Whom Not to Marry

Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority


By Pat Connor

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The new single woman’s Bible that shows how to distinguish Mr. Right from Mr. Right Now

Father Pat Connor knows marriages. Having presided over more than two hundred weddings and conducted pre-marriage and marriage counseling for more than forty years, he’s something of an expert. And now he is sharing his wealth of experience with women everywhere on the subject of Whom Not to Marry.

Father Pat’s philosophy is simple: A love affair may lead to marriage, but love itself cannot make a marriage work. That’s why it’s important to weed out the bad seed’s before you fall in love. Sounds easy enough, but in the early stages of romance, when infatuation trumps judgment, it can be difficult to see the flaws in your mate and to think rationally about your future. That’s where this book comes in. A heavenly how-not-to, Whom Not to Marry offers timely and time-honored advice such as: Never marry a man who has no friends, for he won’t be capable of the intimacy that marriage demands.Never marry a man who isn’t responsible with cash. Most marriages that flounder do so because of money, a case of ‘til debt do us part.Never marry a man who lets you walk all over him. It’s good to have a doormat in the house, but not if it’s your husband.

Life may seem random, but there are many things you can do to make sure your life partner is the right one. It all starts with being honest with yourself. Use your good judgment, Father Pat counsels. Know what you want. Know who is worth loving and who is worth marrying. Once you can do that, you’ll stand a much better chance of living happily ever after.


To my parents,
Herbert Eli and Patricia O’Brien Connor,
and to my brother, Desmond,
and his wife, Judy Connor—
none of whom needed this book.

Author’s Note

Over the years, countless women and men from across the country have shared their personal stories with me. Many of them appear in this book. Though I am most grateful for their generosity, I have chosen not to reveal any names or identifying factors. After all, priests are very good at keeping secrets.

Although the advice in this book is intended for those who have not yet married, but are planning to do so, I have sought the example of happily married couples (most of them, anyway) to add their wisdom to mine.

Though this book is addressed primarily to women, men may, like Ruth in the Old Testament picking up the gleanings left behind by the reapers, pick up any insights that may be helpful to them as they mull over whether to choose a particular woman to be their wife.

One of the reasons this book is aimed primarily at women is that my experience is that women usually take the initiative when it comes to talking about relationships, just as it is usually the wife who takes the initiative when it comes to going to a marriage counselor when a marriage begins to unravel. In a word, women are more open than men to discussing “whom not to marry” and more likely to call off a relationship that bodes ill for a marriage. Ideally, I suppose, if a woman finds a relationship becoming problematic, she might persuade her significant other to discuss the contents of this book with her!


Hollywood says that if you are deeply in love with someone, your marriage to that person will work. But in my experience, you can be deeply in love with someone to whom you cannot be successfully married.

Romance is a matter of feelings, or emotions, and they’re not always the most reliable guides to the truth of a situation. In the courtship phase, the falling-in-love phase, all is bliss: the beloved can do no wrong and you can never have enough of each other’s company. You’re his Pooh Bear and he’s your Love Bug. You forgive those late nights spent with his old college roommate. And when your phone bill goes through the roof you really do believe that “love conquers all.”

It doesn’t.

A love affair may lead to marriage, but love by itself cannot make a marriage work. When you’re in a new relationship, in those first heady days of romance, the man you are dating may very well be a candlelit-dinners-and-long-walks-on-the-beach version of himself. That’s not to say he’s not being authentic; he’s just putting his best self forward to impress you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re probably doing the same. (When is the last time you showed up for a date in sweatpants and sneakers?)

A love affair is all about better and best—that is to say, each date seems better than the last, and of course you’re both showing your best selves. Marriage, on the other hand, accepts the reality of for better or worse. It’s an important distinction to make.

Joseph Campbell may have said it best: “Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment…a love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married.”

Infatuation trumps judgment, that much I know. Once people have fallen in love, it’s hard to get them to think rationally about marriage, to think coolly about the years ahead. I know this sounds rather unromantic, but it’s important to think about marriage not just with an open heart, but with open eyes, too. Love may be blind, but marriage is like a trip to the optometrist’s office.

The truth is, I do does not always lead to happily ever after.


The statistics on divorce are depressing. More depressing are the countless unhappy marriages that statistics fail to take into account. But as random as life—and marriage—can seem, there are many things you can do to make sure your life partner is the right one. It all starts with being honest with yourself.

Take my word for it.

For more than half a century, I have officiated at, on average, five weddings a year, or over two hundred weddings. That’s a lot of wedding cake.

