I Had an Arranged Marriage…
And I was the idiot who arranged it!
It all looked so good on paper: handsome, Jewish, smart, 3rd year medical school student.
What’s not to love? In my book, it was a no-brainer.
We met at one of my best friend’s summer wedding. Although I attended with a friend as my date, I enjoyed a few dances with this cute medical student friend of her husband’s attending from out of town.
When I planned to visit my friend and her new husband 6 months after the wedding, they reminded me about that cute guy.
He’d like to go out with me while I was visiting, they told me.
Of course, I said.
The four of us had a great time throughout the long weekend.
We ended the last evening steaming up the windows of his car.
The telling question…
When it was time to part, I turned to him and asked, “Do you think we’ll ever see each other again?”
He looked at me ruefully and shook his head, “No, probably not. I’m a poor medical student working my way through school. You’re working full time with 2 weeks vacation a year. It just wouldn’t work.”
I returned home deflated.
I reported the disappointing final conversation to my mother.
Never one to intrude, she uncharacteristically insisted, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Write to him.”
So I did.
And he wrote back.
Which led to phone calls.
Which led to visits back and forth.
Which lead to an engagement and, tah-dah, the wedding.
A Wedding, Not a Marriage
I thought a lot about planning our very modest wedding.
He didn’t believe in engagement rings. So, neither did I.
He didn’t believe in a bridal party, so I acquiesced.
He wanted to wear a navy blazer but I insisted he wear a navy suit and, finally, I prevailed.
My mother had just remarried the year before and we no longer lived in the same city. My father was enduring a financial crisis in his business at the time, so he offered me the best he could do, a shoestring budget.
As far as the wedding planning was concerned, I was on my own. I leaned on a colleague from work who had recently planned a wedding for one of her daughters. Without her help, I would have been totally lost.
My every waking thought was consumed with wedding plans. My brain had no room to consider what it meant to create an enduring marriage relationship.
When we met with the rabbi, he gave us this advice:
- It is your duty to bring children into this world.
- Never tell your parents about your problems or fights. You will work on them and make up. They will never forget.
The First Year of Married Life: Are We Having Fun Yet?
No! Definitely not!
We had a long distance courtship. Time together was intensely focused. No outside distractions could touch us. We were on our best behavior.
But I was unprepared for the realities I faced in my first year of married life. I had moved from my hometown to the Midwest where he was beginning his internship and residency.
Uprooted, lonely, trapped in an apartment in a large city I didn’t know at all, I had to find a job without connections and navigate my way without familiar landmarks.
The rabbi’s premarital advice was insufficient preparation for real married life.
Especially when I believed my husband’s had promised to “take care of me.”
In my mind, that meant his total caring devotion as I struggled to make my way in this new life.
And that, most definitely, was not happening
As an intern, his call schedule was brutal.
- On-call every third night
- Exhausted the next night. Half conscious and failing asleep at the dinner table. He couldn’t crawl into bed fast enough.
- By the second night at home, tired, distracted and distant, our connection was short-circuiting. Conversation was sparse and strained.
He was an alien to me.
There was no smiling, no laughter, no signs of friendship. Forget about fun and adventure and exploration. Forget about romance.
He was not meeting my needs. That was a bad sign. A very bad sign.
Where’s the love?
At the very least, I expected companionship once we were married.
But no, he was not too available for that.
I expected that once we were married, we would deepen our relationship, grow closer, share our dreams and big plans for starting a family, for building a life together.
No on that front too.
He was too exhausted and I was too angry, frustrated and resentful.
I did not sign the Ketubah, our Jewish marriage contract, to be relegated to the roles of cook, cleaner and laundress.
I could feel my feminist ire rising.
But most significantly, I believed he let me down in the most fundamental way.
I was positive that in a good marriage it was the husband’s job to meet his wife’s needs. Otherwise, why get married?
Just in case there’s any question: ALL. MY. NEEDS.
Well, truth be told, I actually DEMANDED that he meet ALL MY NEEDS. On the regular.
And I had plenty of needs. Complicated, of course, by plenty of unresolved issues from my family of origin and my loneliness and disorientation in my new city.
This strategy got me nowhere fast. I struggled in this self-righteous, vicious cycle for years. Long after the days of internship and residency were over.
But it all began during that unhappy first year of marriage.
You won’t meet my needs? Then I won’t meet yours. You can take that to the bank!
The tension and unhappiness simmered as a persistent under-current that frazzled my nerves.
My brain was ever vigilant, identifying all the myriad ways he wasn’t even trying to meet my needs.
I could catalog them.
This was a sure fire recipe for misery.
My questions for you:
What were your needs in your first marriage? Have they changed in your second marriage?
Whose responsibility is it to meet your needs today?
Want to talk? Contact me right here.