Lori, You Don’t Have To Settle

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You cannot help but feel bad for Lori Gottlieb, and good for the mindset about marriage with which we provide our kids.

NPR correspondent and author Gottlieb was not looking for sympathy, but to offer heartfelt-advice. Writing in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly, she makes the case for “settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

“Is it better to be alone, or to settle? My advice is this: Settle!” Waiting too long for the perfect, one-of-a-kind soul-mate left Gottlieb single, with a biological clock winding down. She opted to become a single parent, which she does not regret, but has left her with less time to do the things she thought she would share with her mate, and less flexibility to keep trolling for a partner she would not have to settle for. Looking back at it all, she advises others to get practical.

Ask any soul-baring 40-year old single heterosexual woman what she longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career, or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely she will say that what she really wants is a husband (and by extension a child.)

Gottlieb pits the romantic ideal against the practical, and finds the former wanting, at least after years of unfulfilled dreams.

By 40, if you get a cold shiver down your spine at the thought of embracing a certain guy, but you enjoy his company more than anyone else’s, is that settling or making an adult compromise?

Having grown older, she looks back at reasoning that now seems terribly flawed.

I realize that if I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life, I’m at the age where I’ll likely need to settle for someone who is settling for me. What I and many women who hold out for true love forget is that we won’t always have the same appeal that we may have had in our 20’s and early 30’s…With my nonworking life consumed by thoughts of potty training and playdates, I’ve become a far less interesting person.

As much as she has internalized these arguments, Gottlieb finds herself incapable of acting on it, caught in a vise of changed realities.

The more it behooves a woman to settle, the less willing she is to settle; a woman in her mid- to late 30’s is more discriminating that one in her 20’s…Her tastes ans sense of self are more solidly formed…The dating pool has dwindled dramatically and … the few available men tend to require far more of a concession than those who were single when we were younger.

The tragedy of this piece goes well beyond the plight of an enormously talented Jewish woman for whom the reader cannot help but wish the services of a time-mission to take her back in time. Transported to an earlier decade of her life, we would hope that she would have the insight and the gumption to resist the zeitgeist that fast-tracked her to singlehood, and the second time around, marry one of those who wasn’t quite good enough on the first run through.

If there were time machines, there are some tools we would like to provide her for her Second Season, because there are some things she doesn’t get, even looking back with remorse. This is a tragedy of a different order.

Gottlieb considers – and rejects – the notion of arranged marriage. This leaves her with two models which she plays against each other in her piece:

What makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way…Marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection – it’s about how having a teammate, even if he is not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

Gottlieb can see only two choices: the romantic idea, and the pragmatic compromise of someone to share the load. It is unfortunate that she doesn’t have a clue about what the third way that young people in our community largely take for granted. In this model, the “boring nonprofit” gives way to an exciting opportunity to create something bigger than the two spouses. Every chasan and kallah pray to build a home that not only will fill their own needs for relationship, but hope to create a mini-sanctuary that will further like no other institution the interests of G-d Himself. Such an enterprise produces both awe and inspiration to the young Torah-trained couple – and leaves little room for boredom. Each spouse is not merely a teammate bearing half the load of the drudgery, but a partner in creating holiness, and fulfilling the very purpose of Creation. It is a goal almost other-worldly in its perfect instantiation, yet entirely attainable in part to every Jewish couple.

Along the way, the romantic is not jettisoned, but increases. The separation demanded by the laws of niddah yields (as the gemara observes) a romantic renewal each month. (I am reminded of the story of one of the gedolim of the previous generation, whose name escapes me. Separated from his young wife by the War, his life was spared only through the bitter sojourn in Siberia. He could take along only what he could hold in his hands. One object stayed with him all those cruel years – a photo of his wife.)

While Gottlieb must mourn the depreciation of her assets as youth escapes her, a different ethic holds sway in our community. As physical attractiveness wanes, it is smoothly replaced by the allure of maturity and depth. We are a community that appreciates and senses the growth that comes with more years, more learning, and more mitzvos.

With all the troubles that plague us – rising divorce rate, too many older singles, absurd demands upon parents – it is so easy to lose sight of the precious gifts that are actually within the grasp of most yeshiva-trained couples. Lori Gottlieb’s article is worth reading, if only to remind us of our blessings. We can wish for her that the insight her writing will bring to others will redound to her in the form of a good Jewish husband she will not have to settle for.

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13 Responses

  1. Dovid Kornreich says:

    To quote Ms. Gottleib:
    Marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection – it’s about how having a teammate, even if he is not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

    I would be hard pressed to find a sharper and ironic 21th century reformulation of the Chazaka laid down by Chazal centuries ago:
    טב למיתב טן דו מלמיתב ארמלו
    If only we had the patience to see the truth behind all other statements about the world we live in made by Chazal, come to such vivid re-affirmation.

