Monday, November 23, 2009

Husbands/Wives, Not Marriage

After this many years of living I can say without exaggeration that I've seen/met thousands of married couples. I can also say without exaggeration that the number of married men whom I have met that I, personally, would have considered as "husband" material when I was dating can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and not all the fingers at that. Now don't get me wrong--there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these men. Some of them are quite nice--their wives certainly think so. I can appreciate some of their finer qualities; in fact, I count some of these men as friends. Yet....

If all I had been looking for back in my single days was to get married, then almost any of these men would have been fine candidates. Clearly, from the number of years that many of these couples are married, they did just fine at marriage. I have, over the years, run into some of the boys I dated, all married now. I still mentally shake my head and say, "Nope, he was definitely not for me," while at the exact same time recognizing that these men are in strong marriages, loving marriages.

But you see, it wasn't marriage I was looking for when I was dating--it was a husband. And there is a world of difference between husbands and marriage.

Hang around any single people of marriageable age and you are sure to hear "I just want to get married!" Or you might hear "Why am I still single?!" Well here's the thing: if marriage is all these people really want, that's fairly simple to achieve. Yup, simple. Assuming you aren't carrying an axe dripping blood on a date, anyone can quickly learn to paste a fascinated look on their face. Anyone can learn to make the person they are out with feel incredibly desirable and desired. Anyone can develop a surface relationship. Anyone can find a person out there if all they want is marriage. A husband or wife is a different story.

Yes, someone out there will argue that as soon as you get married the male and female become a husband and wife. Maybe. But for many it is not husbands and wives that result from marriage but spouses, a far more generic term and one that simply indicates the married status of a male and a female. "Spouse" places the state of being married first and the unique relationship of the couple second. Spouses are not as much concerned with the state of their personal relationship with each other as they are with the concerns of a marriage--having and raising children, providing a home for the family, being a part of a community etc..

Here's how I see the order of importance. Those who search for husbands and wives, who are searching for the "other half" of themselves, and who continue the search until they find that husband or wife are automatically going to find themselves having a marriage as well. But it's going to be a marriage built on a diamond and titanium foundation. It's going to be a marriage that will be impervious to the sometimes rocky situations that husbands and wives can find themselves in. It's going to be a lasting marriage because the foundation of that marriage--the husband and wife--are rock solid. Because they complete each other, complement each other, husbands and wives take marriage to its highest level. Finding a husband or wife is the ultimate personal journey. It requires personal examination and answering truthfully the questions "What do I really want/need for myself?" and "What can I give/offer/provide to someone else?"

Those questions asked on Shidduch questionnaires? The ones whose answers people put so much stock in when looking for a shidduch? Those questions are about spouses, not husbands and wives. Like any other job application--and being a spouse is a job--the questions asked are more about revealing a person's fitness for carrying out the job of spouse, of producing a marriage, then they are about husband and wife characteristics. What summer camp someone went to or which seminary or yeshiva or which hechsher of peanut butter someone finds acceptable have nothing to do with being a husband or wife.

Here's the thing--finding a husband or wife is about feelings, not facts. Finding a husband or wife is about how you feel about a person, what emotions are engendered. It's about the deeply personal. A young woman I had redt a shidduch to was debating about going out on a fifth date with the young man. I asked her, "If you never saw this person again would you miss him? Would there be an empty space? Would you cry?" Her honest answer was "No." And the dating stopped. She was looking for a husband, not a spouse.

Sometimes, if you are really lucky, you may take a spouse and find yourself down the road with a husband or wife. Given the state of far too many marriages today, the escalating shalom bayis problems, the escalating divorce rate, there are far too many people choosing marriage and spouses over choosing husbands and wives and then finding they have a marriage.

So, maybe it's time for all those people in the shidduch parsha to do some introspection. Maybe they really need some self-honesty. Are they looking for marriage and a spouse? Or are they searching for a husband or a wife? If the former, then a change of technique and approach will have that marriage happening in short order. If the latter? I wish you the joy and exquisite happiness that will be yours, but patience is necessary, lots of patience. Hatzlocha Raboh.


Sora said...

Finding a husband or a wife takes time and time is just what the frum olam doesn't give its dating couples. Lots of those in the frum world who don't believe that it's a frum idea to have a husband or wife, and the emotion that involves. They push for marriages and spouses.

But being honest, it does seem to work for a whole lot of couples.

Archie Bunker said...

In retrospect, both me and my friends agree that the marriage would have least worked out, had we married any one of the majority of girls we went out with.

Ironically, I also realize in retrospect, that the one girl who I was devastated when she didn't want to continue with me (we had both been sure we would get engaged) would have been a disaster had we married.

