As an Orthodox couple, we have even more financial expenditures than the average couple. For starters, there’s kosher food, which is more expensive than non-kosher. There’s the load of money that we spend every week on making Shabbat, which is rather like cooking for Thanksgiving weekly instead of annually. We have to have two sets of dishes and silverware, for meat and for dairy. I have to buy hats, which cost a surprising amount of money. (Ask Jeremy to replicate the face he made when he heard how I much I spent on my first batch of hats and you’ll get a general idea just how much I spend on them. At least I don’t wear a wig, which can run from the hundreds to the thousands.) And this doesn’t include the money we will ultimately be spending to send our children to yeshiva day school, which we do plan on doing despite the high likelihood of eventually living in a cardboard box to be able to afford it.
This is all to say we’re trying to figure out adulthood and financial responsibility. My parents supported me all through college, something that, while incredibly generous, was also unintentionally guilt-inducing. I never had a set allowance, but was handed a credit card when I was old enough to drive places on my own. I could buy groceries or reasonably-priced clothing for myself, but other luxuries — Broadway shows or trips to Europe or Israel — I paid for with money from my summer jobs.
After a certain point, even spending my parents’ money on clothing seemed selfish. Many of my friends were self-sufficient by college, and I felt immature and spoiled for charging everything to Mommy and Daddy. Thus it was with a surprising amount of relief that I snapped my parents’ credit card in half and started supporting myself at the end of college.
Since I got married two months before college ended, financial independence coincided almost perfectly with marriage, and the huge influx of checks from our wedding helped. Jeremy comes from a similar situation as myself. He, too, was supported through college by his parents, and he too felt guilty about it. (Now, of course, he is being supported by his wife, but he feels less guilty about that. Eventually he’ll be making more than I will and it will all even out.) We share the feeling of relief that comes with being more financially independent — and the stress. I work and we have the money from our wedding to help start us off in life (thanks, guests!) but we’re still squarely in the lowest tax bracket. Not that we’re complaining.
Financial independence is one of those hazy areas of life that adults all seem to understand intuitively, but upon reaching adulthood myself I feel no closer to understanding than. What’s a normal amount to spend on groceries? How much is a gallon of milk supposed to cost? Is the rent too damn high? Maybe I’ll figure it out one day or maybe everyone else is just faking it too. In the meantime, someone told us that with all the financial responsibilities that accrue as we age, we’ll look back on the time we were first married and marvel at how rich we were. We’re trying to feel that way.
For my birthday, Jeremy very sweetly planned a surprise dinner with friends for me in the city. After the dinner we headed over to a local dive bar to continue the party with alcohol-infused Scrabble. It was the perfect evening. And, by the time the clock struck 12:30, Jeremy and I were home and getting ready for bed, just in time to avoid missing our bedtimes and turning into married pumpkins.
In college, neither Jeremy nor I had very healthy sleep schedules. When we were dating and I would spend time on the men’s campus of Yeshiva University, we would bemoan the fact that the shuttle service between the campuses ended so early every night. Two in the morning was way too early to leave each other for sleep, we agreed. Nowadays 2 a.m. seems like a ludicrous time to be awake; one night last week I fell asleep by 10 p.m. and got 10 hours of sleep. If I become any more responsible and boring they’ll take away my Millennial card.
It’s not just Jeremy and me, either. After dinner at my party the other married couples all left instead of joining us at the bar. They were going home and getting into PJs to watch TV for the rest of the night, as Jeremy and I would have done if the situation were reversed. Overnight my friends and I seem to have turned old.
Part of it is the suburb thing — parties are much easier to enjoy when you don’t have to worry about an hour and a half journey home afterward. And part of it is also the responsibility thing. Jeremy and I both have to wake up earlier than we did in college on a regular basis, and so I can’t use my old trick of going to sleep at 2 a.m. and still getting in 10 hours. But the largest part of it, the part that keeps us anxiously checking our watches is the comfort of home. We love heading out for a day of activities or a night of hanging out with friends, but when the day ends, all we can think about is being comfortable and being with each other, getting out of our nice clothing and into our bed or setting up camp on our sofa to watch some TV or curling up together to read.
Perhaps a large factor is that, since we got married so young, we never really had apartments of our own until now. I lived in the dorms and Jeremy had an apartment with friends, but we had never really lived in a home that we had built on our own until now. Not since childhood has home meant a place of such warmth and happiness, and never before has home also meant a place of our own,
Leaving a party used to mean the end of the night for me; now it means the beginning of our night alone together. And being alone together is so fulfilling that it’s hard to pull myself away from it to see the other people in my life that I care about. But I want them to stay in my life, and I definitely don’t want to become that boring married couple that people only vaguely remember (any more than I already am). So Jeremy and I get dressed in our nice clothes every few days, push ourselves off the couch and out the door, and go make time for the people we love. For a few hours, anyway.
So don’t worry, loved ones. We’ll still be friends with you. As long as it’s before 10 p.m.
My older brother just left on a trip to Europe. When I say Europe, I don’t mean one or two European countries. I mean he bought a one-way ticket to London with a bus ticket the next day to Belgium and he doesn’t plan to stop traveling until he runs out of money or fun. Following in his little sister’s footsteps, he’ll be keeping a blog during his travels, which is how I and the rest of his family plans on keeping track of him as he wanders the continent.
Of course, as a Jewish mother-in-training, I spent a good part of the past couple of months leading up to his trip worrying over him and imagining him becoming one of those kids with a backpack on the sidewalk and a sign “Need Money for Plane Ticket.” The rest of the time, though, in those brief moments when I remembered that he’s an adult, I thought about how much his trip sounds like something I would love doing.
Jeremy and I plan on traveling to Greece this summer, but a perfectly planned trip to one country with every night in a comfy hotel bed is not exactly the same type of Euro-trip my brother is taking. Getting married is, to a certain extent, like signing a waiver: “I will no longer cast off all responsibilities and go on adventures to discover the world and find myself.” It’s that very obligation to another human being that keeps so many from marrying, or at least marrying young. It’s the philosophy that settling down seems most sensible once you’ve seen the world and found out everything about yourself that you can. According to some very reliable website I found, I have seen five percent of the world and am only beginning to understand myself, so I clearly didn’t choose that sensible route.
