Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

M. Regina Cram

I met Caroline when she was a senior in high school. I was newly married and had begun working with the youth of the parish. Caroline quickly became one of my favorites.

Caroline and I stayed in touch after she graduated. She was a young woman of tremendous faith with a deep desire for marriage and children. More than anything, Caroline yearned for a devout Catholic man with whom she could share her life on a spiritual level. She was not willing to compromise on this, even if it meant waiting a long time.

She waited a long time.

Caroline and I hadn’t seen each other for a while when we found ourselves sitting in adjacent pews at the wedding of a mutual friend. The outdoor reception was leisurely and relaxed, giving us plenty of time to catch up. After a few minutes, Caroline leaned close and whispered, "May I ask your advice about something important?"

She confided that she’d been seeing a man for about six months – a wonderful, devout Catholic man who was a bit older than she was. David was everything she had ever wanted in a husband, and she was falling in love with him.

The problem was that David was divorced, and while he had applied for an annulment, it had not yet been granted. But, she stressed, "it’s just a piece of paper." She went on to explain that David had stayed in his troubled marriage for years after his wife had asked for a divorce. He’d begged her to reconsider and insisted on joint counseling, but the marriage broke up nonetheless. After the divorce, David had waited several more years before pursuing an annulment because he still held out hope for reconciliation. "He’s very committed to marriage," Caroline insisted. "It’s not as if he bolted at the first sign of trouble."

Caroline had a nagging concern about dating David, however, so she sought my opinion on the matter.

I’ve never been fast on my feet. I stumbled for words, encouraging her to be cautious and to take things slowly . . . something brilliant like that.

The problem was that my advice was wrong.

For days thereafter, I ruminated over Carolyn’s situation. Gradually I homed in on the central issue: Caroline was dating a married man.

David sounded wonderful. He’d probably make a great husband. But until his annulment was granted, he was married. And if he was married, Caroline had no business dating him.

I decided to send a handwritten letter to Caroline. I wrote that I loved her dearly and wanted to clarify the muddy advice that I’d offered in person. Then, in a charitable and straightforward manner, I said that until an annulment was granted, David remained a married man, and hence they should not be dating.

I also addressed the issue of an annulment being "just" a piece of paper. The same might be said of the deed to a house, I wrote, or adoption papers, or a will. And yet these pieces of paper change the very fabric of our lives. Talk to a person who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp, and ask if his or her release decree means anything. A piece a paper can be the difference between life and death, marriage and divorce, poverty and wealth. In David’s case, it meant that David was married, and hence was not free to date anyone else.

I held my letter for several days. Then, with much prayer, I mailed it. And I waited.

Days went by. Then a week. Just as I began to panic, Caroline called me with a remarkable story.

When Caroline had read my letter, she’d realized immediately that I’d spoken the truth; in fact, it was the very truth she had been trying to avoid. She’d felt an odd sense of relief as she’d acknowledged it.

With much trepidation, Caroline had called David to tell him she wanted to discuss something important with him. He was having dinner with an old friend that evening but invited Caroline to stop by afterward.

When she arrived at David’s apartment, he met her with a nervous hug. "I need to tell you something," David blurted out before Caroline could say anything. "I had dinner tonight with my old friend, Zach Turner. Zach told me something I didn’t want to hear; he said you and I should not be dating until my annulment is granted. He’s right, Caroline. I’m so sorry, but we have to stop seeing each other."

Caroline was speechless. When she regained her composure, she told David that she, too, had heard from an old friend with the same message. Both friends had loved them enough to speak the truth.

David and Caroline stopped seeing each other. It was excruciating. Six months later, David received the news that his annulment had been granted.

Today, David and Caroline are married with two young children. Some things are worth the wait.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.