It remains a mystery by me, how polls in the nonjewish world consistently show, that despite living together for many years, that the majority of people regret marring their current spouses.

Archie Bunker said...

would have least worked out

that should read: at least work our

Trudy said...

Carry your thoughts out and you will probably find that most people have marriages and spouses, at least when they first start out. My generation was told that first you get married and then you work on a relationship with your husband. If that relationship doesn't get really deep then you still have the marriage. Divorce wasn't so accepted for my age group, and you had and have a lot of unhappy people who have been married a long time. By the way society counts it, you have a lot of "successful" marriages of many years in length. But not all those couples who are married have a great relationship.

I held out for a husband, but I didn't get married until my late 20s. Not at all sorry I waited.

Kat said...

Nothing wrong with those marriage-spouse relationships as long as both parties are honest up front about why they are getting married. They also need to be honest and ask themselves if what they have now with this person will be enough--don't count on a great love developing, because what if it doesn't?

First rule in marriage is don't count on your partner's changing. If s/he doesn't change will you be happy with what you've got? If yes, go for it. If not, keep looking.

JS said...

A few thoughts:

1) Being married changes a person. To look at a person now you had dated many years ago isn't really a fair look at what that person would be like if they had been with you. For some it happens very quickly. A girl I was interested in became a complete loonie within a few months of dating another guy who was himself a nut - she became a lot like him adopting his likes/dislikes, etc.

2) Unfortunately, a lot of people do just look for marriage with very unhappy results.

3) Very good post. On paper, my wife and I may appear to not have a lot in common. We like different books, I'm a news/politics junkie she doesn't pay attention to the stuff, I love math and science she glazes over, she loves sappy/romantic movies I can't stand them, etc etc etc - and yet, we can talk endlessly about anything. Where we went to school or what things we like/dislike has little to no bearing on our relationship. We just "get" each other and (most importantly) are on the same page on major issues.

JS said...

I would also note that "marriage" isn't such a bad thing if both spouses are OK (or come to be OK) with the compromise. It can be a mistake to look for perfect happiness in a wife/husband and then end up with no one. Also, people change over time and there's no guarantee that a husband/wife today won't end up a spouse later in life.

I know many older couples. Some appear to be madly in love - they talk constantly, share activities, go for walks, truly enjoy each other. Others are just happy to not be alone - they don't have much in common anymore, would rather be away than together, don't interact much, but yet enjoy and appreciate what the other person brings to the table whether it's a paycheck or a good meal.

BSD36578 said...

As a single who's no longer in the 21 age bracket, I just want to say thank you for this post. I like to think I'm looking for a deeper relationship, but the pressure to "just get married already" can sometimes cloud the picture and make me wonder if it's worth it to hold out or if I shouldn't bend over backwards to just marry the next guy who comes along. Thanks for the encouragement.

Miriam said...

A few commenters mentioned that people change after marriage. Yes and no. I think the better word is they grow and adapt. But usually that growth happens in the framework of their basic personality and approach, something their husband/wife already knows and accepts. There can be a real problem if one partner really does change while the other doesn't.

Still, if you're realistic you realize there will be growth on both your parts and work to accomodate that growth. And I think that's easier to do when the commitment to each other is the strongest reason for getting married. What you call being a husband or wife.

Dave said...

Everyone changes over time.

Now, I do think it is true that once "who you are" seems to have settled, we tend to become "more concentrated versions of ourselves" (for want of a better term).

However, any number of life events can happen which serve as liminal events -- who we are is torn down and a changed version is rebuilt. College is a classic liminal period, and bootcamp is a deliberately liminal period.

Moreover, less fundamental issues can and will change over time. Marriage is an ongoing decision. Keeping a strong connection with your spouse is a deliberate act.

Leahle said...

Honestly? I was one of those who started out by wanting a marriage. Everyone--family, school, rabbaim--had told me that love is what comes after you are married so first get married.

And then I went out with someone who I really wasn't planning on going out with but the person redting the shidduch just wouldn't let up. And strangely enough for someone who wasn't looking for it necessarily to come first, I found a husband and I married him. Funny thing is that he had thought just like me and he was also in shock that what he found was not what everyone told him to look for.

We didn't want a hassle so we didn't share with anyone else just how we felt about each other before we got married. That's why it's so funny when some people even today will point out the two of us as an example of how husbands and wives are made after a marriage, how feelings come after a marriage.

ProfK said...

Meant to answer your comment sooner but better late than never. Thank you for that comment about how on paper you and your wife don't seem to have much in common. Neither do my hubby and I, if all you go by are books we both like (can only think of one author) and politics (whoo boy don't touch that one) or the other little things. It's all the big things that make us click as a husband and wife. We committed to each other, completely and deeply and everything else fell in place from that.