I had always heard that dating a Jewish man didn’t necessarily make for the most romantic of experiences. But you would be taken care of in a way that women don’t get to be anymore. Maybe that sounds archaic. I guess I was raised in perhaps a more traditional way than I realized until moving to the big city, which is where I met Joel Hirsch. Apparently, Joel is supposed to mean “God is willing.” Turned out, I was. The first willing shiksa, that is. Of course, like all Jewish men, he had a fetish for making women his goy toy. I met him, sensibly, while I was temping at an office near the Diamond District. Performing my tedious data entry tasks, I relished the opportunity to walk to Bryant Park and savor any amount of nature I could before returning to the sterile walls of the office building. I was still young in those days, but I didn’t quite know what to wield my attractiveness for—too naive and self-effacing then to know that, in New York, you have to capitalize on what you have when you have it. Maybe if I had known what I know now, I wouldn’t have settled for Joel simply because he paid me some attention. But he did. And though his name didn’t match his age—made him sound much older than his thirty-five years—I overlooked it. Usually, I’m very particular about names. I’ve always been sensitive to the sounds of words. Joel Hirsch just didn’t roll off the tongue. Or maybe its sonority was too sexless. Whatever the case, I ignored my intuition after he sat down next to me near the merry-go-round and offered me a napkin the moment he saw me drop a hint of tahini on my black skirt. This is what I get for trying to be adventurous and eating falafel. The skirt, luckily, was only a $15 purchase from the H&M sale rack, so I didn’t feel too aggrieved. Though, reflecting on what I was wearing at the time of meeting Joel, maybe it made sense that he would ultimately see me as cheap at worst and mid-grade at best. But it was too soon for dark thoughts like these to cross my mind. I was still just an ingenue, not even really totally sure what I was doing in the city, let alone what I would do. Honestly, if I had planned to get married so soon I might as well have stayed back in San Diego. It’s an entire industry, the wedding scene there. Here I am, getting ahead of myself again in the story.
Back to the tahini. Once, I had cleaned it off myself using Joel’s “damsel in distress” napkin, I found the time to notice how he was looking at me. Like Marcello Mastroianni does to Sophia Loren in Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. I saw that movie once in college, when I was going to UCLA. An older boyfriend of mine majoring in film took me to see it and it was the first time I could get a sense of what passion was supposed to look like. I put it out of my mind after he broke up with me for an Italian woman. I should have known. I could never be like one of them. My even-keeledness just isn’t exciting enough. This is likely why Jewish men have so frequently orbited around me.
Joel was only an exception to the rule of the lot I attracted because I allowed him to penetrate my highly guarded walls. Even though I told him I had to go that day we met (and it was true, the tahini snafu was going to make me late getting back to the office), he continued to sit next to me every day at Bryant Park until I finally gave him my number. That only took about three weeks. I was lonely and didn’t know anyone else outside of those I encountered at the job and the strangers from Craig’s List I lived with. It was a temporary living situation, like most in this town.
To drive home that point, Joel and I move in together almost immediately, and it’s as lovely and comforting as I imagine it to be. No longer do I have to worry about paying rent or struggling to find even a $16 an hour job from the temp agency. I’m free to simply live at Joel’s apartment with the understanding that I sustain its upkeep and cook him meals with the grocery shopping I do. It happens so naturally that I don’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, it feels like I’ve been rescued, that I’m getting off easy. When I tell my parents I’ve met someone, they sound concerned. They thought I was supposed to be focusing on some sort of career path. That this was the whole purpose of me coming to New York. “You can’t plan for love,” I say, like a hollower version Ali MacGraw. This shuts both of my parents up. Maybe they think I’m making some sort of undercutting reference to my father’s mistress, so they don’t say anything else about it.
Months and months go by, and I’m still mostly happy with Joel, living there in his 38th Street apartment between 10th and 11th. He doesn’t even make me meet his family until our engagement, which I see now was a big deal. He goes to those Friday and Saturday meals with them and leaves me out of it to do my own thing. Occasionally, I’ll sneak over to the 2 Bros. on 9th Avenue. I’m so tired of eating brisket. I just want the taste of something processed and bad for me. Walking out onto the street with my remaining slice of pizza (I bought two), it occurs to me that because of how quickly I’ve jumped into things with Joel, I’ve left no time to meet other people. I’ve socially crippled myself. And all his friends are other Jewish men who just want to talk about jewelry prices. It’s so sad, to have the luster of jewels stripped away from them metaphorically with all that dissection and discourse about the cut, color and clarity—the three Cs. Oy vey.
