Above Love

What intrigued me most about this conversation was my coworker’s perspective on the question: does marriage need love?

When I was in the bais yaakov system, they repeatedly informed us that love comes after marriage. You pick out someone you’ll be compatible with in terms of personality and hashkafa, and then you fall in love with them afterwards.

I took this on faith, the same way I took most everything on which I had no other perspective, and sallied forth to look for someone compatible to marry.

We all know that yeshiva educations are lacking in many ways. Science, math, history, and basically any secular study. Well, I have found another gaping hole in the education of our young men. It dawned on me slowly, but about a year or so into my dating career it crystallized: nobody had told any of my gentleman callers that love came after marriage. My dates wanted to fall giddily in love before they proposed, and when they didn’t, they told the shadchan “no.”

The one who left me most confused was the guy who was clearly smitten on date one, but failed to ever be smitten again, and after four dates gave the shadchan a garbled excuse for why he didn’t want to go out again, but which even the shadchan admitted boiled down to “Not sure what happened but let’s not keep trying.” I was puzzled. Didn’t he realize that his crush was a shallow, ephemeral rush of hormones created by a combination of lighting and angles and gazing into eyes and as easily gained or lost as the conditions permitted?

But eventually I came around. I realized that love was clearly an important thing, and by not insisting on it, I was short-selling myself. I decided that I too would require my dates to be conceivably loveable in order for us to go out again.

I wish I could say that this changed my dating life. That I started a career as a dating diva, turning down guys because they were too hairy, or skinny, or big-footed. That wasn’t what happened. What happened was that, instead of the guy saying “no” after date two while I dithered “Well, if he’s interested”—instead, we both said “no” after date two, and my ego came out much the less bruised for it.

I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed that phase of my dating career. There was such certainty in it. I never felt guilty about turning down a guy whose company I didn’t mind but who didn’t have a bat’s chance at the optometrist of interesting me romantically. Nor did I feel very bad when one of those guys turned me down. “I wasn’t so into him anyway,” I’d shrug.

There was some cognitive dissonance. I mean, who is into anyone after spending 4-8 hours with them in a formal setting? Do I have a single friend in my life that I fell in love with at first sight? Or even second sight? (Actually, some of my oldest friends are people that I hated at first sight.) Dating like this was some kind of absurd parody, and it was never going to land me a mate. Why was I even trying?

Worst of all was the fear lurking just below the surface: was I in the right, or was this the highway to picky older singlehood? If Mr. Perfect showed up, would I turn him down for failing to make my heart flutter?  Absurd from one perspective, reasonable from another, and completely theoretical from every which way. Mr. Perfect never showed, or else he never agreed to a third date, so I didn’t need to face down my theories with my beliefs.

I coasted along until a late-night conversation with a friend.

“You’re not a guy,” she informed me. “You can think with your head. You pick someone reasonable and you try to make him fall in love with you.”

“You make it sound so easy,” I groused.

“I know, I shouldn’t talk. I don’t have guys falling at my feet either. And I haven’t met any that I’d want to. But if I found a half-normal Sephardi guy to marry, I would do it in a second, love optional.”

With that, I was back in mega-uncertainty mode. Not that it mattered, since I didn’t date anyone half-normal for quite a while, but lacking a principle to live by was troublesome.

And now, here was the lab tech, telling me the same thing as my bais yaakov teachers: pick someone likable for whatever accessories they have, and let love follow after marriage.

Wrong? Right? Indifferent? Say it below.


24 thoughts on “Above Love

  1. It’s really funny for me to read these postings, considering that I am doing a biology PhD and my wife is the one with the “real job.” And while I didn’t marry her for her money, I definitely appreciate the sugar-mommy effect 😉

    I don’t think marrying for money _alone_ would be any wiser than marrying for beauty alone: like the mishna in pirkei avos writes, as soon as that essential trait disappears, so will the “love” (in quotes because it’s not really love, but lust after the desired characteristic). The mishna uses the word “teluya” which translates as “dependent upon” – this does not exclude these external factors completely, it just relegates them to their place of _relative_ unimportance. Your co-worker probably was trying to say, in a joking manner, that these factors also have their importance in generating attraction to a potential partner.

