An Ultra-Orthodox Jew on Being Adrift, Searching for a Navigator

Writing in The New York Times, Leah Vincent reflects on her upbringing as one of eleven children in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and finding romance on the Q train:

I had been raised in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. As a girl, my life had revolved around modesty, obedience and dreams of an arranged marriage at 18, followed by a dozen children. Popular movies were irrelevant and forbidden.

But it had been six years since my parents ostracized me for having written letters to a boy, wanting to go to college, complaining when my father, a prominent rabbi, used a slur to describe an African-American person, and wearing an immodest sweater that highlighted my curves. Six years of wrestling with my forbidden desires.

I had finally given up on God and decided I would allow myself to be liberated from the confines of my faith. Now I was catching up on what I had missed.

I loved this paragraph:

Luke was different from those random flings. We talked like old friends about books, Brooklyn, our lives. The next morning, when we hugged goodbye, it felt as if we had already shed a layer of defenses that usually took months to peel away. Our connection seemed deep and profound. On my way home, I let myself imagine what it might be like to wake up every morning with him. I tried on his last name. I wondered what kind of father he might be.

There’s a twist in the story that I wasn’t expecting, but I liked the optimism of her final sentence.

If you enjoyed the piece, you might want to purchase Vincent’s upcoming book: Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood.

On Hard-Won Lessons in Your Single, Solitary Years

Happy New Year!

I’ve cast this blog aside for the first few days of the year, spending some vacation time in Florida and working on building new relationship(s). To that end, a lot of what I have been reading online almost seems to come my way as something that I was meant to read, confirming my beliefs/values. Perhaps the best example is this Modern Love story in The New York Times, on what being single for many years teaches you:

Being a single person searching for love teaches you that not everything is under your control. You can’t control whether the person you’ve fallen for will call. You can’t force yourself to have feelings for the nice guy your best friend fixed you up with. You have no way to know whether attending this or that event — a co-worker’s art opening, a neighbor’s housewarming — will lead to the chance encounter that will forever alter your life. You simply learn to do your best, and leave it at that.

Ringing endorsement here:

Relationships are work, but so is being single, and I became pretty good at it.

The perspective in the story comes from someone older than me, but I sympathize with this:

Most important, I’ve realized I never needed a long boyfriend résumé for the experience. In the 20 years before I met Mark, I learned a lot of hard lessons: how to be a self-respecting adult in a world that often treats single people like feckless teenagers; how to stand at cocktail parties while my friends’ in-laws asked me if I had a boyfriend; how to have warm, friendly dinners with strangers I had met online as we delicately tried to determine whether we could possibly share our lives together; and how to come home to an empty apartment after a rotten day at work.

A wonderful way to start 2014.

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(hat tip: @jennydeluxe)

A Desert, a Smiling Dog, and a Revelation

A hasty engagement and subsequent marriage turned into anguish for Liesl Schillinger, who realized she was incompatible with her husband. So she goes off to the desert in New Mexico and has a revelatory experience:

I continue amending my idea of fulfillment as I go. I have no regrets except for one: I am not allowed to own a dog in my apartment building. I travel too much to have a dog, anyway. Out of curiosity, though, I sent the photo of the big white dog to a breeder, who told me what kind it was: a Samoyed.

The breed, also known as “the smiling dog,” is famous for its friendly temperament. The dog I met in Taos would have shared its good mood with any creature it happened to encounter on its run. I’m so glad I was that creature.

I wish I still had the picture, but I will never lose the impression bestowed upon me by that generous, exultant animal on that long-ago day, when I most needed to be reminded that happiness is not an intellectual choice, it’s an instinct, and a good in itself.

A beautiful conclusion in this Modern Love story.

On Tortoises and Uncommon Love

Caroline Leavitt writes a beautiful Modern Love story about a beloved pet tortoise named Minnie, and how Caroline’s relationships were cemented in her adult life through Minnie. It is a story of finding happiness through uncommon love:

Because Minnie was so important to me, I began to measure my dates by how they treated him. If dates gave Minnie the stink eye, that was that. If they expressed interest or wanted to hold him, it made me warm to them. But sooner or later a date would ask, “Do we have to eat with the tortoise on the table?” or “This is a pet?” and my heart would shutter.

When I met Jeff, a smart, funny journalist who took me to a toy store for our first date, I was anxious about how much I liked him. I invited him to dinner, which I admit was more a dare than a meal. Minnie was on the table in a glass tank with us.

We were having spaghetti. Minnie was having live worms.

Jeff cautiously sat down. He looked from me to the tortoise tank and didn’t say a word. When Minnie lunged for a worm, Jeff flinched. But he didn’t get up and leave, and at the end of the evening, he asked for another date. He didn’t object weeks later when I told him I wanted us to take Minnie to Central Park, and he came with a picnic basket and a little wrapped gift. I opened it and inside was a little red rubber squid toy.

Read it for the ending. So touching.