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February 3, 2015

If you like it then you should put a ring on it

When considering marriage, what’s wrong with thinking of settling down sooner rather than later?

I live in two worlds. The first is the University of Chicago, a liberal, secular multicultural institution where anything goes—well, in theory it does— where students are “finding themselves” through exploration and asking serious questions for the first time. In Chicago, I am reminded of my other world each time I log onto Facebook and am bombarded by engagement, wedding, and baby shower photos. This second world is one of the modern Orthodox Jew, where modesty, charity, learning Torah, family, and religious practice are sacred, while tradition is king.

Marked by myriad declarations of “mazel tov!” my newsfeed has constructively become a marriage announcement page. The phenomenon began when I returned to America after spending a gap year in an Israeli seminary at the age of 19;  it has increased exponentially since. Tagging friends on Facebook has become confusing with all the new last names, and I barely recognize many of them in their new pictures with the various hair coverings orthodox women take up upon marriage. It used to just be my contemporaries who were getting hitched, but the trend has recently expanded to those even younger than myself. Proposal rates surge so high during the holiday season that one orthodox friend of mine asked me if I knew of an engagement filter for Facebook. And I’m not just seeing my friends’ announcements each one of them is posting about her own friends’ engagements as well.

Even those who don’t expect to get married early often do. For example, this past summer, back in my second world, I went to seven of my friends’ weddings in Israel. One of these was my British roommate from  seminary. She was the girl we all predicted would get married after us; she herself expected she’d tie the knot around the age of 35. She wasn’t the sort of person who seemed likely to settle down early— she had an eye piercing (which got “infected” when she was engaged), was a strong feminist, and wore bikinis. But all that changed when she met a French- Moroccan in Israel and knew he was the one four weeks after they met.

The summer was shaken up when my very good friend experienced a sudden loss in his immediate family .“Eliora, you can’t fool around,” my friend told me. “You don’t want to tarnish your reputation. It’s very important for you to get married— and soon— for your parents. That’s the best thing you can do for them, make them happy.” The words of Song of Solomon that “love is as strong as death” rang through my head as I  acknowledged that, though speaking from intense grief, hemay have a point—for a Jewish mother, seeing her child walk down the aisle is probably more important than seeing her child become a doctor or a lawyer.

“Oh, you must be feeling the pressure?” is a typical response I receive when I tell people what I did this summer. Yes, I was, in fact, feeling the pressure and it was only magnified by the fact that Chicago seemed to provide no marriage prospects: The pool of observant Jewish men I could date is barely a puddle, not to mention the fact that even uttering the expression “find a husband” sounds like a regression to a bygone era. I was looking for Mr. Right in the wrong place. There have been times I have explored outside this observant Jewish pool here in college, but there has always been a large part of me missing. There’s no other place I’d rather be, no vertiginous soiree that can compete with the discrete intensity of our traditions.

Marriage prospects? The thought must sound crazy for a college student.

Many have Shiduch (match making) resumes— basically a match.com profile turned resume— before professional ones. But dating seriously at a “young” age doesn’t need to stump professional development. I know plenty of people pursuing graduate and college degrees who do just fine with a diamond on their fingers. It actually may be easier to focus on your studies when you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll find someone to spend the rest of your life with.

Regardless of religion, in many cultural contexts, admitting you want a husband seems like a betrayal of feminism. Let me make it clear that I’m not a husband hunter on the prowl; rather, I am part of the Orthodox Jewish world, in which you date for marriage. This means that what you look for in a night out is what you look for in a lifetime partner. You date somebody  you want to invest in, someone you know you can have a future with. You wouldn’t want to put your money in a risky stock you know will plummet— is dating much different?

There’s the idea that college is a time to explore. But I’ve done that, and those relationships usually left me unsatisfied or hurt. I don’t want to live a life in nonchalant  mode, to play the game where the winner is the one who cares less. I don’t want to turn off my sensitivity and my emotions; I want to feel life in all its intensity, not turn things down to prevent the heartbreak that comes with being unequally invested in a relationship. I’m looking for that logical madness. The restless type of love that led Solomon to proclaim : “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Songs of Solomon, 5).And maybe someday that will be through marriage, but for now,I am trying to enjoy the long nights at the library, the opportunities only a place like this can offer, and the life of the mind over that of the heart ,even if that heart is split between two worlds.

Eliora Katz is a second-year in the College.

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