A congregant told me of a wedding reception where the Hindu priest approached a guest and asked, “Why are you not married?” The young man replied, “I have not yet found true love.” The priest barreled over in laughter and then said, “Only after twenty-five years of marriage can you speak of ‘true love.’” Hearing that account reminded me of a story from the Sufi tradition, told to me by a rabbi who has yet to marry. A bachelor sought the perfect wife. A friend asked, “Have you not found her yet?” “Well, I actually did.” “Why did you not marry her?” “I would have, but she said that I was not perfect.” Last a friend who is a high-end jeweler recounted a prospective groom who requested a flawless diamond for the engagement ring. She replied, “Such a stone would be very expensive and very small and would not reflect the nature of marriage, which is never flawless. For the same money, I can find you a beautiful stone.” And so she did.
Aware of the dangers of unrealistic expectations, I also write sympathetically about what is for many a long search. I was close to 33-years-old when Linda and I wed. Now in our 33rd year of marriage, I celebrate our many blessings, and have context for the following guidance on finding “true love”:
1. Seek Goodness. My teacher Rabbi Simon Greenberg pointed out that in the creation story, G-d repeatedly comments, “It was good and once ‘very good,’ but never says perfect.” Life in all aspects is incomplete, enabling growth and change. Embrace a mate as a whole person, including imperfections.
2. Value Values. Choose a partner with whom you share the same values, even more than the same interests. With shared values you will stay aligned. In a healthy marriage, you will have permission to be fully yourself and more whole with the other. Know that you will be as influenced by what you will share with each other and where you see yourselves going as you were by your parent’s upbringing. In the words of Torah, “Al ken ya’azov… Therefore, a person will leave his or her parents and cleave to his mate and they shall be as one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
3. Consider Parenting. Know what is essential to convey to your future children so that they will inherit the best of who you are. Clarity of identity is as foundational as feeling safe and loved by parents. Religious identity is best received as a warm and secure gift when offered as shared-family belonging and duty.
4. Abide Faithfully. Life naturally has ups and downs. Some days we awake feeling anxious and overreact to our challenges. Similarly, some days because we are close to our spouse, we are keenly aware of what annoys us the most. Francine Klagsbrun in interviewing 150 couples, some divorced and others married, found that the key ingredient for couples who had stayed together was commitment. A healthy marriage provides acceptance grounded in trust.
The Torah teaches, “It is not good for a person to be alone: I will fashion a fitting helper” (Genesis 2:18). This is the first time that the phrase, “not good” is used in the Torah. No one aspect of life offers more potential for stability, love, and joy than the person with whom you will share your life. In the words of Proverbs (18:22), “One who has found a spouse has found goodness, and has brought forth favor from G-d.”
RABBI ELIE SPITZ IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.