  2. L. Hershman says:

    To build on comment #11, See R. Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu, kuntrus hachessed, where he asks whether we give to those we love or we love those whom we give to. He concludes (in fact he writes that he gives this advice to all young couples who seek his counsel)that fundamentally, we love those whom we give to. Any focus on “what’s in it for me” will erode the relationship, and true love can only be realized by giving.
    In a world where “till death do us part” has been replaced by phrases like “as long as our love shall last,” the focus on giving is surely what sets the Jewish notion of marriage apart.
    IMHO, one need not resort to R. Adlerstien’s picture of a relationship devoted in principle and practice to the other-worldy goals he recites. Ori’s point is well taken – even for me, who not only subscribes to all R. Adlestein said but also teaches the like in my role as educator, the lofty ideas of being a partner in creation don’t get me through the 3AM wakeups. I’ll tell you what does. The idea that this process of marriage and motherhood (I have 4), in all the selflessness and giving it demands, is making me a bigger person. That’s the single greatest motivator. I have opportunities day and night – the most fertile ground for avodas hamidos – to perfect my character. This is the main gift of a Jewish marriage and family. The love and bond that results from this giving, as R. Dessler says, is the silver lining than necessarily follows.
    I recently saw R.S.R. Hirsch’s commentary on the curse given to Chava – b’etzev teldi banim, where he explains that the punishment refers not to childbirth, but to child rearing, and that like all punishments, is not retributive but corrective (tikun). He explains that after passion and lust became internalized and too powerful for mankind to keep in check , woman was given the task of motherhood, requiring self sacrifice so that she can survive in this new spiritual reality and retain proper focus. I once heard in the name of R. Tzvi Meir Zilberberg that when a baby cries in the middle of the night, the baby is thinking: “I wish I didn’t have to stay up at night crying – if my father wasn’t such a ragzan (hot tempered), I would be able to sleep!” The point is well taken – We ought to view the many trials involved in marriage and parenthood not as the unfortunate drugery that accompanies our holy task, but as precious opportunities to get closer, one step at a time, to “v’halachta b’drachav.”

  3. Ben-David says:

    Both of Gottlieb’s scenarios – romantic bliss and businesslike partnership – focus primarily on getting, not giving. Even the desire for children is perceived as a desire for “self” fulfillment – if the primary concern was the child, Gottlieb wouldn’t have brought a child into the world without a father.

    That’s the major difference between the secular world’s approach and ours.

  4. BY says:

    “While Gottlieb must mourn the depreciation of her assets as youth escapes her, a different ethic holds sway in our community. As physical attractiveness wanes, it is smoothly replaced by the allure of maturity and depth. We are a community that appreciates and senses the growth that comes with more years, more learning, and more mitzvos.”

    The main achievement of the Torah world I know is to hold such an ethic as an ideal despite the morals of the outside world. Rabbi Adlerstein apparently forgot to specify exactly how much sway it holds; sporadic is the adjective I would choose. I think there is a lot to be proud of and a lot to work on in the future.

  5. Toby Katz says:

    Some years ago, a young single woman told my mother, “I want someone just like your husband, like Rav Bulman.”

    My mother replied, “He wasn’t Rav Bulman when I married him.”

    A young woman has to be realistic and not expect a man of 20 or 30 to have already achieved what a man of 50 or 60 may have achieved.

  6. Mike S says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein writes:

    “While Gottlieb must mourn the depreciation of her assets as youth escapes her, a different ethic holds sway in our community. As physical attractiveness wanes, it is smoothly replaced by the allure of maturity and depth. We are a community that appreciates and senses the growth that comes with more years, more learning, and more mitzvos.”

    How does this explain the fact that by age 25 an unmarried woman is considered “over-the-hill” in large parts of our community?

  7. Chaim Wolfson says:

    Would it be safe to say that the difference between Ms. Gottleib’s ideal of marriage and Rabbi Adlerstein’s is the difference between euphoria and happiness?

    “Remember this famous quote: `I never found a great marriage; I made one!’” (Comment by HILLEL — February 25, 2008 @ 12:20 pm).

    Hillel, here’s another quote (which relates part of Daniel Shain’s comment as well), from Rav Reuvein Grozovsky: “The problem many “bochurim” have is that they are looking for a “metziah” (a find); they don’t realize that what they should really be looking for is their “aveidah” (lost item).” [Unfortunately, the translation does not do the quote justice.]