After Jeremy and I dropped my brother off at the airport — living in Jersey, near Newark, apparently does have some advantages after all — we both mentioned how we’d theoretically love to have a similar Euro-trip, even if the thought of my brother doing it turns me into a fretful bubbe. But the option to strike out on our own and discover ourselves through backpacking self-reliance is gone to us forever. Even though we could, theoretically, each quit our responsibilities, ditch our material goods at our parents’, and strike off across Europe together; even if the very idea of throwing our lives off their current course didn’t strike me as preposterous, there would still be the inevitable fact of our marriage. We wouldn’t be able to leave each other for our own journeys. The time for our separate self-discovery is over.
But we got married because we were ready to be bound to another person. Because neither of us felt truly fulfilled without someone else to care for. And because, we believe, we are ready for the next step of self-discovery, the kind that we can do with the help of and in the presence of another person. Being married does not preclude growth or an inner journey; it just changes how the growing is done. Instead of in a hostel in Nice, it might take place on a reflective night in our apartment. It’s a lot less glamorous, but equally rewarding. And in the meantime, I can always live vicariously through my brother’s blog, if he ever stops moving long enough to write another post.
Our six month anniversary was a couple of weeks ago, and I think I’ll take this time to reflect on this blog: how it began, how it’s affected Jeremy and me, and why I do it.
Writing this blog was a no-brainer. In fact, as I had already been blogging for the Forward about our engagement, it was a perfectly natural progression. I am a writer by nature, constantly narrating my life in my head as if dictating a really, really boring novel, and I’m not a particularly private person. Those are the two main ingredients for a blogger.
I was fortunate enough to find a man who is more moderate than myself in practically every way and who nevertheless has consented to humor me in most of my craziness. With the blog, then, as with most things in our marriage, the solution was a compromise: I was allowed to blog about our first year of marriage if Jeremy could read and approve all the posts before I sent them in. He has ultimate veto over everything I write. In truth, Jeremy was compromising more, allowing my desire to write to override his preference for privacy.
Writing this blog makes our first year of marriage somewhat unique. Most couples choose not to publicize their private lives; in fact, in the Orthodox world, the first year of marriage is called shana rishona and has special significance. Back in the day, men didn’t have to go to war in their shana rishona, and nowadays it’s often a year where the couple chooses to be more private; they might decide not to have friends stay over so that their first year together is really just together. Clearly, Jeremy and I have not chosen the private route. But the blog has meant more to us than just publicizing our lives.
For us, it is something that teaches us, again and again, that the two of us can be so different yet work to compromise in a way that makes us both happy and respect each other even more. Jeremy suggests changes for each post, and I usually make them. In only one instance has he asked me to remove something, and though it wasn’t easy, it made me appreciate that in every single other post, he has given me license to write as I wished. I took that part out and knew that doing something to make my husband happy was more important than publishing a paragraph. Every time he tells me he likes a particular blog post, it means more to me than any reader comment could. He is equal parts my best editor, my strongest critic and my most loyal fan.
For me, the blog is a way to communicate a lot of what I find important about marriage and relationships, especially within the Orthodox community, and especially because our community is so unlikely to discuss such topics publicly. There are readers who appreciate what I write, and, if the comments section is anything to go by, readers who truly dislike the blog. I’ve learned to appreciate the positive responses, and to focus on the critical comments that have value and try to learn from them.
In many ways, I hope this blog is a discussion. It is an ongoing discussion between Jeremy and myself, between our friends and ourselves, between my readers and me and between my readers and others. I am the one writing, but it is my intention to write about topics that matter to others. I hope to open the ideas up to the public and make them equally available for critique and acceptance.
In other words, reader, you are why I write. You can hate the blog or you can love it — either way, I hope you and I both learn something from it.
I’ve been married for six months, and I’ve been struck with that most humiliating of marriage bugs: the one where married couples decide they simply must set up all their friends. When I was single, this was the most irritating behavior on the part of my engaged and married friends. Now I’ve become that annoying person, and I can’t shake the part of my brain that, upon meeting someone new, immediately shuffles through all my single friends until one more or less matches.
Back before I had this most exasperating quality, I figured couples tried to set everyone up because they were so happy, so all their single friends must want to be coupled up to be just as blissfully blithesome as they were. Now that Jeremy and I have joined their ranks, I think the reason is a lot more selfish: I think we try to set up our friends because we want more couple friends. Couple friends are more equal-opportunity for other couples. There are two people to hang out with, so when Jeremy is discussing free will with one, I can talk about anything else with the other, instead of going into a JD-esque daydream a la “Scrubs.” And vice versa. It’s all part of a scheme, really: pair everyone off, then convince them to move to our neighborhood.
The worst part of it all, other than annoying all of our single friends and giving them more reason to hate married couples, is that Jeremy and I are not exactly experts at setting people up. The only couple we’ve successfully matched off was completely accidental; they met at our engagement party and if they hadn’t hit it off on their own, we never would have thought to set it up. (Now, of course, we take full credit for their being engaged so we can have one couple on our record.) With everyone else, our thought process goes something like, “Oh he’s smart and weird, and she’s smart and weird, maybe they’ll like each other.” Plot spoiler: it usually doesn’t work. But our incompetence doesn’t keep us from trying. Like kids who just can’t take a hint, we embrace the philosophy of, “If at first you don’t succeed, just keep trying until everyone hates you.”
Of course, recognizing this about ourselves won’t keep us from continuing to do it. We just have a lot of awesome friends and want to set them up with other awesome people. It’s become an automatic reaction to meeting someone around my age and single: who can I set them up with? Which of my friends would they get along with? Who knows? Throw enough people at them and one of them might stick. (For all my friends reading this, it’s really just because we like you. I promise.)
In our defense — I clearly judge myself for this behavior — one of our friends pointed out recently that not everyone wants to be married, so we probably shouldn’t foist our own ideas onto them. We acknowledged that, and the only people we’ve really tried to set up are those friends who we know are looking to meet someone. Mostly. Plus, there’s some Jewish wisdom — I have no idea what its source is — that if you set up three couples you go to heaven. And Jeremy and I wouldn’t say no to a bit of help getting there.
