Category Archives: Marriage

A funny thing happened on the way to Atlanta

“Children can be so embarrassing to their parents,” the Nigerian father said to me as his baby wailed on the flight from New York to Atlanta.

“Yea, but he is seven months. What can you do?” I responded.

“Do you have kids?”

“No, not yet. But I am currently seeking a labradoodle.”

The Nigerian father stared blankly. At first I thought he was confused; that in Lagos they did not mix breeds of dogs as casually as they did in America, but then he clarified. “You are not married?”

“Goodness, no. I’m 23.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. He had mistaken my age for 28, and that was the age his wife was when they were married. Hence he had drawn the conclusion that a woman of age 28 should find a suitable partner and begin matriarchal duties.

And I, high on the possibilities of several traveling adventures to come in 2013, could only say, “We’ll I certainly wouldn’t be traveling as much as I do if I had a ring on my finger. ”

The absurdity of the conversation is that it had even come to this. Five minutes before we had been debating tribal disputes over oil reserves in the Niger Delta, and now we were talking about my decision to put my career before my uterus.

And, well, I wanted to return to our previous debate. I didn’t want to talk about myself or my ticking biological clock. I wanted to continue our discussion of oil wars in Nigeria, or political turmoil in the fledgling Egyptian state, or even the difference in taste between skim and 2% milk in Starbucks lattes. But I most definitely did not want to discuss me, or my right index finger (or whichever finger sports an engagement ring.)

I tried to convey this message to my fellow passenger, and he protested loudly enough that the man in front of me– a real southern gentleman type– felt compelled to join the conversation. He explained how he had sacrificed a field producer position in South Africa many years ago so he could settle down in Georgia and start a family. “And that, young lady, is the best decision I made.”

I wanted to say, “Mazel tov, glad you turned out be a part of the ever decreasing statistic of couples whose matrimony doesn’t end in divorce.” But instead I replied, “You turned down a job in South freaking Africa?” Only to realize seconds later that I had turned down a similar opportunity after graduation to temporarily settle in New York.

Well, seeking to avoid involving any other passengers in my personal business, I soon resigned and stated simply, “I’m working on it, ok?” At which point the two men said in unison, “Get it, girl.”

The Post-Gym Dash: Interrupted

There are moments when I feel less than aesthetically pleasing, but the moment in which this is most pronounced is when I depart the gym– sweaty, sticky, and quite literally a hot mess. I make a mad dash down the block to my apartment, avoiding eye contact with the few individuals who grace the New York sidewalk at 6:45 in the morning. And 99% of the time I am successful in this dash.

Just not in this specific instance. On a Friday in mid-August the sanitation department was out and about doing what they do best, disposing of trash. And while they often begin their shifts early in the morning, as to avoid rush hour traffic, they usually pay me– the literal hot mess– no attention.

But on this particular morning an unfortunate amount of attention was paid in my direction. And I– not yet caffeinated– actually responded. Yes, while making the turn onto my block, Cher Lloyd on full blast, a sanitation engineer began screaming, “You are the most beautiful woman in the entire world!”

Now me, being in my least aesthetically acceptable form, could hardly believe he was referring to me so I kept walking– wondering where this beauty he spoke so highly of was. But then the engineer tapped me on the shoulder and repeated the same sentence. And I, for perhaps the second time in my life, was rendered speechless.

Apparently he interpreted my silence as his cue to continue this pseudo-conversation. “So, chica, you married? You single? Is it complicated?” And I, for some illogical reason decided to perpetuate this absurdity and said, “I’m not married.” At which point I continued walking, and the engineer followed.

“Chica, you Puerto Rican?” I shook my head and continued towards my front door. “Hey, it makes no difference. I could make you very happy. I’m good husband material. And you are so beautiful… so marry me, yes?”

And after one swig of my Brita-filtered water bottle, I said, “Sadly I have to decline.” But the engineer vowed to not give up so easily. “I’m on your block each Friday at this time if you change your mind. Which I know with time you will do.”

