Every now and then I log in to my gmail and/or gchat and find a friend morose because of shidduchim. Sometimes it’s because they have no date, sometimes it’s because they have a date, and sometimes it’s because they’ve had a date. And then there are the times it’s because they or someone else no longer wants to date.
Half the time it’s something like “My parents are mad at me for saying no to this guy after four dates because I don’t have a good reason to say no; I just can’t think of any good reason to say yes, which I think there should be by the fourth date.”
The other half of the time it’s something like “My friend just said no to a guy for a really dumb reason; I think she should have given him another chance. I hope she’s not ruining her life.”
There’s something that seems wrong about all this to me – after all, if you’re not going on the date, you don’t really know what happened, and you’re hardly capable of judging the wisdom of a “yes” or “no” answer. And yet at the same time, the reason these people know is because their friends tell them (or they tell their parents) for advice and assistance in deciding to say “yes” or “no.”
Shidduch dating is a pretty muddling experience. You go on a date with someone who sounds right. You know that perfect isn’t likely to happen, and you should be happy with almost perfect. But where does “almost” end and “not really” begin? No idea. You know there shouldn’t be any love at first sight, but at which point should the feelings begin to spark? No idea. You know you’re going to have to accept certain hashkafic and background differences, but which ones? No idea. Then you meet this other person and have to figure out if they’re almost perfect enough, if you like them enough, and if their goals are alike enough within the space of about 8 jam-packed dates. It’s enough to make a girl chew down her manicure.
So people recruit their friends and family, who have greater and more varied experience, to help them decide. I once thought this was a drop obscene. I mean, dating gets pretty personal. People tell each other things they don’t really want broadcasted publicly. So what right do you have to pass it along to other people? Which is why dating my first guy was a truly miserable experience. I had no idea whether I could reasonably say no if after the second date I had neither anything positive nor negative to say about him. Luckily, he said he thought it was mutual. Phew. After that I slowly started hashing over some the parts that troubled me out loud to my parents. “He tormented the busboy. It bothered me so much I actually told him to stop, and he made some snide comment about it still being better here than Mexico. Am I allowed to conclude that he’s a jerk?” “Is saying ‘whatever’ to something I’ve said on a first date inconsiderate or just rude?” “Is he just a bit too laid back if he’s 27 and still has no idea what he’d do to earn a living if he had to?”
I still don’t discuss the particulars of dates with friends, but I know for many—particularly those out-of-town singles crammed into attics and basements around NYC independent of any parents—it’s a staple of evening conversation. First they all dress the dater up, choosing her shoes and critiquing her makeup. Then they send her off and eagerly count the hours until her return. After which, of course, they want to know how it went. A friend of mine in such an attic would always hint about the dating news flying about up there. Someone had broken up yet again after the 5th date. Another person couldn’t get set up with anyone normal because of some background issues. And then someone else had gone out with a guy for a month and liked him fine, but didn’t “feel” anything; should they break up? That was the hot topic for a full week. (They broke up. She was engaged 4 months later.)
Deciding to break up is a very difficult decision. Nobody wants to be accused of being “too picky,” and yet neither does anyone want to be stuck in a decidedly unloving relationship for life. Friends are supposed to help, but they don’t really know enough to do the job well. Besides, they don’t either want the responsibility of their friends’ future happiness on their conscience. So how do they discuss dating?
Very carefully, I gather.
I called an expert date-discussing friend of mine, who, it seems, always knows the particulars of her friends’ dates to find out how a pro does it.
She said a friend has to understand that she’s not really being asked her opinion. She’s merely being used as a sounding board. Her entire purpose is to grunt “mhmm” occasionally and ask leading questions when the dater pauses for lack of direction. If she has enough information to form an opinion, she can inject a smidgen of it into her leading questions, but nothing more than that. “It’s not your life,” she explains. “It’s not really your business.” If you think she’s wrong, keep it to yourself.
Or grumble about it on g-chat.