“It Is Not Good for [Wo]Man to Be Alone”
I have been notified that my internal clock must be off. I recently made the following comment in the Stern elevator, a grievous sin which I will never again perpetrate: "you know, the farther along I get in college, the less I am interested in getting married and having babies." Suddenly, I heard the reverberating sound of audible gasps fill the air, wallpapered kallah doors in the dorms slamming in disgust, and several engagement rings attempting to blind me in protest. How can it be that a twenty-year-old girl in Stern is not rushing toward the chuppah? Don't you feel your uterus crying out in protest that you leave it bare, month after month? Don't you know that it is your ultimate destiny to be married and produce children? To be perfectly honest: no.
Later on in the day, in the same elevator, I could have sworn that I heard the following anecdote. The sense of joyous relief in this woman's voice made me consider for a brief moment whether, perhaps, I should feel that something is missing. The story, found in only slight hyperbole below, clarified the problem: I am not in love with marriage. Many adolescent women fall in love with the idea of marriage prior to ever meeting a potential partner. Apparently I had slept through this day in seminary, for the idea of marriage did not bring flush to my cheeks or butterflies to my stomach. The story went as follows:
Last night I went on my very first date. It was right out of the movies (not that I watch movies anymore): he opened doors, complimented my appearance with his eyes – for surely it would have been inappropriate to do so with his words. He shared with me the jewels of Torah he had so arduously gained from three years at Sha'alvim. We agreed on everything, particularly our passion for living a strictly Torah lifestyle that consisted of life in the Five Towns, not having a television, dressing modestly but living lavishly, not sending our children to co-ed camps – because I had gone there before my year at Michlalah and knew what went on. We would compromise by Pesach in Florida. We were both free on January 28th, which I knew in advance worked for all seventeen of my bridesmaids, so he pulled out the 1.75-karat, princess-cut ring he so thoughtfully planted in his pocket, sang me a parody of "Candlelight," accompanied by the Maccabeats who magically appeared in the Starbucks on 34th and Park: "And this tremendous Rebbe, he told me you are perfect. So I, I, I believe it, and I, I, I hope you say yes, we'll buy you a dress…," tears filled my eyes, I thanked Hashem, and said yes. Suddenly, all of my friends rushed into the coffee house and, ignoring the bankers and advertisers sipping their venti macciatos, burst into a chorus of "Od Yishama" while they directed their delightfully-jealous stares down toward my diamond-clad left hand, then back up to check out the bochrim who had come parading in. When I got back to my dorm, I saw the door plastered with shimmering lavender wall paper and pictures of me and my chasun, which they had so thoughtfully taken through the window of the Starbucks, and a big sign reading: "Mazal tov! It's bashert!" Three words flashed through my mind: I. AM. COMPLETE. What's his name? Um, I think I forgot to ask. Let's just call him Marriage. I was in love with Marriage months before I met him. From the time that my mechanechet – teacher – in seminary told me that my great destiny was to marry a talmid chacham – torah scholar – and populate the world with banim talmidei chachamim – scholarly sons, I just knew that Marriage was for me. And now he's mine.
This slightly exaggerated, albeit not entirely fictional story is a reflection of the psychological weight that our society places upon young women. It is commonplace for women to feel that their sole purpose in life is to find that person with whom they are destined to grow old. In an effort to not entirely strip Hallmark-esque, romantic notions from the process of dating and marriage, I wish to point out that I do not think that society should do away with the formality of marriage nor any of the benefits that come along with relationships; however, I would like to call into question the way that many people go about finding a significant other.
I began to understand this process in a more complete way after reading an extremely psychologically and emotionally charged children's book by Shel Silverstein, "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O." In this charming story, the reader can clearly see the complex reality of relationships in the twenty-first century, particularly highlighted in the Orthodox Jewish community. In this book, a small, triangular missing piece wants to "roll" so it needs to find an "O" with a missing piece where she can fit in order to roll with him. (I am aware that I am assuming the genders of inanimate objects, but it's just for the purpose of the metaphor – go with me.) After a series of failed attempts to fit into the missing part of certain Os, the missing piece encounters the Big O – a circle that has no missing piece where she can fit. The Big O encourages her to roll alone, rather than rely on finding someone with whom to roll. In the story's climax, the missing piece struggles to lift herself up and begins to roll, ultimately smoothing her edges and becoming an O herself.
In this seemingly simplistic book, I found the answer to my question – what is the appeal in rushing to dress a naked ring-finger? It's because, in keeping with the metaphor, there is a need to fit into a missing part of an O in order to roll. Less enigmatically: many women feel that they cannot be complete without first finding their life partner. This milestone forces women in their early twenties to pursue with vehemence what they feel to be their "purpose." In effect, their passion becomes marriage. Rather than cultivating passions that are intellectually or psychologically stimulating, women pour their time into the pursuit of what they feel they are missing. They become the missing piece that cannot roll.
I would like to argue for a different approach. An approach which I believe Shel Silverstein alludes to in his story: you first need to be able to roll yourself in order to ever effectively roll with another individual. Rather than feeling that there is something missing due to a lack of being acquired by a man, women should feel complete and whole as individuals, and only then should they pursue life-long commitment. Essentially, before you say "I do," make sure there is an "I" in question – a whole person, complete with passions and interests that extend beyond white dresses and wedding cake. At that point, you have my blessing – go, find someone to have a meaningful relationship with, and get hitched. But if your boyfriend proposes in Starbucks, say no.