    I also think the dating system is horribly flawed: we internalize the message that we must feel like we are being swept off our feet, when this doesn’t really happen. I’ve been married eight years and it still hasn’t happened…. Do I love my wife? Very much so. But I daresay that this feeling has been nurtured and developed in the relationship that we have built.

    People in all walks of life, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have this idea that romantic love will allow you to find your match. While it worked in Romeo and Juliet, the biologist in me would just chalk it up to addled brain chemistry. That and the historical reality (cf. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) that the notion of being love-struck was dreamed up by bored courtesans in medieval Europe…

    I have given the advice to many people that dating, at least for the first few dates, should be about having fun with the person, seeing if you are compatible in the sense of simply enjoying each others’ company. If that works out, then you can start to worry about all those “deep life questions” that the yeshiva world tries to make you ask in the first thirty minutes of the first date.

  2. My dates wanted to fall giddily in love before they proposed, and when they didn’t, they told the shadchan “no.”

    Some of the worst guys (or girls) to deal with are the ones who expect to fall “giddily in love” within the first four dates. Some even argue that this is how they felt before with {insert relationship that didn’t work, often after 2-3 dates} and therefore since they don’t feel that it must not be a match.


  3. Well, I fell giddily in love with my wife immediately, we were living together within three days, married within three months.

    I’m still giddily in love with my wife, and our 20th anniversary is a couple of weeks away.

  4. I was taught the same thing in my Bais Yaakov type school. And I truly believed it, I remembered my teacher saying there’s no such thing as “falling in love”. That all the romatic movies are not reality. That love grows etc. The one thing that did struck me is that one teacher was saying how a friend of hers always thought of her husband as perfect, and then when he did something that went against her expectations of him as perfect, she couldn’t handle it and they got divorced. That made me always think about no one being perfect, that there will always be flaws in a person and you have to see what you can deal with and what not. To prioritize what’s important to you in a potential spouse.

    I remember listening to a speech by R’ Reitti on “love”. Here’s one of his speeches about it: When is Love Real

    Another thing that you hear a lot is about love being about giving. This one is really true. It’s easy to feel “in love” sometimes when your dating, because your at a stage where you want to impress the other person so your on your best behavior and are doing nice things for each other. That’s one of the reasons why men aren’t supposed to give women gifts unless their married, cause it brings on feelings of affection.

    Being married for almost 2 years with a baby. My husband is the only one that I went on more than 1 date with. Mostly because the guys said no after the first time. (because we were set up for the wrong reasons, just because I majored in accounting doesn’t mean I wanted to marry an accountant, but that’s what the shadchanim thought). There was one person though that kept asking for another date, and I just didn’t feel like I could marry that person so I said no. And then came along my husband. At this point I had a fear of rejection, so I would stay neutral the whole time, not allowing myself to feel anything for him. Saying to my parents I had a good time but wasn’t sure if I wanted to go out again. But then if he wanted to go out again of course I wanted to.

    To make a long story short, dating was a lot of fun and I did feel like I loved him at that point. I found so many great qualities in him that I admired. Then we get married, and the beginning months were all exciting then you realize there’s so many things to adjust to, being from different backgrounds and all. It is so important to continue to give to your spouse and make them happy in order for the love to blossom. The little things my husband does for me, showing that he’s thinking about me are what makes me the happiest.

    When we were engaged we went to a Shalom task workshop which we were so impressed by. But of course we haven’t been using it, maybe it’s time to go over it.

