“Finding Mr. Right”
To marry off Abigail was never a cinch.
My undergraduate years passed in a women’s college to which I commuted from a home that interested me more than my professors did, much less the callow young male peers at the men’s college across the street.
In my twenties, my Fulbright year in Paris brought with it a first love from whom I was ultimately separated by deep differences in our values, but whose lingering intensities distanced me in turn from new suitors.
And so into my thirties, where feminism intersected with my still-young life and changed the balance of forces for single women. All that made for what the Chinese call an “interesting life,” but did not get me married off.
At some point in the middle of those years, I decided that the matter could only be resolved supernaturally, so I put a note in The Western Wall (the Herodian retaining wall which is all the Romans left of the Second Temple in Jerusalem), telling God that I would like to “meet and marry the right man for me.”
This petition was affirmatively answered, with the qualifier that he would turn out “the right man” for me then. When we met, I’d been in a fight for my job that extended over seven years, with the professional demoralization of it lingering even after my reinstatement with tenure. But in Australia, to which my philosopher husband was unexpectedly posted after we’d become an item, I could get fresh reactions to papers I read to audiences uncontaminated by awareness of this trying history. Also, though I worked in a different sector of philosophy from my husband’s, our bond, and his brilliant colleagues in Sydney, motivated me to learn much more about his important side of the field. I remain grateful for these influences, which allowed me to extend my intellectual range and personal friendships. Last but far from least, Australia was too far for frequent, long-distance telephone calls from New York. It put me beyond the reach of a menacing relative.
Though our union did not survive personal incompatibilities (God, in my experience, makes divorces too!), Who Else could have designed a match more fitted to my real needs of that time?
Some years later, back at The Western Wall, I again put a note into one of its hallowed crevices. The heck with marriage this time! Could I just be put in touch with my soul mate? After an interval, through a route too circuitous to trace here, I rediscovered my first love and found – what? The love unchanged but the deep incompatibilities about values even less curable than they had been so many years before.
By this time, I felt like the character in the fairy tale who’s been given three wishes and whose last wish has to be, “Please undo the first two wishes!” It was time to stop putting notes in The Wall and to drop the subject.
At present, against all the probabilities, I am as a matter of fact married to Mr. Right. How did that come about? At the time we met, I had dropped the whole romantic subject and even dropped what was left of my personal life (visits to museums and tea with friends). Time not taken by teaching was given over to a fight to prevent the downgrading of our nationally-honored curriculum. The details may be found in the cover story (with photo) of the October 17, 1997 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Anyway, in the course of that fight, alongside a few other selfless and intrepid faculty members, I placed a long-distance call to the president of an organization I’d been told about, which was devoted to excellence in higher education. Over the phone, he and I plotted strategy — and only strategy — for many months. Till we won, I was too distracted by the combat to notice that we’d been falling in love.
What’s the moral of the story? Nothing is certain but, if you follow the grain of your life and go where it leads, you raise the likelihood of finding the companions that belong on the journey you have made your own.
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At first look I thought, jokingly, “Why didn’t Abigail L Rosenthal commission you, Jess Cortes, to write this piece?” After reading her post it’s clear that an attempted witty remark would be nothing short of juvenile….not that Jess wouldn’t be able to give her bit of “non-advice.” Great article Abigail. I’m happy for the both of you and I completely agree that one must stay true to their course, reevaluate as we dusts ourselves off and true love will find its way into our lives.
Thanks very much Jeff. These are fun and supportive words. Of course, I left out suffering — the valleys connecting the peaks. That was not our topic. (For more on the valleys, see “Success.”)