At age 21, I spent my junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, where, despite the many classes I skipped, I learned French in the bed of a long-haired French musician and occasional math tutor named Eric (pronounced Erique). One day, two weeks after we’d started dating, Eric stopped me at the front garden path of my host family’s house.
“Je t’aime,” he said, looking directly into my eyes.
“But you don’t even know me!” I said, mortified by the thought of what caricatures of our cultures we seemed at that moment.
“I do. I know you,” he insisted, and kissed me softly on the mouth.
For years, when I was relaxed and my senses were open, I’d recall his exact smell at that moment, an impossible combination of peaches, oceans, and babies.
I’d always been skeptical of intimate relationships. From what I could see growing up, marriage seemed like a confusing, if not dismal, arrangement. My parents’ marriage, after all, had been more or less arranged. When my mother, a Syrian Jew, was 16 years old, she returned from school one day to find her father and two men from New Orleans sitting in her Brooklyn living room sipping Turkish coffee. She was of age, and so were the two suitors, both Syrian Jews, who were 11 and 12 years her senior. That night, she wrote in her diary that she’d marry the elder one, the doctor. Soon, she had the braces she wore on her teeth removed for the wedding.
My parents were taught to value perseverance over…