For me, getting married was work. That's not to say that it was devoid of tender feelings, but it was one of a number of deals I made a couple years ago. In the middle of a three-month project that my boss had sent me to do in New York, a matchmaker in Brooklyn set me up with my husband.
I had never heard of my husband but he knew who I was. Months before, unbeknownst to me, he had seen my shidduch resume and his rebbetzin had called around to find out if I'd be a good match for him.
A few notes: A shidduch is a marriage match. A shidduch resume is document where you describe yourself and what you are looking for in a partner. It is a lot like an online dating profile. A rebbetzin is a rabbi's wife. But when someone says, "my rebbetzin" in this context, it implies that this rebbetzin is important to him or her, acts on his or her behalf, and helps to protect him or her from potential dating pitfalls. Calling around is also known as "checking references". Someone (like a parent, rebbetzin, or rabbi) will dig around looking for information about the potential date. The concerned party seeks to determine the appropriateness of the match and make sure the prospective date is not a psycho.
It turned out that his rebbetzin was a cousin of a teacher of mine who knows me quite well. The teacher confirmed that I was likely an appropriate match for him, but the shidduch didn't happen at that point because I was living far away from New York and he didn't want to pursue out-of-town women. Then, I ended up in New York for this work project, and I met our matchmaker. Bada bing bada boom, we got set up to meet.
I almost didn't show up to our first date. I had been dating for two years and was frustrated. I had reached a point of refusing to even meet a guy for coffee unless there was a decent chance that he might be my husband. My heart had been broken, and I had sat across a wide assortment of men at café tables. Some of them were lovely people who simply just were not my husband, and some of them were cartoonishly bonkers.
Before my first date with the man to whom I am now happily married, I didn't get dressed to go out until an hour before the date, when my rabbi called me to say that he had gotten in touch with Y's rabbi and that Y sounded great. He thought I'd like him.
I jumped into some decent clothes (I wore a gray cable-knit mohair sweater, a black pencil skirt and Arche boots on our first date) and ran out the door. The train was running very slowly that Sunday afternoon. By the time I got to the café, I was half an hour late. I figured it didn't matter; I was expecting just another lousy date.
Then, the strangest thing happened. I sat down across from Y, ordered a cup of coffee, and we started talking. He was smart -- not average smart, but really smart. He was easy to talk to. We didn't have to force the conversation. We had a lot in common. Matchmakers occasionally use very inflated language to describe shidduchim. For instance, one matchmaker described a different man I had dated as a "baal chesed" (a kind person). That baal chessed criticized me to my face our first and only date, and later I heard that he does this to every woman he dates. But everything she had told me about this man appeared true.
Did I want to spend another hour or two with him? Yes. And, as I was closing my front door returning home from the date, the matchmaker called me to say that Y wanted to go out again.
We went on eight dates. Then we met each other's parents. Then we got engaged. Five weeks later, we married. Time lapsed from first date to wedding day: a little under three months. During those three months, we never touched each other. We didn't hold hands. We were never even in a room alone together.
How is it possible to marry someone without a test drive of ye olde chemistry? What if he turned out to be a slobbery kisser and a dead fish, and I was stuck with him for life? I honestly just didn't think about those kind of questions. I assumed, "If he is my husband, it will be fine."
I realize that not thinking about intimacy in the context of marrying someone is a foreign idea to most people. I dated in a totally different paradigm. My husband and I view marriage from a Torah perspective, meaning that we see marriage as a creation of G-d. In the Jewish marriage (when everything is working right, and thank G-d our marriage is healthy and holy), intimacy is holy. It's something special that produces souls even when physical reproduction does not happen. Dating in a holy way allowed us to set the stage for building an "everlasting edifice."
Instead of thinking about intimacy, I was way more concerned with finding out if Y was someone who I could live and cooperate with. I wanted to know if the issues that we disagreed on would be stumbling blocks down the road. One of my rabbis advised me, "Watch the way a man treats taxi drivers and waiters." We were simultaneously building a friendship and monitoring every single word and action on every single date. What does any of that have to do with touching?
We made a decisive effort to maintain objectivity. We checked in with the matchmaker after every date. We didn't speak on the phone, text, or email between dates until after our fifth time going out, and even then, the conversation was light and none-too-intimate. The result of this was that when I got married, I didn't love my husband, but I felt like I was making an informed choice. I liked him. I trusted him. I found him to be pleasant-looking and well-groomed.
Almost two years later, we are definitely in love. My husband is my best friend and my favorite person in the world. As a religious Jew, I can't discuss details of intimacy with you. My bedroom door is closed to the world. And that's the point: Intimacy is holy. What I can reveal to you is that instead of crashing and burning and seeing the flame wither away after marriage, we've experienced the opposite. Every day we get closer and love each other more.
I recognize that this method of dating works because we are members of an Orthodox Jewish community, and it only works in those communities when all of the parties -- the man, the woman and their respective support systems -- are on the same page and playing by the rules.
Still, when an old friend of mine from college recently contacted me to ask for dating advice (he wants to find his wife), I advised him based on my own experience. I told him to go out on actual dates, rather than just hanging out. I told him to build a friendship first, before allowing the relationship to get physical. I told him to spend the first five dates building positive experiences before getting into heavy emotional conversations. I told him to date someone who wants to get married so that you are both aiming for the same goal.
Foolproof? Not exactly. But it worked for me.
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