This is such a great article for all the ladies we are indeed more similar than we are different!! -- j
After a month in San Francisco, Townies returns to New York City.
Townies is a series about life in New York, and occasionally other cities.
MARRIAGE, NEW YORK CITY
I admit that I often eavesdrop in crowded coffee shops. If my school paper is still a collection of half-disjointed claims, if I’ve got a barrage of e-mails screaming to be answered, if my date is boring me with stories about his mother’s cooking — the conversation at the next table often provides welcome relief.
But one afternoon a few weeks ago, at a Starbucks on the Upper East Side, I told myself I had to focus. I had chosen to write my British literature term paper on the notion of marriage in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” despite the Orthodox Jewish Girl stereotypes that decision sent buzzing in my head. (You religious girls in your 20s. One-track minds, the lot of you.) I set my iced coffee down and turn to Woolf.
“There’s nothing in the world so bad for some women as marriage,” Peter Walsh thinks to himself, watching a poised Mrs. Dalloway mend a party dress. Yet before I can even jot down the page number, the next table’s conversation drifts over:
“The point is, she’s married now. I don’t talk to her. ’Cause she’s married now, you know?”
I sigh and think, all women are the same. This envy, so thinly disguised — just like the conversations I have with my own girlfriends, all of us rushing to add the obligatory “but I’m so happy for her.”
“Yeah, no one talks to married friends. They fall off the face of the earth.” I smile: It’s the perpetual complaint of the single girl — until she herself is no longer single, and becomes busy with wedding registries and guest lists and then a kitchen and then diapers.
“I barely spoke to her at the bridal shower, there were so many girls there … And even at the wedding, she was on the men’s side the whole time!”
On the men’s side. Of course. Fellow Orthodox Jews. Probably from Flatbush, judging from the accents. I bet that if I look up from my book, I’ll take one glance at their outfits and be able to guess which high school and seminary they each went to. I suppress the urge.
“Sometimes I wonder, how it is that those girls get married, and we don’t?”
I can already chart out the rest of the conversation — the young women recounting to each other their wonderful qualities: good daughters, bright students, community activists, not bad-looking domestic creatures with a flair for business and a willingness to support a scholarly husband. They just haven’t found the right one yet.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m not religious enough. You know, my brother was just set up with this great girl, and he called it off. He said she’s not religious enough for him. He wears a beard now, you know.”
I knew boys like this. Perhaps he had felt that the girl wasn’t fit to marry a scholar from a family as illustrious as his. Perhaps he had discovered her Facebook profile, found her tagged in pictures with unrelated young men. Perhaps he heard that she listens to secular music, that she likes to go to the movies in Sheepshead Bay. Or perhaps he was just scared of something restless in her eyes, worried she’d be too complicated a wife, too outspoken at times and at other times too mysterious.
When I finally look up, expecting to see mirror images of myself in pleated skirts and cardigans, I am speechless. The two young women sitting next to me are in hijabs and colorful long robes, with only their faces exposed. They’re leaning toward each other, iced lattes by their wrists. One wears Marc Jacobs glasses, the other bright lipstick. And it feels like hearing my native language in a foreign country.
There we are. Me, in a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse, knee-length pencil skirt, in the midst of a heat wave. And these girls, also covered in the name of God or something, while the city’s bright-eyed interns run about with bare shoulders and flip-flops.
It is easy to imagine them reciting silent prayers on the subway, like me, barely moving their lips so the other passengers don’t notice. I wonder if they also profess to be career-oriented and yet sometimes wish to be home, pouring tea, singing softly in a child’s bedroom. If at moments they, too, feel that their bodies are political battlefields, no longer their own, and then, at other times, love the rush of fabric, the swish of long skirts, the mystery of secret skin. I wonder if they check the engagement announcements online and go on dates with the same excitement and weariness, and avert their eyes because that’s how they were taught, or because it’s the modest thing to do, or because they’re afraid of the power of one penetrating look. And marriage, that girlhood dream, yet also sometimes — how does Virginia Woolf put it? — “They spoke of marriage always as a catastrophe.”
I glance at the clock. I have about 20 minutes to find a quiet place to recite mincha, the afternoon prayer. Something in me wishes to turn to the next table, and invite my neighbors to join me.