Religious Schools Train You For Marriage

Ever since high school, I’ve been training for marriage. It started with me leaving home at 13 and learning how to do my own laundry.

‘Oh!’ they said when I learned how to iron, ‘You’re going to marry a very lucky guy!’

‘Wow!’ they exclaimed when I discovered how to make challah that actually rose. ‘This will be perfect for when you have your own family!’

But my formal education started in 12th grade and extended into my two gap-years in Israel. You see, once you reach a certain age in certain yeshiva systems, your school takes an active role in molding you into ‘marriage material’. You’re presented with these things called ‘Sholom Bayis’ classes – ‘Peace in the Home’. Like medical school (lihavdil elphei havdalos) – these courses are filled with theory meant to provide the up-and-coming wives of tomorrow with a foundation upon which to establish healthy marriages.

A friend of mine once heard of this concept and asked me if religious girls receive Martha-Stewartesque housewife training. Unfortunately, we don’t learn how to fold napkins or roast a turkey (although those would have been useful skills). But we do actually learn some other extraordinarily useful things.

They taught us that not all marriages are easy. They brought in experts on domestic abuse and taught us the things to look out for on dates. ‘Red flag’ personality traits.

They taught us how to prioritize what’s important when looking for a life-partner. They introduced us to some fundamental differences between the male/female approaches to life. They presented us with communication techniques that could be utilized whilst working through these differences.

They taught us that it would be wise to behave in ways that behooved the kind of guys we were searching for. And they taught us that within a few short years – we’d be married and incorporating these tools into our own relationships.

Which, considering the fast-paced world of shidduchim, was a reasonable expectation.

They had it all covered. One day, when we eventually grew up, we would be extremely strategic daters turned  well-trained married ladies. But… they forgot one thing.

They forgot to train us about how to be single.

We were never warned, “Hey, girls… you know what? Marriage is great but it may not happen automatically. It may take a bit of time. So here are some tips for that part of your life.”

They didn’t prepare you for the feeling as, one by one, your friends found their happily-ever-afters. And how, even though you know in your mind that there is no such thing as a happily-ever-after, it’s still a little confusing every time. Because the fact remains that you are still just you. Table for one.

They didn’t warn you about this balance that every single person needs to find. The self-confidence. The life of purpose. This oscillating between extreme emotions regarding your singledom.

On the one side, you are complacent. You are not only complacent. You love being single. I mean… really… what’s not to love? You read those viral, ’20 Reasons Being Single In Your 20s Is The Best Thing In Life’ articles and you have no choice but to agree. You have the freedom to pursue whatever your heart desires. You can go to bed late – without worrying about being in a good mood the next morning. You can change your life in an instant. You alone are the captain charting the course of your existence.

You can pursue your education, your hobbies, your interests… all with a clear mind and easy conscience. When you retire at night, you can rest easy in the knowledge that all is in order.  Because in the morning, the cap will be on the toothpaste and the toilet paper will be inserted the correct way… because you were the last one in the bathroom.

You are building your life as an independent thinker. And you are never going to be one of those people walking around with a ‘desperate to be married’ sign on your forehead.

Yup, single life is amazing.

It gets to a point where you start thinking, “why should I even get married? I’ve worked out a fantastic system for myself. I’m happy.” If you were a math equation, you would be 1 + 0 = 1. Bringing someone else into the equation would just mess things up.

Until your best friend has her next baby. Or you have your next birthday. Or you – for one of a myriad of other reasons- realize ‘oh my G-d, maybe I’ll NEVER find someone.’

Suddenly you’ve swung to the opposite extreme. Your apartment, which only last night looked orderly and just the way you like it, appears sterile and unfriendly. Those excellent suppers served on carefully selected dinner plates begin to seem… pointless. Who are you cooking for, anyway? You go to work to make money to come home to buy food to eat to give you energy to go to work to make money.

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You remember that this is not how you pictured your life. You stare in the mirror with determination until you find that one line that could possibly be qualified as a wrinkle and take it as PROOF that you’re aging and you might as well start thinking about freezing your eggs. Because if you were a math equation, you would be 1/2 +0 = 1/2. A part of you is totally missing.

And whereas yesterday you strutted down the street knowing that your life was awesome, today you walk with your eyes darting from side to side. That ‘desperate to be married’ sign that you never thought would be there? It’s turned into a lit billboard fit for times square.

And this continues…

Until the next week, when you realize once again that your life is darn near perfect.

But once in a while… once in a while you find this amazing balance. The fabled ‘middle road’ that the sages of old speak about. That location in life called, ‘happy with the present and hoping for the future.’

You remember that life is now. And that you… just you… have an incredible purpose. You are more than your relationship status of ‘In A Relationship With Pizza.’ Rather, you are a whole and complete person regardless of any of your circumstances.

At these moments you realize that you deserve to find something that you’re passionate about and not just pass the time. That you go to work because you make a difference at work. You come home and make supper because you matter enough to be presented with an excellent 5 star supper.

But, at the same time, that pride in the awesomeness of your complete-as-you-are self and life is balanced by the knowledge that you would only be accentuated by the addition of another person. Of your other person. And that as much as your life is fantastic right now, the hopes of a new chapter make suffering a little discomfort totally worth it.

And you start thinking about the mathematical equation regarding you + a potential spouse in synergistic terms; where two complete beings come together to form something even greater.

1 + 1 = *~*~1~*~*

There are dating classes and discussions where they train you, “How to find the One,” where you are certified as a trained Dater.

There are numerous marriage seminars where they instruct you how to deal, “Now that you’ve found the One and realized that he’s frustrating,” where you are declared to be a trained Marriage Navigator.

And, don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome that those are offered.

But our generation could benefit from something else. We kind of need some courses entitled: “How to value myself as One, while searching for the One,” where you are certified to be a trained Healthy Single.

And maybe I’m being a bit extreme in order to make a point. We may  not actually need classes, or courses, or college seminars regarding the struggles involved in being a mentally healthy single for years. But we do need to be honest with ourselves and admit that these things are worth thinking about.

Because finding that place of truly being happy with where you are in life while simultaneously searching for something else… that’s a tough balance which must be found over and over again.

But you will. You’ll go through ups and downs, but there will be moments when you’ll get there. That happy medium.

And when you do, I’m pretty sure you’ll realize that – although marriage will be one of the best parts of your life – singledom isn’t half bad.

In fact, it’s actually pretty epic.

Image by JD Hancock