By: Samantha Hulkower
I met with a Rabbi recently, not to talk about marriage davka, specifically, but just to smooze and get some advice on life. Being single, the conversation inevitably lead its way towards dating (for the record, he brought it up). We were talking about the fact that I'm 31, and I told him I thought that at my stage in life, dating isn't as pashut, simple, as it could perhaps be when you are 22. The Rav stopped, looked at me seriously, and with a thick Brooklyn accent said, "The only two things you need for a successful marriage are kindness and chemistry."
I was slightly taken aback (actually, I could feel myself making a 'Say What?!' face). Can finding the right person really be that simple? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense - kindness means that the person wants to be nice and do right by you and chemistry means - well I don't have to explain why that is important.
I decided to take to the streets (aka pose a question on facebook) and ask my married friends what they thought was the only thing(s) you needed in order to marry their spouse. I never would have expected these responses from these people - it goes to show that when you give people a chance you can be pleasantly surprised, which we know happens often here in I srael.
One of the first people I asked, someone you would probably not think of as religious at first glance, said the key for knowing her husband was for keeps was that they had shared religious values. Shared values in general are key, all the more so when it comes to something as important as G-d. Since we were standing in a group while talking, someone else in the circle chimed in, "My mom gave me the best advice when I was dating my now husband! She said to me, 'If you had to be stuck on a deserted island with someone for the rest of your life, could it be with him?' We had so much fun together, when she posed it like that, I knew he was the one."
A recently married friend boiled it down to the fact that, "Everything he did for me came without any expectation or selfishness on his part. When you find someone who just wants to make you smile...keep them." I realized these sentiments were echoing what the Rav had been saying to me - when someone is kind you can make anything work.
Building on these ideas was this response from a male acquaintance, "Love is a choice. Pick someone you like, are compatible with, have similar goals, etc. Don't wait for fireworks, and don't be hung up on whether the person is your 'beshert.'" Another friend who had been dating for many years offered similarly unromantic advice, "Start with the head, and the heart will follow. I was never a girl who believed in marriage as a business proposition, but I was so very wrong. It absolutely is, and we need to value what we think before falling for what we feel. We'd never enter into any other contract just based on our emotions, and marriage should be no different. As soon as I started to approach marriage as a business proposition I got engaged! And what's more, I fell deeply in love." This kind of left-brain thinking is not at all what Hollywood has conditioned us to expect when it comes to love. But here are two otherwise very different people (religiously, culturally, gender) expressing the same idea, which definitely shows its merit.
One of my dear friends shared her story with me, which is a great example of always being ready, because you never know when or how you'll meet your spouse. It's all-too common to hear a friend or coworker (or yourself) say: I'll start dating when I lose 10 lbs, or when I find a better job, or when I this or that. Jackie* told me, "Ever since I started keeping Shabbat, I had wished and hoped that I would meet my husband on Shabbat because it was the time and space when I was the best version of myself. I would always dress up, and just be happy because as I told all my friends at the time, it was my 'date-night' with G-d. I ended up meeting my husband on Shabbat, just as I had always wanted. The way I see it, every Shabbat I was already on a date, its just at a certain point my husband started joining me for it." Cue the 'awwwws'.
And lastly, a reminder to be open-minded. After not finding what she wanted, Sarah* asked G-d to send her her husband, whomever he may be. That's how she wound up moving from Manhattan to Jerusalem and married to her Israeli husband. None of it was what she had envisioned when she first started dating, but she told me that once she adjusted her expectations, it all fell into place.
So there you have it - a variety of ways to prime yourself for the chuppah: be practical, be perceptive, and be ready because you never know when you might meet a nice guy or gal that you have some chemistry with....
*All names have been changed.
Samantha Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blog on environmental issues in Israel here and her blog about life in Israel here.