Tipping the Equilibrium

After every date comes the inevitable “so, will there be another?” and of course I’m sitting there biting my nails trying to figure out what I know that I didn’t know before that might kill or perpetuate this relationship.

What did I learn, what did I learn? Um, he knows more about seals than I do, but I know more about penguins. He runs so he can eat. He isn’t crazy about sushi. We both like chai lattes. In other words: not much.

This, apparently, is a common problem among daters, which one Ariely fellow has dubbed “Bad equilibrium.” (Hat tip to College Student for the link.) This is the point where you discover that you like the guy and he likes you and you can just continue liking each other forever so long as you both continue to avoid anything that might drive a wedge between you… such as the “Yankees or Mets” question, or the “JIF vs Skippy” question, or the “filtered vs unfiltered internet” question, or, or, or…

Free choice may be the distinguishing trait of humanity, but Ariely says that in dating we totally lose the right to it. It’s only by removing our free will to discuss vanilla subjects that we can possibly be induced to make ourselves interesting. (Or the opposite.) He gave daters scripted questions to choose from (“Have you ever broken someone’s heart?” “What do you feel about abortion?”) and they produced deeper and more meaningful conversations (discussing innermost fears, etc.).

Okay, so I agree. At some point we need to move beyond “How many siblings do you have” without (dear God) ever crossing “If you were a piece of furniture, which one would it be?” But let’s face it. You can’t just up and ask your date “Have you ever broken someone’s heart?” Well, I mean you could, but unless you worked it into the conversation it would sound weird. Moreover, your date has to cooperate, instead of blowing it off with something like, “Of course. My little sister had this pencil with a plastic heart on top and I stepped on it accidentally. Boy was she upset.”

And this is the difference between an experimental dating procedure and Real Life.

Oh, there are other differences. It’s called Orthodox Jewish Hangups, aka Hashkafic Differences. In my experience, discussing something controversial early on is Numero Uno way to ensure no further dating. Trust the girl with the bad habit of playing devil’s advocate.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a devil’s advocate situation. I recall one conversation where my date and I discussed a theoretical childrearing situation that we disagreed on. Granted, there were hashkafic differences that were clarified, but they weren’t polarizing (at least, not from my POV), and anyway, we were discussing a situation that wouldn’t come up for about a decade (assuming we married immediately). That’s a lot of time for someone to shift positions.

Still, it was our last date.

But I’m not sure that guy is unusual. Heck, I’m not sure I don’t jump to conclusions from minor statements. It’s practically something we’re conditioned to do: read little signs like yarmulke position and music preferences and project from there a person’s entire religious weltanschauung.

Still, if the questions were carefully chosen to avoid religion, maybe…

Some date in the future:

Bad4: So, it’s our fourth date. We both like ice cream and flowers, which is why we’re eating king cones in Battery Park. Shall we step this up a bit?

Guy: Like how?

Bad4: [whipping out index cards] Pick a card, any card. No backsies.

Guy: [picks card] What was your most embarrassing moment of the month….? I think it’s about to happen.

Bad4: Sorry, but that’s borderline time travel paradox. Make that past month. If you’d like we can do ladies first.

Guy: Um… [Thinking: what a weirdo. How did we get this far? I’ll play along politely and we’ll go home after. Waste of the price of a king cone.]

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31 thoughts on “Tipping the Equilibrium

  1. Best activity I’ve done on a date? Playing a game called Loaded Questions. It’s similar to your card picking scenario. And if you play it with a little tongue in cheek, you really get past that whole stupid “how many siblings” generic date talk and really learn about someone.

  2. My all time, Best Date Conversation was initiated on a 50 block walk in Manhattan one evening, wherein the girl asked me “Do you believe in G-d?” Now, this was not some waif who was trying to find herself. This girl was (and still is, I think) strong in her frumkeit and was a community leader etc. She may have had intellectual questions. She may have just wanted to bring up something controversial. Or maybe she didn’t see a future with me so she felt “who cares” – but I absolutely loved it. This was the first date, but we had known each other for 1.5 years already, being in the same college. (She did break it off after the next date. I’m not sure if the flat tire had anything to do with it…)

    Maybe I’m weird. But perhaps a topic that is not so much “controversial” as it is “thought-provoking” is where one should start. Asking about certain aspects of hashkafa is loaded b/c the thought is that the discussion will often lead to disagreement and judging and who wants that? Asking about deep issues that do not have direct relevance (or in my case, was too farfetched for me to believe that it had direct relevance) may be a useful method.

    Of course, this may shock some of those on the receiving end of these questions if they feel relationships *should* be based on flower and ice cream flavor compatibility. But who wants to marry a bubblehead?

