Can I Be Your Mail-Order Bride?

Inspired by this article on arranged marriages, sent to me by Ella.

Hypothetical session with my future therapist:

Therapist: So, what’s bothering us today?

Me: Everything.  I have youth, health, energy, income…

Therapist: And how does that make you feel?

Me: Terrible! I have nobody to share it with!

Therapist: You’re upset because you are socially limited? It’s quite common among nerds of your profession. Can I recommend Second Life?

Me: No. That’s not the problem. I have friends. I think. At least, people who occasionally seek my company. But they’re all female.

Therapist: Why do you think that is?

Me: Because I’m an orthodox Jew, obviously. I don’t want male friends. I mean I want a male BFF and I haven’t got one.

Therapist: Why do you think that is?

Me: Beats me… You know, it wasn’t always this complicated.

Therapist: Hm?

Me: Isn’t there some clause in the Torah wherein you can sell off your pre-bas-mitzvah daughter as a maid to someone who’ll marry her into the family when she’s old enough? My father used to joke about doing that. Sometimes I wish he had.

Therapist:  Would that make you happy?

Me: Well, it would certainly have simplified life. And simplicity is beautiful and happy, right? … … … … … okay, maybe there are some simple situations that aren’t so happy. Like dying of thirst in the Sahara, or being locked in an iron maiden. But it would simplify the most complicated thing currently in my life.

Therapist: You mean your dating issues?

Me: I don’t think I have dating issues. I have getting-married issues.

Therapist: Which you think could be solved with an arranged marriage.

Me: Well, it would solve it, that’s for sure. And it worked, back in the day.

Therapist: Tell me about it.

Me: I mean with an arranged marriage you had zero expectations. You married for money or title or connections, and that’s all you expected. If he didn’t beat you up, drink and gamble away his income, or leave his estate to his mistress it was all bonus points. Nowadays that’s just the baseline of what we demand from men. Along with tall, dark, strong, handsome, smart, mysterious, rich, kind, romantic, and endowed with common sense,  a good mother, and taste in ties. And if a guy is only tall-dark-strong-handsome—smart-mysterious-rich-kind-romantic but not endowed with common sense or a good mother or decent taste in ties we figure we can just wait: there are other guys out there and we have no desperate economic need pressing us into marriage. And it’s exactly the same from the guys, only their list is different.

Therapist: Take a deep breath there. Want a drink? Okay, let’s take a break and free associate. What do you think of when I say “marriage”?

Me: Yemenite childhood marriages. Imagine growing up and playing hide and seek with your husband. Never having to wonder when you’ll get married. That’s security.

Therapist: Oookay. What about when I say “love”?

Me: You know that story about the guy who paid 16 cows for a bride worth only 8?

Therapist: Um, dating?

Me: You know that half-hour they give chassidish couples to see each other and make sure they’re not completely revolted by each other?

Therapist: Okay, let’s try some inkblots. What do you see here?

Me: Perfect symmetry. It’s like two halves of a whole came together…

Therapist: Yes, but what do you see?

Me: It’s black. Just silhouettes. The two halves got together without seeing anything but the barest outlines. No dating, no getting to know the intricate details of their shapes and all the differences it would expose—

Therapist: Right. Let’s try pictures. What do you think is happening in this picture of a little girl alone on a swing?

Me: Waiting for her husband to get a band-aid put on his knee or bring the lemonade his mother made.

Therapist: Never mind. Let’s try some positive imagery. Lie back and think of a peaceful scene.

Me: …

Therapist: What do you see?

Me: Rolling hills. And in the distance, a gleaming lake.

Therapist: Is it any place you’ve been?

Me: Yeah. Yavniel. In the Galil. Did you know that the Breslovers there were arranging marriages between 13 & 14-year-olds until very recently? Happy couples, able to adapt to each other in their formative years… or so they assured me.

Therapist: Oh look! Our 50-minute hour is up! Next week same time?

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27 thoughts on “Can I Be Your Mail-Order Bride?