In order to get your driver’s permit — in order to get on the road and operate a vehicle 300 times your weight with the terrifying ability to crush another human being if handled improperly — all you need to do is sit in a classroom and learn the theoretical rules of handling that vehicle. Of course, if you’re like most American teens, you’re probably not even paying attention in the class, but even if you do, as soon as you hit the road you realize something: All the studying and memorizing in the world cannot prepare you for the actual experience of driving. You have to learn by doing, and that’s terrifying because you’ve never done it before.
This is just like marriage. You can read every single book out there to prepare you, but it just isn’t the same as being married. Marriage is a scary thing for many people; it can’t crush another human, at least not literally, but it inevitably will change your life and the life of the person you marry. And marriage presents, at least for the Orthodox Jew, a plethora of new experiences that have remained hitherto on the pages of books or spoken about among peers and in classes.
Among others topics, I’ve written about on this blog: niddah, mikveh, and yes, sex. I learned and heard and spoke and read about the topics and their details before I got married, but many things didn’t really click until after I had experienced them for myself.
Let’s take, for example, living with another person. Every single book I’ve ever read talks about how hard it will be to live with a spouse — and I’m not even talking advice books here, I’m talking novels. That message is thrown at you in every possible way. I read about it so much I thought I knew what was coming. “Well, marriage will be tough, but we love each other and we know what’s coming, so we’ll work through it.” Easy peasy.
But then we got married and a few months in I noticed that whenever Jeremy puts the knives back in our fancy little knife block, some are turned around the wrong way. They come all facing one way. They’re clearly supposed to go the same way. It’s so obvious and so easy to me.
But for some reason, Jeremy just shoves them in helter skelter, throwing off my OCD need for organization and pattern. It’s really the smallest thing, and I can — and do — just turn them back around myself, but it bothers me in a way I never thought was possible.
And in the middle of the night, when Jeremy reaches for the blankets and I’ve got them all wrapped around me, I have no doubt that he thinks to himself that I’m more bothersome than he ever thought I could be before we lived and slept together. (Or, since it’s the middle of the night, he probably thinks something more like, “Grnnnthh” but that roughly translates to the same thing.)
Sometimes we get so annoyed with each other that we need space. But we live together. But we knew that living together would be hard and we loooove each other, right? Yeah. But it’s so much harder than either of us could have pictured in our pre-wedded bliss. And here’s the secret reason why: In the middle of whatever drama is ensuing, thinking about how much you love your spouse just isn’t going to make the problem go away. Trust me. I’ve tried.
The same rule applies for hundreds of other aspects of marriage, many of them a lot more difficult to contend with than backwards knives, such the constant need for communication, or the hardships of niddah. You can read about it all day long for every day of your engagement, but the reality doesn’t hit until it’s, well, real. Only then can you turn around and say, “Oh, that’s what they meant when they said that.”
You can and should prepare — don’t go in blind — but a lot of what you hear and see won’t hit home until you’re in the moment, handling that vehicle, and hoping to God you’re doing it right.
There was a time when we first started dating when being apart from Jeremy left me feeling off-kilter. Being in shul was especially weird.
Even though we could usually see each other across the mechitza, or the partition between the sexes, it was still an unsettling experience. During longer services, Jeremy would pass by my seat and motion to me; we’d both go outside to the social hall and reunite for a few minutes before separating again to our sections.
I have prayed my whole life in Orthodox shuls, but I never really paid attention to the gender divide until I started dating. I knew, of course, that the separation of the sexes bothered people who were concerned about gender equality. But even though I’m a feminist, I didn’t see it that way. It was just how shul was. We used to joke that in my shul in Baltimore, where the women’s section was in the back, we didn’t know what our rabbi looked like until he left the shul and started doing online podcasts. What did I care what the rabbi looked like? My dad is a rabbi and if I had any questions about Judaism or Jewish law, I just asked him. I never felt the need to connect with our shul rabbi.
Now that I’m married, being separated from the men finally makes a difference to me because it means I have to be apart from my husband.
Jeremy and I do have the option to try something different. There’s a small group in our community that conducts prayer on Shabbat with a trichitza— that is, a worship space with a men’s section, a women’s section and a gender nonspecific section. We haven’t been yet, though we do intend to try it out. But they don’t get together every week, and the truth is, even if we did try it out, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable sitting in the egalitarian, mixed section regularly — partly because I grew up in a sex-separated minyan, but also because there is halachic reasoning behind the mechitza. And as much as it might inconvenience me — which is, honestly, not very much — I still put halacha as I understand it before my own comfort.
The separation has a bright side, as well. Being apart from Jeremy, and feeling his absence, reminds me that, as much as I allow the relationship to become the main focus of my life, it is not the entirety of my life. I need room for me. I need room for God and my religion and my growth in that arena and every other. My relationship, indeed, can only benefit from a couple of hours of meditation in shul each week.
Besides, there’s a certain thrill of being a couple in shul. Growing up, I saw couples interact across the mechitza: the wife would hand the baby to her husband to concentrate on her prayers, or the man would motion to his watch to indicate it was time to leave. There was a secret understanding between these couples across the mechitza, one that I grew up observing without being a part of, and it’s strangely exciting to partake in that myself.
The mechitza doesn’t make me feel oppressed and it doesn’t make me feel unequal. It does make me realize I’m a bit of a pansy for not being able to go two hours without speaking to my husband. But then again, when I’m trying to talk to God, I don’t need any more distractions than my own mind provides me with. I can talk to Jeremy later. These few moments are for me and God.
There are many things that make being Orthodox difficult. In fact, if I started a list right now I think I would be busy for hours, compiling all the challenging aspects of following halacha as I understand it. But no matter how frustrating it can be sometimes, no matter how many times a day I want to rip off my hair covering, as soon as Shabbat rolls around, I can’t imagine being anything but Orthodox. Shabbat is the reward for making it through the week.