    When we were engaged I saw a wife lecturing her husband and I thought, I wouldn’t be able to lecture him like that, it’s so mean, how can she do that to her husband. But then once your married you sorta feel comfortable with your spouse and you speak your mind more. When we were dating if I saw something I didn’t like that my husband was doing I kept quiet about it. For example, my husband drives crazy fast, and I never said a word about it then, although I was thinking about it the whole time. Once we were married though I’d tell him all the time “your driving too fast”. Sometimes I think I should tone down the “criticizing” but it just comes out.

    So a very important thing to look for in a potential spouse is someone who you would want to make happy, someone that makes you happy. Someone who has good personality traits. You have to also feel attracted to the person. But the feelings of love can come or go based on how you build the relationship. It’s not something that you find in a person and it just stays. It has to constantly be worked on. So it has to be a person that you would feel you can love, that you would want to make happy and that he would make you happy.

  5. I loathe the term “falling in love.” I never consider it or think of it when dating.

    I think real, true, long-lasting love does not magically appear when one meets the right one. Love to me is the desire to make the other person’s life easier; love is a devotion that transcends time and looks.

    If I, hypothetically, “fell in love” in the first minute of a date, would I then selflessly sacrifice myself for him? Say, feel any desire to throw myself in front of a train? I think not.

    That is not to say that I don’t get smitten with guys; usually because of shared backgrounds+wit. But I don’t call it love. I call it interest, I call it potential.

    For me, true love is happily doing something difficult for someone you care about. Really, really, difficult. Not buying them flowers. A real effort, which may have sewage involved.

    I think I can recognize caring, devotion, loyalty. But the emotion of “falling in love”? If one can fall into and out of something, that’s not promising for a long-term marriage. It will have to be something more.

  6. People change, emotions too. You can fall in love in a glorious glittering rush and then have the firestorm of kindling subside into a warm steady blaze. Love isn’t sufficient for marriage, but for me it’s a necessary component. The kind where every thought of your partner brings a smile, the grayest gloom is lined in gold, and sewage with/for them preferable to a rose garden without.

    I do not mean puppy love, though it may start that way. I would move mountains for my friends, and care for them deeply. Some of them (of the opposite gender) have the same values and would make excellent parents and helpmates, but I wouldn’t dream of marrying them because my love for them is as a friend, not a spouse.

    Love is not sufficient – values, personality, loyalty, devotion, etc. are all important – but it is necessary, and if all the other factors are right it can be sustained and nurtured your entire life.

    Sure you _can_ fall out of love, but if all else is good that indicates a certain negligence and lack of effort on your part.

  7. Real love is the greatest thing in the world, but part of dating is letting your guard down enough to be opening to experiencing it. It comes with a certain understanding and appreciation of what that person is, but you can only get there if you have some initial feelings about the person. I wouldn’t want to wake up and look at the person I married and think “She’s ok I guess, coulda done worse” and I know a few too many people in situations like that. That’s all the hormones are doing imo, getting you to open up.

  8. This isn’t an easy question to answer. Simply put, love is a complex emotion that is more subjective than objective. No one can tell you what level of love, with any modicum of certainty at least, that you need to get married. Love at first sight, however, is not love, but a byproduct of infatuation.

    The BY approach isn’t entirely wrong either; true love, or a deeply rooted love, can only come with an established relationship, time, and selfless giving of one to another. The danger with that approach being, well, what happens if that love just doesn’t develop….? Sometimes that “leap of faith” may just be a bad decision in disguise.

    Personally, I think it’s a balance. You have to minimally “love*” (for lack of a better word, although perhaps “accept and desire” might be more appropriate) the other person enough to commit the rest of your life to them, while understanding that true love will hopefully follow.

  9. If I hadn’t loved my husband before marrying him, I don’t know that we could have made it through our shana rishona. (Maybe shame about divorce could have kept me married, but I don’t know that I’d want that to be a motivating factor in my relationships.) Marriage is a big adjustment for anybody, no doubt, but we are both quite independent and very different from each other, and the transition was rough. Have our feelings for each other evolved and grown over time? Sure. But without the big initial emotional commitment, I think I’d have grown to resent my husband rather than to love him.

