Non-Spoken-About Spiritual Conversion – From Bachelorhood to Marriage

Somehow, in the culture around you, that is a blend of the West and holiness together, it is clear to everyone that it is not easy for the guy to choose. When it happens, everyone assumes that he needs to get used to the framework, to commitment and to limiting the open spaces in which he lived previously. But, you, the girl? It is obvious that you must be thankful for every moment and slip into the role really easily. As if you haven’t walked a mile and accumulated impressions, patterns and insights. We all know that the dust that brushed up from the paths of bachelorhood cannot be brushed off easily. It has accompanied you for a very long time and continues to influence you even when your life becomes more permanent.

לבד על ספסל

Alone on the Bench

Something is missing. Nobody talks about how a single woman copes when she becomes a married woman and remembers longingly the single life that she once had. Young couples, who have been together for a while, know the challenges, the conversations at home and the conversations with other couples. It is possible that the fact that these conversations are not routine and by-the-book and are not accepted with indifference by sociology professionals is what has forced me to write this. This is the risk I am taking.

On the one extreme lies that taboo about talking about this subject, as the woman has to (only) be thankful that she married and can finally realize her goal in life and be a “home” in both the physical and spiritual sense. On the other extreme lies the taboo that annuls any possibility of talking about the “price” a woman has to pay to have a husband and family, as she can manage them alongside all the other dimensions of her life, regardless of how she minimizes herself into the home and any discussion on this topic.

Between these two extremes is a range that does not want to be categorized as conservative, feminist, post-feminist or any other new definition of terms. All that is known is that there is a sociological definition of bachelorhood that converts itself, at some time, into a definition of marriage. The journey raises a look of remembering, a reality of coping and, thus, out of marriage, rises a picture of the years of bachelorhood and adaptation into life as a couple.

The process of coping does not necessitate a feeling of deprivation and loss, but a mature and realistic understanding of events that occur in the world, and which most definitely push off endless other events that could have occurred at the same time. One can assume that when one marries at a young age, the “price” exists, both if this is a necessity in worrying about livelihood and forfeiting a long journey of “self-exploration” or if this is an obligation to a demanding and practical framework and attributing life to a line that a long-term insight might have brought one to another place. But one doesn’t talk about the “price” that derives from marriage at age thirty, assuming that everything is good as long as the “prize” is there. Reality tells us that there is an existence that is a result of living as a single that is not just a temporary experience, not just an experience of not having and the fulfilling of this need which just carries over into marriage. Suddenly the breadth of spiritual existence must translate itself into a totally new realm without really talking about a “price” and without considering the immense sacrifice, but a mission that grows and cannot be ignored.

Photographs

One thinks that a vacuum is formed. They say that you’ll live with the understanding that bachelorhood is a corridor to the next stage, to marriage. Then you find yourself there for a long time. With your first paycheck you buy a washing machine, because a corridor is a corridor. This stops you having to run to the neighborhood launderette on a cold December day. And then you fit into the routine. Expectations and attempts and experiences that you build yourself and progress professionally, humanly while working on your personality and this, of course, all drains into the clear object – the one and only goal to live with him. When all of this becomes routine you discover that as you age the wedding is not getting any closer and your cheeks are getting lower than your jaw. Then it really happens and you stand under the chuppa, which was a dream and now is present, real and stable. And loving. And you as well. It is so simple.

ידיים נישואין

***

Nothing makes you as happy as breaking the routine of options and confusion. The deserts and the overload of dates. And suddenly your monotheism is about to be challenged. The intimacy you had with God, whom you spoke with frequently, has dissipated. You do not call out in soft prayer, in adamant demands or in natural and un-styled words. You also do not mumble statements of forgiveness to the One above that today, again, He did not marry you off, because exactly today, it really did happen. And the conversations at home become so significant that your cell phone bill shrinks, and your Siddur pages that were damp from tears are now slightly neglected. You suddenly find that it doesn’t bother you not to get drunk on Purim and to really enjoy the experience. You find that the Morning Blessing (Birkot Hashachar) brings you back to life, like the full prayers. You find that you feel happy with just one word that you said and directed to him, to Him. Suddenly you think that maybe all those elevations that you had during your single years were only to save the daily routine and experience happiness that is not around naturally. You might have had a special relationship with God, because even He came close to alleviate the loneliness, and now He is limited to give you space for your man and you. Your spiritual work has become different. You are still trying to give it a name, to learn the map.