Shabbat has always meant, to me, a stretch of uninterrupted relaxation. It’s enforced relaxation, in fact — just sleeping, eating, reading and hanging out with family and friends. As I grow older and my weeks became more stressful, I am more and more grateful for the blessing that is Shabbat, counting down the days until Friday as soon as Monday begins. It is a weekly mini vacation made all the more special by the infusion of spirituality that I’m certain I can feel almost tangibly. And now that I’m married, Shabbat means all that and more.
Instead of a personal blessing, Shabbat now feels like something created for couples to restore their relationships to their ideal states. After a week of work and school and distraction, of television and texting and typing, Shabbat is 25 hours where it’s just me and Jeremy and nothing in between us. Even if we wanted to avoid each other, all we have are books and magazines to distract us from one another.
Our friends told us that Friday would be stressful, a hectic day of rushing to prepare the food for Shabbat. Instead, the anticipation of Shabbat sets in on Thursday night, and Friday is, if not relaxing — I tend to go overboard with the cooking — a day of cheerful bustling, waiting for the moment to welcome Shabbat that week. It helps, of course, that this year Jeremy and I both have Friday off, and we’re not trying to fit all our preparations in around work and school. (That will go away eventually, but for now we’re enjoying the perks.)
Then Shabbat begins, and even if we want to do something different, we can’t. Our phones are turned off, our laptops put away, and we have only each other for entertainment. We go to shul, we have meals, usually with friends, and we take walks to help digest all the food I’ve cooked. And we talk. And talk. We talk about our weeks, whatever we’re reading, whatever philosophical topic has struck Jeremy’s interest, or whatever bizarre news factoid I’ve picked up. And when we’re not talking, we’re sitting next to each other, reading, enjoying the special Shabbat silence uninterrupted by phone beeps or Facebook bings.
During the week, I’m a technology addict. I can’t put down my phone even when I’m watching TV. If I’m not checking Facebook, I’m checking Twitter. When Jeremy asks me to put down my phone, it feels like an imposition. My hand actually feels empty. But on Shabbat, I don’t miss any of it. I don’t care what’s happening outside of whatever room I’m in. I’m with the only person I want to talk to, and I experience actual human interaction with friends in real life. I may not always detect that spirituality I used to feel so deeply, but I feel a literal sabbatical from the fast-paced world. In short, Shabbat heals the shallow wounds that each week inflicts on me.
Life is simpler on Shabbat, and so is our relationship. If we disagree, we have hours to talk it out, instead of having to work our discussions around the rest of life’s demands. A day without technology has always been, for me, a day to recharge and prepare for the coming week while allowing the past one to wash away. Now it’s a time where my relationship can benefit, too.
In college, friendships were ripe for the plucking. There was a veritable buffet of potential best friends; hundreds of men and women of my own age were just waiting for me to confide my secrets to them or to watch a movie or go dancing with them. All I needed to do was jump into the pool and find them, the other somewhat-odd nerds who were also fond of books and alcohol.
But now I’m old. The articles I’ve read about the changing nature of friendships in adulthood tend to focus on the late twenties and early thirties as the pivot point, but we Orthodox Jews like to get a jump-start on adulthood by marrying early. So now I’m old, and I live in the suburbs and my buffet of friends is gone, or at least a bridge or a tunnel away.
When you’re young and Modern Orthodox and living in New York, you typically live in Washington Heights. I, on the other hand, live in New Jersey, in a small Jewish community that until a year ago I’d heard of only once. I don’t go to grad school, so making friends there is not an option and, as I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing, I won’t have children for some time, a change that, on average, adds nine new friends to a woman’s social circle. I got married and I suddenly found myself best-friendless, feeling a bit like I was holding up a friendship bracelet with no one to give it to.
Of course, my husband is my best friend and all that, but not having a friend I could gossip with from time to time made me realize how much I need estrogen-fueled companionship. Sure, my husband completes me, and I can talk to him about anything, but complaining to someone about lady stuff is entirely less fulfilling when they can’t complain back. There are certain things I need friends for, and not just friends on Gchat.
When we were first married — a whole five and a half months ago — this was much harder for me. Jeremy saw how sad I was living so far from my college friends and he offered to move. “Let’s give it a year,” I bravely told him. We had friends over for Shabbat, and had frequent meals with the one couple we knew in town. We Facebook friended everyone we met in the community, hoping they would turn into real-life friends.
As weeks passed, the urgency to find a new BFF nearby diminished. Nothing changed, except for my own mindset. I realized I was so desperate for friends — couple friends and a female soul mate — that I wasn’t letting it happen naturally. And, importantly, I was terrified of becoming a quiet married couple without the active social life I enjoyed in college. But we’re slowly becoming just that, and it’s simply part of growing up. I wasn’t prepared for that when we got married, but with Jeremy’s patient support and a few bursts of frenzied socializing in the city, I’ve become happier at the thought of spending time just with my husband. And when he’s not there? Well, I do things that I enjoy: writing, reading, even napping.
Jeremy and I are lucky in that we’re Orthodox and have a natural community built around our synagogue. Someone mentioned that you have to actually go to shul on Shabbat to make grown up friends, and we became more diligent about waking up early on Shabbat mornings to do that. We still have friends over for Shabbat, but we also focus on having quiet weekends with just each other. We have the couple we knew when we moved here, and we see them every few weeks. We have kind-of-friends that we’ve met in the area, and over time, I’m sure, we’ll become real friends with some of them and stay kind-of-friends with the others. And I remind myself that even in college, it took me a year to find the niche I’d been looking for. It wasn’t as simple as walking into a room and pointing; it took time.
My birthday is coming up and if I do have any sort of party with friends it will probably be with the friends I have from high school or college; I don’t have anyone else I feel close enough with yet that I’d want to celebrate with. If I wrote this post a few months ago, I would have cried at the thought that I’m months out of college and don’t have any new friends to party with, but now I’m okay with that. I have my friends from college and high school, and though I might not live near them, they’re always there when I need them.
