Marrying in Haste. Is Sarkozy mad?
By Sue Leonard.
Published in The Irish Independent. February 2008.
Your eyes meet across a crowded room, and you just know. It’s the dream of women everywhere, but is love at first sight for real? Is it safe to propose after just weeks, or months of meeting someone? Or are those first signs of passion a delightful, but misleading illusion?
The world had watched in abject fascination as the French President Nicolas Sarkozy has wooed the top model Carla Bruni. In the wake of the divorce from his second wife Cecilia, the President didn’t waste a minute. The pair were married within just three months of their first meeting.
Could their love last? Or will it soon collapse and go the way of Sarkozy’s first two marriages? Will we soon be salivating over their divorce; eating up every detail; just as we are now gleefully watching the court antics of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, who once convinced us that their love would last forever?
If a couple are in a mutually caring and supportive relationship a swift marriage can work; but you don’t really know someone until you have been with them for at least six months. Or so says Gerry Hickey, a psychotherapist and counsellor.
“People who go on first impressions can learn to repent,” he says. “People put on masks; they show their best sides at the start of a relationship. At around six months those masks begin to drop.
“People want to marry for all kinds of reasons,” he says. “If they are fulfilling someone else’s expectations and not their own; if they are marrying for image or the sake of appearances, or if they are needy and looking for the other person to meet those needs the marriage may run into trouble.
“In our society we are looking, increasingly, for instant gratification. It’s ‘I want it now.’ There’s a difference, though, between something and someone. We cannot control other people. They evolve in their own time and their own space.”
Often we mistake the other person’s motive. Men may be looking for sex, and women for love.
“They don’t always accurately assess what the situation is. People should see danger. Jumping into a relationship is not like buying a pair of shoes; people are non returnable.”
Being needy, Hickey says, makes people particularly vulnerable.
“If their expectations of the other person are high, and the relationship does not work out; if it was an illusion, they run the risk of being appallingly hurt. This could lead to reactive depression.”
The marriage might last for years, before the cracks start to show. Particularly if someone has, unwittingly compromised themselves from some intrinsic need.
“When they become older, and more confident they may turn round and say, ‘what did I settle with that for?’”
Just this week, Dr Gerard Clifford, the Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh urged couples to take time preparing properly for marriage.
“Marriage is a vocation,” he said. “And in other callings and vocations in life, years of formation and training are regarded as absolutely essential.”
It’s a sentiment with which many counsellors would concur. Lisa O’Hara, who runs marriage preparation courses with MRCS Counselling, says that, today, most couples have known each other for at least two years before they tie the knot.
“It takes that time to organise the wedding,” she says. “And many couples live together for quite a while first. They may even have children.”
Even so, she feels that a pre-marriage course is absolutely essential.
“We fall in love with perfection,” she says. “We project that perfection onto somebody else, but what happens when that starts to fall away? Do you still like the person?
“How do they react with change? What happens in times of stress, when you move house, have a baby or when somebody dies? Are they then easy to live with?
“The key to relationship success is to explore what each of them expects from the relationship. What happens when their needs are not met? Do they withdraw, get angry, or do they deal with the issue? We try to normalise the couple’s dynamics.”
It helps too, to normalise the idea of counselling for couples.
“Often certain issues will come up in a pre-marriage course that need sorting,” says Lisa. “And the couples may come back to work on them further at a later date. They know there is help here for them.”
Jeannine Parle met Damien back in August 2003. She was over from America at the time, spending a week with a church mission.
“We spent a few days together and got on really well,” she says. “But we were both young. I was 23 and Damien was just 20.
“I went home to Los Angeles, where I was teaching kindergarten, and we emailed each other a lot. Then we started talking on the phone. I was giving a surprise party for a mutual friend, and on a whim, Damien flew over for three weeks. That is when we fell in love.
“That was November. I knew I would visit Damien after Christmas, but then there were some signs that I could go for longer. My car payment was done; my credit cards were paid off, and the school where I was teaching pushed two classes into one.
“I moved to Ireland in December, staying with friends and seeing Damien whenever I could. It was hard. Neither of us had a car. But we knew that ‘this was it.’ In March he asked my parents for my hand in marriage; in April he proposed, and we were got married in September.
“Other people like to wait and make sure the person is right for them, but we both knew in our hearts that this was right. This was what we wanted to do.
“And it’s been wonderful. We live in the grounds of Ovoca Manor; a Christian retreat centre near Avoca in County Wicklow, where Damien works. We see each other several times a day and always have lunch together. We really love that.
“And we now have a beautiful little girl, Hannah. She is amazing. A great little kid and we live in this ideal situation. She will be two in April. We love being close to each other; seeing each other and raising our daughter together.”
Dan wasn’t so lucky. (Names changed to protect his children.) He fell madly in love with Sarah back in 1979. He was convinced that she was the one for him; so convinced, in fact, that he proposed to her six months after they met.
“We married six months after that,” says Dan. “The momentum of it all just took over. I did have some doubts, but not enough to stop me marrying her. The relationship was still good.
“We were young though,” he says. “We were both 23 when we met, and we were both still growing up. The marriage was good for about four years, but then our personalities started to develop. We grew out of each other. We didn’t agree on anything. If I said black she would say white. We found that we didn’t even like each other.
“We stayed together for ten years. The deal was done, and I wanted it to work. I thought that marriage was for life; I was going to stick at it, because that was the way I was reared. And besides, two children had come along.
“I met someone else after we had broken up, and we moved into together after six months. That relationship lasted longer than the first one. We had two children and only split up two years ago.”
© Sue Leonard. 2008. ends.