Dating Scared

Personally, I don’t think I’m picky. The only times I ever turn  a fellow down for further dating is when something about him makes me want to hit him over the head with a mallet.

I should take the moment to explain that I am not a violent person. I do not enjoy watching violence. I do not enjoy taking part in it. Once, in an exercise class, the instructor suggested we imagine someone we hated in front of us to strengthen our punches. Her suggestion froze me completely. I just couldn’t bring myself to punch the person I was imagining. Sit down with her and explain, perhaps, why she was so completely detestable, with constructive aims, but punch her? I couldn’t do it. So when I feel like playing whack-a-mole with my dates, it’s a pretty serious matter. It means that, as a pair, we are definitely not marriage material.

But in the spirit of back-of-the-mag Wired articles, where the idea is more important than its likeliness, I present my take on the “picky single” phenomenon.

Mazlow defined the eternal discontent of mankind in a neat pyramid. At the bottom are basic survival needs, like food, clothing, shelter, safety. If a person doesn’t have these, his need to acquire them will consume his thoughts. He will find it nearly impossible to consider higher, more ephemeral needs when he’s trying to keep his navel from sticking to his spine. And as long as a person is at the base of the pyramid, simple things will bring him great joy: an apple, a sweatshirt, not being chased out of Grand Central during a snowstorm.

But once these basic needs are met with ease, a person is no longer content with his food and shelter. He becomes restless once again. He needs friends, he needs family, he needs people to love and who love him in return. He needs relationships. And once relationships are secured, he is still not satisfied. He needs fulfillment; something that gives his existence a higher purpose. Joy is no longer nested in an apple, and consequently, it is more difficult to procure.

So, one might posit, the more comfortable a person is, the greater his needs, and the more difficult they are to fulfill.

I think this is part of the reason for the alleged “picky single” phenomenon noted by the writer in this post.

Once, marriage was an essential institution for a number of reasons. But now, with men and women fulfilling their more basic needs (eg: for support) independently, marriage has moved up the pyramid.

Women are no longer satisfied with a kind man who will bring home the dough, play with her children, and use his belt strictly for holding up his pants. Men are not interested in a pipe-, slippers-, and child-bearing 1950s housewife. Nor are we satisfied with the contented, role-based marriages that go with these stereotypes. We seek a meeting of the minds—someone who will understand us, not merely sympathize; someone who will be an active partner in all aspects of life; someone we can love forever.

And yes, that’s demanding. And maybe it means we’re not marrying a lot of people with whom we could conceivably be contented. But we think it’s worth it, because we’re at the level of comfort where we can no longer be happy with anything else.

The author of the column presented her theory that singles are afraid of divorce and afraid of their own imperfections. I think that’s a more negative slant on my theory. We worry that we are not good enough to sustain the kind of relationship we want to have, and we worry equally about our partner. It makes dating a nerve-wracking experience. One vacillates between anxiety that the other person is not quite right to anxiety that one is not quite good enough. In between, one grows anxious that this ideal is unachievable, that one is too picky, and that one is doomed forever…

Does that make us commitment-phobic? Maybe. As one commenter said, singles aren’t afraid to commit—we’re just waiting for the right person. In other words, we’re afraid to commit to the wrong person.


19 thoughts on “Dating Scared

  1. I agree with your basic premise that b”H the more comfortable we are, we get bumped up to the next level of what we feel we need to make us happy. I don’t really believe that there is only one person out there who is the only one who can make all your dreams a reality. I think there are probably many people out there who can step up to the plate and the one you connect with at the time you are ready to say “I think we can make this work” will feel like that person of your dreams, whether or not he bears any resemblance to the mythical man of your dreams. One of my sons-in-law said that when asked about “bashert”, his rebbe said your bashert is the one you are standing next to under the chupah. enough said. I think given the obvious; mentchlichkeit, intelligence, common goals and aspirations for what you envision your bayis ne’eman to be like. the willingness to give to eachother and be there for one another and to try (and I mean sometimes the only thing you can do is try) to understand one another in the happily ever after stage is what makes it become a reality. I think finding a suitable match in this day and age is difficult enough and if you think you have to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, that is almost a defeatist attitude. If you can find a basis for a relationship, the more you are willing to make it work, and assuming that he is as well, you will be happy. Marriages require work, lots of it, even you get married to the one you feel is “perfect”. Trust me: nobody is perfect! Accept it. You have to find a person whose ‘imperfections’ (at least the ones you know about) are ones you feel you can live with. The rest, you will have to live with in any case. I know it sounds like a cliche but the more you give to someone, the more you love them. So I think when the emphasis goes off “what can I get” and moves toward “what can I give” things can start happening. Hatzlacha rabbah!

  2. It sounds like you make a valid argument for the cause of the single picky women, but I don’t see the same reasoning applying to men. The one example you give for the difference between today and fifty years ago is the fact that we don’t rely on marriage for basic financial support. If anything, this change has occurred among women alone. Men always relied on themselves for support, while women traditionally took the role of homemaker. Your post implicitly states that a major prevention of marriage today is the financial independence of women.