Part of the idea of marriage is to bind together with another human being; the word marry actually means “to combine,” and the idea of marriage in Jewish tradition, beginning with Adam and Eve, is to be “united…and become one flesh.” It’s all very romantic and wonderful sounding, until you remember somewhere down the line that if you don’t have time apart, you’re probably going to commit some very grave crimes. Or at least fantasize about them.
Jeremy understood this a lot earlier than I did. When we were dating he told me that one of the things he learned from his sister’s relationship with her husband is that they could both be sitting in one room together and doing completely different things for hours at a time. He wanted that same dynamic with his significant other. “Well that’s weird,” I thought, because why the hell would you want to be with someone and not spend time with him? “That’s sweet,” I said, because we were dating and that’s what you say when you’re dating someone and disagree with him.
But since we’ve been married, those moments — together, but also alone — have become a lot more frequent. And they hold a lot more appeal. In fact, they are crucial.
Jeremy and I love each other, and we love spending time together, but sometimes, for entirely practical reasons — like he has homework or I have a blog post to write — we need to be able to sit in the same room and not talk for hours at a time. And at other times, for entirely emotional reasons — like we are so tired of each other’s faces that we absolutely need to go hang out with other people — we need to be able to spend time apart. And we need to know that in neither of these scenarios is being apart a bad thing.
I think spending so much time with a single person makes the fewer moments of separation all the more essential. Jeremy and I are both highly independent people — we both have stories from our childhoods about when we would have friends over and sit to the side and read while they talked with each other. (In my case, I would make them read as well.) As much as we prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s, we don’t always want company at all. In fact, I hadn’t realized just how much I need time to myself until I chose to spend all my time with someone else.
Most days, I end work excited to come home to the apartment that I share with my husband, looking forward to the simple joy of a quiet evening with him after he comes home from late-night classes. What we were never taught about Adam and Eve is that even though they were “one flesh,” it wasn’t too hard for them to get away from each other when they needed to because they had the entire world to themselves. (And I’m guessing they needed to get away from each other more and more after the snake incident.) Jeremy and I, on the other hand, have a one-bedroom apartment. And while I can’t wait for him to get home most nights, I often find myself savoring those few hours that I have to myself.
I went to the mikveh recently, and it was the first time that I didn’t cry. For married women, going to the mikveh comes at the end of the niddah, or the length of the menstrual cycle, plus seven days. It concludes niddah; after a woman dunks in the mikveh she can touch her husband for the first time since her period began.
From everything I was told in high school, the mikveh is supposed to fill a woman with a spiritual feeling; it’s a magical experience, a sensation of rebirth and renewal and possibly, just possibly, unicorns will fly above your head during the process. (It’s highly possible that I’m a tiny bit bitter about what I was told.)
The truth is, the actual experience of dunking in the mikveh waters has so far been fine, if not downright pleasant. It’s kind of like swimming in a heated pool, only naked and with a woman politely watching you. So, weird, yes, but not exactly something to cry about. But the first time, I didn’t know that. All I knew was what I’d been told, and magical rebirth was a lot to live up to.
A lot of women find the mikveh a spiritual process. They spend time in the water after the ritual dunking, praying or praising or requesting. To me, the mikveh was scary. I’ve been practicing Judaism my whole life, and to suddenly have a new law thrust upon me was overwhelming. Before I went for the first time, my kallah teacher, or bridal coach, guided me through the process. But I was still afraid I would forget something or do it wrong. The mikveh process has a lot of steps, including intense cleaning. You have to remove all dirt, which is a lot harder than it sounds. You are supposed to dunk twice, with every part of your body submerged, and if even a hair floats above the water, you have to dunk again. There is also a blessing to say inbetween the dunks, and though the blessing is on the wall, I wasn’t allowed to wear contacts, so I wouldn’t be able to see it; I’d have to remember it. If only I could have had a practice run.
The first time I went was a few days before my wedding. Having a new law to suddenly practice, the weight of all these expectations of wonderfulness that I might not live up to, and yes, probably the fact that my wedding was two days away and I was due for a good cry, all hit me in the private waiting room. I ended up sobbing on the floor, calling Jeremy to calm me down. Suffice to say it wasn’t all that pretty, and certainly wasn’t what I expected to happen. My mother, who had brought me for my first time, came in to hug me and tell me it would be okay. By the time I went in the water, I was calmer, and the experience wasn’t so bad. I didn’t feel reborn or closer to God, but I survived and I did it right on the first try.
The next time I went wasn’t ideal either. I was in a different state, and wasn’t able to go to a mikveh that I was comfortable with. I cried again, yadda yadda. By this time, I was sure that it was just how I would do mikveh runs for the rest of my life: I’d cry, go in, and be done.
But this time, for the first time, I was excited to go to the mikveh. As the niddah time was coming to a close, I looked forward to the end. Jeremy was taking seriously the suggestion from our chatan/kallah (groom/bride) teacher to romance me on mikveh night, and I’m quite happy to be romanced. I still didn’t fully believe that I wouldn’t end up crying beforehand, because clearly that’s what I do, but at least then it would be over.
Finally, though, I didn’t cry. In fact, the mikveh was, if not a rejuvenating, spiritual experience, at least a neutral one, even leaning toward the more positive side of neutral. I prepared for the mikveh with anticipation, not dread. I knew this time what was required of me, and though I was slightly apprehensive about doing it in my community mikveh for the first time, the knowledge that I will be doing it in that mikveh for many years to come helped assuage my nerves. I dunked eagerly, still slightly worried that I would mess up. But it was over quickly, and as I showered and dressed to leave, I was excited. I felt the nervous excitement that I used to experience when I would go meet Jeremy for a date; I was tingly and happy and nervous all at once, and above all, I was happy that niddah was once again over, something that always feels so frustratingly long.
In fact, the analogy of the mikveh night to the wedding night was not perfectly apt but much more understandable to me. I felt a bit like a blushing bride. The mikveh may not have given me the opportunity to reach higher spiritual planes, but it inserted a spark into our relationship. It made the night exciting and thrilling, and the prospect of coming home to my husband was infinitely more electrifying than it usually is.
Back when I was engaged, I wrote a blog post about covering my hair. In it, I wrote that I was planning on covering my hair with hats, which puts me in a separate category from married women who wear wigs, and yet another category from those who don’t cover their hair at all.
