Thursday Link: Queer Marital Harmony for the Straight Couple

I don’t think the Atlantic means its articles to be taken as factual. They’re more like talking points, something to think about, ideas to toss around.

With that prologue, I’m linking to The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” an article about what homosexual family structures can teach hetero couples about division of labor.

Plus, it offers some tantalizing statistics. Like, did you know that having a woman in a relationship correlates to it breaking up? Turns out more women than men request divorce in hetero unions, and more lesbian than gay couples split up. So if you want your marriage to last, marry a man.

The research cited can also suggest what each gender values. Lesbian couples are called out for creating a perfect equality in their relationship, down to the last penny spent, and who carries the next baby. What this tells me is that women see a power structure in everything, and they strive to mitigate any effect it could have on their relationship.

Gay couples are more chilled. They also split the housework — admitting that they do more now than they did in prior hetero marriages. But there’s also a higher likelihood of one man becoming a house-husband (even though there are apparently more power tensions related to income in gay unions). So, although men hang a lot of self-esteem on their bacon-bringing abilities, they still value house-spousing enough to sacrifice for it.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Anyway, go ahead and take a read, then drop a comment below — in that order, please.

When Everyone’s an Expert

People who get within sniffing distance of marriage are notable for their sudden transformation into SMEs (subject matter experts).  It is amazing, really, how only a taste of marriage can turn someone into a fount of information on the subject. Here are some of the courses available through the Marriage Department at TMI U.

The Meaning of Commitment 101

Taught by a newly ringed NEF, the meaning of commitment covers what it means to declare yourself dedicated to someone for life, no matter what. Lectures range between 5 and 15 minutes and may include an earnest entreaty not to be afraid to commit yourself; after all, it’s probably going to work out great for this NEF.

How to Just Take a Leap of Faith – Seminar

Taught by an NEF, this quick disposition covers the meaning of faith, as well as the necessary prerequisites for it. There is brief coverage of the technique of leaping, as well as some evidence provided that leaps of faith pay off. Really. Things turn out fine. They do.

These impromptu speeches by NEFs bother me the least of all the near-marriage lectures, because I know they’re mostly talking to themselves. They’re nervous, and they’re trying to assure themselves that they weren’t stupid, accepting a ring from a stranger in return for a promise to remain dedicated to them for life.

Sometimes I bait them, proposing more and more dire marriage situations, just to watch them brace themselves to remain committed, yea, e’en in such dire straits.

What bugs me more is when people who have very little experience will marriage become experts on the subject. For example:

The Simplicity of Shalom Bayis – Lecture

Presented by an NMF of about three months, this lecture covers how simple shalom bayis is to maintain. All you have to do is listen to the other person and be willing to compromise. Honestly, what’s the big deal?

How Bad Decisions Messed up Someone Else’s Marriage, a Case Study

Presented by an MF of one year, this analysis of the rocky marriage of a 3-year-old couple will dissect poor decisions they made that led to their current situation. The lecturer will detail how she and her still-honeymooning husband would never make dumb mistakes like that.

Just from sitting around in my armchair watching, I suspect it takes a year before a couple really feels comfortable enough to start taking advantage of each other. Then you have another year before they start getting fed up with each other. So you won’t be seeing any cracks until year three, unless the situation is really bad. Oddly, that’s around when MFs stop dispensing the free marriage counseling.

Of course, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m just explaining my own theory (available in lecture series upon request), and why I’d never take serious marriage advice from anyone who hasn’t been doing it for at least five years. Ten preferred.

Otherwise, you might as well purchase my other lecture series:

Why My Kids Are Going to be Fantastic

In this course I will espouse that raising great kids is simple: all you have to do is understand what each child needs and provide it. What’s the big deal? 

Missing Part of the Equation

Three single people in a shared apartment living room. They are discussing how comfortable they are in their current living situation, and how perhaps a Boston marriage is in order, and who needs to get married anyway?

“Everyone I know who is married has issues. Either it’s the spouse or it’s the kids or it’s the trying to have kids. But they’ve nearly all been messy – sometimes permanently – in some way,” says First Single.

Second Single nods in agreement. One of her good friends recently filed for a divorce after five years with a deadbeat.