Each wedding has its own story, of course, and each couple is unique. Yet I’m constantly amazed that things don’t go wrong more often. I remember officiating at a ceremony when I asked the bride, “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?”

She thought for a while and then said coolly, “No.”

That was the end of that.

A couple of years ago in New Jersey, I was at a wedding reception when a full-scale brawl broke out between the members of the groom’s family and the members of the bride’s. Names were called. Punches were thrown. Tears were shed. All the drama, of course, was lovingly captured on video. Nevertheless, the marriage turned out to be a happy one—though I don’t imagine the happy couple looked too often at the video of the reception.

At another wedding, the bridesmaids were sedately proceeding down the aisle toward me, when the maid of honor stepped her foot through her gorgeous gown. The tearing of fabric echoed through the church, closely followed by a colorful word that destroyed for a while the solemnity of the occasion.

Perhaps there has been a colorful word or two directed at me for daring to offer advice on the subject of marriage. You might be thinking, He’s a priest. He’s never been married, and in that you would be correct. But priests, you should know, never hesitate to offer their opinion on matters they seem to know little about. Sure, I completed a master’s degree in counseling at Fordham University, and have for decades advised couples on every stage of their relationships. Nevertheless, there will always be a practical gap in my experience of marriage. My involvement is limited, after all. (As Goethe would say, “There’s nothing more frightening than the sight of ignorance with spurs on.” Put another way, I may put on my boots, but I’ve never been to the rodeo.)

My own philosophizing about marriage has been directed mainly at those who are beginning to consider it. For over fifty years I have had the privilege of speaking with young women on the subject of whom not to marry. Direct and curious—sometimes blunt!—these women have opened their hearts and minds while bringing me their questions on the subject of marriage and a mate. “What if I don’t like my husband’s family,” they’ll ask me. “Is that going to be a problem?” (“It doesn’t have to be,” I usually respond.) And “Is money really important in a marriage?” (“Yes. Yes. Yes,” to that one!) “My friends don’t respect my boyfriend because he lets me walk all over him.” (“It’s good to have a doormat in the home,” I tell them. “But not if it’s your husband.”) And “What if I love him, but know in my heart he’s no good?” (My answer to this last question is always to run as fast as you can—in the opposite direction.)

Like any teacher, I have learned as much as I have taught. I am grateful to these young women for trusting me with their most personal dreams and desires.

I hope I have been worthy of their trust.

I hope I will be worthy of yours.


About four years ago one of my best friends contacted me and said, “My daughter Margaret is getting married in New York. Would you preside at the wedding?”

“I’d be honored,” I said.

The day arrived, and about ten of us gathered near a pond in Central Park. As the couple prepared to pronounce their vows, a bold New Yorker cried out from the crowd of watchers, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”

When I heard that admonition, I thought of all those spouses-to-be who ever did, or will, hear their own inner voices crying out, before they pronounced their own vows, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”

It is for them that I write this book.


Before You Say “I Do”


Perhaps it’s no surprise that when I invite engaged couples preparing for their wedding day to choose a favorite text for their ceremony, a great many choose those famous words from Paul in his first-century letter to the Corinthians. Anyone who has ever attended a wedding has probably heard those words. I like to list them this way:

  • Love is patient.
  • Love is kind.
  • Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
  • Love is not selfish; it does not insist on its own way.
  • Love is not easily irritated, nor is it resentful.
  • Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing; it rejoices in the truth.
  • Love hopes all things, endures all things. And it never gives up.

Just as there are seven deadly sins, this beautiful passage offers up seven points of love, each as important as the next in the formation of a happy life and a happy marriage. Over the years, I have thought and prayed over these words, themselves a living text. I have found the test of whether two people really love each other may be found in how they live these words of Paul.

These words are so important that I have used them as the framework around which this book is organized. Understanding what love is—and what it is not—is vital to entering into a happy marriage. I have come to believe that it’s easy for someone to say, “I love you.” But how easy is it really to live that word of “love”?

Paul wrote and spoke in Greek, so he would have known that there are four Greek words for love: philia, the love of friends; eros, romantic or sexual love; storge, sacrificial love, like the love of parents; agape, undiscourageable goodwill. All four of these beautiful qualities should be at work in a relationship. Use your good judgment. Know what you want and what in your life is worth loving. Once you can do that, you’ll stand a much better chance of living that happily ever after.


Before I begin to speak specifically about the kind of man whom my inclination is that you should avoid, I should explain. I used to talk categorically about the kind of man you should never marry—but I ran into so many exceptions that I thought I had better modify the force of my advice and say something like this: “Usually it’s not a good idea to marry a man who…”

  • makes you feel bad about yourself.
  • cannot say I love you.
  • refuses to accept responsibility for his actions.
  • doesn’t know how to hold down a job.
  • has no friends.
  • doesn’t know how to apologize.
  • is tied to his mother’s apron strings.
  • NEVER marry a man who is cruel to you—physically or emotionally. (On this one there is no exception.)