The goods news, of course, is that I was proposed to by a man enamored with my post-gym “beauty”. The bads new is that said man is a sanitation engineer who makes a living throwing crap in a truck.

At least I have a banana stand.

There is nothing like having brunch, particularly with a grandmother who has convinced herself that you, in fact, speak the Vagina Monologues. While you devour your mozzarella, tomato, and mushroom egg white omelette, she prattles on about the importance of marriage, and especially children– the product of a union between a man and a woman (artificial insemination be damned!).

And you, in the throws of brunch euphoria, wonder, “Is the free food worth all of this?” You contemplate an alternative universe, where you have a grandmother who supports your professional endeavors and encourages you to pursue them, even at the cost of missing out on the opportunity of being a 22-year old newly wed.

You consider a world in which your grandmother doesn’t repeatedly ask you about your British ex- the one who is currently dating your other British ex. In which she no longer makes comments such as, “I had high hopes for you two. Your grandfather and I had a long distance relationship, and it worked out.”

And a planet on which you are not compelled to make comments like, “Well that’s because you were both heterosexual, living in a society that encouraged matrimony.”

But then again, if your grandmother made none of the following comments, and you weren’t compelled to give any of the aforementioned responses, what in the world would you blog about? Your wonderful little banana stand, which you stare at intently when considering what entry to compose next?

Achieving cougar status.

I used to have a cardinal rule of dating for which I would sacrifice my entire coffee supply before breaking: Never date younger men.

As a semi-responsible and highly ambitious young woman, I often come across as older than my age. In fact, when I was 12, my grandparents’ doorman offered to marry me– even in the absence of a dowry. He was convinced I was 18, and that an impending nuptial would be legal under state law.

When he discovered I was only recently bat-mitzvahed, he exclaimed, “Oh, honey, you better stick to older men. You come across as a full grown lady.” Now any woman with an ounce of street smarts would know that an elderly Bangladeshi man offering you his hand in marriage is probably not the best individual to seek advice from, let alone follow. However, I lack said smarts, and so I abided by his words until two weeks ago when I discovered this little boy:

A year old on Sunday, this infant exemplifies everything I want in a man: intelligent, emotional, and with a notable penchant for French stripes. If he were 20 years older, and I wasn’t his babysitter, I would wed him immediately.

Also, he obeys commands. When I say, “Sleep time,” he obligingly accepts his pacifier and lays down in his crib. When I hum Hebrew lullabies to him (because I know none in English), he feigns interest and nestles himself in the area surrounding my cleavage. And when I challenge him to eat unusual adult food, like pumpkin spiced ravioli from the local Amish market (welcome to New York), he accepts the culinary challenge.

While by cougar reference is only in jest, I believe my time with this adorable baby has helped me clarify what I need to sustain a long term relationship: patience and personality. I need an individual who will wait as I sort out my professional aspirations, as well as a companion who has a larger than life persona– and will subsequently tolerate my proclivity for sarcasm and dramatic storytelling.

And ideally, I need to find him before I turn 23, or else I will have Grandma Blumenthal to contend with.

Relationship Advice from the Barren Grandchild

For those who are familiar with the original production of Fiddler on the Roof, you might remember a particular character by the name of Yenta. Dressed in schmatas (a Yiddish term used to denote rags that are to be used for cleaning purposes only) and sporting a rather large schnoz, she seeks to find each and every girl in her small Russian shtetl a husband.

As in any musical, she is the subject of the infamous number “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Yes, Yenta’s role as the town matchmaker becomes the focal point of one notable Broadway number. And as much as I hate to admit it, this is the only song in Fiddler to which I know all the lyrics.

My grandmother (not the who thinks I’m a lesbian, but the one who refers to me me as the “barren grandchild”) reminded me of this number during our weekly Friday phone call. “Nu, you’ve been back in New York three weeks. Where’s the husband-to-be? And when can I meet him?”