  1. I have to admit that thought of the simplicity of arranged marriages has crossed my mind a time or two. But I’m afraid that having grown up in the culture that we did, we’re just too late. We’re fed a steady diet of Disney movies and romance novels which lead to all of the unrealistic expectations that we are saddled with. Nowadays, none of us would willingly give up the ability to be extremely picky and place the decision in others’ hands. But, once in a while, I think that perhaps the freedom that we’ve gained with regards to making life decisions hasn’t come without significant negatives. Without such high expectations for personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and true love, finding a wife would be so much easier. It’s sometimes painful to realize how much we’ve been affected by an alien culture.

    Primum Non Nocere: Why Am I Not Frum?

  2. “Along with tall, dark, strong, handsome, smart, mysterious, rich, kind, romantic, and endowed with common sense, a good mother, and taste in ties.”

    Dark?

    You can’t blame others for you’re being too selective. Might as well add a few super powers to the list, and you’ll never find anyone.

  3. “Me: I mean with an arranged marriage you had zero expectations. You married for money or title or connections, and that’s all you expected. If he didn’t beat you up, drink and gamble away his income, or leave his estate to his mistress it was all bonus points. Nowadays that’s just the baseline of what we demand from men. Along with tall, dark, strong, handsome, smart, mysterious, rich, kind, romantic, and endowed with common sense, a good mother, and taste in ties. And if a guy is only tall-dark-strong-handsome—smart-mysterious-rich-kind-romantic but not endowed with common sense or a good mother or decent taste in ties we figure we can just wait: there are other guys out there and we have no desperate economic need pressing us into marriage. And it’s exactly the same from the guys, only their list is different.”

    First off, wonderful post!
    The quote above is funny yet disturbing because it’s TRUE. Perhaps the reason there is a “single crisis” is because our generation expects so much of each other. We watch movies, study psychology, read magazines, etc. where any man who is “normal” has these great qualities. Perhaps there was never a “single crisis” because people just married whoever was “there.” Mainly for title or to start a family. They didn’t nitpick qualities or worry about whether or not he was abusive.
    I’m not undermining the fact that these are issues today. They’re valid issues. But whenever I think of life in the “olden days” (aka less than 100 years ago), I start to worry that I might be requiring too much.

    And yeah, ugly ties are distracting. 😀

  4. Let’s go biblical.

    Adam desired a “help meet.” While the avos’ marriages were all pretty much arranged, there is mention that they were loving relationships. I think the problem is the definition of “love.” That’s where it’s gone wrong. I frankly cannot understand the concept of “falling in” or “out of love.” Decade-long marriages break up when one spouse says “I don’t love you anymore.” How is that possible? You live with someone else for ten years, heck, if you live with a potted plant for ten years, you have feelings for that person/cactus.

    Thinking Judaically, all that matters is one’s actions. I, personally, find words cheap. It would give me no joy if someone said “I love you.” Let’s see it. If someone wants to make my life easier (taking out garbage, changing an occasional diaper), cares about my likes and dis-likes (doesn’t buy me a gift and insist I like it), and financing what I truly enjoy (shopping sales), and I want to do all those things for him, that would be love to me. Not a bunch of red roses and walking off into the sunset.

    But isn’t it nice that Jewish marriages has evolved with the times? Marriages aren’t the same as they used to be – men would be out of the house the whole day working, women would be making dinner from 5am on (if not earlier) and maybe a few minutes of conversation could be squeezed in before passing out. All that work for survival guaranteed affection.

    Now, with all the time on our hands, people want more than a stable provider or child-bearing hips. The constitution of marriage now demands different things. Nobody initially entering the shidduch world says, “Just give me the guy gift wrapped.” It’s only after being a veteran does one say, “Take me to Anatevkah.”

  5. Chaim: I think you missed the irony in that line. “Tall dark and handsome mysterious stranger” is the stereotypical hero of a romance novel. It’s like the equivalent of the blue-eyed blond who always needs rescuing. I threw in the ties and mother to make the hyperbole a little more obvious.

    “Dark”, btw, is referring to his hair color, possibly also Mediterranean skin tone.

    AM inspiration – consider yourself lucky, then.

  6. Wouldn’t worry about that necktie–after you’re married you are going to be the one buying those neckties, so you’ll buy what you like. A whole lot of men who hate shopping and it shows in what they wear.

