The Man I Married
My husband isn’t the same man he used to be. But that’s OK: I’m not the same woman he married, either.
I, too, have gained weight since our wedding day and don’t exercise as often as I should. I’d thought when I married that I’d get a Ph.D. and teach full time at a university and do my own nonacademic writing on the side. I do have a Ph.D. and have had teaching jobs, although I am not currently employed at a regular one with a regular paycheck. I don’t make much money as a freelance writer, and for this I feel guilty: I could be helping the family more if I earned more. But I have a contract for one book anthology and a sequel, and interest in my first novel from a publisher and an agent, and have been working steadily on a second. I have a flourishing freelance career, even if the work produces much less compensation than I’d like. And my husband is patient with me, excited for my gradual successes, and hopeful for my dreams of eventual publication.
For my most recent birthday, the man who is not the man I married surprised me with four dance lessons for us to take together. I’d thought it would be a chance to put on heels, a skirt, and lipstick and go a bit wild to salsa tunes, but many participants came in jeans and sweats, and most of the class was spent going over the steps without music. Moving backward, forward, and to the side, in proper pattern and sync, we needed to get all the moves together smoothly before we were ready for music. Mostly, we just shuffled around until the music went on at the end of class; after an hour of rehearsal, we danced to music for five minutes, gliding around, staying in step together, not crashing into any other couples. This seemed like a metaphor for our life together—many lovely moments of music and gliding, punctuating the dreariness and chores of the vast majority of everyday existence.
Though I am still a horrible dancer with a tin ear, I relished that gift of fluid movement in the dance class and those moments of gliding in step, quick-quick-slow, to the beat. The unexpected loveliness and grace that came in those moments, like having the piano music of my daughter practicing fill the house as I make dinner or clean up afterward, make me grateful to be with the man I did not marry.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the question of es muss sein—“it must be so”—appears in various keys. Must it be so? Or not? “Love lies beyond ‘Es muss sein!’ ” Kundera writes. There is no unilateral “must be” in love, I believe; remaining in a partnership, unexpected changes and all, is a choice that must be made deliberately and hopefully.
Our expectations, that a person will be a certain way or appear at a particular time, can create the most unhappiness for most of us. Once we accept that we can be happy with who our spouse is, and who we are, while still committing to change and improve (yes, I will start swimming more now that summer is here), we may find those feelings of disappointment fading away. I do know that my neighbors of my youth are still married and grandparents, despite their not being who they were under the huppah.
The parsha we were married on, Beha’alotekha (Numbers 8-12), contains the possibility of a second Passover; if one can’t bring the sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan one has another opening to bring it the next month, on the 14th of Iyar. Opportunities to achieve closeness and connection, the Torah seems to be saying, are never lost forever and may be postponed to a later date. The process of letting go of expectations, of enjoying what comes to me whether I expect it or not, is not natural for me. I don’t want to agonize about the ways in which my husband and I are not the people we were as bride and groom; part of maturity is the process of letting go, acknowledging my lack of control even from the time we met. Though my husband isn’t the man I married, nor I the woman he married, we can enjoy each other for who we are now, noisy CPAP machine and all. I didn’t think I’d meet my husband when I did, or that I would enjoy dancing with him so much, klutz that I still am. Nothing in life must be so: It is only our efforts to find and cherish what is lovely and unexpected, not worries about what a spouse must be, that will bring us joy. And hope that this acknowledgement of the need to let go of control over those we love prepares us to watch and wait as our eldest goes off on her own adventures in Jerusalem this fall.
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My bellydancing students—Russian immigrants, Hasidic women—showed me a new side of the borough