The Fixing of this generation
Marriage is unnatural and illogical. It is insane to believe that two people exclusively can be lovers, business partners, friends, co-parents, and roommates for decades, through thick and thin. And yet universally, humankind has based itself on this. And until recently, it almost always worked. It could be that the current world is pulling man away from his spiritual self and his connection with the spiritual world, replacing the divine with the mundane. In a logical and natural order, today’s world, marriage doesn’t work. A man who cannot see with his spiritual eyes will look at his fifty year old wife and see an old woman. A man looking with spiritual eyes will see the highest form of beauty. Being spiritual means that you see an additional, hidden element to reality. To a person who does not see that additional element, spiritually based actions will not make sense. I feel that marriage does not make sense in a world of logic but if you add the spiritual element, it is the only kind of relationship that will work. Marriage has always been under the auspices of religion for that reason, and secular marriage fails more often than not.
The modern world has tools to interact that never existed before. The electronic revolution is producing more words and more connections between people than could ever have been imagined. And yet fewer people are getting married. So many people who want to get married are putting in great efforts, using tools to connect that are cutting edge, and spending their nights alone. Three generations ago, the telephone didn’t exist. Dating someone in the next town required hours of rough travel. Long distance relationships were managed through what we now call snail mail. When I first came to Israel as a teen, a letter took two weeks to get to my parents. Today, mail takes milliseconds to arrive, people can have free conversations to anywhere in the world with visual accompaniment, and I watch as teens sit on the bus typing with their thumbs. I am dumbfounded when I think of the oceans of words that are thrown around each moment as a generation that is constantly connected, busies itself with what they call communication. I apologize but all I see is loneliness. Music used to be an experience in connection between the musician and the listener. Conversation must be learned. In the Jewish experience, it is forbidden to travel on the Sabbath. We are required to have three meals with other people who are also stuck in the same location. Television is forbidden (through the wisdom of the Rabbis, if not by the Torah). We sing together, we talk for hours, have a drink or two, and families settle into the warm space of being a family together. And guess what else happens. In the quiet spaces created between ‘pass the potatoes’, single men and women discover each other. Is that such a surprise?
Now there are websites that help you find your mate. The idea makes sense and the databases are enormous. Couples should be getting married in droves. Wedding halls should be overbooked. In olden times, there were a dozen young boys in the village and a dozen young girls. Most of them managed to find their soul-mate amongst those dozen candidates, and most of them managed to stay married. According to the laws of statistics, it should be easier now, but it is the opposite. The laws of logic don’t apply. We are living in an age where finding your soul mate and loving them is a special challenge.
How could anyone develop warm feelings for someone in the pressurized, hierarchically structured, workplace, with all of its mirrors and rules? Modern society has set up environments for single people to meet. Most of them are intentionally loud, as if a meaningful conversation is counter-productive. And you are supposed to go wearing a costume. You could be looking right at your soul mate and not recognize them. How can you say anything meaningful when you are limited to a few charcters? Conversation must be learned and practiced. Listening is a skill. Silence is so sweet when shared. If all this modern buzz works for you, than go with it. People are treasure chests full of holiness. It is a great gift to get to know another person. It is impossible to do this via instant messages.
Dating is not shopping
A dear friend of mine got married. He was a successful lawyer, drove a really nice car, and went to the gym religiously. At his wedding, his sisters got up and spoke about how hard he searched, how he checked out one girl after the other, until he finally found the BEST!! The most beautiful, sexiest, most intelligent, most talented, woman. I was horrified. Did that mean that if another woman came along who was better, than he would be justified in leaving her? If he lost his job, went bald, got fat, or had an accident, would she leave him. You should not marry someone because they are the best. Don’t worry if you aren’t the best. Marry the person who is the other half of your soul. They aren’t the best. They are the only one who fits. And so are you. If your children are not the most beautiful or the smartest kids in the class, do you send them back to the factory? Of course not. You love them because of who they are, and for that same reason, they are irreplaceable.
Rav Daniel explained that you don’t get married because you are ready. Any person who has longed to find their soul mate can tell you this. You get married because you cannot take one step forward, alone. Marriage takes you further than you could ever go by yourself. That is why it is so much work. Don’t wait because you aren’t ready. Don’t be afraid because you may not feel that you have enough to offer.
Because people are so complex, so deep, and so hidden, it is impossible to ‘know’ who the right person is or what he will be like. I am not saying throw your list out. I am saying make a list, keep in mind that the list could be a liability, find the match who you feel the best about being with, close your eyes, and jump. As much as you saw in that person, know that there is so much more that you couldn’t see, and won’t see, for a long time. Some of it will be good, some of it will scare you, and some of it will connect with parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. Some of it may not be so nice. There are no guarantees. You don’t know who the other person will be once his soul is attached to yours and you don’t even know who you will be when you are attached with him. Until you are married, you don’t know what kind of spouse you will be. Even with the best intentions, until you have kids, you don’t know what kind of parent you will be.