The irony in her question is that it insinuates that location has something to do with my single status. When I was a Wellesley student, I was in a secular convent incapable of forming relationships with my male counterparts beyond the nunnery walls. Now that I am in New York, well, there are plenty of opportunities to date, and perhaps eventually marry.

However, the truth is location is nothing but a pretext. And so I responded, “Oma, you asked me the same question when I was in college. Why qualify it now by locale?”

There was an awkward pause, and then she said, “Is your mother ok with you living with female roommates? Shouldn’t you get married and live with a man– and by man, I mean your husband?”

As any individual with an ounce of Jew in them will tell you, when in doubt, answer in the form of a question. My grandmother had no justifiable response, and so she turned the marital inquisition back to me. I, however, would not submit to another interrogation regarding my relationship status.

“Oma, seriously, why are you so concerned? I’m not even 22… and this is 2011. And I am a Wellesley woman who will potentially do great things. And if I don’t have a husband by 30, I’ll just adopt–”

“A cat, right? You joke about being a spinster, and young lady, you are very close to making your comedy a reality.” I decided then that I shouldn’t mention the new cat for which I was sitting.

I also determined to take the firmest stance I’ve had to take since my first high school friend married at 17. “Let me rephrase– I will look for a husband when I am in a viable financial situation to do so. Right now, I am living on a latte and a prayer and not a whole lot more.”

In typical Jewish grandmotherly guilt fashion, she responded, “Well you best keep praying because you are going to need all the prayers the prayer book has to offer.”

Despite her sass, I believe I won the debate. She may still be in search of the perfect Yid for one of her many granddaughters, but at least she is beginning to accept that said Yid will become a part of my life on my time table– not hers. To that, I say L’Chaim:

Free foot massages and other tales of my childhood antics.

Though it might be slightly repetitive to type this, I feel it is only appropriate to begin this entry by stating I was a special snowflake, even as a child, and it manifested itself in the oddest of ways. Whether I was playing “Statue Man” with my father– a game in which the person who can sit still the longest wins– or telling everyone and their grandmother that I aspired to be a senator from New York, I was the quintessential definition of peculiar.

After spending graduation dinner with my grandmother, though, I was reminded of one particular peculiarity from my youth: my propensity to give free foot massages. Whenever I would visit my grandmother, I would immediately offer her said service. As anyone woman who has gone through childbirth would tell you, the only correct response is “Hell yes.”

And so I would spend the next hour or two meticulously massaging her feet. Despite the callouses, bruises, and other signs of wear and tear, my grandmother’s feet were not aversive to me. I enjoyed conditioning them back to life. Even as my own hands began to sore, I persisted through the pain– determined to show some sort of appreciation to the woman who birthed my father and by proxy, me.

While a normal seven year old girl might have drawn a less than attractive “thank you” card for the front of her grandma’s refrigerator, I had to get down on my hands and knees and massage my gratitude into her weathered feet. And while my grandmother was highly appreciative, she would always end her personal massage session with the words, “I’d love you even if you didn’t give me this simple pleasure.”

After one such session, I responded to her comment in a most unusual way. “Would you love me if I were a balloon bouncing through the streets of New York?” As any blood relative feels obliged to do, my grandmother nodded politely.

But as any woman with an ounce of urban acumen will say, she then questioned the absurdity of my querry. I stated– and I should note this is before I resigned myself to a career in politics– that I aspired to be a balloon with I grew up. Balloons, once released into the air, are the epitome of free floating objects. They have no obligations; no weights holding them back from the blue skies; no guilt about shooting for the stars.

I wanted to be that free someday– to act and move as gracefully as a colored balloon, and to be content with where I was in any particular moment. I, as my grandmother noted, feared commitment or attachment. I never wanted to feel restrained or constrained by a person or a place. I aspired to be a rolling stoner.