Third Single looked at the first two incredulously. “Are you saying you think being married is worse than being single?”

First and Second Single look at each other. “Well, it does look that way, from the outside.”

“Look,” Third Single began. “Granted, all the married people I know have Married-People Issues of some type. But don’t we all have Single-People Issues?” Her voice trailed off as she realized the inevitable response.

“Um, aside from the fact that we’re not married?” First Single said. “Not really.”

“We’re missing something, I think…” Second Single said, perturbed.

What Am I Describing?

“When I saw the coffin I was like, ‘Really? They fit him into that? They didn’t even need to widen it around the middle?’ I mean, this is a guy who never went anywhere without his iPod, iPad, cell phone, pager, Hatzolah walkie-talkie, and Chaverim toolkit, just in case he needs to break into a car in a hurry. He jangled so much when he walked, you thought a robot was coming down the block. His belt added about a foot to his waistline. He never went anywhere without all that stuff, there’s no way he’s going to heaven without them either.”

Pause

“Or wherever he’s going.”

Pause

“I mean, you never know. God’s car might break down, and we know there aren’t too many mechanics in heaven.”

Pause

“So, here we are folks, mourning the passing of our esteemed friend, relative, and colleague, Yosef Schwartz. I’d like to invite his rabbi and mentor to give the next eulogy. Rabbi Cohen was in charge of Yossi’s spirituality. The guy who was supposed to make sure our friend here went to the good place. I don’t see any smoke coming from the coffin yet, so that’s a good sign. Ladies and gentlemen: Rabbi Dovid Cohen.”

“Thank you, thank you. You know, I really don’t think we have to worry about Yossi. I knew he was a good boy from the very start. We first met about a year after he joined our yeshiva. He had taken a hot slice of pizza—with the cheese just browning and bubbling—out of the toaster, and dropped it, right on the floor in front of the stove. Cheese side down, of course. Yossi was always meticulous about following rules, and Murphy’s law was no exception.

“Anyway, Yossi knew that many bits and scraps of food—both milchigs and fleishigs—had fallen in front of the stove over time, and in fact, most of them were still there. He really wanted to brush off and eat his perfectly baked pizza, but wasn’t sure if it was kosher.

“R’ Katz, who he usually went to for sheilos, was in LA at the time and Shabbos hadn’t ended yet. In desperation he called me. I immediately took a liking to the sincere, sweet boy, and we’ve been in touch ever since. He never hesitated to ask me even his most sensitive questions. I’ll miss him, but I know he’s happier now. He has access to much greater rabbanim than me now, and for his really tough questions, he can even go to the Ultimate Rebbe himself. In fact, right now the Ultimate Rebbe is probably pinning a medal on him for throwing out that pizza, and having blueberry pie for melaveh malka instead.”

“Thank you R’ Cohen for your kind words. You know, I bet they’re making up for that pizza right now with an entire pie that tastes… just… heavenly. Although I think they have to order in, since I hear most of the ovens are kept elsewhere.

“Our next speaker is someone who may have a different perspective on where Yosef wound up. We’re talking about someone who still remembers the time he colored on the walls and wouldn’t let him forget why they had to paint the living room mauve. She used to be upset because he didn’t call often enough. Well, he definitely won’t be calling now, Mrs. Schwartz. But you can send him a message anyway, while his neshama is still lingering. Everyone: Yossi’s mother, Mrs. Eve Schwartz.”

*     *     *

Okay. Now imagine the subject of these speeches is still alive and sitting there, listening.

Now swap out the jokes about God, heaven, and hell for jokes about mother-in-laws, wives, and jewelry shopping.

What do we have? Yep: sheva brochos.

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.

Quote of the Week: Marry for…

“…you know, this job is only to keep me busy during the day,” the lab tech said, rummaging around for pipette.

“Really?” I said.

“Yep. My wife is a professional. She earns the bucks.”

“Good for her.”

“That’s why I married her.”

“For her job?”

“Yep. Listen to me, Bad4. You want to be happy, marry for money.”

“Marry for money,” I echoed in disbelief.

“Marry for money. Because even if the person drives you crazy—well, at least you can enjoy yourself, you know?”

“So your wife drives you crazy?”

