever they call each other, we had to make an appointment to go back to take the FOCCUS, which is one of two tests that Catholic engaged couples have to take before going to pre-marriage counseling so they know what to tell us to work on in our relationship.
FOCCUS stands for Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study. It is a self-diagnostic instrument designed to help couples learn more about themselves and their unique relationship. I hate it when tests are considered "instruments." It makes me think of paper with lines and dots all over it and I have flashbacks of thirty third-graders around me laughing as I struggle with "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a recorder. And isn't a recorder really a clarinet without the growth spurt?
So we went to the meeting in the recreation room in the back of the Catholic Church across from campus. And there were about half a dozen other young couples there who were getting married. And they took our picture and put it in our file so they could put faces with our names. And we took the FOCCUS and got through that. But that was cake compared to THE TEST.
The Myers-Briggs personality test is a series of questions that tells future spouses why their significant others behave in the irritating manners they do. It was developed in the early 1940s by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs. It is a self-report personality inventory designed to give people information about their psychological type preferences. (Sample question: When your future spouse says he/she got a phone call from his/her mother/father/guardian saying they will be coming over for breakfast/lunch/dinner without a great deal of notice, do you view this as inappropriate behavior for in-laws or do you relish/mustard/ketchup the opportunity to make a quick meal with only a jar of thousand island dressing and half a bag of bagels? A) Agree B) Slightly Agree C) Disagree D) Pack the bags and load up the car, I'm leaving.)
The test is supposed to tell whether I am an Extrovert or an Introvert, whether I am good at Sensing or iNtuition (They're women scientists in the 40s, remember. Nobody said they were good at grammar), if I am better at Thinking or Feeling, or better at Judging or Perceiving.
For instance, if I come home from work after my wife has just cleaned the house and I put my coat and tie and brief case on the coffee table and my shoes in the freezer, Myers-Briggs would day that I can not be held accountable for my actions because I was raised that way and I am a messy husband and a slob because I am an ESTJ personality. Therefore, I speak before I think and like baseball and sunny days and have an uncanny knack for annoying my future wife.
Christina, on the other hand, is an INFP personality, and therefore thinks before she speaks, likes basketball and cloudy days and puts up with more than any human being can reasonably be expected to handle without several ulcers and the propensity to cut the brake line in my car.
Myers-Briggs, I found out after taking THE TEST and the subsequent follow-up, was Latin slang for "take no responsibility for your own actions and blame the environment and the way your parents reacted when you got a 'C' on a spelling test, and that will be $174.50 please."
Had I known then that this thing was designed by two women in the 40s, I would have known that I didn't stand a chance in Hell (should I say that in a story involving priests and churches) of coming out a winner in this deal.
So after we took THE TEST and waited three weeks for the results to come back from the Myers-Briggs home office in Rip-off, Oklahoma, we went back to the church for the Review Sessions with Bob.
Bob and Anne are the directors of Marriage & Family Enrichment at the church across from campus, and they have been married for about 40 years and have great kids and great grandkids and a great marriage that is always changing.
So Christina and I met with Bob in a little room on the second floor of the church across from campus. The room had tan carpet and three chairs and a nice phone and a bookshelf filled with books on Catholicism and various theology books.
And Bob sat across from us wearing his tan Birkenstocks and his gray socks and brown pants and he crossed his legs knee-cap-to-knee-back the way Christina yells at me for when I do it because she says it looks feminine. And he had our file with our picture in it and a professional-looking printout with bar graphs on it, and he had a sheet of paper on it with various questions that we answered differently and he wanted to know why we felt the way we did. ("There are no wrong answers here and no blaming," Bob said.)
Bob wanted to know about my parents and whether they fought in front of me and whether I thought that made me think a certain way. ("We're not here to blame them, just to figure out why you think the way you do," Bob said.)
Bob wanted to know about Christina's parents and her brother and sister and why her parents acted the way they did and whether she thought that made her think a certain way. ("It would be great if we had the entire family here to figure out why you think the way you do, but since they're not, let's concentrate on how their actions and words make you think the way you do," Bob said.)
Bob said he was an only child, like me, and his parents divorced when he was in elementary school, like me, so he could understand what it was like to be raised by a mother, like me. ("That has a lot to do with the way you interact with Chris and why you think the way you do," Bob said. Christina does not like to be called Chris, but neither of us said anything, and we nodded our heads and smiled on cue and Bob was happy.)
Bob asked if we had discussed the Myers-Briggs test since we had taken it and if we agreed with the results. Since I was the ESTJ personality and was more inclined to be vocal, like Bob ("Being an ESTJ personality has a lot to do with why you think the way you do"), I answered that I was concerned that this test, while quite revealing and thought-provoking, would be used as a crutch to lean upon when we have no excuse or reason for behaving the way we do. I said I did not want to pigeonhole ourselves in labels that we can use just to blow off actions that really needed to be addressed throughout our marriage.
Bob nodded and looked down at me through his half-glasses and looked at the chart and the questions. Bob said that was good that I thought that way and it was good I had given that a lot of thought. ("Your feelings about the test have a lot to do with why you think the way you do.")
Bob said THE TEST was not designed to tell us we were not compatible, only to tell us what areas we needed to work on. I guess we were not supposed to know that ourselves, having known each other so well, and getting married and all. It's a good thing we sent the test to Oklahoma and they were able to tell us that Christina does not like it when I raise my voice and I don't like it when she does not tell me when and why she is upset.
But Bob was very understanding and helpful, and told us that no matter what became of our marriage, he would still love us. I thought that was nice, but I kept it to only a handshake when we left Bob, ending our review session.
It was nice to be able to talk to a neutral person about our upcoming marriage. And by gosh, even after discussing the biggest decision of our lives, and even though we disagree on some things and don't see things from the same perspective, Christina still wants to marry me.
Which is good, because if I myself had to marry somebody who had an ESTJ personality, I'd have to cut the brake line in their car.