  3. Hey, Yosef, lots of men want to marry bubbleheads, at least that’s what their choice of wives indicate. I once knew a young woman who declared that she didn’t believe in G-d even though she was living a frum life. She also said she wanted to get married, though she said there was a part of that she didn’t want either. I didn’t keep up with her, but I heard a few years ago that she did marry. I assumed that they are living as frum people.

  4. Wait, you’re not supposed to ask loaded questions on a fourth date? Then when? Fifth? Sixth? Seventh? Never?

    I mean, you have to get down to the important stuff eventually, and finding out a minor theological difference is inevitable…so what are people waiting for? Spend three or four dates on surface pleasantries and then get to important stuff! Similarly, not every minor Hashkafic difference is a deal breaker.

  5. Agree with Married Friend- and most of the rest- why not ask a loaded question? Especially in Orthodox Jewish dating, where it leads to marriage, the hard questions have to get asked sometimes! And some guys do appreciate a nice discussion, or even a devil’s advocate!
    I found the best conversations I had with my husband-to-be were the loaded ones- even the ones where we argued vehemently on child raising! (And we did do that- while wandering a gorgeous park in the downtown of my home town.

  6. If you’re the type of person who needs conversation starters, I highly recommend the Book of If.

    Otherwise, here are some that I generally ask people (in no particular order):

    1. What’s your relationship to God like?
    2. What’s the first thing you would do if you weren’t Jewish anymore?
    3. If you could have dinner with three people throughout history, which 3 people and which restaraunt would you go to?
    4. What character traits do you value in your friends?
    5. What are your pet peeves?
    6. Do you consider yourself a private person? Why or why not?
    7. Which is more important: the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of truth?
    8. Let’s say your friend had betrayed you- would you want to know? Or would you rather just stay friends? What if it weren’t your friend but your spouse?
    9. What’s the hardest thing about being religious (for you)?
    10. What’s your favorite book/ movie and why?
    11. What’s your favorite inspirational story?
    12. When was the last time you cried? Why?
    13. If you could be any character in any fiction book, which character would you be and why?
    14. If you could live in someone else’s body for a day (someone living currently), who would it be and why?
    15. What was one of your most lifechanging experiences?
    16. What’s your favorite quote? Why?
    17. Would you say you have a motto? What is it? Do you live by it?
    18. If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would you choose to loose? Why?
    19. If the world ran out of Perrier, what drink do you think gently-reared girls would purchase on dates?
    20. What would comprise your dream vacation? Why?
    21. If you could eradicate one bad trait from the world, which would it be and why?
    22. If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?

    Oh, and of course, every University of Chicago application prompt possible to ask, as that school is fabulously awesome.

  7. Granted in that case, the debate is between the prospective father-in-law and the suitor, rather than between the boy and girl, and both are a touch inebriated, but the argument is, nevertheless, funny.

  8. These scripted questions- no matter how revealing- don’t promote emotional chemistry. The goal is to promote chemistry so that the stupid hashkafic differences don’t matter any more, or at leaves gives you the motivation to work them out.

    I think maybe watching a film or something that is really moving, leads you to project those feelings on your date. Especially if he shares them.

    Or on the opposite end of things, doing something that’s FUN, really FUN, and sharing it together.

  9. Of course if you’re not shomer you have another whole avenue open but that’s very risky territory and very easily backfires

  10. Kisarita:

    I take issue with the idea that “the goal is to promote chemistry so that the stupid hashkafic differences don’t matter any more”. The hashkafic differences are the ones that do matter. Not the philosophical “which historical figures would you like to have dinner with”, but how you want to live your life, and raise your family; if you can’t agree on that, who cares who you want to have dinner with?

    That’s why I don’t get what’s wrong with discussing those on the first date. If you don’t want the same life, why look for chemistry?

  11. I’m going to disagree with both of you- kisarita, the hashkafic differences/similarities could make or break a marriage. It’s all very nice and wonderful that you have chemistry, but if your hashkafos are to dissimilar, you will not be able to agree on how to raise kids, which kinda ruins any chemistry. Also, not being shomer doesn’t create chemistry, it creates added lust. I have friends who have gone both ways on that one, and a relationship that is built on true feelings not lust will have a stronger base- when you can spend hours together doing nothing and still enjoying each others company, that’s chemistry. When youre not being shomer, you can spend unlimited time because there is always what to do, but it doesn’t mean anything about your relationship.

    Anonymous, chemistry is important even on the first date, because there could be little unimportant things that will bother one party more without chemistry. (eg, I don’t like the way she dresses, but i had a good enough time that I would like to continue going out, and with time I could get over it). Just like there is no point chemistry when your hashkafos are diametrically opposed, there is no point in jumping straight into hashkafa when there is no chemistry.

