Dating has an arbitrary and often ridiculous protocol of its own. Just trying to understand the protocol can make a person dizzy. I guess that’s a downside to living a life based on halacha—as a nation, we expect everything to be codified and set in stone. So when there are no guidelines, we make up our own, and expect everyone to stick to them like they’re the Law from on high.
A neighbor once dated a girl whose family came from somewhere in Hungary with strict dating customs. So my neighbor goes to pick up his girl, and the parents sit him within eyeshot of a lavish spread and interrogate him, but don’t offer him a morsel, even though he’d driven an hour and a half to get there. One date #2 they offered him a drink. Apparently, that meant they liked him. If they ever offered him a piece of cake, it would mean they were waiting for him to propose. This poor neighbor wanted to break it off, but didn’t know the ceremony. So he just did it his own way and told the shadchan to forget about it. They were glad to see the back of such a rude boy.
One of the rules, at least for native New Yorkers, is that the parents don’t tell the girl what’s happening until it’s practically settled. Out-of-towners, who often have to search up their own dates, are obviously subject to the entire ugly process from start to finish. But for the rest of us, it’s a surprise, like a second birthday.
OK, maybe not quite like a second birthday. At this point, we’re trying to keep our age down, so extraneous birthdays are not all that wonderful.
But it’s most annoying when, not only do you find out that there’s a gentleman (you hope) in the offing, but that he’s been there for several weeks and you’re the only one in the house who didn’t know that.
Here’s how I learned about my first date. Disclaimer: my parents were utterly clueless, because my older siblings did all their dating in Israel without much help.
I’m finished supper, dropping my fork and plate in the sink on my way upstairs.
“Bad4, do you have a minute?” my father asks.
Figuring I’m going to be asked to do the dishes, I answer, “A minute? Are you kidding? With four term papers each requiring me to read a 300-page book? I can’t believe I just spared a minute to eat, that’s how few minutes I have.” And I try to make a quick getaway.
“Bad4! Get back here!” my father calls after me. I slide back into the kitchen. “Is this going to be unpleasant? Because I have some soothing logarithms upstairs…”
“Very unpleasant. We want to talk to you so please come sit down.”
We? Want to talk? Now if that isn’t a bad sign I don’t know what is. I slink over to a chair while my mother informs my younger sister that her presence is redundant. She smirks and brushes past, whispering in my ear, “He sounds really good.”
“What?” I squawk. She turns and sticks one hand on her hip and does that little wrist-flip with the other. “What—you mean you didn’t know? It was like, sooo obvious.”
My parents look at each other. “It was?”
Younger Sister rolls her eyes, wiggles her ears, and makes a grand exit.
That was more than enough for me. “In the future, can I hear about these things firsthand before it arrives through the grapevine?”
And that’s how that halacha came to be disregarded in the Shidduchim household.