It’s February, and I have a suggestion. Let’s eliminate Valentine’s Day and replace it with Tu B’Av.
Tu B’Av, for the curious, is a very minor Jewish holiday that takes place six days after the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av. Once upon a time on the 15th day of the month of Av, girls in white dresses would dance in vineyards under the full moon, saying, “Young man, consider who you would choose.” It was considered one of the happiest days of the Jewish year.
Why is an old matchmaking festival better than a modern-day holiday known for red cardboard heart boxes full of chocolates? Let me count the ways.
This post is the fifth in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.
Soon after my fiancé Jeremy and I got engaged, he spent three weeks backpacking through the Amazon and Machu Picchu in Peru to celebrate graduating from college, and another three weeks in charge of a special-needs program at a summer camp in Pennsylvania. Some of my friends were horrified. “Doesn’t he know you’re engaged?” they asked. “How could you let him go for so long?” (Not surprisingly, Jeremy didn’t take too kindly to the phrase “let him.”) Other friends, especially those who had experienced long-distance relationships across states and countries, were less stunned. But all of them were sympathetic, texting me to see how I was holding up, and coming over to hang out (and keep me from homicidal loneliness). I understood and supported Jeremy’s decision to travel and work, but I dreaded the time we’d be apart.
As an Orthodox couple, living together before our wedding is not an option. If Jeremy and I want to see each other every day, we take turns staying at our parents’ houses and traveling to each others’ schools for evening dates. Waking up together and coming home to each other — that has to wait until November, when we’re (finally!) married. Spending nights apart was something we understood; weeks apart was more difficult to get used to.
Jeremy and I had been away from each other before. I traveled to Israel and Italy in January while he went to Israel for Pesach, but this six-week period was certainly our longest. But he was the perfect fiancé, calling and texting and even cutting his Peru trip down from five weeks to three. He talked with me on the phone for hours as I blubbered over missing him, and he reciprocated the feelings (with marginally less blubbering). Still, nothing could make up for his absence in my daily life.
My husband and I just marked our 20th anniversary. When you’re first getting married, or busy going through life, the idea of “20 years” just sounds like a lifetime. Can you imagine doing 20 years’ worth of anything? Twenty years in one job, 20 years wearing one hairstyle, 20 years with the same roommate. It sounds overwhelming.
The world has changed enormously since we got married. Certainly in the obvious ways — computers, email, Internet, cell phones. To wit, Jacob and I spent a year apart after we met, when he was home in Australia and I was home in Brooklyn, and we have tried to explain to our kids that there was no texting, no Skyping, and no emailing then. We wrote actual letters in actual handwriting that would take two weeks to arrive, and the big technology was that we would record ourselves speaking to each other on cassette tapes, which we would then mail to each other. And of course we had occasional long distance phone calls that increased in frequency as the year went by. These were the days before long-distance plans were introduced, and my father still recalls with a combination of fondness and horror The Great Phone Bill of August 1989, which he says, regretfully, was about as expensive as a plane ticket from New York to Melbourne. Ah, young love.
It’s not just technology that has changed. Ideas about marriage and relationships have changed as well.
“Big Love” is a crappy show about love. But it is a great show about marriage. In the way that “The Simpsons,” unexpectedly taught us a thing or two about family values, the Henricksons have shed some insight on being wed.
The polygamous premise aside, the show has some of the most honest portrayals of marriage I have ever seen. First of all, the women on the show are mostly portrayed as wives, not mothers — their children are mostly peripheral characters with the exception of the two eldest children, who serve more as provocateurs than kids that need nurturing. And it is the wives’ relationships with their husband that the gives the show real gravitas.
Most marriages on television or in the movies fall into one of two models: the argumentative roommates or the rapturous lovers. Most marriages in real life fall somewhere in between — sometimes just depending on the day.