“Oh, no. I love her, Bad4. Love her to pieces. But I didn’t when we got married. It grew, afterwards. Love can come later. It did, Bad4. We’ve been married fifteen years. Take my advice: marry for money.”

I’ll follow up on this one tomorrow.

Link: Don’t Rush Into It

A good friend of mine got engaged after six dates. They went on six to keep their parents from freaking out. She actually knew she was getting engaged after three.

“What’s the rush?” I asked.

“When you know you know,” she said.

I suppose. Except there’s so much you don’t know.

Not that I’m a big fan of dating someone until you get cold feet either. Too much dating can do more harm then good. (Just get married already!)

And then there’s a third option: dating forever. Thank you Stupid Inventor for sending me this link to a story about a couple of newlyweds who are too arthritic to even hug properly. They dated for 30 years. Her advice? Get to know a person, be forgiving… and, apparently, keep him chasing you.

Reasons To (Not) Get Married

Lots of people have been mulling over this business of marriage recently. Okay, not so recently, but I’ve only just got back into the blog-reading thing. So, SternGrad lists 101 reasons to get married, to which CoralCap replies with 101 reasons not to. Harryer says he’s given up on figuring out why to get married, he’s just doing it because he’s pretty sure it’s a good idea, just don’t ask him for details.

Why do you want to get married? Well, I’ve asked that one before, with mixed results. And I really would like to know. To me, inertia seems the most natural course. It’s easier and more convenient to not get married. Especially when you’re an Orthodox Jew and can easily coast through the rest of your life without ever meeting another eligible bachelor of the right background. Which is why I compiled a list of reasons to get married. Because it seemed necessary.

But seriously. Why do I want to get married? The question is harder to answer than at first appears.

aminspiration mentioned a story wherein a bochur, asked why he wanted to get married, gave the pat answer, “To give.” To which he was told, “So give to the whales.” On the one hand, the guy deserved that answer. Life isn’t high school. You can’t live according to the teacher-pleasing textbook answer. On the other hand, the rabbi was being unfair as well. The nature of the giving one anticipates for marriage is quite different than that one heaps upon whales. A spouse is someone to whom you express love and affection – something in which you are severely limited in your real life company, let alone the whales.

It’s like Friendship: Extreme Edition, where you give and accommodate because you think the other person is worth the effort. You’ve thrown your lots in life together, hitched your wagons, tied the knot. You face the world together, united, arm in arm, ready to tackled the tougher challenges of family with a two-person team. When both parties are dedicated to working together, marriage is beautiful.

And don’t forget the family part. Kinfauna are nice, but they’re not yours. Your role is more to spoil them and play with them than to actively raise them. Comparing kinfauna to having your own family is like comparing buying a sports car to personally building your own hot rod. Yeah, Best4’s kids are probably a better make and model, but mine will be mine.

Finally, because there must be something to it. (I guess I’m with Harryer in this one.) For all the jokes about the MMRC, I can’t believe people keep getting married purely out of habit. The family unit is something important, a little community inside community, a cozy circle that roots you and gives you direction.

Maybe.

Or maybe there’s something else to it.

I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.

Still Off Topic: How You Peeve

Okay, here’s the fun part. Here’s a list of things that annoy people. Go through the list and tell us the following:

1 – are you male or female?

2 – are you guilty of said behavior?

3 – are you annoyed by said behavior?

Be honest – and be pseudonymous if you must, but be honest. This is data collection going on.

Since I suppose it’s only fair that I go first…

List of Peeves

singing/humming/whistling to yourself whilst going about your business

always having a negative attitude [Always irritating.]

constantly criticizing other people/things [Ditto]

leaving things on your bed and/or desk

staying for way too long and talking with absolutely every person at any and all social functions [That’s my host at the kiddush the morning I’m actually ravenous.]

never asking directions

drinking straight from the sink as if it’s a water fountain, with no cup [Not annoyed by it, not guilty of it.]

having too many shoes [Is there such a thing?]

putting back empty containers [That’s just stupid. And annoying.]

Putting back jars without screwing the tops on properly [Ye-ah that’s annoying. Says the girl mopping pickle juice off the kitchen floor.]

cracking knuckles [Occasionally guilty. I mean, knuckles sometimes need cracking… Not annoyed by it.]