  10. Pingback: Another good post by Bad4. | Jewish White Guy Says

  11. GilaB, I’m sure your love also was out of your close friendship that you had bonded with him before you were married. Even though there was turbulent times as each other got settled in Shana Rishona, I’m sure that the strong friendship bond you guys had from the beginning certainly helped.

  12. Marry for logic. That’s how I go about dating. And logically I didn’t think I would work the best with vast majority of girls I dated. Do I think I could have married some of them? Yes. But I want a great marriage.

    So I dated this girl way back when and after 5 dates she said no, but then turned around the next day because logically I made much more sense than anyone she’s ever dated. We dated a few more times and she said no again.

    She said she didn’t feel the spark. Spark? Everything about me was 100% perfect she said, but that spark… She wanted it to work but there was no spark? Seriously? You want a spark, I’ll come burn your house down!

  13. I think that came out harsher than I intended.

    If someone doesn’t want to marry you (whether because they want someone with a smaller dress size, a larger income, immediate emotional connection, whatever), you are best served by walking away.

  14. Dave –

    Offense not taken! The thing is, it was not any of those things. She said she loved everything about me much more than anyone she ever dated and she would have married me, she just didn’t feel that “spark”. That’s why she came back, because I was her perfect guy. I just didn’t come with a spark.

  15. It’s interesting how they teach about yitzchak as the quintessential love relationship and not yaakov who falls in love w rochel almost immediately

    Another interesting point is how Sarah and rivka were only described as beautiful relative to others while rochel and leah were described in terms of their own physical beauty

  16. I dunno how it works by guys, but I remember way back that I dated this really sweet boy. After the 1st date he was ‘gaga’ over me and didn’t fail to hide/mention it. At the second date he was ready to propose (note: he was NOT chassidish) and called his mom to get her blessing as he was in my city. I was totally freaked out that a guy who never knew me before those 8 hours in 2 days that we dated, was ready to marry me. It was sorta creepy….I wasn’t into him and clearly going out with him again would lead him on, so I turned him down.
    Then I found out he dated another girl I know and did the same thing. THAT my friends, is some kinda demented version of ‘love at first sight’, or what I like to call ‘being in love with being in love’

  17. IYHBY-
    if shes still single go out with her again. Ill bet 10-1 that she still thinks about you and wants to go out again but is too embarrassed to bring it up.

  18. ooter –

    Well she did that once before. After 5 she said no, then said she was too embarresed to call back, but eventually did. Then we went out a few more and she said no again. Said, it was still not there, just like after the 5th.

  19. ok well if that was lets say a year or two ago mayb now she realizes that “sparks” are not necessarilly what she thought they were. Chances are if you felt sparks – there was something there- if you were neutral about it as well than mayb she was right

  20. The kind of love that comes from being married isn’t the kind of love that comes with sparks and fireworks. I think with my very secular background that you want to marry the person who is your neshama’s desire and helps it grow.

  21. in my limited experience, the difference between what men and women are taught aligns with the difference in their wiring. my husband was ready WAY before me, but i needed to date for more time to feel what i cerebrally knew. i didn’t need to be head over heels, but what clinched it for me was even faint evidence that he was both willing and able to make me happy. the second i felt that, i was sold. you mentioned it elsewhere- women think with their heads. they’re going to take more time to warm up and be more cautious. men form attachments much faster. yes, it’s a balance- a necessary one. and the longer we’re together, the more i love him and want to make him as happy as he makes me, because we’ve created a cycle of giving that could only have been ignited by his readiness. the one piece of advice i do have for women is to let someone in without fear of being hurt. being hurt is an occupational hazard, but the reward is well worth the risk.

  22. Pingback: Crushing | Bad for Shidduchim

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