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.