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Who's Afraid of Commitment?

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Getting married warrants a good dose of fear.

Everyone's a little scared of commitment, even us women. As the wedding day approaches, both the bride and groom feel more and more anxious and tense. In fact, the Jewish custom is that the couple doesn't see each other (some don't even speak to each other) for the week before the wedding in order to avoid the needless quarrels that would arise out of all the stress (and of course to enhance the excitement and anticipation).

Marriage is a heavy decision, and both sides, if they are alert and rational, enter their marriage with joy -- and trepidation. Although men are often chastised for their fear of commitment, Neil Chethik in his book, VoiceMale, points to a recent survey by the United States Census Bureau. Nearly 9 out of 10 American men will marry at least once in their lifetimes. This doesn't support a deep fear of commitment. In fact the high divorce rate suggests perhaps the fear wasn't great enough, or the understanding.

As our desire (and sometimes our desperation) to get married grows (this is not necessarily proportional to age; there are 19 year-olds who convey desperation and 50 year olds in no rush), our ability to choose wisely and carefully, to fully evaluate the consequences of this commitment we are undertaking may diminish.

A friend told me that she spent every post-date period analyzing their conversations for signs of "his" feelings about her. It was only after some gentle prodding on my part that she remembered to explore her feelings for him!

If a woman is not as frightened as her spouse about the upcoming change, then perhaps she isn't taking it seriously enough. Perhaps it's about the dress, the party, and playing house. Perhaps she takes for granted her ability to be a good wife. It takes a lot of effort (even allowing for that innate ability!) to build something positive and lasting with another human being.

If we choose someone whose character we admire and respect, and whose goals coincide with our own (transcendent aspirations, not material dreams), then certainly our fear should be diminished.

But we must still stand in awe of the responsibility we are undertaking. And instead of concentrating on our partner, perhaps we should turn inward. Are we up to the task?

Are we ready for the job of focusing on someone else instead of ourselves, of putting the needs of another before our own? Are we up to the task of ignoring the negative and looking at the positive? Are we up to the task of putting on our best face (and perhaps outfit) to greet our spouse? I heard of a rabbi who eulogized his wife saying "Living with her was a taste of the Garden of Eden." Are we up to that task?

Certainly we're capable of it. The question is: are we choosing it? Making our marriage great takes a tremendous amount of work. (I'm not trying to sound weighed down by this; it's a lot of fun too!) We should be somewhat afraid. But certainly if we can be CEOs of major corporations (to put a reverse spin on the feminist argument), then we can run our families with the same zeal and drive. We just have to prioritize.

We are given many different titles in our lives -- vice-president, mommy, ‘you there', Mrs. Which one means the most? Which is the greater accomplishment? Which requires the deeper commitment?

When a Jewish couple gets married, we are given a blessing that we should build a Bayit Ne'eman b'Yisrael, a faithful home in Israel. Why does everyone give this same blessing?

It's not just a lack of the creative spirit. It's because having a home in which the Almighty's presence can rest, a home that is special and holy, does not come easily or naturally. It requires the energy and good wishes of the young couple and all their friends and family, with help from the Almighty. It requires effort -- and blessing.

Both men and women should have some fear of commitment. And we should take that anxiety and channel it into building a sanctified Jewish home.

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