But how women decide whether to cover their hair — and how I decided — comes down to more than just categories or identity; behind each version of hair covering are centuries of rabbinical interpretation, discussion and disagreement.
Since I wanted to choose for myself how I was going to cover my hair, instead of simply asking a rabbi or doing what my mother does, I decided to do some research. It’s actually impressive I was able to come to any conclusion at all, considering how many opinions are out there.
Cover all your hair. Cover just the top of your hair. Cover none of you hair. Cover your hair outside the house. Cover your hair all the time. Use a wig, a hat, a scarf, a burqa (okay, not really).
And that’s not even considering the reasons for covering the hair, which affect which way you end up covering it. The decision-making process became more and more frustrating and arduous as I printed out more and more articles and essays on the topic, trying to sort it all out.
And then there was the husband. Or fiancé, at the time. It’s fairly common for a Modern Orthodox woman to make her own decision when it comes to this particular religious practice, because of its personal nature. But Jeremy and I like to discuss everything, and we also like to disagree a lot. This topic was no exception.
Even though Jeremy would not, in the end, pressure me to practice hair covering one way or another, we discussed the topic in depth at the time, and we realized that we disagreed on the tradition so much that we disagree on the very origins of the practice, as well as how it manifests today. While I believe the law has biblical origins, Jeremy does not. I think it has to do with a married woman covering her hair in public simply as a symbol of marital status; Jeremy believes it’s sourced in teachings around ervah, or nakedness, in covering up sexual parts of the body. I think covering my hair is required whether or not times and societies change, and whether or not hair covering is meaningful to the public at large; Jeremy thinks that since hair is largely considered non-sexual, and society doesn’t see covering hair as modest, it is no longer necessary to practice it.
A few weeks ago, Jeremy and I were at a lunch hosted by one of our friends in our community. There were 11 people there, all around our age, and all more or less Modern Orthodox. I was the only person there who is not in graduate school.
This is a phenomenon I noticed soon after finishing college. While I was, fortunately, shifting immediately into the working world, most of my friends were either in college still, in graduate school, or applying to graduate school.
Less than one in 10 Americans has a graduate degree. Put another way, only about one-third of college graduates continue on to get graduate degrees. Yet among my friends, I’m the one in the minority. At Yeshiva University, my alma mater, 89% of graduates go to graduate school within a year. And that number doesn’t include my friends who take a few years off before they apply to graduate programs. I’m guessing that even among my friends who didn’t go to Y.U., the number is similarly high.
There’s a big difference between my life and my friends’ lives. While my friends spend all day among their own friends and classmates, I spend all day in my office, and while I love my job, it’s not quite the same social experience as school. When my friends get home, whether it’s to their spouse or to their roommates, they sit down and get busy with work. I have hours of free time that I try to fill with cooking, television, and running, especially those nights where Jeremy is sitting at his desk writing papers.
Jeremy and I were speaking with two friends of ours — a couple— who mentioned they know another couple in the same (well, reversed) situation: he’s working and she’s in grad school. “It’s really hard for them,” our friends said. The fact that they knew others who felt the same way was so validating for me, and only then did I realize just how hard the situation can be sometimes.
And that’s only talking about my relationship with my husband. When I’m in groups of friends, it’s almost harder sometimes. The entire crowd will begin commiserating about teachers or workloads or being in school forever, and while I am eternally grateful to be finished with school — that cannot be stated emphatically enough — I have nothing to add to the conversation and I feel separated from some of my closest friends. Our common ground has shrunk. Occasionally I even feel like I’m not as smart as they are, or that my lower education level makes me inferior. I feel, in other words, like I’m not as good as they are.
Believe me, I’m not complaining that I’m working. I’ve read the news. I know enough people looking in vain for jobs. I know how hard the economy is, and how lucky I am to have a job straight out of college. But there’s still an aspect of being in the working world that makes me feel like an outsider, that I can’t really empathize with my friends about some of the most basic aspects of our lives.
The good news is, there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way I do. The better news is, in a few years the reality will change entirely, as my friends and my husband leave school and enter the workforce. The situation is temporary, as I keep reminding myself, and in the meantime, at least I don’t have exams anymore.
In case you haven’t read my last blog: I’m not pregnant. Nor do we intend me to be anytime soon. But of course, as everyone likes to remind me, “Man plans and God laughs.” Or “You might change your mind and want kids sooner.” Or “birth control is only 99% effective, you know.” (We know.) So when will we have kids?
There was recently a Jezebel article about the problem with the idea that there’s a “right time” to get married. Her point, which I agree with, though perhaps not in the same angry way, is that each woman has to decide for herself. We don’t need people telling us the correct age to marry. (And, I would add, finding the right person to marry isn’t exactly something you can schedule. Or, in other words, man plans and God laughs). We have to make that decision for ourselves as individuals. The same thing applies to having children.
Telling a woman when she should have children is like informing a stranger that he or she should really buy a house now, because the timing is perfect. So many factors go into such life-changing decisions that even if, statistically speaking, one age is best in general, that in no way should affect how each individual plans such a thing. Assuming that individual wants to have children — or buy a house — at all.
For every big decision, a Modern Orthodox person or couple is saddled with the friction inherent in being both modern and Orthodox. The first commandment in the Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s not only part of our religion, it’s essential to its continuation (no pressure). When Orthodox couples date, they never ask each other whether they want to have kids. They ask each other how many. I, for one, grew up knowing I would have kids before I knew how to make them.
But then there’s the modern part of being Modern Orthodox, which means we don’t feel pressured to have kids right away. Do we push it off until I’m settled in my career? Have them young while I’m still in a flexible entry-level position? The news is full of answers, of course, and I read those articles with curiosity, but never with the goal of making a decision, because our decision is our own.
So what have we decided? We’re going to wait a few years. The main question, now, is how many kids and how many years. And we don’t know the answer to that yet.
I’m sure by pushing off having children a few years, some Orthodox people will question the rightness of my decision to wait. I’m sure whenever we do have kids, some secular people will question my sanity for being in my 20s. But it truly is a very Modern Orthodox approach to take.
