September 7, 2000
My friend Lauren got married at 24. For two years, she lived in peace. After all, she had conducted her life according to the Proper Schedule and deserved to be left alone by concerned family and peers. When she got together with her single girlfriends, she could only sympathize with their plights. It's not fair that people respect the right to a private life only upon the exchange of nuptials, she agreed, and remained silently thankful that people did not whisper about her potential future as an old maid.
If only Lauren knew that two years after her wedding, the whispers would focus on her. If only she knew that married people who declined to procreate according to the Proper Schedule became consigned to the same fate as her unmarried girlfriends. Today, Lauren knows these things and wonders whether life would have been simpler had she remained single.
Lauren is now 32. She and her husband have a cat but no children. One day, they would like to read bedtime stories to their little ones. Today, they would like to travel the world and pursue other dreams before it's too late.
Only recently, Lauren and her husband have articulated to family and other pertinent parties that their way of life represents a conscious choice grounded in hours of rigorous and often painful thought and discussion. Before this articulation, they endured comments such as "Hey, are you guys practicing?" or "You can't wait forever!" Throughout her marriage, Lauren has attended weddings of other friends and witnessed the births of their children. She wonders, do they gaze quizzically upon her flat stomach and think, it should be by you next?
These days, Lauren and I listen to each other with empathy. "You mean you get that too?" I'll ask her incredulously as I fume over comments regarding why I have not married my boyfriend of seven months. "It never ends," she said about the unsolicited advice of well-intentioned people who view our personal lives as half-baked. "You'd think when I got married that people would have been satisfied and left me alone."
Thanks to my friendship with Lauren, I am no longer under the impression that the Jewish community views married life as off-limits from public scrutiny. I used to believe that wedded people enjoyed an existence unmarred by knowing glances, unwanted comments and unfounded rumors to explain why they have not adhered to leading lives the way they should be lived. I have learned that there is indeed a Proper Schedule that extends far beyond making an appearance under the chuppah, and those who do not follow it must suffer the consequences if they wish to remain members of the Jewish community.
While Lauren and I both grew up in Modern Orthodox Jewish families, I checked the following schedule with friends from different backgrounds who have confirmed its accuracy. It begins with marriage, which should occur sometime between the early and mid-20s. The first child should be present after two years and the second child should follow approximately two years later. If that second child does not appear eventually, eyebrows shall be raised, and comments about lonely only children turning into dysfunctional adults will soon follow.
The schedule views three or more children as optional but certainly worthy of bonus points and special rewards. Essentially, once the married couple produces two grandchildren for their parents, the Jewish community can breathe a sigh of relief and cast its searchlight upon other foundering individuals in need of assistance.
Granted, this schedule works perfectly for a substantial number of people. In fact, I know of individuals who view the outside pressure from family and community as a welcome catalyst for positive transformations that took place in their lives. But for Lauren and me, the pressure only threatens to sabotage the lives that we have been working hard to construct based on years of soul searching. Applying this pressure on people who intend to live by decisions of their own making can damage relationships between loved ones who don't know alternative ways of expressing themselves.
It's downright irresponsible for people to claim to know what lies within our souls and therefore feel qualified to point us in the proper direction. Tick-tock, tick-tock. These people will gladly imitate the sound of our respective biological clocks. They might even allude to the possibility that we act most selfishly. Think of our poor parents who must endure comments about the whereabouts of their grandchildren. Think of the community that loses Jewish children daily to intermarriage and the personal growth movement. Think of yourself not as a self-contained entity but a link in an ancient and covenantal chain.
Ultimately, these people do not have to lead our lives. After pointing us in the proper direction, they can go home and forget about us until the next deadline on the schedule.
Ultimately, why Lauren has a husband but no children and why my boyfriend has not become my husband remains for us alone to answer.