Truly, marriage could only have been invented by G-d, because who would ever venture into it, or suffer through it, or enjoy the benefits of it, if it were not for the Divine law that compels us. And I am not specifically speaking about my own marriage, but rather about the institution per se.
Who but G-d could ever have come up with the idea that living together, one man and one woman (yes, for the record, that is the only definition of marriage that I accept) in a committed union is a good idea, considering how much hard work is involved? Far easier to be a serial monogamist. And yet, there is a certain quaint charm to it.
When I was still waiting for Mr. Right, I often heard married people talk about the “hard work” involved in marriage. “Fair enough”, I used to think, “but what does that really mean – what kind of hard work?” I am currently taking a poll among my married friends, but while I am waiting for the results to come in, I have thought a lot about it, and for myself I think it means: accepting the fact that marriage is meant to change you for the better. It may sound easy and self-evident, but it isn’t. One’s inner sloth – the Evil Inclination – just wants to take it easy, and resists change the whole time, and that is the fight that is hard work for one’s better self to win. It is so much easier to denigrate the marriage, or the spouse, than to take oneself to task and demand improvement.
We do not know the man we have married until we have lived with him for quite a while, but neither do we know ourselves until we are tested. Marriage comes to provide that test. You go around thinking you are an absolutely charming specimen of womanhood, but then – once again! – he puts away the ketchup bottle upside down, and it leaks all over the refrigerator – and there goes your charm down the drain for the umpteenth time.
When we met, my future husband declared, in an unguarded moment, that he could take very well care of his own physical needs and that he wasn’t looking for a wife to do so; he had experienced freshly ironed underwear in his first marriage and felt it was overrated – what he was longing for was a wife he could talk to; a wife who would understand him. Obviously, his words have come back to haunt him. In his present, considerably happier, marriage he knows himself to be lucky if his underwear are reasonably freshly laundered.
There was an incident once, when I had actually been neglecting the laundry to a degree that was quite unusual even for me – no doubt due to a pressing engagement with a pint of ice cream – and there was not a clean undershirt to be had either for love or money; but did he complain? No, never saying a word, he just quietly went out and bought himself some new undershirts, thereby further endearing himself to me for all eternity. (A little tip for all you husbands who might want a little tip.) And all you radical feminists out there, who are braying: “why didn’t he just wash his own undershirts?” – shame on you! I really can’t afford to buy new washing machines all the time.
But hark! – there is a murmur in my little writing chamber. It is a chorus of disgruntled readers’ voices: “Wasn’t this article supposed to be about how you are being tested, oh charming specimen of womanhood?” you are saying. “So far, all we can see is that your husband is the one being tested – and passing with flying colors, we might add – while you are floating about all day on a cloud of ice cream!”
Who is writing this article – you or me? I thought so. Let me therefore assure you that I am being tested too; sometimes I pass, sometimes I fail. In the early days there used to be many more fails than passes – criticism (constructive or otherwise) or various types of dissatisfaction on my part would be clearly voiced at even minor provocations – but the ratio is changing, slowly but surely; I am learning to keep my mouth shut, or to use it in a more pleasant way. A little trick I discovered along the way was to try to stop even the irritated thought when it would pop up, and not give it any real estate in my brain, because once a thought is rattling around inside your head it can so easily slip out through the mouth. And yes, in case you are interested, since this is a great challenge for me, it is very hard work.
But G-d wants us to work on ourselves, and grow and improve, so he gives us marriage, with its daily opportunities for character refinement, and it is a wise woman – or man – who takes advantage of those opportunities. The reward will surely come, hopefully already in this world.
Ultimately, speaking of marriage, we might be faced with the question: does a woman really need a man, or is the single woman “like a fish without a bicycle”? Personally, I would say that she might not need him, but that without him she won’t be all that she can be.