We need financial security. We need to feel comfortable paying for our babies’ diapers and still be able to put money away for their college tuition. We want time with each other before devoting ourselves to our kids. We’re not having kids right away because it’s a mitzvah to have kids, and we’re not pushing it off until we’re 35 and have the perfect jobs. We chose a time frame that works for us, or at least seems right to us now. That can change, of course, but I’ve learned never to make plans and assume they’ll work out perfectly.
I’m not entirely surprised that I’ve been getting pregnancy jokes — and less jokey queries — ever since it’s been halachically possible for me to be pregnant. After all, I used to be one of those girls who would stare down a newly married woman’s belly, itching with curiosity to know when it would swell. In the Orthodox community, the sequence of events really does follow that childhood rhyme: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage — in that order and in short order.
Jeremy didn’t believe me when I told him that I would be getting questions about babies — even if they were mostly teasing questions — as soon as we got married. But that was back when we were engaged, and now he sees that I wasn’t exaggerating. Sure, most people mean it in good fun, but it’s like being from Baltimore when “Hairspray” came out: The first person who sings “Good Morning Baltimore” to you is bearable, but the 20th person is being annoyingly repetitive. You don’t want to be rude, so you smile along with the joke.
I had some sort of stomach flu over Pesach, and I couldn’t eat much for a few days. I turned down wine. I even threw up. So you can imagine how many of those pregnancy jokes I heard. And I didn’t mind them, really, individually. But taken as a whole, it was overwhelming to deal with. A married woman can be nauseous without being pregnant! My sister mentioned a time she was sick in high school and I had a bizarre twinge of envy — remember the days a girl could just be sick and not be suspected of imminent motherhood?
It’s not the personal nature of the topic that bothers me. As anyone who knows me has figured out, I’m not a very private person. It’s the underlying — and I’m sure unintended — pressure behind the words. “Are you pregnant?” really means “Are you pregnant yet?”
It’s true that the Orthodox philosophy of marriage centers around procreation, but it’s also true that the Modern Orthodox community emphasizes the importance of love, and healthy relationships. For myself and many of my peers, this means spending time together before having children, not only to build a strong foundation for the future family, but also to establish careers and financial stability with which to provide for those children.
No one is sincerely requesting intimate information about when I plan on having kids, but the implicit pressure in the lighthearted jokes make the humor dissipate before the questions reach my ears. So, no, I’m not pregnant, and I probably usually think you’re funny, but please stop winking at me when I turn down a cup of Kiddush wine. We’ll have kids when we’re good and ready, and in return for your prudence and respect for our personal space, I’ll probably even let you touch my stomach when the baby kicks.
A few weeks ago, one of my engaged friends was asking me for marriage advice and I told her that she should allow her husband to have his own opinions and respect him for them. Also, she should be able to give in every now and then.
This advice isn’t something I came up with out of thin air. It was based on a conversation, almost a fight, I had the night before with Jeremy with regard to an article I had read about teenage criminals.
In short, Jeremy and I disagreed over whether or not teenage criminals are to be pitied because their crimes are part of their permanent records. I believed that if they did something heinous, then they got what they deserved. Jeremy took a kinder approach; he thought if they did something terrible, they were not to be forgiven, but the fact that they were young means they probably didn’t fully understand the ramifications of their actions until it was too late. He felt bad for them.
I was livid. These teens are guilty. So what if their lives are forever altered? That’s the cost of doing something atrocious! I couldn’t understand Jeremy’s perspective, and I should have walked away and cooled off. But instead I sat at my desk fuming, wondering how I could be married to a person who didn’t feel that way.
It took me a few minutes, but then I reached into my own brain and stabilized myself. I told myself that this reflected really well on Jeremy, actually. He didn’t condone their actions, but he didn’t think they were terrible people either. As someone studying school psychology, his ability to see these teenagers as people who did something bad — instead of intrinsically bad people — was actually an admirable and necessary trait. So I took a few deep breaths, went back over to Jeremy, and told him so.
I’ve mentioned before that Jeremy is usually the first one to end our fights. By usually, I mean about 90% of the time. And this wasn’t a fight, nor did he have anything to apologize for, but it took a lot of courage for me to go over to him and admit that I was wrong, and in fact I respected his opinion, even though I didn’t agree with him. It was a heady feeling, in the end.
Too often, we get trapped in our own stubbornness. We won’t actually care what our opinions are, just that we prove the other one wrong. We get caught up in the rush of the argument and refuse to see the larger picture: that we love each other, and being right isn’t nearly as important as maintaining respect in the relationship.
I have no doubt that we’ll disagree again, and I’ll need to be right again. In fact, it will probably happen before this article is even posted. But now I know what it’s like to admit to being wrong, and not just because I wanted a fight to end, but because I was able to force myself to see things his way. And that’s a game-changer.
Ideally, the Jewish holidays are supposed to be about deep religious symbolism, usually something to do with surviving and being saved by God. But in reality, each holiday comes with its own baggage and modern-day choices.
Pesach should be about freedom from slavery, but in truth it’s often about cleaning and cooking, unless your family is lucky enough to be going to a hotel in Florida or Israel.
Now that I’m married, the holidays have become overwhelmingly about family; the family that is our parents and siblings, the family that is Jeremy and I and even the family that we hope to one day have.
Our foray into our first Pesach together as a married couple began with a conversation about where we would spend the Sedarim, or the Seders on the first two nights. As all Jews know, the first Seder is the real focal point of the holiday, but for Orthodox Jews, the holiday extends for another seven days beyond that. The last two days are also significant, and this year there’s even a Shabbat in between the “first days” and “second days,” so Jeremy and I had to split up the holiday as evenly as we could between our parents. As any newlywed or married couple can tell you, this is not easy or fun. We tried to skirt the whole issue by suggesting that we go to a friend’s family for the first two Seders, but let’s just say that made no one happy. So we were back to square one: three sets of holiday days (the Sedarim, Shabbat and the last two days of Passover) and two sets of parents. The math didn’t look good.