  12. I suggest a compromise of views.

    Yes, hashkafa is important, but getting hung up on details like child-rearing doesn’t make sense. People live and learn and change their ideas. You want to make sure you have the same priorities, that’s all.

    Kisarita’s idea is basically right. People will compromise on lots of things for those they love. So rejecting someone because they disagree about a matter of practice doesn’t always make sense. Chances are they or you might be willing to compromise further down the line.

  13. MCP:

    Agreed. Chemistry is important. But if you find out on the first date that your hashkafos are irreconcilably different, then why keep dating to see if there is chemistry? I don’t see why you should have to wait a few dates to discuss the important things, since those could be deal-breakers, whereas if your hashkafos are the same, the chemistry may develop on a second or third date.

  14. ” So rejecting someone because they disagree about a matter of practice is dumb. Chances are they or you might be willing to compromise further down the line.”

    Sorry, I disagree. I think marrying someone who doesn’t want the same lifestyle as you (kids attending MO yeshivas vs. yeshivish, people who don’t want to allow newspapers in their homes vs. people who want TVs) is dumb. What if you get married and find neither one of you has changed? Unfortunately, it happens all too often that people get married because of “chemistry”, and slpit up when they find they can’t agree on how to raise their children, or how important it is for the wife to cover her hair.

  15. When you’re approaching middle age you will realize just how ridiculous some of this lifestyle and hashkafa crap is, that you thought was so important when you were in your 20s.
    TV? No TV? Head covering or not, or what type? You’re adults for crying out loud. Realize what the important things in life are, love and relationships.

  16. Aging single:

    It is fine for you to marry someone who considers halacha “crap”, but I am glad I discussed things like that with my spouse, so I did not find myself married to someone who shared your belief. I think you have demonstrated clearly why it’s important for couples to be on the same page regarding the things that matter, and regarding which those things are.

  17. Aging single is so right. For crying out loud. Those of us in the same social circles and religious affiliations are generally enough on the same page with regards to lifestyle and educational choices.

    Get to know what you need and can give on an emotional level and when you meet someone suitable, give them your heart, every time until you find someone who will reciprocate.

    I was recently giving advice to a 20 something helping him do post mortem on his last date (The date, not the person). He tells me that she was very attractive but doesn’t seem to like his choice of shirt color. So I told him, on the second date he should show up with a completely different color shirt and when she asks about it he can say, hey, the way I dress is important to me. It’s one of the ways for me to express my inner reality and define my place in the world. But I’m interested in sharing my world with you, even if letting you in sometimes means taking little risks and stepping outside myself.

    He didn’t bite. I know how hard it is for 20 somethings to hear this. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to when I was that age. I guess thats why they say “youth is wasted on the young!”

  18. i love the way “divorcedguy” and “agedsingle” are the ones who are so sure that being on the same page is a bunch of baloney. No disrespect, but you guys aren’t really in a position to be the deah-zoggers

  19. Just gone through my first such experience. Until now the few guys i’ve been out with have just been totally off, so it was a pleasant surprise to actually have an enjoyable and even fun date. We got along well and enjoyed each other’s company. My heart was all there. From the first date though different things came up which showed that in subtle ways his level of yiras shomayim was not quite up to my standards. My head was saying no. Thank G-d I have good supports who were able to reflect back to me what i was saying to them. i realised how silly i sounded that i was thinking of giving up on my own basic standards just because the chemistry felt right. I came to a decision that though we were having a good time there’s more to life then that and i realised the issues that could arise when a couple is not on the same page hashkafically. so with a heavy heart and a clear head i said no. the shadchan tried convincing me and after being able to stand my ground for 40 minutes i knew that i was sure of my decision.
    The next few days were really tough, but when i thought about it i knew i was missing the thrill and excitement and sad over the unrealised potential. I did not for one minute regret my decision or think that i had made the wrong choice. It’s easy to fall for someone, but the point of the shidduch system is to help us to go into it with our head and our heart so that we have the best chance of a successful marriage.
    Hatzlocha to all and may the next one be the right one!

  20. Here’s where I’m coming from foncused,

    The reason people like me and aged single are in a position to give valuable perceptive on this is because of our age and our failure. The fact that we have failed motivates us to be reflective and to asses what has happened more that a person for whom everything went smoothly.

    I can also give advice to young couples based on my own negative example. You know, listen to my mistakes and don’t let the same thing happen to you!

    Of course I’m not saying I’m an authority on the matter because of my failure or my age. Like in anything else, all wisdom has to be judged on its own merits.

  21. I can’t understand how this is even an issue. Hashkafa and chemistry are both important. Your marriage will fail without either one of those.