***

Once there was a closer theology. That’s how it seemed. There was time for prayer, and for additions, for Torah lessons and learning with a friend, and even standing on Friday afternoon and deciding this time to light only one candle (not as a grievance against the Shamor and Zachor, but for the two candles sitting in the middle of the kitchen, while you are sitting there alone). And there was Kabbalat Shabbat to identify and pray for you and for everyone, who are also here, sitting with you, washed and beautiful, but still not wanted. In another Kabbalat Shabbat you did not want to take the role of Knesset Yisrael, you wanted these models and for there to be a simple connection, even if it was gray. Sometimes you remained at home alone and did everything as you would have done together with a spouse, or you sit there and scream and mourn because all was burned in these 25 hours.

***

Once you could have gone to a spring in the middle of the night to adjust your soul, together with friends, or alone. Or to the Western Wall (Kotel) for 40 days and get to other places that are not connected only to asking for a spouse. And you could have traveled around the world and called for him in every place. To call to both, to God and to you Savior.

***

You can’t hear your roommate anymore getting up in the middle of the night to say Tikkun Chatzot in a version that she created for herself, something that a woman can do, light a candle and get up in the morning totally logical. You also don’t hear your other roommate breaking up from her fourth date this week in the most pleasant way possible, and in the morning telling that it was terrible and she has lost all hope. You also don’t wonder who is the “loss” or the one who is yours, and you doubt if he has been born at all. Suddenly the daily routine that was my home and seems totally unwanted and totally temporary and also repulsive, it seems that it is engraved within you, but this is for good reason.

***

Then – he comes, and you understand that the way to him was freedom and you didn’t always see it. Not that now you are enslaved, but that this was the freedom to a reality that does not exist anymore; now it is all in a twosome. And the most difficult is actually changing to love a place – because you are used to lighting candles, saying Kiddush, cutting the Challot that you baked, to pray (daven) alone and sing as much as you want and suddenly it all goes hand-in-hand and questions are asked about the role of each one in the framework. And you knew so well how to be alone – and in all – to be alone with God, because who is separating you? Because you internalized the education and the closeness that the spirit and body of couplehood seemed to you like a violation of the very close and elated connection that you weaved with God. God of singlehood, God who is your reflection and your projection, and now – how can you put your trust in your new place of a twosome, the serene whole?

***

You discover that there, you developed a language in that life. You learned and reached great height and you began to go to lessons (shiurim) of people that your encounter with them did not necessarily create a dialogue. But you went and took it, you put each block on another, and made your own dialogue. And sometimes you sat in a café and discussions from deep down in your heart on a Thursday night at 9pm with a guy you didn’t know, left your mouth and were heard by a couple at another table. What a long time of searching and requesting, of building one’s self, bit by bit, and all this with unknown ability of replication.

***

But, exactly there in the time before you married, your experience of being meticulous about the halachot between him and her (the ones your teacher called “intimacy halachot for adults”) also created a paradoxical situation that you cannot deny: the fiancé was converted with indirect words, the religious and/or intellectual tension has been changed with natural tension. So it ends up that with date after date you found yourself having high level conversation. Too high, because you don’t know any more if it is you and him, or the idea that you found in a book or heard at the last lecture. The secrets of the language are in your hands and in the hands of the current date, and it’s very impressive, but you are not sure that this is what will open the gates of his heart. You heard from him about the specifics of emotions in comparison to the “waters of the Silwan Pool,” in comparison to the soul of the generation and to the sparkles of eternity in his life. And he was serious and did not mean to hide anything, and to lead to “any mistakes,” but he is very far from his own field, and from his own ground and sometimes you saw it clearly that this will not be the routine. (Possibly the situation that permits speaking, forced you to stand on guard from a position of exposing your soul, which might even go further than exposing your body.)