  3. You think that men are in the same position vis a vis marriage as they were 200 years ago? The support was only eg: an example.

  4. Nowadays I feel that even though the man is thought to be the sole provider, it is very rarely the case. Especially in today’s economy, I find that most husbands urge their wives to go back to school because one income is not enough.

    As for the picky factor, I have to agree that women’s expectations have risen since the 1950s HOWEVER, I am also very aware and familiar with the fact that MEN are much worse in this regard.

    The older the man is, the pickier he is because he becomes more and more established as time progresses. The more money he has, the more able he is to take out more women on dates. Perhaps he has been on so many dates that he is frustrated at the prospect- a feeling I am sure one can relate to. As a man gets older, he does not necessarily need to worry about never finding a wife because there are always women who have no problem marrying older so he can afford to be picky.

    Whatever the reasoning is, I almost NEVER hear that an older single woman is picky- women are more likely to ignore certain flaws in order to obtain security for themselves. It is usually the men that are pickier because they know they have their pick of the bunch whereas women may feel the need to settle because they are getting older.

    I once heard a frightening statistic that a 40 year old woman is more likely to be killed in a terrorist attack than to get married. That always managed to scare the living daylights out of me. They don’t have a statistic like that for men, and yet it isn’t a foreign concept to see an older man with an attractive younger woman- riddle me that one!!!!

  5. A forty year old women is probably far more likely to get married than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Think about it.
    I think to post is thoughtful and well put. I also think from a male perspective, that people aren’t far more “picky” today than they used to be. no one has real statistics. But I do have many contemporaries who are still single. Some of them were hot properties in their younger years. Yet they, old enough to be your parents and then some never married or married more than once. I just think the information explosion and the reworking of the marriage system to one where neither party plays a direct role leads to despair.
    How many people of my generation met their spouses in college through classes or rides home or friends saying I think you should meet someone. The current system you live with doesn’t provide low pressure interaction, rather each date is the equivalent of a job interview. You never get to see the bouncy walk, the saucy comment the off the cuff toss of the head, in short all the non verbal things that make people individuated and, dare I say, attractive. Every thing seems to be scripted and planned, the rebbeim who I assure you are not better qualified than your parents or friends to pick your future mate have way to much say and their book knowledge does not prepare them to make nuanced decisions about young peoples needs and likes.

    In thinking about this, about 95% or more of the people you go out with are on similar pages on about 95% of the ideas and life philosophies. It is the 5% that determines the ballgame. You can’t stand his whiny voice, he loves the way been is pronounced with a Canadian accent or how your voice inflects. Each finds attraction with the animated reaction to a flying bird or some other trivia.

    If it was canned it could be engineered. You know the chazal that reports tha G-d spends his time making shidduchim. If it were as rote and formulaic as some would have you believe, then G-d would not be spending his time on trivia.

    I don’t think you should consider yourself picky. You’re just not vanilla and that is a major crime in your matching system. When you match, you will be happy both for the match and that you waited. He/she are out there. There just marinating and becoming ready for a proper pairing.

  6. Your insight in this article is brilliant. Yes, nowadays singles are looking for something more…Marriage is never 100% but it can be 90%, 95% or 97%… some people are satisfied with settling for 90% while others want to stick it out… and wait for more. If you know you won’t be happy if you feel you’re selling yourself short of a real- ‘soul mate’ then by all means, take your time.

  7. Maybe increased pickiness has something to do with overall increasing standards, but I’d say changing attitudes toward marriage play a big part too. Historically, the purpose of marriage was mostly having children and supporting women. These days, women can support themselves and children are less widely desired, so most people in the secular world see the purpose of marriage as being love and commitment. It’s a lot easier to evaluate whether someone will be able to have/raise/support children, or whether a husband could support his wife well, than whether you’d get along with someone if you lived together for decades. People naturally want more evidence before making a decision than they used to.

    I’d guess that really charedi types have less of an issue making a decision than us Internet-using types. If you adopt a very traditional viewpoint, then what’s important then is that you figure out that they’re frum and well-to-do, so you can trust them to raise and/or support your children. Then you go on a couple of dates to make sure you get along well enough that you’ll probably maintain a successful working relationship for life, and you’re set.

    On the other hand, in the non-religious world it’s typical for people to live together for years before even considering marriage. Then when they make the decision, it’s also not going to be too stressful, since they’ve been practicing for so long. It’s more like a formalization of preexisting arrangements than a new commitment.

    As for us, we’re strongly influenced by modern values, so we aren’t happy with the prospect of marrying someone we don’t like a lot. But we also adhere to a religion that proscribes any extensive premarital contact, like even being briefly alone together (let alone living in the same house). We want to find someone we’d be happy living with for the rest of our lives, but have no sound basis for judging them. Even if you dated for six months and spent a lot of time together, you never know what it will be like to live in the same house until you try, which we can’t. Reluctance to commit is only natural.

    So we’re in a bit of a bind, but what are you going to do? I wonder if right-wing Protestants or moderate-to-liberal Muslims have the same quandaries.

