Divorced From My Husband, and My Faith by Tova Mirvis – Also: Why It May Be Wiser For Women to Enter First Marriage At Age 40+
This lady is Jewish. I found myself relating to it. Some of the things she says, I think, are true of most American women, while others are true of Christian women too.
Several of her comments about how marriage and women are viewed in Judaism (or her particular branch of Judaism) sound very similar to the experiences of women in American evangelicalism, Reformed Christianity, fundamentalism, and Baptists.
I have a few observations to make about this excerpt farther below.
- …It felt impossible that any of them could understand why, a month shy of my 40th birthday, after almost 17 years of marriage and three children, I had upended the foundations of my life. I was barely able to believe it myself.
….I had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, had lived my life as an Orthodox Jew.
…It was best not to speak of such things. Amid the vast number of religious rules, there were other ones, enforced not by God but by the community. I learned to swallow dissent. To observe the rules was to be good, and to be good was to be loved. It was what let you stay inside a community, surrounded by family so that, if the world’s spinning were halted for one moment, and a finger placed on one small spot, you could say: I belong here.
I stayed inside. I followed the rules. I got engaged at the age of 22, after a blind date and a dozen weeks of dating. I was a senior in college, he in law school. We were of the same world, and fell quickly, easily in love. Nowhere was there room to say, I don’t yet know myself, let alone you.
… But there was no guarantee, as life moved forward, that we would remain the same as we were then.
Years later, the people who had shouted “mazel tov” at our wedding asked “What happened?” They wanted to hear the black and white explanation, not about the myriad shades of experience that move people apart. To get divorced was to shatter the wishful belief that to be Orthodox was to shield yourself from the discontent and disappointment that invaded marriages in the outside world.
But it was hard, impossible really, to explain what went wrong, how in my marriage I eventually felt like the street performers I’d once seen, who fold themselves inside impossibly small boxes, contorting arms over legs, so that a body occupies such little space.
As I stood before the rabbis, the divorce document was deemed correct, and read aloud, in Aramaic, dated the year 5772 from the creation of the world, in the city of Boston, by the Ocean Atlantic. I, Tova Aliza, the daughter of Dovid Moshe, was released from the house of my husband, to have authority over myself.
At the sound of the door closing behind me, the divorce took effect. So did something new inside me. One separation made way for another. The divorce, I realized, was from more than my husband — it was also a break with a way of life with which I had long wrestled, in which I did not sufficiently believe.
When I was summoned back inside, I was apprised of my new status in Jewish law as a divorcée. I was told I couldn’t be alone in a room with my former husband. I couldn’t drive alone in a car with him between cities or live in the same apartment building. I couldn’t remarry for 90 days. I couldn’t marry a man of the ancient priestly caste.
I listened politely, but looked at the rabbis differently now, not as men who stood in authority over me, but as people I once knew. I had no illusions about the path before me:
I was leaving a world in which so much is predetermined, leaving a marriage that I entered into when I was newly an adult.
I was like an astronaut severed from his ship, floating in space. And yet, after years of wrestling, doubting, justifying and chafing, I was ready to discover for myself a life in which I could fully believe.
You’ll notice the woman who wrote this addresses a few things I’ve mentioned before in older blog posts.
One reason of several I don’t think people should marry prior to reaching age 25 is that people – women in particular – have no idea who they are.
This is especially true for women raised in certain faith traditions, which teach codependency as being “biblical gender roles,” which includes, in part, teaching females that they are “number two” in a marriage, the husband has final decision-making ability and veto power, women should go through life in a passive mindset, never taking charge of their own life, never getting their own needs met, putting other people’s needs first, they are to act as a “help meet” to the spouse (as interpreted by many conservative Christians as the wife helping her husband achieve HIS dreams, HIS goals, etc).
All of that is sure as hell true of Reformed, Baptist, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians, and based on this woman’s story, it sounds like it is true of Orthodox Judaism as well.
If you are a woman who is raised that way, sooner or later – probably by age 40 (for some women, it might be age 30, or later, by 50), you realize what an absolute bunch of bullshit all this is, you realize you have no damn clue WHO YOU ARE because you were never told, never permitted, to figure out who YOU are and what YOU want to do with YOUR life.