On the plus side, Jeremy and I made the decision, to our relief, that we wouldn’t be in our own apartment for the entire week of Pesach. That meant no cleaning and no scouring our floors for misplaced crumbs. We would probably be help out with the cooking at our parents’ houses, but we decided it was a fair exchange for their hosting us.
What this did mean, though, was that we would spend our first true holiday together not so together. Instead, it would be with loads of siblings and parents and grandparents and even a couple of (adorable) nephews. But Pesach is a holiday of family, and while we cherish our alone time, it is exciting to spend a meaningful holiday with family —especially since we would get to miss the stress of preparing for it.
We finally decided that we would spend the first days, and therefore the Sedarim, with Jeremy’s parents. In exchange, Jeremy suggested, we would spend Shabbat and the second days with my parents. Which is where our future family comes in.
I’ve realized that this holiday is no longer just about me and Jeremy, or even me and Jeremy and our families. As I anticipate the coming holiday, I also am wondering about the future. In my mind, I’m planning how we will celebrate the holiday when we have our own kids one day. How will Jeremy and I run our Seder? How will we involve our children and make them look forward to the Seder?
I’m enjoying the present with Jeremy, and looking forward to this holiday with family. It’s a difficult thing, to approach such a stressful holiday with a mindset of the intended message of it all. But by focusing on who I’ll be with, I find I’m able to see a glimmer of something meaningful amid the hubbub.
The other day, I whined to Jeremy that we spend too much time watching television together and not enough time doing interactive activities.
“Let’s get a puzzle!” I suggested, already picturing us sprawled out on the floor, putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle, nonexistent fireplace warming our nonexistent Golden Retriever by our sides.
“I don’t like puzzles,” Jeremy immediately vetoed. Well, we didn’t have a fireplace anyway. I could give up on that dream until we do. “But we could do my Star Wars lego set together!”
“No,” I grumbled. “That’s boring.”
We agreed we should do more things together, but were stuck on the precise activity we’d engage in.
“Let’s see if we can count the states!” I exclaimed, thinking of the Friends episode where they all try to name the states. It looked fun when they did it. Jeremy protested that I would be competitive about that too, but I insisted. We got 46 of them and immediately and forever felt ashamed of ourselves and our college degrees.
The next suggestion was Jeremy’s. “Let’s try and guess the heights of different celebrities.” It sounded dull, but we gave it a go. And that game carried us through the evening.
“Keira Knightley,” one of us would say, and we would each give our guess. Then we’d look it up. It was fun, and it didn’t really feel all that competitive because we were both equally bad at it.
It’s become our game now. We’ll be sitting reading and Jeremy will say, “Jon Stewart.” “5’10””,” I’ll reply, and Jeremy will give his guess. Then we’ll look it up, and it will start a conversation about how Jeremy saw him live and that’s how he knew Stewart is actually quite short.
Okay, it does sound silly, but we both find it fun and that’s all we care about. It gives us something that’s uniquely ours, and it gives us something that isn’t just a shared appreciation for a television show. There’s something nice about being able to enjoy each other’s company without outside stimulation.
I read so many articles about marriage advice — how to have a happy marriage, how to have a successful marriage. And much like diet advice in glossy magazines, it seems to me if there really were one true trick, we wouldn’t keep writing about it. But a constant refrain is to communicate. And while usually that means talking about the bigger things, I think it means talking about the little things too. To share the silly thoughts and the nonsense games and to be friends as well as partners. So to me, our game represents that. It means that Jeremy and I are weaving in friendship as we stitch our lives together. And I think that’s just as important as sharing our goals and dreams with each other.
And in case you were wondering, Jon Stewart is 5’6”.
Before Jeremy and I got married, the rabbi who performed our ceremony asked us to make a list of three things that excited us about marriage and three things that scared us. We both said that we were scared of living together and perhaps coming to resent certain aspects of each other’s personalities that didn’t bother us or didn’t come up when we lived apart.
Maybe one of us would be messy; maybe the other would get anal about messes. These were things we couldn’t know about each other until we’d lived together, and we both were smart enough to know those were things that could nudge their ways into our happiness and make us squirm with exasperation.
“When you get married, you vow to love your spouse for better or worse. Most people think this means you support each other through the big things in life — getting sick, going broke, or your dog throwing up all over the house. I think what it really means is you need to love your spouse for their better habits, along with their worse habits,” writes Leslie Rasmussen, creator of Marriage-Project.com, in The Huffington Post.
I couldn’t agree more. I can easily envision devoting myself to Jeremy should he, God forbid, fall ill. But occasionally I come home to find the bathroom sink dripping, and that drives me berserk.
And he would support me emotionally and otherwise if I lost all our money somehow — but it makes him crazy to know that I’m going to assume he’s the one who left the sink dripping.
Baboo is my grandmother. She’s one of those tiny Polish women whom you can’t picture without wrinkles, who dotes on her grandchildren with all her heart and spare cash, and who occasionally makes inappropriate jokes and then giggles at her own audacity. In short, she’s great. So it’s easy to forgive her for her occasional sexist comments, all of which stem from growing up in a veritable shtetl in Eastern Europe, where women were expected to run the home.
Baboo calls me a “balebuste” and she means it as a compliment. Balebuste is Yiddish for “housewife.” A great balebuste keeps a nice home by cooking, cleaning and looking after others. But as a young girl learning about feminism, I took offense at the implication that a woman should take pride in her ability to keep a clean home. I didn’t want to be a balebuste.
As I grew older, I came to realize that I like cooking. I love to feed other people, especially my husband. And I definitely take pride in my ability to cook well.
But I sometimes feel like a feminist failure — or as the cool kids would say, #feministfail — when I eagerly pop dinner in the oven, timing it to when Jeremy gets home from his evening classes so it’s hot and fresh when he steps in the door. And I feel like even more of a failure when I get a rush of pleasure while doing this.
I confided this to a friend who is a role model Orthodox feminist; she’s in medical school, married and is involved in multiple clubs on campus. She also told me she hasn’t cooked a single dinner in the years she’s been married. I told her I was ashamed of how excited I get about cooking dinner and preparing for Shabbat.
“That’s silly,” she said. “It’s not anti-feminist to like to cook.”