***

As a single woman you had your own space of unique clothing, which was not obligatory and you knew that it was connected to your commitment and that they should not tell you how to dress. You had your own challenges, prayer with a scarf, which actually played a role, religious fabrications. And then you put on a head cover and realized that it’s a flag. And suddenly a friend wants to go with you late at night back from the café of your once-in-two-months, on Salma Street in Tel Aviv, because she says that she feels safe only with you. And that they don’t harass only you, but treat you respectfully. You’ve got your barriers of protection up, she says. And there is the safe environment that you are submissive and somebody is moving forward, telling you “you know, you are actually hiding your hair, because it’s got to do with sexuality and now you hide it”?! And you want to tell her everything you think about such raw and basic understanding and of your choice of a head cover, after all. But you keep quiet because you’ve got a home and your peace is more important to you than an argument.

***

Now, in your strong and existent marriage you have the comfort that you so desired. Truly, and you have discovered that there are no words to tell the world what you have found, about the lost object that just took a wrong turn, and now found its way into your life. A simple truth about yourself, and him, because there is dialogue that is sometimes colorful, and soars, and sometimes routine and lacks a halo. But you know that you have your voices and less white noise. There is no messing around and there is connection, because One separated the souls and One knew to bring them back together after the search.

***

But there is also the discovery that you are in exile from your habits and you thought you would not want them, that you never saw a fixed reality that caught your life, and now you are separating from your getting used to unknown realms. And your man is very accepting, and this first year is really excellent. And your friends rely on you to be the Gabbait for Simchat Torah, but you’re not there, in their minyan. You are lying at home with your feet up high. Your swollen feet of a nine month pregnancy are bothering you. And you wonder – is this me in this place? And where are my prayers from morning to night and the dancing and the Torah? Where are my intentions from the Arizal on finding a spouse in the prayer for rain? Ah, you just fell asleep.

***

And there are days when you stand in front of yourself and say – first go back to praying (davening) regularly like you did when you shouted at Him (and wonder if this is all dependent on that). On the other hand, you know that now the prayers are most precise and there is nothing like the words that come out of the place where you are standing; it is different than what you thought and from the intensiveness in which you were, but this is so much truer. Thus, sometimes you can easily give up and not only feel removed from all this freedom, that you had when you were alone, but also involved a lot of pain.

***

And you ask him-yourself, in what synagogue your children will be raised. Already in your own adolescent years you divorced the religious clerks who distanced you from that which causes your heart and flesh to rejoice, in your twenties you distanced yourself from all the synagogues that started the Repetition before you reached Modim, and you mostly distanced yourself from those who measured the number of times that you can add “ni-ni-ni” after the tunes. So you prayed at home alone or with your friends, and sometimes you exited your cave and closed your eyes. And now you ask about your children and the synagogue because, anyway, you are religious with sociology – and suddenly, it is much more important to you that they know how to pray at home, together, in a group, and that they wait with their sense of community and build a realistic and spiritual theology together, that will be in their times of life that await them. That they discover Hashem and forget the ancient names in which you swore your shield of singlehood and anticipation.

ידיים ביחד

***

When you sit together in the evening and your child has gone to sleep and the window lets in a cool breeze, you look and remember. There are entire worlds that existed before this well-known world. It lacked balance, it lacked a couple. There is a crack that exists within each one who has not yet found, not him and not her. Reality probably makes them believe that it is appropriate, that it belongs. You separated from them only because it worked for you. Their time will come. You know that you are in an existential Sabbat and that you spent enough time on the weekdays desiring the holiness, the connection, your place and suddenly the light has returned from all the circles that you did to a closed-in place that is called love. And One. That is all you need.


* First published in De’ot, magazine of the Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda Movement, Volume 48 – on Married Life in the Religious Community, August 2010.

Read Hebrew version: המרה רוחנית לא מדוברת – מרווקות לנישואים

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