Elevate Difference

Whom Not to Marry: Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority

After reading Whom Not to Marry by Father Pat Connor, a Catholic priest, I contemplated the different ways to approach this review. I could discuss the practical aspects of this book, but Maureen Dowd already addressed this in a July 6, 2008 op-ed in the New York Times. I could parody Whom Not to Marry, but Father Connor seems so earnest and well-meaning I couldn’t mock him in good conscience (and I’m not even Catholic). I could take a liberal stance and point out that this book is heteronormative, patriarchal, and antiquated. However, I’m much less offended by this instruction manual than I am by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Connor at least encourages women to find someone who treats them with respect and kindness, rather than giving lessons on how to seduce men by playing hard to get.

Whom Not to Marry is based on Connor’s lecture that he shares with audiences of young women. He structures the book around 1 Corinthians 13:4-13, from the Bible: “Love is patient, love is kind...” If you’ve ever attended an American or Christian wedding, you’ve certainly heard this read, usually by a relative. I don’t want to be dismissive and say this is cliched, but Connor is certainly not introducing a new idea. Not to mention the fact that as a Catholic priest Connor has never been married himself, but gleans his experience from premarital counseling and presiding over ceremonies.

Full disclosure: I’m married and believe everyone should have the right to marry. At the same time, I respect that there are many people opposed to the institution of marriage. To enter into marriage should be an individual choice. This is the fundamental weakness of Whom Not to Marry. It assumes every woman wants to marry a man.

Another weakness of the book is that Connor does not criticize the institution of marriage, or at least the wedding industry in the U.S. I would never expect him to violate the tenets of his religion, but the book doesn’t account for social context. In many ways this book is ahistorical, and attributes failed marriages to women’s bad judgment, rather than considering the social pressure to marry quickly, traditionally, and with spectacle.

I don’t think I would actually recommend Father Connor’s Whom Not to Marry to anyone that I know. It’s very reminiscent of Good Housekeeping relationship advice columns that my grandmother may have clipped. Sweet and with the best intentions, but predictable and naïve.

Written by: Claire Burrows, June 27th 2010