Am I with the right person?

Illustration: Dustin Klare

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In Yiddish, there's a word for it: bashert. The meaning is something like "intended": the person who was meant for you. We're not talking about a soul mate, though modern usage often spins it that way; the original meaning is more complicated. Your basherter won't always make you happy, and your life together won't always be easy. But there's a sense of rightness, of having landed where you're supposed to be.

For most of us, though, that certainty is hard to come by. Life is messy and multivalent. Circumstances conspire to challenge our core relationships. Yet for that we can be grateful: Sometimes a challenge can make it clear to us that we're meant to leave a partnership. Other times our problems bring us closer.

How, then, do we know? What makes us certain? For my sister, the clue was a sense of quiet. She used to spend hours talking to her friends about guys—analyzing, deciphering, strategizing—but when she started seeing the man who became her husband, all of that stopped. She felt calm and confident enough just to let things play out. Similarly, a married friend says his dating years always felt like a struggle; that his instincts often turned out to be wrong. But with the woman he ended up marrying, he suddenly knew all the right things to say. His marriage involves work, of course, but now the work feels like swimming with the current instead of struggling upstream.

That friend also says you can tell a lot from the most ordinary moments: On an unexceptional night, when you've ordered pizza and you're watching movies, when you're wearing moth-holed sweaters and each other's socks and you both have miserable colds, are you happy? Are you exactly where you want to be?

Another friend—one who told me, in an awed tone, three weeks after she met her future husband, "I'm going to marry that man"—says it's all about how you fight. In the midst of your worst arguments, the ones where you threaten and accuse and generalize and ungenerously compare, bringing up events buried years ago and slitting your eyes in disgust—at those moments, can you step back and perceive your ridiculousness? Can you remember why you like each other, even when you disagree? That principle inspired the best wedding present my husband and I received: a set of Groucho Marx glasses/noses/moustaches to be donned in moments of marital discord.

It's been 20 years since I met my husband and 14 since we were married. In that time we've navigated uneven success, unforeseen disappointments, moments of shameful pride. We've lost a mother and a father between us; we've lived in six cities, worked countless jobs, survived autoimmune disease and smoking cessation. We've lost six pregnancies and given birth to a son. And in times of both euphoria and despair, there's no one I would rather have at my side than my husband. Not only because he knows how to celebrate and to comfort, but also because, without him, no joy or sorrow would have meaning.

In our marriage, we feel the sense of calm my sister describes; we feel, too, the relief of swimming with the current, the joys of small things. We watch movies in holey sweaters and old socks, and when we fight, we don our Groucho glasses and get through it. But it's that last something—that sense of deep partnership in the best and worst times—that makes me know I'm with the right person; that makes me sure this marriage is, in every sense of the word, bashert.
Julie Orringer, author, most recently, of the novel The Invisible Bridge (Knopf).