Father Pat Connor is 79 years old, celibate, and readily admits he doesn’t have a scrap of personal experience in navigating the seas of holy matrimony. Maybe that’s why he’s become such a font of information about what to look for in a prospective mate.
“I like to think that the background music of my counseling is the verse by the German poet Goethe. He said there’s nothing more frightening than the sight of ignorance in action,” Connor told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira Friday in New York. “I’m totally ignorant of what it’s like to be married.”
Nevertheless, he’s a highly sought speaker who travels the country advising groups of high school seniors on the sort of people they shouldn’t marry. His advice is directed at both sexes, but he mostly talks to girls, because they’re the ones most interested in hearing what he has to say.
“My experience in the counseling room over the years — I’ve been a priest for 51 years — convinced me that I should distill from all the marriage counseling I’ve done a profile of the kind of person you should never marry,” Connor told Vieira and Lauer. “That’s the lecture that I give to high school seniors.”
Until this week, Connor had done his work in relative anonymity. But after half a century of tending his flock, he finds himself an overnight sensation. He has New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd to thank for that.
Last Sunday, instead of dipping her pen in acid and firing off another political polemic, Dowd interviewed Connor about his advice to young people who soon will be entering the mate market.
The column was one of the most e-mailed on the Times’ Web site. It rocketed around the Internet, ultimately landing Connor a spot on TODAY with co-hosts Lauer and Vieira.
Connor said he talks to high school kids because it’s important to get to young people before they fall in love. “My argument is that once they fall in love … it’s too late. We’re so infatuated that our judgment fails. Judgment is trumped by infatuation,” he said.
Among the many mistakes people make is thinking that they can change their partners once they are married.
“Of course, people can change, but don’t think you can change them,” he advised.
The mom factor
Another red flag for women is a man who is too attached to his mother’s apron strings.
“These men who are overly influenced by their mother for some reason or another are looking for another mother; they want two mothers,” Connor told Vieira and Lauer. “They look for another mother in the person of their wife-to-be. That’s disastrous, or can be disastrous.”
He said he’s known of cases where the newly married husband takes his mother on the honeymoon. “You can write a Ph.D. thesis on watching reruns of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ” he said with a chuckle.
And just as that sense of humor stands Connor in good stead, it’s a vital ingredient in a potential mate. “That covers a multitude of sins,” he said of an ability to laugh at life and self.
In the Dowd piece, he told an anecdote about his own mother: “My mother was once asked how she managed to live harmoniously with three men — my father, brother and me. Her answer, delivered with awesome arrogance, was: ‘You simply operate on the assumption that no man matures after the age of 11.’ My father fell about laughing.”
Another rule is: Beware of a partner who has no friends. “That means he won’t be able to live a life of loving intimacy with his wife, because he’s incapable of entering into an intimate relationship with anybody,” Connor said.
Finally, there’s the issue of money and how the prospective partners deal with it.
“There’s specialization in marriage,” he said. “The husband does what he can do as far as bringing in money goes; she does what she can do as far as bringing in money goes. They specialize in the areas in which they have expertise. That allows them to make money and spend money wisely. Very often the husband and the wife are diametrically opposed in their attitude toward money.”
Recognizing the difficulty of finding someone who qualifies on all counts, Lauer asked which rule a prospective bride might compromise on.
“I think the mother one,” Connor said. “Compromise on that. The others are in a sense nonstarters.”
Vieira asked if girls Connor has talked to come back in five or 10 years to thank him for his advice.
He said some do. “Then they say, ‘Gosh, we wish we’d listened to what you said,’ ” he laughed.
Near the end of the discussion, Vieira observed that Connor’s caveats seemed to rule out just about everybody — except the priest himself. And, she pointed out, “You’re off limits.”
“Who knows?” Connor laughed. “The Pope could change that with the stroke of a pen.”
But, he warned, “I’d be a horrible husband.”