As the American divorce rate hovers around 50%, examples of happy marriages increasingly stand out as the exception—yet most of our fellow Boston College students, statistically speaking, will be married in the future. The interview series “Modern Marriage” aims to provide encouragement and insight to young people as we consider what a healthy marriage looks like.
This month, Patrick Stallwood spoke to Professor Andrew Prevot of the BC Theology Department. This is the full interview (an abridged version can be found in our print issue).
The Torch. So, if you wouldn't mind just introducing yourself and you know, name and your position here at Boston College.
Professor Prevot. Sure. I'm Andrew Prevot. I'm an associate professor of theology here in the theology department, focusing on systematic theology.
T. Tell me about your spouse.
P. I'm married to Elizabeth Antus, who's also a professor here at Boston College. She's an assistant professor of the practice who's largely been teaching in the PULSE program. We met in graduate school at Notre Dame actually, in the library of all places, at the computer cluster. We were both masters’ students in theology at the time and became fast friends and then started a relationship a little bit later.
T. So how long have you been married?
P. Let's see… we were married in October of 2009. So, we're coming up on our 10th anniversary this year.
T. How did you guys get to know each other a little better after those first meetings in the computer department?
P. Well we were in a relatively small master's program, where each class maybe had about 15 students, each cohort coming in. So, all of us sort of knew each other a little bit. We took some classes together, and we would see each other around on campus a lot. We just really sort of hit it off in terms of our chemistry, you know, we had similar sense of humor we also had similar intellectual interests, similar values. We just really kind of got along well, but we didn't start dating right away, in part, because when I met her, she was in another relationship with a boyfriend she had had in college. I will confess, I initially was like, “Oh, I kind of like this person. I wonder what her situation is”. But then I found out and I said, “Okay, well she can just be a friend”. But then the circumstances kind of changed. I'll spare you that long story.
T. What is it like to discern marriage? And have you discerned any other vocations before that? And if so, how is that discernment process different?
P. Even at the time I met Elizabeth, I was still discerning a possible call to the priesthood. I had been doing that ever since I was a teenager, maybe around 15 or 16 years old. I started talking to some priests I knew. I started visiting some religious communities. But I was also dating people, partly because they encouraged me. “Well, you know, date have the normal life that you're trying to have”. And so, I was sort of doing both discernment[s] simultaneously through college and then even into grad school a little bit. But by the time by the time I started dating Elizabeth I was starting to feel less called to the priesthood per se. I was starting to recognize just a call to holiness that was a little bit more broad than that and a call to study theology. That was filling some of those needs that initially were associated with idea of becoming a priest. Marriage is a question not just of “do I feel called to be married”, it’s a question of “with whom?” That's actually the big question: Who am I actually drawn to as another person to spend my life together with?
T. So, you were encouraged to just keep dating while you're a discerning the priesthood. Would you recommend people be open to those relationships in addition to questioning joining the priesthood?
P. Yes, I think so. Because, you know, God works in mysterious ways and sometimes it takes a long time. I would say a big thing for me with discernment was not feeling a sense of rush or urgency, especially as like a 20 something year old or a teenager. Just kind of let my life come to me, and to see how things were striking me. See what I was drawn to, you know, bring a lot of this to prayer. Don't just dwell on it by myself, find good people to talk to about it. Really let the process unfold somewhat organically. I would also recommend, if you're dating, don't lead on the first date with this idea that you’re discerning religious vocation. Just kind of enter into the experience of being on a date.
T. Shifting to your current married life, how does your wife help you grow in faith?
P. It's an interesting thing, being married to a theologian. We both have this wealth of knowledge about our Catholic faith. We used to get into these theological debates when we were first dating. We were kind of sparring about “what did Aquinas mean by this statement on Christ’s knowledge” and so on. That's changed a little bit over the years. Honestly now, it seems that she supports me in my faith more in terms of just loving me in this kind of unconditional way that I think helps me feel grounded, that helps me feel connected, and listened to. In some sense, I think that's kind of symbol for the way that God is supposed to love us and that we're supposed to love God. It’s this kind of unconditional openness to the other. It's not in terms of particular teachings or practices that we both already know. It's more just in terms of just this love that we have for each other. I think really also strengthens our relationship with God.
