I opened the black velvet box, my heart galloping wildly inside me. Benjy looked at me expectantly. "So?" he asked.
I stared at the ring. What should I say?
I remember the first time I saw him. We were both slated to be counselors at a camp for special children that summer. Orientation for the staff took place at a bowling alley. He bowled in the lane next to me. I noticed him.
I made sure to find out his name and his stats. Not to mention his status. Benjy Silver, four years my elder, available.
In the sea of life, maybe my big toe was wet.
Friday night, after the shabbos meal, I was approached by a friend. He had a potential guy in mind for me and wanted to know if I was interested in dating -- real dating, the type that leads to the big M. I was just at the cusp of adulthood, my 20s still looming endlessly ahead of me. In the sea of life, maybe my big toe was wet.
I told him I would think about it.
That night, I spoke with an older, wiser friend (she was 23), someone who was swimming full force ahead. "Am I ready for a serious relationship?" I asked her.
"You?" she asked, incredulous. "You don't even have a clue who you are, let alone who someone else might be."
I knew she was right, and yet the idea seemed alluring.
"You can't toy with someone's emotions if you have no plans of committing."
I heard her, I really did. I went back to the go-between, ready to tell him I was still standing on the shore. But I was curious.
"I have an answer for you," I said coyly. "But I was just wondering who you had in mind for me."
"I don't know if you know him," he replied. "His name is Benjy Silver."
Sharp intake of breath. I dove in.
"Yeah, I'm ready to date. Ready as I'll ever be."
The tide had pulled me in, and suddenly I was swimming with the sharks.
ON THE ROLLERCOASTER
We arranged to meet that Sunday evening for our first official date. I tried five different hairdos in front of the mirror before settling on one that was attractive, yet demure.
My older friend passed by and I felt her disapproval scalding me. I was too keyed up to care.
A few hours of knock hockey later, I was having a good time. So was he. The second date followed shortly. We walked into the frozen yogurt shop at the mall.
"What can I order for you?" he asked. "This may sound funny, but I have a strong dislike of chocolate, so I'm not going to order the swirl."
"I don't like chocolate either," I replied. You could almost hear the violins playing.
We sat in the car and read his favorite book on Jewish philosophy. I marveled at his intellect, and I deeply related to his sense of purpose.
On our third date we hiked by a babbling brook. We gawked at God's marvelous creation, and I was filled with the wonder of being "in like."
"The conversation" wasn't long in coming. He brought it up, with words like "going nicely," and "direction." The only direction I wanted to go in after a conversation like that one was away from him. I was a fresh bud, waiting for the spring to blossom.
With the M word and the C word hovering over my head like rumbling thunderclouds, I started evaluating his every move, and lo and behold, began discovering imperfections. How could I trap myself in any relationship, all the more so with a man who was less than perfect? I tried to pull away, but my emotions only let me go so far. I was one confused woman.
At the summer's end, I was going for a six-month stint in Israel. We figured that a little distance would give me ample thinking time. He wrote me rich letters with spiritual insights, and I grew more attached, but still not ready.
"What is it?" he asked. He was infinitely patient, but he wanted to know that there was a light at the end of our dating tunnel.
"I don't know. I can't put my finger on it."
It wasn't the chemistry as there was plenty of it. He made me laugh. We shared similar goals and as far as religious commitment, we were right on par with one another.
But I couldn't decide.
The indecision snowballed and took on a life of its own, becoming a debilitating force in our relationship.
The indecision snowballed and took on a life of its own, becoming a debilitating force in our relationship, and in my life. It was like the hum of background noise in my life, no matter what I did. I watched friends around me get engaged, and I wondered how they did it. The questions swirled around inside in a violent maelstrom. Was I feeling this way because of something with him, or something with me. I had no idea how I could get to the bottom of this.
A close friend whom I had known for years tried to wake me up. "I feel like you're watching a movie of your life, and you're waiting to see what the ending will be. Rachel, wake up! The ending will be whatever you make it. You just have to make a decision."
So I decided to break up with him. At least it was a decision.
Then I walked around for months, wondering if the pain that I felt was due to the pain of a lost relationship, or due to the pain of a lost soul mate. And the indecision raged again.
So we got back together. And broke up again.
Everywhere that I went, my eyes were open, searching for the clues that would solve my mystery. I projected my relationship on to every other couple that I observed. I analyzed myself and others with immeasurable scrutiny. It was not a healthy way to live.
STANDING ON THE PRECIPICE
That summer I found out that he would be attending a certain university for a course. I immediately cancelled my summer plans and signed up for a course in the same university. I missed him terribly, but I knew that I had no right to call him unless I was calling to set a date for a wedding. The morning of my first class, I drove with my hands shaking at the steering wheel. The very notion that he might be in the vicinity left me trembling. I should have driven more scrupulously -- I almost ran him over.