Setting your alarm for very early and definitely before anyone else wants to get up

hitting snooze repeatedly because you set that alarm before even you want to get up [Had a sem roommate who did this. The only reason I never killed her was because I was too tired to get out of bed. The worst part? It was this jaunty dance tune. Argh!]

setting an alarm even though you sleep right through it [Had a sem roommate who did this too. It was practically a chorus of ignored alarm clocks in there. I offered to break this one’s alarm clock, and I offered to wake her up instead. The latter suggestion went over better.]

Leaving the shopping bags anywhere and everywhere instead of putting everything in place.

Talking on the phone when I am trying to fall asleep.

Not putting books back on shelves.

Leaving clothes to hang on the back of the bathroom door. [Messy, but only irritating if they never ever get moved. Not guilty.]

Not making one’s bed

clicking/tapping pens

dripping water all over the bathroom floor after a shower [This one bugs me. I mean, why should I have to wear water shoes in my own bathroom? Not guilty, of course.]

Being cheerful in the morning [Sometimes guilty. Depends what it’s the morning of and whether my roommate hates cheerful people.]

Making noise when I’m asleep (or before I’ve had my coffee)

Leaving books in the bathroom [I’m always amused when people have libraries next to the toilet. Seriously, how much time can you spend there?]

Leaving a computer in the bathroom [The mind rebels. Not peeved, though.]

Eating in front of the computer

Giving pet names to the spiders and yelling at anyone who dares to touch them

Allowing the dog on the coach and the bed

Letting a cat eat in one’s plate

Not putting back the drinks in the fridge [Not guilty, yes peeved. Clean up after yourself.]

Drinking from the carton [If it’s your own personal carton, I don’t care what you do, but keep your lips off anything we share. Wouldn’t do it myself, though, barring dehydration and lack of cup.]

Leaving toothpaste uncapped/capping it sloppily [Toothpaste, if not carefully maintained, has the capacity to degenerate into something decidedly messy.  Keep it neat, please.]

Squeezing toothpaste from top not bottom [Oh how this bothers me. It is just plain wrong.]

Hair/stubble in the sink/shower [I try not to do it and appreciate the same consideration.]

Toilet paper over versus under

Socks left on the floor

Clothes tossed over chairs [Yeah, I do it. And usually put it away the next day. You couldn’t recreate my week’s dress history by drilling through archeological strata on my armchair or anything. I think randomly chucked clothing is fine, as long as you keep most of your clothing in the closet, not draped over the furniture. I mean, if you’re trying on a gazillion outfits in search of the perfect one, you can’t be expected to hang rehang every item you go through in your quest.]

Toilet seat up/down [Keep it down!]

Hanging laundry to dry on the shower rod [Bothersome, but not grievously irritating. I generally avoid it.]

Scattered shoes/slippers

Things stuffed into drawers

Closet doors left open

Things not returned to their places (be it bathroom scale or box of tissues)

Leaving lights on [Turn off lights behind you. This one bugs me. I don’t do it.]

Leaving dishes in the sink [Guilty. Well, why do dishes three times a day when you can do them only once?]

Leaving things in the pockets of laundry [Pockets? Who has pockets? You must be male.]

Slurping soup [Eyew. Please please please don’t do it. I only do when I’m trying to make the parentals despair.]

Not replacing toilet paper that’s run out [If you don’t do this then you are a selfish and shortsighted… irritating person. So there.]

Makeup left on sink [Is this referring to goopy things dribbled on the sink or bottles?]

Off Topic: The Confessional

The credit for this post goes t LawSchoolDrunk, whose idea at yesterday’s post was too much fun to resist. Direct quote:

There should be a conversation piece posted by Bad4 on all sorts of house/dorm etiquette issues/pet peeves and have a female/male perspective conversation.

Once, an NMF was telling me that she doesn’t understand why couples fight. “If something your spouse does bothers you, you tell him/her. And then they fix it. What’s the big deal?”

“So you managed to resolve all those important issues like socks on the floor and toilet paper over versus under without any screaming fights or tears?” I asked in joking disbelief.