  7. Well done. 🙂

    Taste in ties, though? I always was under the impression that that’s what getting engaged is for – to buy the guy ties so he can dress nicer. At least, that’s what’s happened to many friends.

  8. That’s the problem with this system. They teach girls to only settle for the best, force them into a system where one page defines their “outstanding” characteristics, boxes them into a very limited number of dates to get to know a person, and, thereby, makes every date a high pressure interview for a “job” that is supposed to be a lifetime commitment and for many young ladies, the be all and end all of their existence. I’m surprised more women don’t completely flip their lids.

    Indeed, with all the pap that’s given to the girls they should take the logical next step and arrange the marriages.

    Otherwise, stop the preaching about marrying kollel guys, learners, etc. If you are called to do so personally, hakol revach. However, it is an unrealistic standard to impose on all young women. No one has one tenth of the list bad4 has listed. Many who seem to are masking or marketing.

    But then I rant…

    Fun post anyway.

  9. Dont believe that romanticized child marriage thing. Many women are bitter about it years and years later.

  10. Little boys and girls playing hide and seek together? Scandalous! They might fall in love, then what would we do?

    I recommend seeing the film “Arranged”. A Muslim girl and a Jewish girl land up working together in a public school as they each go through their marriage-partner-finding-systems. I think we’ve got it way better.

    I’m still trying to figure out why people think that shidduchim mean arranged marriages. Hallevai.

  11. Has anyone told you that you’re insane? That’s davka why you’re having such a hard time getting married, it’s not shayach to demonstrate one’s insanity before getting married………

  12. Alternatively normal is a euphimism for crazy, it’s a way of making crazy people feel somewhat normal.

  13. Leibel, I hope you are being sarcastic and not closed minded yeshivish (which would explain your choice of words) cuz if not then I must say, I think you are a disgusting person. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  14. Me being close minded yeshivish – That’s hilarious, Yeshivish people think I’m sort of borderline OTD rebel.

  15. “my therapist told me I’m not crazy, I’m just alternatively normal” – amazing quote, i may need to use this sometime.

    I was listening to a piece about someone who spent time in India’s divorce courts, and they made an interesting observation that in arranged marriages you will be receiving your love needs from the entire extended family whereas in love marriages you gamble and hope you get it from that one person. Just a thought.

  16. But in modern USA, what are the chances you’ll be near that extended family?
    Moreover, if I recall correctly, in China, the arranged-bride winds up (wound up) as a slave for her mother-in-law. Possibly in some Middle Eastern cultures too.

    Hey, I’m all for arranged marriages. Just – make sure it’s arranged that he has certain prequalifications.

  17. I agree with everybody else; this was a great post because it showed one of the true sources of the shidduch crisis. I didn’t think it was funny – at all. Here is a true story that explains why not.
    After the Steipler was Niftar, I went to hear the Rosh Yeshiva of Marbeh Torah in B’nei Brak give a hespeid for him. He told the following story. A chassid came to the Steipler with a Kvittel that had the names of his unmarried friends on it. He asked the Steipler to give each of them a bracha that they should meet their Beshert. The Steipler came to one of the names and stopped. He told the chassid that he couldn’t give this person a bracha. The chassid asked why. The Steipler answered that this person has already met his Beshert and didn’t want her. The Rosh Yeshiva said that the message we need to learn from this story is that “it’s Shiach to blow it.” (I can still hear him saying those words.)
    If anyone would like to check this story, I don’t remember the Rosh Yeshiva’s name, but he was from Ireland.
    The concept of Beshert means the person who will help you acheive your Tachlis in Ruchnius. If we’re looking for tall, dark and handsome, then we’re not looking for our Beshert. What’s the chance we’ll find something we’re not looking for?
    I think at the end of the Hespeid he suggested we lower our expectations to a good roommate and financial partner (who isn’t repulsive looking) and accept that we will need to work to achieve the rest of a good relationship. I don’t remember that part clearly.

    Anyways, there is really no formal definition for “love” and demanding something undefinable as a “need” is another way to set yourself up for disappointment – and conflict. A better yardstick of a successful relationship is whether you achieve orgasm on a regular basis. Sorry harry-than-them all, some “love needs” can’t be met by the extended family.

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