Tu B'Av: The Morning After
I have always loved Tu B’Av, a holiday that honors the ancient tradition in which maidens, dressed in white, gather and dance in the fields and vineyards, intent on meeting their beshert, their soul mate. Per tradition, the unmarried men of the village came out in droves and watched the women dance. There is a discrepancy regarding who “chose” whom during those ancient times. Perhaps it was mutual: eyes and hearts locking in, the couple leaving together to embark on their life of male-female partnership.
These days, many treat Tu B'Av as a kind of Jewish Valentines Day—hosting temple mixers, outdoor parties, blind dates, and dinners. There are some who take issue with the holiday, focusing on the rigid gender roles and rituals. I choose to focus on its romantic beauty and the much needed hope the holiday offers us only six days after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish year.
This past weekend, I attended an epic, women’s blogger conference in NYC. 4,000 women took over three floors of the Hilton Hotel. Over a thousand poured into the grand ballroom to participate in a professional form of “speed dating.” Picture two circles, an inner one and an outer one. With business cards in hand, amidst the din, we talked to, or rather yelled at, perfect strangers for two minutes. When the two minutes were up, the inner circle moved over one slot and there was your new “date.” This ritual—where thousands of women gathered in a hotel ballroom to “date”—occurred on Friday, the start of this year’s Tu B’Av. Though I didn’t find the romantic beauty I usually associate with the day, it kicked up something altogether different: wistfulness.
And I began to wonder...
How do you say goodbye to your maidenhood and prepare yourself for motherhood? Will you ever see your dancing sisters again? And if you do, can it ever be the same; can it ever be that moment when you were together, holding hands, gazing into your sister’s face, lit with unbridled joy and the glow of the full moon?
Two other aspects I’d like to fold into this post:
#1) On Saturday night, as Tu B’Av was coming to a close, I had an intense conversation with an older woman and long-time blogger in her late 50s. She reached out to me during one of the smaller seminars, and we forged a deep and fast connection. I was caught off guard though when I learned that she believed feminism and family were at odds. I became further discombobulated when she cautioned me against moving in with my boyfriend (“Don’t give the milk away for free”), partnering with a fellow artist (“You need security and stability”), and after reminding me that at 28, I was no spring chicken, told me to read a book written by her friend, How To Get A Man To Marry You Or Know When He Never Will. Full disclosure: although I am a “Jewess with attitude,” I am also rather impressionable.
#2) Today, August 7, marks a year and half since my boyfriend and I became a couple. It also marks the seven-week anniversary of our moving in together.
In the short time we’ve been living together, we’ve discussed and negotiated about money, domestic work and responsibility, the need for solo time, the need to make time for each other-- the most challenging issue. We have both noticed that our relationship, no longer shiny and new, has recently shifted from “the honeymoon stage” to … something else, something unnamable that we're navigating together.
I don’t know if I want to have children. I don’t know if I want to get married. There are times I question whether I want to be in a relationship; recently I questioned whether I should even be living here: after seven weeks, the fact that I still haven’t unpacked may be proof.
On the bus ride home from NYC, I thought of the ancient times when the women would gather in the fields, then part, drifting away like white ghosts on the arm of their “betrothed.”
I thought of Gloria Steinem and her famous statement, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” who then enjoyed a beautiful marriage later in life.
I thought of my older, blogger friend who married for the first time at 40, and now in her late 50s, has an 18-year-old son. I thought of conference keynote speakers Martha Stewart and Katie Couric and their respective empires and families. I thought of Anne-Marie Slaughter who, reviving the decades- old debate of whether women could “have it all,” asserts that feminists in efforts to “airbrush reality” have “sold young women a fiction." I thought of the many, many blogger moms I met at the conference. There are so many blogger moms.
I thought of Betty Friedan who in her later years predicted that a new “feminine mystique” would take hold, driving women out of the home, renouncing the family, and demonizing women who hoped to balance powerful, public lives with motherhood. (Think Marissa Mayer).
When I was younger, I often wished I could build a life with my best women friends, and we could grow old together, under one roof.
Sigh. I miss the maidens. I miss their dancing. I miss the Tu B’Av ease and simplicity. Why does the work life balance have to be so complicated?