If you ever want to get married in a church, you will (at some point) probably be required to jump through a few hoops, verify a few answers, pay a few fees, and answer seemingly uncomfortable questions. You might have been following my last 8 weeks of coursework–and I’ve sort of dropped the ball on the last two classes–namely ‘Finances’ and the ‘Marriage Panel.’ Primarily because they were devoid of media interest, unless you are a Dave Ramsey fanatic or want to hear about couples bawling and warning you that marriage is hard.
The culmination to our entire process ended with this last weekend: the retreat. We arrived on Friday at 7:30 pm and left on Sunday at 1:00pm, BYO sleeping bag, BYO snack to share. I made sure to do an extra intense yoga workout beforehand to put my head in a decent place before starting the madness that (I knew….) was about to happen. And so it did. As you can see from my visuals, the main room consisted of a worn-down couch set atop a carpeted platform; this is where the action happened. The rest of the facility was a musky late 1970’s dormitory-like setting with two very mini twin beds in each room–complete with these animal images/quotes. We were welcomed inside of our drawers with comments like ‘Engagement Encounter Sucks…1989.” I was assigned a dorm-mate, who thankfully wasn’t of the odd variety–I love you Emily!
Our instructors were two couples who volunteered their time. Meet Jim & Beth (unfortunately I could not capture Ray & Patsy during their moment of prayer….I know, I’m going straight south). Though ardently trying to help by giving us their time, it was a wild visual. Both, like all good believers in this particular denomination, had large families and large hips. Not only was this consistent, but the women also felt no need to cross their legs or comb their hair, making our view from just below the platform about eye-level with sprawling legs in too-short shorts. The first couple had five kids; the second six. We recognized a general theme throughout the weekend of volunteers bringing their babies in and labeled it ‘propoganda.’ Bryan and I proceeded to label the crowd as characters in ‘The Office,’ dubbing Jim the leader as a definite Michael Scott.
The premise of the weekend was to devote all of your time to your future spouse, sit through mini-lectures that were read to you word-for-word by the ‘couch couples,’ return to your place of privacy to write answers to a series of questions, and finally meet with your fiance to discuss your answers to all of the above. Some of the information was highly controversial, much like the last 9-5 session, and some of it was just more than you wanted to hear. Take, for instance, Ray & Patsy’s discussion about their intimate life…and how she’s fertile 5 days of the month (thanks to their NFP chart) & he recommends to all male participants that they go on a ‘business trip’ during this fertile season…or the fact that they were much more ‘aggressive’ when they were younger. The crowd watched as he perpetually dug himself into a nasty hole of bad articulation and showmanship. While sitting with his wife Patsy, he made several comments in jest that didn’t go over so well–for either Patsy or the group. To give you a good handle, the two direct quotes I remember go as such: “Patsy is more of a stubborn pig than I am” and “Like a good slave, Patsy always put my shoes away in the closet.” This resulted in a very public and awkward apology/kiss in front of us later on in the day….
Last night there was an ‘open wrap session,’ which always has the potential to be volatile. Anonymous questions were asked on pieces of paper which included topics about couples who already have kids, hispanic weddings, and why there are saints…all things extremely relevant to us. Bryan didn’t have a question and decided instead it would be funny to add in his anonymous query of “Is it possible to freely, faithfully, totally, and fruitfully (the common theme for love during the weekend) give yourself to your spouse in intimacy too much. He did this not for the answer but for the response he would get from the father of six, who exclaimed, “As long as it meets those guidelines–no! Just make sure you’re going to work!”
At the start there were 18 couples. This morning, we were instructed to write love letters to one another. They encouraged us that if we had discovered things over the weekend that made us change our minds about marriage to voice it so to the other person at this time. Then there were 17. Frea-k-y weird. What happens at the premarital retreat stays at the premarital retreat!