(About a 4 minute read)
A while back a man who did not particularly like me nevertheless took the trouble to describe to me how his religious community picked partners for marriage.
Once each year, the eligible men and women would gather in a hall and then get to know each other by sitting down with one after another of the other sex for 30 minutes apiece. No more than that.
During those 30 minutes, they would quickly inform each other what their goals were. Say, to become a doctor and marry someone willing to have seven children. And of course, their values, too: “Religion is very important to me, how about you?”
What else they discussed, I don’t recall now, but it was fascinating to me. Like everyone, I had heard of marriages where the bride and groom are not introduced to each other until the day they wed, but I’d not heard before of arranging marriages in just 30 minutes. Nor had the thought occurred to me any such thing could work.
However, my acquaintance assured me that his community was “family oriented” because — unlike mainstream culture — it neither allowed nor practiced either birth control nor divorce. I wasn’t surprised by that. After hearing the basic fact that the couples made their decisions based on 30 minutes of knowing each other, I had quickly guessed there had to be strong social sanctions in place to hold them together.
I mean, can you imagine the divorce rate that would come from that practice if divorce were allowed? In my experience, there is no loneliness in life greater or more intense than sharing a space with someone who does not much care for you. I would nowadays flee from such a situation almost faster than I’d leave a building on fire. But as he saw it, the marriages “worked” because the children were almost guaranteed to be raised in stable families.
Our conversation had begun as a mistake. He was the friend of a friend, that friend was present, and so were a handful of other people. Someone had mentioned per-marital sex, and I had thoughtlessly responded that I believed couples who wanted to make sure they were sexually compatible should practice it before marriage unless they had strong objections to it.
That prompted him to declare there was no need whatsoever to check for compatibility because men and women were designed to be compatible, you were by nature compatible with anyone. After all, wasn’t it obvious that penises fit vaginas?
Which seemed a silly argument to me because by then in my life I had had one or two discoveries that I and someone I cared about were nevertheless incompatible in bed.
But I didn’t tell him how silly I thought his argument. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t give him any greater reason to take a dislike to me than the opinions I did express — and those, I certainly didn’t not express forcefully, but merely factually. Even then, I thought I had made it clear to everyone that I didn’t think it was my place to tell couples what they ought or ought not do, just what I myself believed.
So it seemed strange to me he took such an immediate and pronounced dislike. Of course, I knew full well people were capable of such things, but this man had not struck me as having any such prejudices. Indeed, at first, I had mistaken him for someone who basically believed in, “you do your thing, I’ll do mine, and we’ll keep out of each other’s business.”
All of which raises a question: When someone takes offense despite that you’ve given them only slight grounds to take offense, do you in some way fight back, or do you in some way withdraw?
That day, I felt no reason nor desire to retaliate, but rather I was merely repulsed, as if I’d come across something a bit gross and wanted to step around it, and I went home soon afterwards. Yet, I do recall a sickening feeling that I had witnessed a needless tragedy without having a chance of preventing it or making it better.
I think, however, that I would have responded much differently under different circumstances. Suppose, for example, I’d been married, my wife was present (or not), and he’d pointedly insulted her. Hard for me to say where I might have stopped short of in those circumstances.
I know how we can’t always tell what we ourselves would do in any given set of circumstances until we actually get into such a situation. I learned that when I was fighting fires — you can’t imagine what you would really do until you’ve done it. I’ve seen some pretty ordinary guys improbably rise to heroic acts.
But your turn now: Has anyone ever taken a sharp dislike to you for little or no apparent reason? If so, what did you do?