    Check Pleaseee: If a man of any age is interested in having children, he has good reason to not be so happy going out with a forty-year-old woman. A typical woman over forty who’s never had children before will have difficulty having children even with fertility treatment. A woman under thirty will usually have children with no trouble. On the other hand, men can have children just fine up to much higher ages, especially with the help of medicine, but middle-aged men tend to have more money and other resources. So it’s pretty logical that you see older men (especially well-to-do ones) with younger women much more often than the reverse.

  8. Regarding Teipach Atsmosav’s comments, I don’t know if he/she is aware that many, if not most people who have spent years living together, then deciding to make a commitment–get engaged and get married, wind up divorced after all that. I don’t think you have to live with someone to see if you can get along. Also, even in the most chareidishe of circles, no one would expect anyone to get married to each other if they didn’t think they liked them alot. I would wonder how someone could figure that out in one or two meetings but knowing several chassidish couples, they were very sure they liked the other party alot.

  9. I wrote a piece a couple weeks ago about the luxury mentality and how growing up in relative luxury breeds picky people. At the same time, I’ve heard over and over again that many women become less picky as they get older and realize that people can’t have everything they want the way they want it (not sure about men, I’ve had mixed experiences and reports).

    I agree with the above poster that a spouse can’t be my everything, and I believe that expecting or searching for it is ultimately self-defeating. Ultimately, I think letting go of ideas like that lower barriers to dating and marriage by increasing flexibility. Who said my Eizer K’negdo has to have a certain IQ, or must fulfill my every need? Who says they will fulfill those needs all the time? That’s a lot of pressure to put on one person. We don’t expect a single parent, sibling or friend to fulfill our every need for the rest of our lives, how does expecting that out of a spouse help?

  10. voice of experience: I’d say difference in divorce rates are due to the same differences in perception. If you view marriage as a practical thing whose purpose is to have children, and emphasize the aspect of duty to your spouse and children, you’ll be reluctant to get divorced even if you don’t get along well. If you view it as something about romance and love, then as soon as the love disappears, you’ll see no purpose in continuing the marriage. Thus secular divorce rates are somewhere around 30% or higher, while chassidic divorce rates are reportedly much lower. (Although I couldn’t quickly find figures, so it’s possible that’s just a misconception — I’d be interested if anyone can find data one way or another.)

    As for liking people, it’s possible that you can learn a lot about how much you’ll like someone on one or two dates. Extensive background checks and social emphasis on conformity can’t hurt compatibility either. Also, it’s perfectly possible to get along just fine with any random person if you don’t have high expectations to start. So I’m not saying that chassidic couples don’t mostly wind up liking each other a lot.

    But I’d still say that Orthodox Jews tend to put a lot more emphasis on the duty or utility of marriage than the secular world does, compared to the importance of love, and that the emphasis increases as you move to the right. At least in my experience, it’s conventional among Orthodox Jews to actively discourage people from falling in love or expressing any sign of love much before engagement. But you’re expected to provide detailed information about your upbringing and outlooks, with references to back it up, before the first date. I’m pretty sure almost anyone from the secular world would think both of those things are crazy.

  11. If a couple live together five years, get engaged and remain living together for another year or two and then get married and divorce after a few years, how can you explain that? It happens alot according to the media. I think what you are calling “falling in love” probably refers to infatuation which goes along with a strong physical attraction. As fantastic as that can feel,it can sometimes be dangerous cuz it can prevent people from being aware of the reality of the person they are dating. That is primarily the reason that in the more chareidi circles, extensive research is done before the couple can meet, so that with the exception of intentional deceptions, they are assured that all the right elements are there and if they “fall for eachother”in that way they will probably be fine for the future. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy (which I probably am) you REALLY fall in love with your spouse after marriage. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to fall out of “infatuation”.

  12. Random Shadchan, I know how much you love shooting down false statistics, but I didn’t know you knew how to get to snopes!!! 😉

  13. MCP: You’d be amazed what I can do!

    Besides, I don’t need directions to get to, so it’s within my skill set.

  14. Maslow’s theory has been largely debunked as too much fluff and not enough research supporting his assertion. Self-actualization is not seen as a permanent state anyways, and who even knows what it means.
    We worry that we are not good enough to sustain the kind of relationship we want to have, and we worry equally about our partner. It makes dating a nerve-wracking experience.
    I was once dating a young woman who was afraid of moving further in the relationship and when we talked about it, this is almost verbatim of what she said to me. Being unsure about the other person is natural, and being unsure of whether to commit to the person who may be a mistake is normal. Its working through it until you are comfortable and finding the person who will have the patience to wait until you are.
    or as her Rav told her “I don’t know what more you need to know about him, because you know more than enough”

  15. The financial and familial consequences if error, in a legal era of No fault divorce, have simply grown too high. Therein lies the great taboo. Men will not risk a woman who could potentially throw them out of home and any Halachically defined paternal role — and no longer even ve required to have a reason why she did it.

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