When my mother subsequently mentioned her potential birthday present to me last night– a paid membership to a Jewish dating website– I had my usual rolling stoner panic attack. I’m too young to be looking for a husband; I have mountains, likely in countries oceans away, that I must climb first. And yet, despite my viscerally frustrated response, I knew my mother had deliberately planted a seed– a seed, in which she finally becomes a grandmother and I begin making payments on my future brownstone.

While I have yet to accept or deny her offer, I was reminded this morning why the rolling stone lifestyle is just so attractive:

I may have to modify my seven year old aspiration. Instead of seeking to be a balloon, I might just settle for a colorful bouncing ball in San Francisco.

I think I want to marry your friend.

I have a secret talent: I make people get married. Yes, simply through meeting me, men and women alike determine that it is time to settle down, start a family, and paint a picket fence white.

This phenomenon is not recent either. I distinctly remember sitting in my 11th grade AP English class. Chava, a then single high school girl, and I were discussing life beyond the classroom. I casually mentioned that I hoped to be senator by age 35 and follow in the path of Hillary Clinton, minus the whole adulterous husband bit.

Chava laughed and said she hoped to be married for at least 18 years by age 35. I made my usual I Dream of Jeannie motion and stated, “Your wish is my command.” Low and behold Chava got married at 17, and indeed if marital life works out with Meir, her now husband, she will meet her aforementioned girl in fourteen years.

The winter following my first year at college, I visited Israel. I was introduced to a girl named Shira, whose most defining feature was her child bearing hips. I mean, those hips just screamed babies! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play matchmaker, and I subsequently introduced her to Yoni, a young boy (now Harvard Law School student), on my particular Israel trip. Shira and Yoni are now married with one baby girl, Tamar.

However, this superpower is not limited to Orthodox Jewish coupling. While on the train back from the Hamptons– a trip courtesy of the lovely Lynne– I had the fortune of sitting beside a flamboyantly blonde gay. As is my way, I instantly become best friends with said gay.

He referenced his boyfriend, in the seat beside us, who he had met several years earlier on this very train. And, well, blondie was ready to take the marital plunge. He just wasn’t sure when or where to pop the question. I recommended he do it in the very place they had met– the train. He grinned and said, “I was planning on doing just that.”

Before I could says “grande skinny vanilla latte,” blondie was on his knees, referencing Martha’s Vineyard and white tuxedos. And yours truly had secured her 100th summer wedding invitation. If I agree to attend blondie’s wedding, I will be participating in three weddings in one week– a record, even for me.

The lesson of this brief interlude unrelated to my recap of commencement activities is this: if ever you find your ovaries whirling, call me. I guarantee you’ll be engaged within six months.

I leave you with a visual summary of my weekend in Amagansett:

When bridesmaid becomes a verb.

If I could marry a city, I’d become a polygamist and marry London and New York. In the last four days, I have been privileged to see “Blood Brothers” on the West End and “Sister Act” on Broadway. And, avid readers, celibacy has never looked so good.

Ironically, in the midst of my musical awakening, two close friends have gotten engaged. While bridesmaid for me has already assumed the power of a verb, I was still surprised, excited, and perhaps even a wee bit  jealous of all of the wedding bells brouhaha.

Two extremely special people are about to embark on a new phase of their lives, while I simply try to get through the 26th of April: the dreaded thesis due date. They are about to become lean, mean baby-producing machines, when I consider a successful day one in which I’ve consumed  my body weight in lattes.

These women have a sense of certainty pervading their futures, whereas I stand the chance of being in one of three continents come the 1st of June. Their futures include bright white dresses involving excessive amounts of lace, and mine is marked by another trip to Anthropologie to find the perfect little black dress.

Needless to say, our paths are diverging. They seem to be selecting the path well-traveled, whereas I– taking my cues from Robert Frost– am opting for the road less-traveled.