  22. If halacha and torah and hashkafa are things that matter in your life then it should be a deal breaker, if its going to bother you that he wears pink shirts and that is something that is important to him, i.e to be able to dress how he wants when he wants..then no matter how “inconsequential” the issue is objectively, to the couple involves it matters. One person cannot judge what is important to another

  23. So you don’t believe there’s such a thing as something objectively inconsequential? That if two people get along exceedingly well, but he wears pink shirts and she doesn’t like it, then they should split up rather than have one of them compromise?

    Life is full of things you have to compromise on. He can’t wear whatever he wants to work. She can’t dress him every morning either. Get over it.

    One deal-breaker debate I heard about involved internet. He was all into the program that sends a list of your surfing history to your spouse, your rabbi, and your grocer. She said she hoped she could trust her spouse and didn’t see a need. Still, would it really have been a big deal for her to live with? Couldn’t they have configured it in some way to keep them both happy? It’s a dumb thing to break up over, imho.

    The problem here, I think, is confusing disagreements over detail with actual significant hashkafic differences. To each person, the difference in say, preferred shirt color, represents a gaping chasm of hashkafic difference between them and their date. Is this actually a fact? Not always. But you have to stick around long enough to discuss it to find out.

  24. just been there,
    I am very sorry to here about your most recent experience. You said someone let you know “in very subtle ways” that his yireas shamayim just wasn’t up to your standards.
    Uhm excuse me, but since when did god make you his deputy to decide whose yiras shamayim is good enough and whose isn’t? Yiras shamayim is between a person and their maker.
    If you mean that his ethical and moral behavior wasn’t up to snuff, well than that’s something else. But I fear that to often what people classify as irreconcilable hashkafic differernces are nothing more than self righteous I’m better than you (or I belong to hashcafic camp x which is better than hashkafic camp y, a variation of the same theme).

  25. Nope, aging.

    In some cases, it’s “I am very impressed that you have your standards, but I can’t or don’t want to live up to them”. If you to want to spend 10 years in kollel, and I don’t want to leave my kids with someone else while working full time, I don’t think I am better than you; just that we don’t have the same priorities. I can’t insist you give up your kollel dream for me, and I don’t want to leave my kids 8:00 – 6:00 with somoene else. I am not better than you, just different. So if we don’t want the same kind of life, why should we continue dating?

  26. I agree with Ariella who said that BOTH Hashkafa and Chemistry are important.
    What people have to realize is that 1) sometime chemistry will occur latter on- you can’t expect to have sparks flying the second you lay eyes on the guy (or girl). 2) Hashkafa is important but you have to take time to evaluate- which things are so super important that it will break the shidduch if the girl (or guy) does not see EXACTLY eye to eye on the topic, and which things can be compromised slightly.
    For example, I have a good friend who just reached the 6 month milestone of her marriage and b”h, it is going strong. Although he was obsessed with her from the start, she took a few dates to warm up to him but kept saying yes to another date because there was nothing wrong, per say. They eventually got engaged and she confided in me that he isn’t as frum as the man she thought she would marry. Why? He’ll watch tv- sports. But it didn’t bother my friend so much to break off the shidduch. Their hashkafas may not be the same on that topic but they compromised- and it is not as if she watches tv with him.

  27. Kollel is one of the biggest blown out of proportions issues there are.
    Kollel or no Kollel, almost all women work nowadays.
    Especially in an economy like todays!
    And very few men stay in kollel into their 30s anyway.
    Of men who are working, how many will be prosperous enough to support there families single handedly, and even if they will, how many years will it take them?

    So Kollel should be one of the most easily compromisable issues, and yet it’s one of the most major- most people who have different ideas on it never even meet, let alone have a chance to give a relationship to develop.

  28. There is a very big difference between being the primary source of income, and being the secondary source of income. You really can’t compromise on kollel; it’s pretty much either/or, since the wife of someone learning in kollel part-time is still the primary source of income (and I’m guessing you cannot draw the kollel salary that way.)

    And I am proof that the twain shall meet, but not marry.

  29. Bad4- i do believe that there are things that are objectively inconsequential- but if to her it is important-maybe she needs to grow up and maybe she needs to have her priorities sorted and have a maturing session before she starts dating but at that point it is going to bother her..and it is important..

  30. Dating conversation is just the art of having a good conversation, of feeling like you are learning about the other person and they are learning about you, and that you care about each other as people. That feeling doesn’t come from any particular topic of conversation, but in how engaged you are in whatever conversation you are having and how much you are trying to understand them from what they say. So it really doesn’t matter what you say as long as you have the curiosity to keep asking them more about their opinions to try to understand where they are coming from. It sounds like you may already do that — intellectually curious people often do. As you do this more, you will find it easier and easier. I have had over 100 first dates, and now I think that I may just put people at ease, so that people end up confiding in me, and often people tell me that they liked me because they felt valued in our conversation.

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