March 30, 2008 – “You should go to New York for Simchat Torah – I’ll set you up with my friends,” Sherri said.
“What about Avy?” Ariella looked at Sherri, eyes bright and smiling.
We stood in the musty synagogue social hall, holding pizza slices on paper plates. I was the curly-haired 28-year-old recently-turned-religious single girl that all the couples wanted to marry off.
“That’s a great idea!” Avy was Ariella’s cousin, almost 30, lived on New York’s Upper West Side. He was “balding nicely,” Ariella admitted, and a musician, originally from Michigan, like me.
I nodded emphatically as I always did when someone offered to introduce me to a potential mate – not all the introductions ended up happening, but if I remained open to possibilities, surely something would stick.
Six weeks later when the phone rang at 11:30 p.m. one Monday night, I wondered who would call that late. I sat against the periwinkle pillows on my full-size bed in the house I’d bought myself. And there was Avy’s lyrical voice on the other end sounding cocky but really stumbling through his nervousness, calling to ask me out on a date when he came to town for Thanksgiving.
On paper, Avy and I have always looked perfect. Eclectic and artsy, a writer and a musician, modern Orthodox, in the world but committed to tradition. Our whirlwind three-month courtship and five-month engagement didn’t show us enough of what could exist between us in a three-dimensional way – and so today, eight-plus years later, we are almost officially divorced.
Could we have done something to prevent this failure? Should we have not married in the first place? But then we wouldn’t have our three precious children.
And so I ponder how couples meet anyway, what does it take to make a truly good match, how does a person find her beshert, her soulmate? Do we have unrealistic expectations? Are we seeking the passion of the silver screen instead of the everyday work-through-things partnership that secures passion? Do we live on such a superficial level in every other aspect of our lives that when it comes to finding a person to walk through our days with, we cannot penetrate the depths? Like the arranged marriages from Fiddler On The Roof or the way some families choose mates even today in India or the five-day bride-finding trips some Korean men take in Vietnam, searching for sleek women 20 years their junior – should marriage be the same as a business agreement, a contract with proper guidelines set out at the beginning? (see “Wed to Strangers, Vietnamese Wives Build Korean Lives,” New York Times, March 30, page 6.)
What is the difference between those who stay together through decades and disappointments and those who part ways? This past Shabbat, I walked along the sidewalk of Lincoln Road into Oak Park for a tea with a rabbi’s wife come to interview for the pulpit position in my shul. Ahead of me, a friend of my mother-in-law turned and waved. She stopped her gait, waited for me to catch up. “Good Shabbos,” I said.
She replied with the same, and we fell into step together, comfortable and easy though I had worried she’d lean toward his side instead of mine. One benefit of an amicable divorce is that most of our friends don’t really have to choose one of us over the other.
We made small talk as we walked in the cold sunshine under leaf-empty trees, past broken squares of sidewalk and around a fire hydrant. We waited at the traffic light until it was safe to cross.
“I was so sad to hear about you and Avy,” she said. “You seem so perfect for each other. Are you sure it’s not just a rough patch?”
What could I offer this septuagenarian who had been happily married to the man she met in graduate school and built a life with? What could I say to the voices in my head that mourn the loss of the dream when I am alone late at night in the house we bought and painted bright vibrant colors, so in tune were we at one point that we could nod, smiling, at red and royal blue when everyone around us chose shades of beige?
I buried my hands in my coat pockets, lifted my shoulders to shield my face from the wind. “It’s colder today than I thought,” I said. “The sun is misleading.” “Everyone’s sick of winter,” she said.
If Avy and I had been more deeply who we need to be when we met, if we had each been more in tune with our inner voices, if we had been more confident, if, if, if. So many different swings of the wind could have led us to a different outcome. And now, we prepare to face our futures alone, separately, when eight years ago this August we thought we were uniting to build a brick-foundation forever.
There is a magic secret formula for the Right Relationship. It’s like a crossword puzzle – requiring thought and focus, time and patience. There isn’t only one right person for each of us, but there is a best person at a best time.
In the Sunday New York Times, Lois Smith Brady reports that “a healthy marriage is good for everything from your taxes to your soul.” (“Headed for the Rocks, Grasping for a Life Buoy”) “An intimate relationship,”
says Dr. Michael D. Smith, a Louisville, Colo., psychologist, “inures people. There’s a greater sense of well-being. You’re able to endure far, far greater hardships than on your own. That’s when the relationship is working. When it’s not working, it can destroy you.”
I stand where I never thought I’d be at 36: the mother of three small children, alone in my king-size bed at night under the window that shows me the milky moon. Still yearning for that soul-connection I’ve always wanted but never had, the partner-bestfriend-lover who can’t wait to come home to me at the end of every day and whom I can never get enough of spending time with. Someone to stroll through the Farmer’s Market with on Sunday morning and quietly chop vegetables beside as he seasons a chicken for roasting in the balmy kitchen on a summer evening. With a half-filled glass of wine and only the light over the sink to guide us, we’ll need no words or we’ll have too many for that very moment, but whatever it is, we will face it together.
I had hoped Avy would be that for me and I for him. But it was not to be. So I let my hope and dreams and yearning for our eventual connection sail off into the sky like a kite broken free in the April wind and set about with open eyes, and an open heart, and a sincere desire. One day. One day.