Commenting to my mother during the “Sister Act” intermission, I said, “If I became a nun, well, that certainly would surprise a few people. And it would likely qualify as the road less-traveled given the fact that the average age of a nun these days is 76.” Yes, I told my mother I was ready to join the sisterhood in an act of complete spontaneity.

However, for those who know me well, spontaneity is not my strong suit. I prefer the employment of Excel spreadsheets when making major life decisions. Even if I opt for the less popular path, it is a well-calculated decision (and usually made from the comforts of my local Starbucks).

And, as my mother noted, joining the divine sisterhood would just be a means of “escape” from the challenging realities I would prefer not to face. But upon reviewing both Sister Act films, I began to realize something about myself; something I verbally acknowledge, but rarely internalize: I like challenges.

I live and breathe off of challenges. In fact, I deliberately create them for myself so I can properly channel my Jewish neurosis. I take on Oxford-sized balls with little to no funding because I get an adrenaline high from last minute fundraising efforts.

And considering my success in these “challenging” endeavors, I am starting to believe that regardless of my major life decisions (which will be made this Friday), I am capable of handling all of the challenges that accompany them.

And if not– if I fail and find myself scrounging for abandoned cardboard boxes behind my local Starbucks– at least I can say I’m not 21 and pregnant with my third, counting down the days until I can drink caffeine again.

Determined, Bold, Apparently Cool.

I am not an atypical college student. When I return home for long weekends, I bring my laundry and my appetite. After satiating both my demand for clean clothes and my desire for my mother’s home cooked meals, I then engage in the traditional reminiscing one does when she finds herself sipping hot cinnamon spice tea at the kitchen table.

Last night my mother and I engaged in a conversation typical of the times- that of marriage. A girl I used to tutor and occasionally babysit for had just held her engagement party. My mother’s response, “Wow, everyone is so grown up.”

ME: “Um, are they? And if they are, does that mean they are also ready to assume the role of baby manufacturer?”

MOTHER: “Well, clearly you are a long way from engaging in large scale production of Jewish children.”

Clearly. Amidst said conversation, I began flipping through my 8th grade yearbook and happened upon a caption of me diligently working on my Jewish law report. It was an analysis of the biblical law to kill witches. I was analyzing its significance in relation to contemporary literature. Would Harry Potter, which encouraged the wonderful world of witches and wizardry, fall within the Old Testament delineated understanding of witchcraft? Though I am certain my conclusion was no, and that my rabbi vehemently disagreed with my conclusion, this is just an aside.

The caption– the relevant portion of this narrative– read, “Determined. Bold. Apparently Cool.” And at 13 I was the epitome of first two descriptors. Convinced I would someday be a senator from New York, representing both Jewish and female interests in a male dominated political arena, I was definitely an audacious middle-schooler. But the “apparently cool” bit caught me off guard.

I recognize I was hardly Miss Popularity in those awkward tween years, marked by bulging braces and acne worthy of a game of connect-the-dots. However “apparently” was an odd modifier. I was either cool, or, well I wasn’t.

My mother, as she often does, launched into a lecture regarding my daily dichotomy– how I juggle and juxtapose two often contradictory realities: secular and Orthodox. As a result I am hard to define. Words, such as apparent, reflect a certain modality, a particular hesitation to characterize me as one way or another. I defy the norms, and as my mother concluded,  that made me “kind of wonderful.”

In returning to the theme of this week’s entries– relationships– I began to realize that my dichotomous character might be contributing to my single status. In pitching me to potential contenders, as my grandmother does, she often struggles to find the appropriate adjectives. Every adjective is preceded by some carefully selected modifier.

I used to believe this made me intriguing. I now realize that intriguing and marriageable are two very different categorizations. I have become the girl you date for intellectual amusement, but I am most certainly not the woman you introduce to your parents. “This is Yaffa, and well, she is kind of hard to define” does not spell Mother of My Future Children.

Instead, it calls into my question my domestic housewife duties. Can I assume a Donna Reed identity, or will I– in a desire to climb metaphorical professional mountains– resemble this gem: