Marry a man you do not love. Hear about him from your great-aunt Faiga, and then from your great-aunt Shprintza. Nod politely as they gush about his middos. Smile graciously as they rave about his learning. Agree respectfully that he will, indeed, be the next gadol hador.
Concede to their pleas to meet him just once. Put on your Shabbos suit – the navy one, not the black. Blow-dry your hair in front of the mirror. Apply a small amount of pale pink lipstick and some blush. No eye makeup. Slip into your navy 2” heels with the large hideous bow. Walk down the stairs. Groan inwardly when you see him, shifting uncomfortably in the straight back chair.
Smile thinly as you settle across from him at the dining room table. Fight the urge to roll your eyes when he stammers and stutters. Search his face for some sign of life, for a semblance of drive or depth. Find none. Answer his questions with brief one-syllable responses. Breathe a sigh of relief when he gets up to go.
Meet him again one week later. Tell yourself he is a nice boy, that he has a good heart. Get into the small rented car and let him drive you to a hotel lobby. Sip your diet Coke and force yourself to laugh at his awkward jokes. Feign interest in his stories.
Lie in bed that night and re-live the ineptness. Realize that you are already 20 years old, and time is slithering away. Persuade yourself that he will make a good husband and father to your future children. Concede with your family that he is, by far, the most learned bochur in yeshiva and that he is destined for greatness. Ignore your heart, your stupid ignorant heart. Swallow the words earnestly struggling to leave your lips, and heed your aunts’ words instead.
Call your friends and cover your ears as they shriek in excitement. Find a dress at Loehmann’s, a black one. Try on matching 2” heels with a large hideous bow. Accept the flower arrangement delivered to your door. Watch your mother and his break the plate. Smile for the cameras. Feign excitement when he presents you with the small diamond ring. Don’t think, just smile.
Dance at your wedding. Kick off your shoes and hike up your dress and jump around like a drunken monkey, so that maybe your heart, your stupid ignorant heart, will feel as happy as everybody else. Have a drink at the bar. Have another three.
Close your eyes that night as he climbs into your bed. Keep them closed as he fumbles with your nightgown. Squeeze them tighter as he touches your body for the very first time. Open them only when you are sure that the stranger you don’t love is safely asleep in his own bed across the room.
Settle into a familiar routine. Pack tuna sandwiches and fruit. Teach at your old school. Try to include vegetables at dinner. Get pregnant. Have a baby. Have nine more. Go to the country every summer and gossip with the ladies. Express shock when you hear about Ruchie and how one day, she just picked herself up, took off her wig and went to live in Manhattan with her goyish boyfriend. Push back that annoying twinge of jealousy to the far recesses of your mind.
Let the days blur together and the sleepless nights pass by. Change diapers. Cook dinner. Get burned out from teaching. Get another job, not a career. Make Pesach. Make a wedding. Make nine more. Let 30 years fly by in a frantic race against the clock. Disregard your longing for more. Ignore your heart, your stupid, ignorant heart.
Look at your husband and cringe inwardly. Build a home with him, and a family, but never love him. Try to love him. Fail miserably. Reach 60 and realize you are married to a stranger. Cry for lost time, and for what could have been. Cry because you married a man you do not love.
Do these things, because he is the next gadol hador. Do these things, because the community will gossip if you break off a shidduch. Do these things, because you were taught that love comes after marriage, and not before.
For these reasons, marry a man you do not love. Keep shmutz romance novels stashed behind some old clothes in your bottom dresser drawer. Dream about a relationship in which your husband is your best friend. Fantasize about actually enjoying your life spent with somebody you have feelings for. But whatever you do, do not leave. Stay for the community, stay for the family, stay for the next gadol hador. Don’t marry a man you actually love.
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