Designer Bride – II

Continued from previous post reviewing ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ by Wendy Moore: Designer Bride I

If you know what kind of life you want, and you know what kind of spouse it will take to make it happen, why shouldn’t you insist on exactly what you need? Such hubris led our hero Thomas Day to attempt to create the woman he could not find. He adopted a 12-year-old orphan and raised her himself, inculcating her with his doctrines.

Sadly, it did not work.

At the age of 14 she rebelled against the heavy burden of housework he put on her. Also, she wasn’t enjoying being pricked by pins and shot at with a pistol to develop her stoicism.  It seems that even meek, grateful orphans have their limits. So he banished her to boarding school.

Lesson 1: You can’t force people to fit your mold.

Day went back to dating women of his social class who were out of his league. One had to be dumped because she was too attached to her earrings. Another returned his proposal-by-contract with a point-by-point rebuttal, saying things like “Equality is essential for a happy marriage,” and “I couldn’t imagine being subservient to a husband in all things.” Yet a third suggested that she’d marry him if he became socially presentable, like by brushing his hair and wearing clothes that fit and weren’t rumpled. (Lesson 2: The most deficient are the most demanding.)

In despair, he went back to his orphan, who was finished school. He gave her strict orders on exactly how to dress for his proposal. But something small was off (record doesn’t say what, but friends agree it was a trifle), and he banished her forever, furious at her disobedience.

Lesson 3: You can’t demand perfection in your spouse. They’re only human.

Unbelievably, lesson 4 is that every pot, no matter how dented and warped, has a lid. There was a woman who wanted to marry Mr. Day. And she did. It was a rocky marriage though, between Thomas Day and Esther Milnes. A marriage full of his tests and trials. A marriage full of verbal spats. A marriage from which Esther stormed off at least twice, moving out of the cottage in the woods and in with her mother-in-law. See lessons 1 & 3.

Which brings us to lesson 5: If you’re pretty sure that the reason you’re single is all the fault of the opposite sex, the fault is probably in you.

Continued in next post: Designer Bride III

HT Kansasian

Designer Bride – I

I just finished a great book called How to Create the Perfect Wife. It’s a non-fictional account of Thomas Day, a Georgian-era gentleman, and his attempt to, well, create for himself the perfect wife.

Thomas Day knew exactly the sort of life he wanted to lead. He wanted to retire from the shallow, frivolous contemporary society and live in a small cottage in the woods. He would spend his day reading philosophy, writing poetry, dispensing charity, and trying to make the world a better place. And he knew exactly the sort of woman he needed as a life partner.

She had to be smart and educated in all the same interests as he, but not so ambitious as to write her own novels or poems. She had to have simple tastes and spurn the frippery of the times. She’d wear her hair loose and unstyled. Her neckline would be high, her sleeves long. She would not own earrings or, preferably, any jewelry. She would be strong and capable, willing to endure his difficult life of privation and philanthropy. She would not engage in trivial pursuits like music and dancing, and she must have plump white arms.

Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, what kind of guy dictates the way his wife does her hair or what she does her spare time? Oh wait…

I once met a guy whose first criteria for a potential date was “doesn’t have Facebook.” His second was “will only cover her hair with a scarf or hat.” It only got more detailed from there. Another guy had a list of acceptable college degrees for his wife-to-be. I asked what he’d think if I found him the right girl, but she came with her own list, like how many times a week he has to learn, and maybe something against the way he asks random girls like me to call him by his nickname. His response was that if their lists didn’t match, clearly they weren’t meant for each other.

This is how many of us date. We have a dating pool of perhaps a few hundred candidates, but we still reel off detailed criteria down to how many years he should want to learn and what he can do bein hazmanim. And heaven forbid he should show up in a pink tie.

But if you know what kind of life you want, and you know what kind of spouse it will take to make it happen, why shouldn’t you insist on exactly what you need? Such hubris led our hero Thomas Day to attempt to create the woman he could not find.

Continued in the next post: Designer Bride II and Designer Bride III

HT to the Kansasian

Call Me Picky Please

I was explaining to a college classmate that I only date other Orthodox Jews. “So,” I concluded, “I’m going to be single for a while.”

He chuckled. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on them.”

I stared. Then I smiled. I mean, he’d just called me picky. Can you think of a higher compliment? To be told that the only reason you’re still single is that you’re too picky.

