The sentences, “I love you,” and “I want to marry you” are by no means inextricably linked. When they are spoken together, and truly meant, it ought to do nothing less than strike terror into the heart of the speaker. This is a syllogism with a hidden premise which a lover may fail to recognize. Worse, it may be forgotten in the midst of trying times and in those moments when it most needs to be called to mind.
Let’s consider the first phrase. These days many people use “I love X” in the same way no matter what “X” is. “I love pie.” Or, “I love this movie.” Or, “I love you.” When “X” is a thing, then what “I love X” means is really “I desire X” or “X delights me.” When we speak of “love” for things, all we really mean is: I desire X for the sake of enjoying some good it brings me. When we speak of loving persons, however, this situation (ought) to be completely turned on its head. To love another person, means to will the good of the other person. Notice that this is an action of service to the other person. This bears repeating: love is not “hoping” for the good of the other; it is not “wishing” for the good of the other. No, it is willing the good of the other. As St. Thomas tells us, he who wills the end must will the means. Willing the means demands that the means are actually performed to bring about the end. How do we love our neighbor? What are the means to the end? The corporal and spiritual works of mercy. “When did we see you hungry or thirsty?”
Our first phrase then is: “I will that which is good for you.”
Our second phrase, “I want to marry you” means “I want you to unite yourself to me, and I will unite myself to you.” “Having no others” as the vow goes.
Now we begin to see our hidden premise. Spoken truly, our syllogism is “I will that which is good for you. I want you to have no other.” The hidden premise of course is, “I am the one who is good for you. I am the one who is most good for you above everyone else. I desire myself to be your good.” Stop for a moment to consider how bold this claim is. This is a claim to be another person’s good. Not only that, you are asking them to bet their life on this claim. Now, of course, we are not meant to be the ultimate good for our spouse. When we claim to be their good, what we mean is that we desire to be the good that leads them to their Ultimate Good. Now realize that claim is even bolder! Betting their life? On the contrary, in some sense we are asking to be their servant on their way into eternity. We are asking to be their Samwise Gamgee. We are asking them to let us carry just a bit of their cross. We are asking to do this not only when it’s convenient, not only when we are fully rested, not only even when the other person is being agreeable. No, we are asking for this privilege, to be their good, the means to The End, at all times.
Now we see why those words ought to make the speaker terrified. Now we see why it’s so important to remember that we once spoke them.
Marriage was never meant for cowards. It was always only ever meant for those lovers willing to take up their beloved, and see them through the very fires of hell, and through to the other side.
“‘I said I’d carry him if it broke my back’ he muttered ‘and I will!’ ‘Come Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!’”