T. What was something that you learned about marriage, through experience, that has surprised you?
P. One of the things that I thought about marriage is that it would fill my needs and make me happy and make me feel fulfilled, and that sort of thing. So, I thought, well, any struggles that I'm having will just kind of get worked out in a marriage, and everything will be fine. But that's actually not true. Finding someone to spend your life with is a great and beautiful thing. It's a grace and it's a blessing. But it does not solve any problems in and of itself. If anything, it just magnifies them. So, if you enter into a marriage, suddenly, anything you're struggling with in your own life is now part of that reality. And that's true for both people and the relationship. And so, what I learned is that there's really no hiding in a marriage, like everything is on the table. You're there in it with all of your strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. So, the grace of it is really about loving each other in and through all of that. It's not like that cliched idea from Jerry Maguire “you complete me”. That's not actually what happens! You're not completed by another person. You're just in a relationship with another person. And you're still the same imperfect, incomplete person that you always were.
T. This topic of marriage, is especially relevant to your academic pursuits. How would you describe your current research?
P. Well, I'm working on a book about Christian mystical theology. One of the ways that this is connected with marriage is that many mystics and the Christian tradition have understood their relationship with God, or with Christ, using marital imagery, thinking about themselves as the bride of the Divine bridegroom. So, one of the things I've been thinking about is, well, how does that work if we have a more complex view of just real-life human marriage. It’s not just the kind of idealized view where, “oh, everything is just full of love and it's so romantic and perfect all the time”. No, but what if we actually look at marriages the way they actually play out where there are rough patches, sometimes communication breaks down, and things are difficult? Can that also be a metaphor for our relationship with God? And what does this teach us about the way God loves us even when we're not fully perfect, or when we have difficulties in our lives? That's one of the ways that I've been thinking about marriage in the context of my research.
T. Do you remember how you used to think about marriage when you were in college? Before you were in a relationship?
P. I had this view, and maybe it was somewhat common, that I'm searching for the right person, like my partner, or soulmate, or something like that. That search could be difficult but once I found the right person that was sort of as far ahead as I was able to think. I was sort of, like, “Okay, that solves the problem of not having someone, once you find them, then you're good”. This may be because I grew up in a family where my parents, I think, had a very good marriage, which I know is can be somewhat rare thing. They really loved each other, and that created a supportive environment for me to grow up. […] I think that as I've grown and matured, my view of marriage has become less idealized. In some ways, I've had to recognize that God is really the one who fulfills your needs in the deepest sense. That's not what a marriage is supposed to do. A marriage just gives you a companion who's there with you through life struggles, and also gives you an opportunity to work on your own ability to love someone else. You really have to commit and love someone and a full way accepting them and everything that they are. As I've grown, I've realized that marriage is not this kind of answer to all of my adolescent problems. It's just a structure in which to continue to live my life and to try to grow and learn and love.
T. Let's say you just encounter a college student today right off the street. What do you think they need to hear about marriage?
P. Sometimes, especially in a kind of Christian context, like BC, we think about marriages, as a very self-sacrificial thing, like giving oneself completely to the other. I think that can be a little bit misleading or dangerous. I actually think it's very important to know yourself, and to love yourself, and to really take care of yourself in the context of a relationship. You need to actually be a fully present person who's not just living vicariously through someone else. The healthiest relationships will be meeting of two healthy people who know themselves, who love themselves, and who feel loved by God. Then from that place, can actually come and to love each other in a really rich and full way. There’s still self-gift, but you have to have a sense of who you are in order to be able to give something to someone else. To me, I think sometimes college students may have the impression that the other will complete them or that they should just completely change who they are so that someone likes them. There's this kind of heteronymous, other directed way of entering into relationships that I think can be detrimental in the long run. So, I would advise a certain amount of self-love, self-care, and figuring out who you really are and what you're about.
T. What would you tell a student who told you in relation to marriage or any other serious relationship “I just don't want to feel tied down”?
P. I mean, I get it. It may actually be the case that the person isn't ready for that type of relationship. They need more time to explore, and they might need to be dating in a more casual way for a while. I don't think we should pressure people to hurry up and commit if that's not the place they're in. However, I will say that there's really nothing that can compare with a kind of lifelong partner or companion. For me that doesn't feel like being tied down. It feels like I have someone who is there with me through thick and thin. I just think that's actually a really attractive thing. It takes a lot of work, though, and it's not going to be perfect, and it's not going to fulfill all of your needs. But even still, I think it actually is a really good thing, especially if you find a person with whom you really connect at a deep level.
T.All right. Well, that's all the questions I have for you. Do you have any closing thoughts?
P. I guess one thought I have is that it is a vocation and maybe not everyone is called to married life and that's also okay. But, like all vocations, it's something that creates opportunities for you to grow. It's a blessing, but it's also work. I think my main point is just really a lot of self-care, self-love, and giving yourself time to discern what really is right for you and your life.