April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A young man in his late twenties recently told me: “I don’t want all the tea in China. All I want is someone to love—and to love me.” A young woman said that she was so bursting with love that she couldn’t bear it any longer. Indeed, one poet believes that it is better to love than to be loved.

“The pleasure of love is in loving. We are happier in the passion we feel than in that we inspire.”

What do these two single adults have in common with many others? They are people who are lonely of heart and starving for affection and closeness. They sense strongly that their pain will not be assuaged through temporary relationships. They are looking for someone to fall in love with, marry, and love. But there is confusion in our American-Jewish culture as to which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Love or marriage? Perhaps some Biblical history will illuminate the sources of this confusion.

The Torah tells us we had three forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The history of their marriages is instructive. We know that Abraham considered his wife, Sarah, beautiful, and told her so, but we don’t know how they met or married.

We know that Isaac’s marriage was arranged. His father’s trusted servant took 10 camels loaded with much wealth, went to Abraham’s kin, sought out a kindly woman, and brought home Rebecca for Isaac. The Torah says that “Isaac took her, she was a wife to him, and he loved her.” First came marriage, then came love.

The story of Jacob is different. He met his wife at a public well when she came there to water her father’s flocks. It was love at first sight. And after telling her of his long journey and the fact that he was a kinsman, he kissed her right there on the spot. He then worked out a deal with Rachel’s father, laboring for seven long hard years in the blazing sun by day, and the cold, freezing desert at night tending the flocks. And we learn that “the seven years were but as a few days because of his love for her.” Here was a story of a story of romantic love! Clearly, first came love, then came marriage.

What a confusing heritage from our own Jewish ancestry! Why blame Hollywood when we have two conflicting approaches to the love-marriage axis straight back to within a stone’s throw of Creation itself?

Indeed, in certain parts of the world, e.g., India, the arranged marriage is the accepted norm. However, among the overwhelming majority of Westerners, free choice among the young who seek each other out is the norm. This latter custom is strongly prevalent among American Jews. However, there is a small group of Chassidic Jews among whom marriages are for the most part arranged, with the proviso that the couple meet each other at least once, and sometimes twice for the purpose of approval or veto. Once married there is the freedom to love, indeed a commitment to love. Which way is better?

Do the divorce rate and fewer children of the modern Jewish couple signify lesser love among those who love first and marry later? Do families of six, eight, and sometimes 10 or more children, as well as a scarcity of divorces among Chassidic Jews, signify the superiority of the “marry me now, love me later” point of view?

Clearly many other criteria should be used to determine the relative happiness of a marriage; and very possibly, the two criteria noted here are due to sociological factors not at all related to the main question.

In either case, I don’t know whether love or marriage should come first; nor am I aware of anyone who has investigated this question. I am aware of a study comparing married couples who have lived with each other prior to marriage with couples of similar age who began living together only after marriage. Was there a difference in their respective divorce rates? Yes there was. The couples who had lived together prior to marriage divorced with greater frequency!

Getting back to our problem of arranged marriage vs. love marriage. A very thorough long-range investigation should be made. The ever-increasing divorce rate among Jewish couples demands that we stop ignoring this problem. Is the old fashioned way inferior to the modern method? Should such an important societal event as marriage be entrusted to individuals who are relatively inexperienced at making such a complex lifelong choice? Should love precede marriage, or vice versa? It the latter, how is the marriage to be arranged?

It is doubtful whether this question could ever be answered definitively for any specific individual. However, a carefully structured investigation with sophisticated statistical control of the appropriate variables would probably shed some helpful light onto the problem. In a properly conducted investigation, both groups should be matched. They should be similar on all appropriate variables: age, education, mental and physical health, looks, economic status, philosophy of life, religious beliefs and behavior, childhood history, family stability, personal maturity, mutuality of interests and compatibility within each couple, and every other variable that supposedly affects marital happiness. Although it is impossible to predict the findings, isn’t it possible that the rallying cry of the 21st century singles will be: Marry me now, love me later!

Reuben E. Gross, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor. He is a Diplomats in Clinical Psychology A.B.P.P. and a Diplomats in Psychotherapy A.B.P. Dr. Cross has a private practice in Teaneck and in New York City. Letters, comments and questions are invited. email [email protected]. For more articles related to this subject go to Dr. Gross’ website: MarriageCounselorNJ.com.”

By Reuben E. Gross Ph.D.

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