We agreed to try again. This time, we tried a different tactic. We thought that perhaps by not mentioning the M word or the C word, we might recapture some of the original freshness of our relationship. Only this time, I was older and more mature. We hoped that it would lead to a natural progression.
Over the course of the next six weeks we spent countless afternoons sitting in the local park under a low lying sun, reaffirming our commitment to our common goals and to each other. It was glorious, and I was happy.
Unfortunately, when he finally did bring up the M word, I was off and running again.
I spoke to friends who had dealt with indecision. I spoke with teachers and rabbis. Sometimes we went together. I met with two professionals and I filled out questionnaires. I dated 13 other people to see if there might be someone else out there who could meet some indefinable need of mine.
After all of that, this is what I figured out.
1) Timing, timing, timing. It was unwise to convey an eagerness to date a man who was looking for a serious relationship when that was nowhere on the radar for me. It led to an inauspicious beginning.
2) On the personality Richter scale, I was one complicated woman. I had always known this about myself, but I hadn't realized that it would be an impediment in my committing to a marriage. Not everyone "knows" through some existential feeling that this is "the one". Some of us have to grapple and sort out all sorts of "stuff" before we can get to the core of what we want and who we want. This does not necessarily indicate a flaw in the relationship.
3) I would have to learn to accept imperfections in my spouse. Although I yearned to believe it, I was in no way perfect myself, so why did I deserve perfection. In analyzing what it was that bothered me about my spouse, I came to realize that most of them were directly related to my own insecurities. A spouse is not a trophy that needs to be displayed on a shelf. As long as you are proud to be with him, the whole world doesn't need to applaud him.
4) I had carved out a vision of what I expected in a spouse. It had probably been a work in progress ever since I was born. My prince was supposed to be draped in a very specific personality, which would perfectly suit my needs. Benjy came with an arsenal of wonderful character traits, but they were distinctly different from what I had thought I needed. If I felt that his uniqueness was good for me, I needed to revamp a deeply embedded vision, in order to accommodate this new perspective.
5) When my father first met Benjy, he told me that he was "nice," but that "I could do better." Every time I was almost ready to take the plunge, those words came back to haunt me. Even when my father grew to respect Benjy to such an extent that I think he wondered if I was good enough for him, those words still reverberated with authority.
Though a parent or a friend only has the dater's best interest in mind, sometimes their wise words are quite damaging. Steer clear of asking the opinions of others about your beau. Trust your own instincts in terms of compatibility. (This does not include evaluating "at risk" behaviors that you may be too blind to see. I am talking about a stable, healthy relationship.)
The only thing left for me to do was pray.
I booked a ticket to Israel, and went there on my own to pray at the Western Wall for 40 days in a row. I looked deep into myself and tried to search for answers. I knew that my chances were running out.
I came back home feeling quite certain that this was the right thing for me. I only hoped that I could muster up the strength to go through with it. It had been three and a half years of emotional self torture and I was ready to move on to the next stage in life.
He let me be for a couple of months, and then things started to get intense. I felt that he had finally run out of patience, as strongly as he believed in us. We looked at ring catalogues and picked out our future children's names. The whole show was planned and the curtain was ready to come up. Unfortunately, I was still hiding back-stage.
It was hard to believe how utterly shocked I was when he presented me with a ring.
And now it had come to this. It was hard to believe how utterly shocked I was when he presented me with a ring. The evening had gone so beautifully and I was full with feeling for him. He took me to the seaport and handed me a letter on stationery. He never wrote me on stationery before so I should have been suspicious. The letter was long, detailing the exquisiteness of our relationship, and hinting at our future destiny together. Then he handed me a box.
"Do you need a minute to think?" he asked me, ever considerate. I nodded and he gave me a bit of distance. I knew that this ring meant, "The buck stops here." If I blew it now there would be no future chances. I tried to envision life with him and I got tangled up in questions that nobody could answer for me. I tried to envision life without him, and it stretched before me like an endless void. I closed my eyes and prayed to God, asking for blessing on the journey I was about to embark upon.
Then I said yes.
We are married nearly a decade now, with a handful of kids to boot. His kindness and dedication to me have served us in good stead, and I feel privileged to be married to him. We still laugh together just as much as we did then, and find conversation with each other quite scintillating. He has helped me to develop in directions that I never knew I could take. Our love deepens and grows with each passing year, with each child, with each shared moment in a committed relationship.
The imperfections are still there, but so much less glaring under the light of an eternal commitment. I have even seen exactly where his lacking reflects my own insecurity, and it has helped to build me as a person. It was as if the weight of the decision being removed allowed me the freedom to finally focus on what was positive between us.
Every once in a while, I still have nightmares that we are dating and I just can't decide.
"Benjy," I say to him, "I had the indecision dream again!"
"Don't worry," he tells me reassuringly. "You married me already."
I sure am glad that I did.