Visiting Grove City College last week -- that brave school that has long said to the government, "We shall not bow down before you" -- I was struck by the normality of the students. I don't mean that as faint praise. In fact, I have plenty of good things to say about the college, and maybe I'll say them in my next post, but the one thing that struck me most forcibly was that the students were, well, normal. Let me give you a few examples.
I was sitting in the Student Center, waiting for my host and idly looking at that only remaining section of most newspapers that a thinking person can sometimes skim -- I mean the sports section --, when I overheard a conversation among three men, discussing the stock market, how various investments were faring, what Hoover did and did not do in 1929, and how an intelligent investor should treat his debt in a time of tight credit. I figured they were three economics professors, but no, they were only undergraduates. They were normal undergraduates, in the sense that they were cut from some reliable norma or T-square, rather than dilapidated shambles of appetite and fad. The evening before, as I was walking through the giant quadrangle at the center of campus, I overheard baritone strains of opera, and looked over to see a burly young fellow filling the area with Puccini (I think) as he ran down a frisbee sailing over his head. Again, it struck me as rare, these days, but wholly normal that a young person out of doors on a pleasant day should want to sing. And it was like that all the time I was there. I was even told the undergraduate men and women had an eye to marrying one another. "Ring by Spring" is the merry proverb at Grove City. You put over a thousand good looking and healthy young men in the company of over a thousand good looking and healthy young women (the numbers are exactly even at Grove City), and it's no wonder that there are a lot of marriages. That's normal.
Now Mrs. Esolen and I have talked quite a lot about this business of marriage, especially as our daughter enters her junior year of college, and as many of my favorite students, now family friends, grow older and are looking for someone to marry. Their choices have occasionally been, alas, less than satisfactory. We've concluded that although almost everybody recognizes that a lot of students graduate high school whom only a fool would hire, the bigger problem is that even more young men and women are out there, many of them graduates of college, whom only a fool would marry. They are common, as common as nails. But they are not normal. You can have a bucket of nails bent out of shape, and that wouldn't make them normal either, not if there were a thousand to every nail that you could actually drive into a board.
So then, whom could you marry? A long time ago we came up with something we called "Esolen's Rules." They're only half facetious. But they are an attempt to get at the normal:
1. Don't marry a woman who likes cats but does not like dogs. You may marry a woman who doesn't like either, or whose reason for not liking dogs is that one of them bit her when she was a toddler. But a woman who likes cats but does not like dogs will be a Joan Crawford or Jane Wyman. Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman, and look how sorry he was about that.
2. Don't marry a man who is neater than you are. You may, however, marry a man who polishes his tools and puts them away after use....
3. Don't marry anybody, man or woman, who says, "I'm going to call you at eight," and then leaves you waiting by the phone for an hour. Exceptions can be made for people who are kidnapped by Arabs, or who have epileptic seizures.
4. Don't marry anybody who insists on a separate bank account, bed, bathroom, vacation, or zip code. It makes no sense to be one flesh and two wallets.
5. Don't marry a woman who spends more on makeup than she does on food. In general, don't marry a woman who engages in the sin of reverse gluttony.
6. Don't marry a man who does not like dogs. Such men do not like children. Don't marry a man who does not like children. On the other hand, I have known at least one excellent man who thought he didn't like children, until he had some; seven, I think, at last count. Perhaps the rule may be rephrased: Don't marry a man whom you cannot imagine rolling on the ground in a wrestling hold, with a Labrador retriever or three children, or hollering on a ferris wheel, with a Labrador retriever or three children.
7. Don't marry a woman who exercises so frequently that you cannot tell if she is a woman or a very strange looking 13-year-old boy. I'm going out on a line here, but the real purpose of the rule is to determine whether she will mind getting fat, as happens when you are going to have a child. In other words, don't marry a woman whom you cannot imagine having a child. Do not marry a woman who does not like children.
8. Do not marry a man who treats his mother or his sisters discourteously. As he treats his mother, so will he treat you. But by all means do not marry a man who takes his direction from his mother, or who is ruled by his mother's ambitions. Mama's boys are unhappy, and they make their wives unhappy too. So are the mothers of mama's boys, come to think of it. Unhappy days are here again.
9. Do not marry a woman who sneers at innocent male pastimes, such as football. Such women do not really enjoy the company of men, and after a period soon reached, do not enjoy the company of their own husbands. They are also the most ignorant of what men are really like. You may marry a tomboy, so long as she's a girlish tomboy and doesn't take the sport with dreadful seriousness. You may marry a Daddy's girl, so long as she is not spoiled when it comes to money.
10. Never marry anyone who is secretive about money. Such people are also secretive about sex.
11. Never marry a man who lets you take the initiative in everything. You want a jellyfish, maybe? You want Burt Lancaster instead.
12. Never marry a woman who never lets you take the initiative in anything. You want a porcupine, maybe? You want Maureen O'Hara instead.
13. Never marry a woman who does not laugh at your jokes or your buffoonery. That is one of the nicest ways in which men "serve" women, and women respond by taking delight in the antics. That is why God made impersonators of Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, and Homer Simpson. It may in fact be the principal justification for the existence of Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, and Homer Simpson. This rule is simply an instance of the more general rule that you should never marry a woman who does not genuinely admire you, nor should a woman marry a man whom she does not admire.
14. Never marry anyone who delights in "exposing" you in public. Teasing does not count; in fact, never marry a man who cannot be teased. You can marry a woman who cannot be teased.
15. Never marry a man who is not admired by respectable male friends. The people in the world who know a man best are the men he works and plays with. They know well if he is a cheat, a thug, a loser. You may marry a man who does not have female friends. If anything, you should be suspicious of a man whose friends are principally female. The men may be avoiding him, and there is a reason for that.
16. Never marry anyone who is not interested in looking at your fourth-grade yearbook. This means: never marry anyone who seems unaware that he or she is marrying also a family, a hometown, a past, silly friends, comedies and tragedies. Never marry anyone who does not want to meet your father and mother. If your sister doesn't like him, dump him. If your sister doesn't like her, dump her. That is why God created sisters. Their approval, however, is not a sufficient condition; they will occasionally like losers, but they almost never detest good marrying material.
17. Never marry a feminist of either sex. That would be as bad as marrying someone with the soul (not the occupation, but the soul) of a lawyer.
18. Never marry anyone whom you catch in a lie, even a little one. Trust us on this one. People in love are about the most gullible creatures on God's green earth. In fact, beside the dictionary entry on "gullible" there's a picture of a woman in love, eyes looking dreamily upward, hands holding her chin; and a picture of an indignant young man defending the honor of his beloved, who would never do such a thing, no sir!
19. Never marry a woman who does not like to feed people, or a man who does not like to help out with the removal of a junked car, regardless of how much he knows about junked cars. By all means marry a woman who enjoys seeing men eat, or a man who looks at a mudslide and says, "I can make a really fine wall out of that."
20. Never marry anyone, man or woman, who scoffs at virtue, who reduces "good" and "evil" to arbitrary counters in the war of all against all, whose humor is flippancy, who looks down upon janitors and maids, who cannot delight in making simple things (like a batting T or a thank-you note), who thinks tradition is old and shopworn (such people are followers of every fad that comes), and who is never, ever, just relaxed, grateful for a shady seat under the maple tree in fall. That is another way of saying that you should never marry anyone who does not know who God is.