And when I get back to the apartment to indulge in my remaining hours of not having to do anything for Joel, I remember that our one-year anniversary is coming up. We had specifically marked it down as that June 1st day—memorable for being June 1st—when I spilled the tahini. He said he knew it was foreshadowing for all the semen he was going to be spilling on me. It was gross, sure, but also kind of sweet. In the beginning, we had sex almost twice a day. While he wasn’t exploratory in any way, he made me cum more often than any other boyfriend I’d ever had. Now it dawned on me that I couldn’t even remember if we had been intimate one day or one week ago. That’s how banal things had gotten. The curse of routine, of being taken for granted. I had to do something about it.
So when Joel got home, I mentioned the impending date to him. He nodded sagely. “Yes, I remember. Is there something you want for it?”
I was somewhat taken aback by the impersonalness of the question. A man should innovate the perfect gift to give for every anniversary, just as the woman does. I forgot about Joel’s pragmatic Jewishness for a minute there, and chose to let this utilitarianness slide. In lieu of directness, I attempted the suggestion, “Maybe we ought to do something to reconnect… physically.” Joel looked at me strangely. “You wanna go rock climbing or something?”
I laughed. “No, no. What I mean is, well, maybe I do want something. Maybe some lingerie? To remind you of all the fun we know how to have?”
Joel nodded understandingly. “I see. You’re unhappy in the bedroom.”
I rushed over to him as he opened the refrigerator to take out a leftover piece of meat loaf. “No, I am happy. Ecstatic. I just thought we could, bring some passion back into it.”
“I’m passionless now, eh? They all warned me being with someone ten years younger than me would come with its demands.”
I sighed. “Joel, really. You don’t have to take this as a bad thing. It’s just a way to make you see me again.”
Joel rolled his eyes. “Now I’m blind and passionless. How do you put up with me?” With that, he took his wallet out of his pocket, extracted a specific debit card (you know the Jews don’t operate on credit), and said, “Here, buy yourself some mid-grade lingerie. It can even be Victoria’s Secret if you want.”
That’s when I flashed to the image of myself in that cheap H&M skirt. That’s how he first saw me. And that’s how he would forever see me. I wasn’t a girl worth Agent Provocateur, Kiki de Montparnasse, Carine Gilson. Not a girl who deserved to feel the finest fabrics on my skin before I took them off for him. He wanted me in a polyester thong, a mix-blend peekaboo boyshort. What did that say about me? Maybe you think I’m coming across as ungrateful, making problems where there aren’t any. Yet if you knew what women who are treated well get, you would understand. To add insult to injury, he couldn’t even be bothered to pick it out for me, clinically giving me the money to do it myself. It smacked of something tawdry, and I could feel that it was signaling some new and ugly phase in our timeline.
Despite this, I went to Victoria’s Secret and selected a few “deal” items—two for one bra sets, five panties for $25, that sort of thing. I wanted to make the most out of it. And that night, our anniversary, I made him my own falafel recipe to commemorate the event of our meeting, dressed in nothing but some leopard pattern panties. When he arrived home, however, his reaction wasn’t quite as Mastroianni as I was hoping for, being that he walked in while on the phone making a heated deal with someone in Belgium. He nodded at me as a means of acknowledgement but then retreated into our bedroom for privacy. In true to full-circle fashion, I spilled tahini on the underwear as I finished up preparing the falafel. So much for my attempt at being sexy.
All these years later, I still have that lingerie. It was the only time Joel ever loosened his pursestrings to “get me” a gift. I should have appreciated it then. Just like I should have appreciated my youth and beauty when I had it and could have done something with it. You might be wondering why I married the tightwad if I saw so many warning signs, had so many issues with him. Well, you’ll think it’s pathetic probably, but Joel caught me at the very right moment. I was vulnerable, in need of someone’s admiration. And he gave that to me. I never could forget that, or relinquish the memory of how he initially looked at and treated me. Kind of like how they say you can hold on to all the affection you got as a child and carry it into your adulthood. You’re never more touched than as a baby (and I don’t mean that in the molester way). When you grow up, society weans you off this notion that it’s okay to touch and be touched. So you have to hold on to the sense memory of it sometimes when you’re at a particular deficit. That’s what I do with Joel.