Before we were allowed to get married in the Catholic Church, we had to go through Pre Cana, which I believe is latin for "completely useless and irrelevant torture session directed by couples who share way too much information." You could go every week for six weeks or for a single weekend, all weekend. We elected to do the weekend.
We will never know if we made the right decision, but I can say that it pushed me to the emotional brink of where no human should have to go. I can only imagine that the Marine Corps toture resistance training includes a weekend for all soldiers to endure this. Because, by God, if you can endure Pre Cana, you can endure almost anything.
In defense of Pre Cana, we were predisposed to misery. I was in the throes of the flu and a 103 degree fever. My husband was just getting over it. I don't remember the last time I was that sick. More importantly, we waited too long to sign up so were attending the last class offered before our wedding date...over 2 hours away from where we lived, in hicksville. We planned to just white knuckle our way through...just live through it...How bad could it be right?
Oh. My. God. (no pun intended).
First, we left right from work. We were told that if you were late, you may not receive credit, and we needed to get credit, so we drove down there at break neck speeds, defying all laws of traffic, safety and common decency. We raced into the High School Gymnasium still dressed in our work suits, to join the cast of Deliverance who were apparently taking the class with us. Silence befell the room as they all turned to look at the "big city couple". Not to mention that at 29 and 32, we were the oldest couple there in a noticeable way.
Super. Great First Impression.
We settled into our seats, and I unpacked my Halls cough drops, DayQuill, Kleenex, orange juice and various other cold medications...then I promptly started crying and clinging to my husband. I had a fever, I wasn't feeling well, and I am not good in situations where I don't know another soul but am expected to interact with them on a personal level. My husband, after a long week at work, and equally stressed out over the likeness the other couples had to the cast of Deliverance, was not particularly comforting at that point. Things were about to get worse....
We were told up front how this would all go down. There were four married couples running this workshop and each would give a presentation on a topic relevant to marraige. Following each presentation, the men and women would split up and each person would sit alone and fill out a worksheet relating to the presentation topic. You would then find your partner go through the form with him or her. Then we would go to discussion groups, made up of 5 couples each, to talk in greater detail about the topic.
Over My Dead Body.
So the first married couple goes. Their topic is communication in conflict. Fine. We listen as they divulge to a room of 100 engaged strangers their most intimate conflicts and the way they choose to handle them through communication. Apparently Tim is insecure over Pam making more money. Also, Pam is extremely fat, which if you ask me, is part of Tim's problem. Pam doesn't like that Tim's sex drive has faded after the kids. Which I feel bolsters my 'Pam's weight' theory even futher.
I don't like that Pam is telling me anything about Tim's sex drive. But how do I communicate this in a Christian way?
Finally the madness stops, my ears cease to bleed, and we break up into separate rooms. This means that I have to unglue myself from my husband in my needy, fever induced haze. I am not ok with this but he simply prys me loose and walks away. While I would die rather than be separated in this situation, he appears not to want to pick this battle with the organizers. Fine. I slump off to a classroom and fill out the form. If by filling out the form you mean writing 'I hate Pre Cana' over and over.
Here is where it gets freaky. Stay with me people. We get back together, and my husband attempts to console me from my obvious state of trauma...but less than 5 minutes later, we are off to our 'discussion group'. Here is our group:
Couple #1 is in their very early 20's and has been dating for a scant 2 years. When asked if there are any boundaries they have set when communicating during an argument, she informs us that they have a rule prohibiting her from throwing things at his head. Not a rule prohibiting her from throwing things...no, she is allowed to throw things, I mean COME ON, a girl's gotta express herself! She just can't throw things at his head. Also, during the workshop on Children, she starts crying for no apparent reason and runs from the room. They never return...I wonder silently if they still get credit (I can cry just as easily as the next guy if that's what it takes).
Couple #2 is large. I mean tall and just big in general. They too are in their early 20's. They grew up living next door to eachother their entire lives. He has loved her since she was 5. This would make a great movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Sadly these two look more like Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold and it is creepy rather than sweet. Later he will yell out "hell yeah" when asked if sex is a main priority in a marital relationship.
Couple #3 is actually closer to our age at 26 and 27. We actually like couple #3 until in a later discussion group, he tells everyone that his family is dysfunctional, he was abused by his parents and fears having children of his own. He stops short of telling us that he cries during sex, but barely. Following this way too personal revelation, we get trapped sitting with them during an extremely awkward lunch break.
Couple #4. I have saved the best for last. Couple #4 is as out of place as we are, but in the opposite direction. They are straight outta Compton yo. She is wearing a velour track suit a la Kevin Federline, and he is wearing a Rock-a-wear track suit. She is at leat 400lbs, and he is a buck twenty five soaking wet with bricks in each hand. They have two kids already and just want to make it legal before the third arrives. Why they felt the need to come to Pre Cana is beyond me, but I respect it. Good for them showing up to a class where people specifically advise couples not to have premarital sex, not to live the way they do. They held their heads high, and were unapologetic. I actually dug them.
Then he referred to marital intimacy as "tappin' that ass". I still respected them coming though. Way to stand up to the man.
Then there was us. I have mentioned before that I am uncomfortable talking about intimate details in front of other people. I am prudish, and there are definitely things I don't think it's right to share with others. My thoughts on intimacy in the marrital relationship and our personal philosophy on children, or our private conflict as a couple are not something I would talk about to my friends, let alone complete strangers.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I insisted that my husband and I not speak in these discussion groups. That's right, when the moderator of our group was going from couple to couple asking each discussion question, I told my husband not to make eye contact and just wait him out...he would surely get the hint and move on to the next couple.
The first discussion group went fine. The moderator got the hint and moved on fairly quickly. The second group required me to give the moderator a slight head shake, but she moved on relatively painlessly.
Then the there was the third group where I was locked in a battle of wills with this crotchety old guy moderator. We just locked eyes and stared at eachother. Clearly he didn't know who he was dealing with. I was not going to blink. I would not be bullied or embarrassed into answering a highly personal question. We literally sat looking at eachother in silence for over 60 seconds. I was attempting to communicate to him that hell would freeze over before I told a group of strangers the manner in which my parents showed love to me as a child. Just when he was about to move on...
My husband broke. He hadn't been comfortable with my approach all day. he was weary of not participating in the groups to begin with. He doesn't like conflict and didn't want to rock the Pre Cana boat from the beginning. But I was adamant, and there was no telling what I would do in my state of fever induced delirium, so he went along. Until the last discussion group.
All of a sudden I heard him say "her parents are very affectionate, my parents are less outwardly affectionate." As quickly as he had started, he was done and we were on to the next couple.
I sat there, mouth agape, face burning from the fever and embarrassment...I could feel the anger rise like a wave from my feet up to my cheeks. I think steam may have actually come out of my ears. I could feel everyone's eyes on me, nervous, surprised looks. I did not look at my husband. I just stared at the moderator, daring him to smirk. Even he looked concerned for my husband.
I have felt God's presence clearly on two occassions in my life. One was in that room, when right at the moment I dared make eye contact with my husband the bell rang, signifying the completion of the last discussion group and therefore the completion of Pre Cana. That bell rang out pure and clear and in that instant, I do believe my fever peaked and I was simply too tired and sick to kill him.
I was deathly ill in bed for two days after that, and he took care of me...My anger faded, replaced with love. Lucky for him, God sent him a Mirical at just the right time.