You were raised by your religious leaders and conservative parents to go through life always deferring to men (even ones not your father or spouse). You were so busy looking outside yourself to cater to other people’s needs, you never had time to figure out who YOU are.
By the time you start to figure out who you are, you may alter or reject some of the former things you were taught to believe in, including certain religious beliefs and views about men, dating, marriage.
I am sure as hell not the same person now (I am in my early 40s) that I was in my 20s or even mid 30s.
I think the 40th birthday is a big one for a lot of women who were raised, brainwashed, into thinking that appropriate female behavior is to be codependent.
You spent your entire childhood, teens, and 20s, and your 30s, bending yourself into a pretzel to please everyone around you but YOU. It starts to dawn on you by the age of 40, or maybe before, that being really nice and giving to other people all the time has done nothing FOR YOU.
Back in my doormat days, I had so many people take advantage of my giving nature. Others were not appreciative of my kindness.
You come to realize that being so super nice has no pay off or benefit FOR YOU, and has even caused you some loss or harm in your life – all the corner offices or promotions and raises you lost at work because you felt it would be too “selfish” to march into your boss’s office and ask for more.
You start to think of all the ex boyfriends who took sexual or financial advantage of you because you felt saying “No” to their requests was being mean, unChrist-like, or selfish.
I actually think most women should wait until age 40 to marry. That will sound insane to a lot of people, especially the child obsessed wackos who think women should pop out three to ten children by the time they are 25 – 35, but women have no freaking clue who they are at those ages, not if they were brought up to be forever compliant, smiling, sweet things.
What happens if you marry at 21 is that you end up divorcing the guy by the time you are 35 or 40 because you are not the same person anymore, and you have different goals and dreams for yourself.
I also note that this woman says her faith tradition said once she is divorced, she cannot be alone with the ex in a car or room? I’m not quite sure what the rationale is for that, but God knows your conservative Christians teach the same thing about unmarried (even NEVER MARRIED) Christian women: Christians teach single and married men that unmarried women are sexual sex pots who are temptations to be avoided, so do NOT be left alone with one in a car or room. This is such a sexist, insulting view. I’ve blogged on it numerous times before.
I also noticed the part where she wrote that some Orthodox Jews believe their religion is a guarantee that marriages won’t dissolve.
Evangelical Christians, and other types of Christians, are just as bad in this area – they think if a man and a woman believe in Jesus and/or attend church together, pray, and engage in other religious acts together, that is is enough to make their marriage immune from deterioration.
Which is not true, of course. I recently blogged an interview with a marriage counselor who said one reason atheists who have marriages in peril do better than Christian couples he counsels is that the atheists couples don’t believe in a deity who is going to help their marriage. They realize if their marriage is going to survive, they themselves have to do the hard work.
Conversely, he said, the married Christians he counsels are on auto pilot and are naive: they think the mere fact they both believe in Jesus and go to church is enough to magically fix their marriage.
I find it sad how things like gender complementarianism / biblical womanhood teachings drive even life long Christians away from the faith – such as me. I see hints of that in this woman’s story – the Jewish Orthodox seem to have similar views towards women and wives that Baptists do.
I mean, you have these conservative Christians who are in such a panic or moral outrage over homosexual marriage and secular feminism, so they erect and lay down harsh rules that tighten the screws down on women; they eliminate women from positions of influence and power, and will not allow women to use their skills, talents.
Christians who promote gender complementarianism make women second class citizens. They can spout off about ‘equal in being not in roles’ all they like, but the end result is that women are made to be “lesser” in their theology, in their churches, and in their marriages.
I have no interest in staying in a faith that acts as though I’m lesser than a man, and I’m a nobody if I’m not having sex, married, and making babies, being told that I don’t have a full identify of my own, that I totally lack any identity at all, unless I’m acting as slave for, an on-demand sex toy (see Link), and maid (“help meet”) to a husband.
Christians out of one side of their mouth will tell women to get their identity from Jesus Christ but then teach (strongly imply) from the other side of their mouth that you, a woman, are to get your identity from your spouse or from being a mother. So if you are single or childless, you lack purpose or identity (and see this link for one example).
I found this story by this Jewish lady who divorced her spouse very interesting because it parallels with what a lot of Christian women have gone through.