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    When one compares the secular, celebrity and tabloid driven notions of courtship ,marriage and parenting with the Torah and the Halachic view, the contrast is striking. In the secular world, marriage is viewed as devoid of sanctity and is seen as a way of obtaining certain benefits. OTOH, if one goes through large chunks of Yevamos, Ksubos, Kiddushin and even Nedarim and you will see that the concept of marriage is based on mutual obligation and respect and that the romantic glow is the outcome of the same. The fact that Sheva Brachos require a Minyan is no accident. Take a look at the beginning of Hilcos Ishus in the Rambam where the historical development of the institution of marriage within Halacha is set forth in great detail. The Halacha demands that at least the minimum of a community approve and sanction the creation of a new family. IMO, one aspect of kiruv that needs to be highlighted and underscored is that our view of marriage is one of mutual obligation as opposed to either purely a set of rights or a means of providing a seal of approval on an otherwise problematic relationship that is based on physical desire and attraction

  9. Daniel Shain says:

    Of course we are blessed with a healthier view of marriage than the secular world. However, we shouldn’t over-idealize our views either, so we don’t become unrealistic about how spiritual our marriages are supposed to be. I think even frum marriages are to some extent “very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business”, as Gottlieb suggests, even with our “romatic renewal each month”.

    Our dating/shidduch system has problems too. Many in the shidduch system are looking at very superficial things, like money, family prestige, physical looks, etc, that are not so different than the secular world. Some other issues to consider are getting married at a too young and immature age, and an unrealistic lack of awareness of what it takes to make a household work (financially, emotionally). While striving for a spiritual ideal is appropriate, we shouldn’t lose sight of the practical.

  10. L Oberstein says:

    Apros po to Rabbi Adlerstein’s previous article on the declining birthrate, this article emphasizes why the Jewish population is decreasing.I have no idea how we solve the “shiduch crisis” either in the frum world or the rest of klal yisrael.It is so tied in to societal factors that are beyond our control.
    I recently spent 4 days touring Israel and a person in our group was an older single male. He let me know that on day one and engaged me in many conversations about his predicament, it absorbs him. However, why is it that after going out for at least 30 years he hasn’t found one girl who he wants to marry and who wants to marry him?
    Each of us has our personality traits and many of us are lucky our wives agreed to marry us when they were young and naive. I think that in a former time, this older single would have gotten married because there would have been fewer “cheshbonos” fewer factors to consider. Maybe he would have been a good husband or maybe not, but he would have been married long ago. Unfortunately the Upper West Side and many similar neighborhoods are full of guys like him.
    After 4 days of listening, I realized that there was nothing I could do to help him, but it is a shame for he is a nice guy.
    At an age when I am able to ,boruch hashem, celebrate simchas, it is sad to see those who are lonelier and lonlier as they reach middle age.

  11. HILLEL says:

    Remember this famous quote: “I never found a great marriage; I made one!”

  12. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein: Each spouse is not merely a teammate bearing half the load of the drudgery, but a partner in creating holiness, and fulfilling the very purpose of Creation. It is a goal almost other-worldly in its perfect instantiation, yet entirely attainable in part to every Jewish couple.

    Ori: This goal presupposes a lot of cultural baggage that Heterodox Jews usually do not have. I don’t. It’s not enough to consciously accept that there is a G-d and that G-d wants certain things. This needs to be deep enough in one’s mind that you think about it when it’s 3 AM and the baby just woke up again, and your exhausted spouse wants you to get up and feed her.

    Lori Gottlieb: Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way…Marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection – it’s about how having a teammate, even if he is not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

    Ori: Seeing marriage as a business partnership is not that much healthier than expecting a constant passion-fest. It’s too easy to decide you can deal with the humdrum of daily life better without the “help” of another person with different ideas of how things should be done.

    Marriage is about having support not just day to day, but also in the trials and tribulations of live. Who do I want to be with me when we take our only child to the ER(1)? Who do I want to take our middle child to the ER, now that we have three children and one parent needs to stay at home with the other two? Who do I want by my side at my parents’ funerals?

    (1) I’d say “chas v’shalom”, but to be realistic child rearing is full of minor emergencies that require a trip to the ER just to learn that everything is OK.

  13. Michoel says:

    If we make a kinus tehillim for the Jews in EY, for Russian Jews years ago, and for other tzaros, we should also perhaps make one for all the older single Jews, both frun and not.

    Secular Jewish women like Lori Gottlieb, against their will, eventually come somewhat back to their senses (even if they miss Rabbi Adlerstein criticle point). The problem is that there is no physiological m’chaiv for Jewish men to come to their senses.

    Oy! When one hears about the pain of our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters, it drives, how terrible chilul Hashem is. We need to behave in a way that makes everyone see just how beautiful a mitzvah observant life is. Not for big reasons like Kavod Shamayim, but simply to have rachmanus on nice secular Jewish men and women that are wasting their lives.