You will discover things in your spouse that you didn’t know were there, things you might not want to be there. You don’t order a tailor made spouse in an off-the rack world. But don’t think you are ‘settling for less’ or ‘suffering’. The most amazing thing is that the things I have discovered in my spouse told me so much about my deeper self. I wouldn’t even have known about them to put them on my list. I have listened to couples and sat in awe as I saw how deeply parts of their soul and persona related, and how often I heard ‘I didn’t know this before we got married’. Quite often, stories take generations to tell. And they aren’t simple. I knew a man who got engaged to a super-enabled blind woman. His father objected so strongly that he broke off relations with his son. It was then revealed that the mother had a stroke and became blind. The father had her institutionalized. A woman came from an abusive home and married a man with a nervous disorder that made him collapse if he had an emotional outburst. People are complex by themselves, but when they choose a mate, all their tiny points of light become constellations, connections of wonder and awe.
You can never ‘know’ that this is your mate. Try your best and pray like crazy. Love isn’t enough but without it, nothing else works and nothing is worth the effort. So love each other. A lot. And don’t forget to say it out loud. ‘I love you’ is NEVER the wrong answer. And ‘Do you love me?’ is never a stupid question.
Acquiring a Wife-Acquiring an Identity-The Chuppa changes who you are
This is really the essence of what I wanted to say. In masechet kiddushin, it is written, “A woman is acquired in three ways; money, relations, or a contract.” Modern, PC, people who hear this are in shock. Acquiring a woman sounds barbaric. It sounds like slavery. Until you dig just a tiny bit deeper and you learn that it is against Jewish law to have a woman slave. So if you can’t have a woman slave, then what does it mean to acquire a wife? You acquire some aspect of the woman or something that is attached to her. Rav Erez Gazit explained that you acquire the title of being a husband or, more specifically, her husband. That is why under the chuppa the man gives the woman a ring and she does not give him a ring.
Marriage is not a deal or an even exchange. You don’t bargain with your wife. In a business deal, partners are equal, sharing profits and responsibilities, shouldering the load equally. When a partner is unable to work, the obligations must be reassessed. If a better deal comes along, the partnership can be dissolved. A marriage is not a business deal. Nothing is equal, and that is a good thing. Spouses should not keep a spreadsheet with responsibilities, benefits, hours worked, etc. You didn’t get married to the best or richest or most whatever. You married the other half or your soul. They are helping you on your journey towards your higher self. When you decide that is not who you are, the relationship is dissolved.
Rule to remember (and it isn’t as easy as it sounds); Treat your spouse no worse than a total stranger. I can hear all the shouts of “That’s crazy! I want to treat my husband/wife like a king/queen!”. Let me tell you two stories.
Once, I was flying to the states on a special (cheap) ticket that allowed me to board only after all the other passengers got on and if there was still a seat. I had to show up at the airport in Tel Aviv and wait, not knowing if I was actually going to fly. The flight was scheduled for midnight but, because of delays, they didn’t begin boarding until one thirty. By two thirty it became clear that I wasn’t going to get on that plane. By the grumbles I was hearing from the crowd around me, it was clear that the flight had been overbooked. I watched an older couple cope with the situation. The husband was struggling with a cart piled high with luggage and the wife listened while the airline rep explained. The roar of the engines shook the plate glass windows, making the airline’s position clearly one of total apathy. I was amazed at her patience, nodding her head in understanding while the rep spoke, trying to collect his papers and leave. If I had purchased a ticket and reserved a seat, the only way they would have turned me away in the middle of the night would be after a long and bloody knife fight. As the couple walked away, a suitcase slipped off the overloaded cart and fell to the floor. The woman turned around and snapped, “Jerk!”. I felt so bad for the husband but, more importantly, I couldn’t understand how she could have so much patience for strangers and so little sympathy for her husband who was trying so hard.
Another time, I stopped in to visit a young couple. The wife had just prepared pancakes for the husband. I was sipping coffee when he threw down his knife and fork in disgust. “You used butter! I hate butter!” I remember thinking that if I had made him pancakes and he said that, he would end up getting a maple syrup shampoo that he would remember for a long time.
It may sound easy. Most people try to act polite. But when you are dealing with your spouse, so much emotional baggage and history comes crowding in. You have expectations for your spouse, more than for a stranger. You have expectations for yourself that sit on you like a three hundred pound gorilla. Polite, nice, and good enough, aren’t good enough so you get angry for not having your expectations met. Do yourself a favor. Set your sights a little lower. Shoot for polite. If you can get through life never being rude to your spouse, never raising your voice, always saying ‘thank you’, giving them a glass of water when they are thirsty, saying ‘sorry’ when you hurt them, thinking twice before reacting in anger, all the things you do when confronted by strangers, then you are a total saint. And you will probably have a wonderful and meaningful marriage.