I’ve told friends to stop being so picky. Generally, what I mean is “Pal, you’re gorgeous, brilliant, gracious, and witty. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a guy who isn’t tall, dark, handsome, rich, brilliant, and of course, a Torah scholar.”

It seems to me that we all have a list of traits we want, most of which don’t usually seem to come together in the same package. If half my friends seem to have unrealistic expectations, perhaps I do too. But honestly, most of the time the breakup is mutual. I don’t think I’ve left a string of broken hearts behind me.

Still, it’s nice that someone thinks I could have.

Dating Scared

Personally, I don’t think I’m picky. The only times I ever turn  a fellow down for further dating is when something about him makes me want to hit him over the head with a mallet.

I should take the moment to explain that I am not a violent person. I do not enjoy watching violence. I do not enjoy taking part in it. Once, in an exercise class, the instructor suggested we imagine someone we hated in front of us to strengthen our punches. Her suggestion froze me completely. I just couldn’t bring myself to punch the person I was imagining. Sit down with her and explain, perhaps, why she was so completely detestable, with constructive aims, but punch her? I couldn’t do it. So when I feel like playing whack-a-mole with my dates, it’s a pretty serious matter. It means that, as a pair, we are definitely not marriage material.

But in the spirit of back-of-the-mag Wired articles, where the idea is more important than its likeliness, I present my take on the “picky single” phenomenon.

Mazlow defined the eternal discontent of mankind in a neat pyramid. At the bottom are basic survival needs, like food, clothing, shelter, safety. If a person doesn’t have these, his need to acquire them will consume his thoughts. He will find it nearly impossible to consider higher, more ephemeral needs when he’s trying to keep his navel from sticking to his spine. And as long as a person is at the base of the pyramid, simple things will bring him great joy: an apple, a sweatshirt, not being chased out of Grand Central during a snowstorm.

But once these basic needs are met with ease, a person is no longer content with his food and shelter. He becomes restless once again. He needs friends, he needs family, he needs people to love and who love him in return. He needs relationships. And once relationships are secured, he is still not satisfied. He needs fulfillment; something that gives his existence a higher purpose. Joy is no longer nested in an apple, and consequently, it is more difficult to procure.

So, one might posit, the more comfortable a person is, the greater his needs, and the more difficult they are to fulfill.

I think this is part of the reason for the alleged “picky single” phenomenon noted by the writer in this post.

Once, marriage was an essential institution for a number of reasons. But now, with men and women fulfilling their more basic needs (eg: for support) independently, marriage has moved up the pyramid.

Women are no longer satisfied with a kind man who will bring home the dough, play with her children, and use his belt strictly for holding up his pants. Men are not interested in a pipe-, slippers-, and child-bearing 1950s housewife. Nor are we satisfied with the contented, role-based marriages that go with these stereotypes. We seek a meeting of the minds—someone who will understand us, not merely sympathize; someone who will be an active partner in all aspects of life; someone we can love forever.

And yes, that’s demanding. And maybe it means we’re not marrying a lot of people with whom we could conceivably be contented. But we think it’s worth it, because we’re at the level of comfort where we can no longer be happy with anything else.

The author of the column presented her theory that singles are afraid of divorce and afraid of their own imperfections. I think that’s a more negative slant on my theory. We worry that we are not good enough to sustain the kind of relationship we want to have, and we worry equally about our partner. It makes dating a nerve-wracking experience. One vacillates between anxiety that the other person is not quite right to anxiety that one is not quite good enough. In between, one grows anxious that this ideal is unachievable, that one is too picky, and that one is doomed forever…

Does that make us commitment-phobic? Maybe. As one commenter said, singles aren’t afraid to commit—we’re just waiting for the right person. In other words, we’re afraid to commit to the wrong person.

Commitment Shy

A few weeks ago, while flipping through the Jewish Press checking out all the more interesting columns, I came across one that introduced the idea of singles being scared to commit. The authoress proposed to enlighten the readership as to why modern older singles are so scared in her next column.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to find out. I’m all for new insight into what makes me tick. But the next weekend, to my dismay, the column wasn’t there. My mother informed me that it only comes out once a month.

It turned out it wasn’t all that bad. For lack of anyone to tell me about my fear of commitment, I had to formulate a theory on my own. Unfortunately, like many of my theories, it takes time to arrange on paper. So while I edit and rewrite, tear up pages and write them again, what are your thoughts on the matter?

Are we commitment-shy? If so, why? If not, why might it appear so?