“Oh my gosh, please. He doesn’t like when I leave socks on the floor, so now I put them in the hamper. It really wasn’t hard.”

At this point I cracked up at her candid reversal of the stereotype, but I have to admit: I also kick off my socks at bedtime and forget about them. Though, to my defense, I pick them up when I see them on the floor the next morning. Usually.

So, which other women out there are ready to ‘fess up that they leave their socks lying around?

Wait! Don’t say anything yet. I don’t want any confessions yet. First let’s make a list of roommate peeves. That’ll be today’s task. Tomorrow we’ll reveal which gender is prone to which behaviors and who annoys who with what.

So I’m trusting you to have self-control. Do today’s task today and leave tomorrow’s fun for tomorrow.

Here’s my starter list:

Drinking from the carton

Leaving toothpaste uncapped/capping it sloppily

Squeezing toothpaste from top not bottom

Hair/stubble in the sink/shower

Toilet paper over versus under

Socks left on the floor

Clothes tossed over chairs

Toilet seat up/down

Hanging laundry to dry on the shower rod

Scattered shoes/slippers

Things stuffed into drawers

Closet doors left open

Things not returned to their places (be it bathroom scale or box of tissues)

Leaving lights on

Leaving dishes in the sink

Leaving things in the pockets of laundry

Slurping soup

Not replacing toilet paper that’s run out

Makeup left on sink

So, what have I left out? Time for your suggestions. Remember, just suggestions. Don’t weigh in with who does it and who it annoys yet.

While googling around for some ideas, I came across this WSJ article about how marriages break up over small stuff. Because, like my NMF pointed out, if there’s mutual respect, these things are easy enough to work out (in theory).

The article adds a few more items to the list:

My dad recently went on for eight minutes—I counted—about my mother’s proselytizing for sunscreen. Husbands told me about wives who “chomp” their gum or park the car crooked in the driveway, and wives griped about husbands who leave newspapers on the floor, refuse to put coasters under their drinks or walk around the house naked. One friend told of how her husband untucks all the sheets before getting into bed. A nonprofit executive said his wife has actually bickered with him while she was asleep.

Bathroom habits came up repeatedly. Working on this column, I’ve listened to tirades from men and women about toilet seats (up or down), toilet paper (over the roll or under it), hair left in the sink, bras hanging on the back of the door, dirty tiles and toothpaste tubes. “You cannot squeeze from the middle,” one woman insisted.

The dishwasher was a sticking point in Vige Barrie’s first marriage. She says her husband often left his dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter, a habit that so infuriated her she even brought it up with their marriage counselor. “It was beyond me that he couldn’t get his hand in gear to deliver a dirty dish a few inches over to the dishwasher,” says Ms. Barrie, 57, who works in media relations at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. “Was I a maid?”

~ From Honey Do You Have To…? in the WSJ

Discovering a New Specie

Let’s face it. In the orthodox world, we don’t get to meet the other gender too much. So when we’re growing up we get all our information from books and from our siblings (who we know perfectly well aren’t normal specimens, because if the rest of the world was like them why haven’t we self-destructed yet?)

Then comes dating. A short, intense, and gruesome period of being chained to within a ten foot radius of one of those creatures. The result? Only mildly enlightening. Again, you are full of hope that you just met the exception, not the rule. Generalizations are brutal and cathartic (“boys are stupidheads”) and not even believed by the speaker after a week of chocolate, long nights of sleep, and being set up with a better guy.

Then comes marriage! You’ve finally found the perfect representative of the opposite specie. And you are living together in close quarters and mutual trust. The sort of position any naturalist would love to be in. But you’re not swapping with them, because this is amazing. It’s charming. It’s entertaining. It’s like finally meeting the star of a novel or movie.

Here, right here, is a Woman! And she’s just like you heard. Chatters a lot. Wrings her hands over what to wear. Whirls about the kitchen with the best of intentions but dubious results. Fills most of the bathroom with little tubs, bottles, and jars with uses beyond your comprehension. Finds a subtextual insult in all your well-meaning phrases.

Alternatively: here is Man. He leaves the toilet seat up. Scatters used socks across the bedroom. Presents you with flowers with such an earnest expression and thinks it’s the flowers you like. Believes everything tastes better deep fried. Has feelings as fragile as your own, though he’d be insulted if you pointed it out.

