There isn't such a thing as 'falling in love' in my culture.
I want to tell you the story of how my own shidduch (a date or match, often leading to marriage; the matching up of a man and a woman for purposes of marriage) went.
In the non-Jewish world, ours is what you would call an arranged marriage. But I dislike that word, because in my mind that equals a "forced" marriage. And mine, like most others in my community, was anything but. At any time you have the option of saying no.
When a girl turns 18, it gives matchmakers a green light to start calling the parents. I belong to a certain Hasidic sect, so the suggestions were all going to be eligible young men from the same sect. As I turned 18, the phones started ringing with suggestions.
If a suggestion sounded promising, my parents went ahead and made many inquiries. As much as the Jewish world is big, it's actually very small.
We quickly found some mutual acquaintances who could tell us more about the boy. We wanted to know about his character traits. Is he kind-hearted? Is he a messy person? Happy? Helpful? Basically, a good person who would make a good husband.
We could only do our best and hope the reports we got were truthful. For the first few months, none of the suggestions panned out. The boy was either not right for me or they decided I wasn't right for him.
When I was almost 19, my neighbor from around the block was suggested to me. He was, for our circles, considered a bit older at the ripe age of 23. My father knew him well from the daily prayers at the synagogue. He didn't need to hear much as he knew him to be a fine young man who was always willing to help others and was known to have a heart of gold. That's what matters most, right?
As I was told of the potential match, my first reaction was NO WAY! I knew the family superficially. I was aware the father had passed away young and left behind the widow and 12 children. I knew they were a very close-knit family, and you always saw the mom and her daughters together in their own world. I was a bit intimidated.
My parents were very interested and thought this would be the perfect guy for me. They agreed to let me to think it over and give them an answer. After giving it some thought, I decided I had no valid reason to say no.
So, the first step was taken. A meeting was scheduled between the young man's mother and myself. It was really weird to be meeting someone you know for such an intimate purpose. My stomach turned as I got ready. But I didn't need to worry. When she saw me, she said, "You should know, I'm just as nervous as you."
That put me at ease a little bit. As the conversation progressed, I relaxed and the meeting was actually nice. We talked about all kinds of stuff, most of which I barely remember now.
Everything goes through a matchmaker, which meant that we went home and waited to hear what the other side had decided. It didn't take very long for them to let us know that they were interested in continuing, and the time had come to set up a date for me to meet the potential groom. (Date isn't really what we had; we call it a b'show, which means a sit-in date.)
We scheduled to meet in a friend's house on the other side of town, so as not to run into anyone we knew.
Most of the ultra-orthodox Jews have an average of five dates. I'm Hasidic, which means we do things a bit differently. We have one or two sit-ins, after which the couple usually gets engaged.
It sounds weird, but research has shown that there are no more divorces in our circles than in the rest of the world. This is what I knew, this is how I grew up, and this is my normal. A sit-in in our world is quite intimidating; it's the first close contact a boy/girl has with the opposite gender, as we are separated throughout our childhood.
To say the first few minutes were awkward is an understatement. But it didn't take long for him to make me feel comfortable and for the conversation to really become enjoyable. We spoke about our families, our time in seminary, or Yeshivah (an institution that focuses on teaching Talmud to boys and young men), and other things.
We didn't talk about the deeper stuff since we both came from the same background, but we spent a nice few hours together. After the meeting, we both went home.
My parents gave me the option to meet him again the next day. I was young, barely 19, and I probably (most assuredly) didn't realize what a momentous decision this was. I thought it over, but I liked a lot of what I saw (of how much one could see from one meeting).
Besides all the good things I heard about him, he was also nice and had a great sense of humor. I knew how dedicated he was to his widow mom and I could tell he would go through fire for anyone he cared about.
I didn't think I would find out much more by a second meeting and I didn't want to spend the night not sleeping from nerves. So my decision was made: I would marry this man.
Since the parents had already taken care of the other important stuff like discussions about money, I happily told my parents to go ahead and let the other side know. After the matchmaker called to tell us he wanted to marry me too, we got officially engaged.
It's true — we do actually get married to a stranger and there usually isn't such a thing as falling in love. That means we work harder at making our marriage grow and the love, as a result, is a deep, long-lasting one.
I'm happy to report that after 18 years, I'm still very happily in love and our marriage isn't any different than any of yours. My dear husband is everything I thought he was: caring, heart of gold, great sense of humor, and does everything for me and the kids.
This article was originally published at orthodoxsunflower.wordpress.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.