Like any list, this one is just a jumping-off point—a place for discussion and debate. No doubt you’ll have your own. No doubt it will be much longer than mine.

A year or so ago, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about my work in an article entitled “The Ideal Husband.” My “mostly common sense advice about how to dodge mates who would maul your happiness” inspired some readers to take immediate action. A friend reported that her best friend had broken off her relationship with a man after what she learned from the New York Times piece about whom not to marry. In this case it was: “Don’t marry a man who is tied to his mother’s apron strings.”

Letters to the editor flooded in. My favorite came from a woman, twice married and divorced, whose advice—clearly gleaned from wedded life—drew amazing parallels with that of yours truly.

She wrote:

  • Never marry a man who yells at you in front of his friends.
  • Never marry a man who is more affectionate in public than in private.
  • Never marry a man who notices all of your faults but never notices any of his own.
  • Never marry a man whose first wife had to sue him for child support.
  • Never marry a man who corrects you in public.
  • Never marry a man who sends birthday cards to his ex-girlfriends.
  • Never marry a man who doesn’t treat his dog nicely.
  • Never marry a man who is rude to waiters.
  • Never marry a man whom your mother doesn’t like.
  • Never marry a man whom your children don’t like.

I guess I’ve been on the right track for fifty years.


Love Is Patient


On February 2, 1983, a fire broke out in the residence I lived in with several other priests. By the next morning, we had lost everything.

In a great outpouring of love and hospitality, people from the surrounding parishes invited us into their homes while our residence was being rebuilt. What a precious virtue the gift of hospitality is!

I took shelter with a very kind family. For three months, I lived in their basement in the company of a neurotic dog and a hamster. There were also four young children in the home who were between the ages of four and twelve. Having been a priest all my life, I’d always enjoyed the leisure of a selfish bachelor’s existence. I wasn’t used to this sort of family chaos and rubbing of shoulders. It drove me crazy.

I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take the daylong cacophony of scurrying and barking that harmonized with the ever-present chorus.

“Mom, where are my ballet shoes?”

“Honey, did you see my keys?”

“David, leave the dog alone.”

Grateful or not, I knew that if I didn’t get out, I might kill somebody. (Imagine the headlines.) So I packed my bags. But before I left, I had to ask one question.

“Maggie,” I asked the mother, “how do you do this? How do you remain so patient in the face of all the demands constantly being made of you?”

“Come on, Pat,” she said. “We’re Catholics here.”

“So?” I said.

“Well, we believe in Original Sin.”

“So?” I said. I can be a bit thick at times.

She replied, “So every human being is basically flawed, right?”

I couldn’t argue.

“Well,” she continued, “think about it. If we’re all flawed, then isn’t it foolish to expect rational behavior from another human being? I mean, consistently rational behavior. Once you begin expecting that, well…you’re in big trouble.”

I needed more. “And practically this means?”

She grinned at me. “I allow my husband two moments of insanity per day,” she said. “I allow each of my children three moments of insanity per day. And I’ve been allowing you four.”

I was chastised.

It seems amidst the chaos I’d forgotten one of the most basic principles of love: patience. Here was a woman who took an unassailable piece of wisdom—the imperfect nature of humanity—and used it to help her to be patient with the goings-on in her household, and with me.

After thanking her for her generosity those last few months, I left and went to live with two priests, neither of whom was speaking to the other. Now, that I could handle!


It is not enough to simply say, “Love is patient.” You have to give the words some foundation.

So what exactly is patience?

Patience is that valuable quality which allows us to wait for what we want, to understand that sometimes we have to look beyond the present moment to realize the satisfaction of true fulfillment. More than that, however, patience is the ability to wait without complaint for what we desire—and what we know in our heart we deserve.

Patience gives us the strength to face what is in front of us, while waiting for what may lie beyond us. It’s about endurance, staying power, tolerance, and persistence—all good things to cultivate.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.


No marriage is ever pure ease and joy. It really is a “for better or worse” arrangement. So how does patience fit in?


On Sale
Apr 27, 2010
Page Count
224 pages
Hachette Books

Pat Connor

About the Author

A 79-year-old Catholic priest born in Australia and based in Bordentown, NJ, Father Pat Connor has spent his life – including nine years as a missionary in India – tending to and counseling his parishioners. This is his first book.

Learn more about this author