Or whatever. The generalizations are different every time. Leave a man in an apartment with a woman for three months and he believes that he’s ready to write the field guide on the female specie. And the same in reverse.

The single friend must learn to control her eyes, preventing them from rolling, while listening to the NMF (both male and female) spew bright-eyed, enthusiastic generalizations about how women are so mercurial and men are so hairy (I quote from real life) based on (one hopes) experience with only one member of the species.

Fear not, my friends. This too shall pass. Well, maybe not, but it’ll slow. Until they have sons and daughters and a whole new set from which to draw their observations.

Now Here’s a Solution I Hadn’t Thought Of…

(Of which I hadn’t thought)

Marrying yourself.

After all, one is company, two’s a crowd, right? And who is more perfectly matched for themselves than themselves? You’re already used to your peccadilloes (which aren’t even so bad). You don’t mind picking up after yourself, you love your food, and you think all your jokes are hysterically funny. You never disagree on what to do with a Sunday afternoon, whether it’s too hot or too cold in the bedroom, or what newspaper to subscribe to. Yep, I think she’s on to something there…

Hat tip to the Overland Park reader and SiBaW.

Can You Imagine Wanting This?

I recently finished Kabul Beauty School. It’s a great piece of non-fiction about a feisty American woman who takes on Afghanistan and makes it meet her on her own terms.

A central theme of the book is women’s issues in Afghanistan, and a central aspect of that is marriage. And how do most Afghani women feel about marriage? They are not enthusiastic. Basically, there are two reasons why they might want to get married:

1 – to avoid a forced union with a Talib

2 – because maybe the husband will be less oppressive than the father or brother selling them off to him.

Otherwise, they’re pretty much going into a union where they’re perceived as foot-massaging, tea-serving, baby-making machines. Electric appliances, really, because when they don’t work right, the first remedy tried is a kick in the side. No shock, then, that they approach marriage with a reluctant resignation.

Anyway, I was thinking about how different our outlook on marriage is. Here is a whole online community of us dedicated to the pursuit of marriage and commiserating about not achieving that happy state.  Us womenfolk are really lucky that we live in the right country in the right era. We can cheerfully look forward to a marriage of equals where we have the full legal and social right to keep our husbands in their places. Assuming we can find one. That’s one advantage to the Afghani method – only the very worst specimens can’t find a man willing to abuse them.

I’m an Issue

Good4, bless her little heart, is a few months shy of entering the big wide world of dating. The parents, bless them, say that I’ve demonstrated why to marry children off young. Which is a little silly, since Good4 isn’t the slightest bit like me, but nobody is objecting, because Good4 (unlike me) actually wants to be married before she’s six months out of seminary.

Anyway, Good4’s intro to Being A Single came on chol hamoed. She pelted down the stairs shouting my name. “Do you know what Abba has in his email account about you?” she asked, breathless.

“Um, no,” I answered, wondering what it could possibly be already. My tax records? Incriminating emails from scandalized people who have seen me walking into hotels with men? RSS email feed? Cherished letters from my seminary days?

“A folder called ‘Bad4 Issues,’” Good4 declared. “And I have one called ‘Good4 Issues.’ But Best4’s is called ‘Best4 Family.’ Can you believe it?”

Well, yes. “It’s because he’s married,” I explained. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant that our folders couldn’t be called “[whoever] family” because we didn’t have a family. Of our own, I mean. Also, Best4’s folder was probably full of photos and videos of the kinfauna, whereas ours were probably full of tax documents, scandalized-witness emails, and poorly spelled letters from seminary, hastily tapped out on a palm-top computer while eating falafel in Ben Yehuda.

But Good4 was puzzled by her first apparent run-in with marriage discrimination. “Because we’re single we’re issues? Does Also4 have an ‘Issues’ file too?” she wondered aloud.

“Yes he does,” confirmed Mr. Shidduchim, who had followed her down the stairs at a more sedate pace, befitting the dignity of his age and position in the household. “You are all issues until you’re married. Then you’re still issues—but you’re somebody else’s.”

Ding! She got it. She laughed. Can you tell she’s new to the game?