Friday Repost: Who Would Marry Me?

I’ll just copy-paste this one, cuz it’s short:

Would the sort of person I’d like to marry want to marry me?

This would probably be easier resolved if I knew what sort of person I’d like to marry, but it becomes clearer with every date. Maybe I’ll know when I’m 25 and have dated 30 people.

 

On Being Twenty-Seven

Twenty-seven is the best year of your youth. This is an absolute fact, according to the Huffington Post articles I’ve been getting from another 27-year-old friend, so I know it must be true.

Twenty-seven is when your career is skyrocketing, you’ve finally grown into yourself, you’re at your most beautiful (or handsome), your physical peak, your sharpest, your brightest, your most scintillating, and your greatest desirability. There’s a bit of a suicide bump at the end of 27, when people realize that this is it, it’s all downhill from here, to beer-gutted mediocrity and cat-ridden obscurity.

Clearly, Robert Herrick was speaking a universally acknowledged truth when he said:

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse and worst

Time still succeeds the former.

I can’t say my experience contradicts the venerable Huffington Post on this matter. Twenty-seven has treated me very well. In fact, it’s been a fantastic trip so far. Being asked to list what I’m grateful for at a Thanksgiving feast was a struggle; how could I narrow it down to a few key items, when everything in my life is so amazing? I almost feel a bit sorry for all those married people who never got to experience 27 with all the breezy freedom of being single. (To be fair, they probably reflect the sentiment back at me with a “what-do-you-know” comment about committed relationships. Ezehu ashir? Truce, my MFs. Truce.)

That said, twenty-seven doesn’t usually last for more than 365 days—366 if you’re lucky. And it’s all downhill from there. So if ever you’re going to have an optimized shot at avoiding a houseful of cats, twenty-seven is it. Not that your chances take a swan dive after, but this is the peak—or so they say. I mean, you’re probably just as desirable at 28 as you were at 26. Unless the drop-off is steeper? Does the Huffington Post has any of its deeply scientific articles analyzing this?

Well, let’s not worry or be stressed out about it. Let’s just finish off with a final, relaxing stanza from Mr. Herrick again:

Then be not coy, but use your time,

And while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime

You may forever tarry.

…You know, he never does say exactly how to manage it. In fact, Herrick sounds a whole lot like the MF who says “Well if you want someone to go on vacation with, get yourself a husband.” Gee thanks. Didn’t think of that one. I guess I’ll go out and propose to the first interested commenter on Trip Advisor.

Oh well. At least I’m still twenty-seven.

And it rocks.

Trust Your (Young) Adults

I graduated bais yaakov high school with a head full of ideas about marriage that I trusted but didn’t believe. That is: I trusted the teachers who’d taught them to me. They were older and wiser and presumably had my best interest in mind. But many of the things they said didn’t pass the critical thinking test, so I struggled to believe them.

One day I found myself on an eighth date.  I liked the guy. Respected him. Enjoyed spending time with him. But I also knew that eight dates meant we were Serious and that freaked me out. I had no reason to break up with him, and no desire to marry him.

Luckily, the guy didn’t go to a bais yaakov. He pointed out that something big was missing in our relationship. We were, to put it mildly, stuck in the Friend Zone, and going nowhere fast. He broke us up. He was absolutely right and I was secretly relieved, but it took me a couple of years to come round to agreeing with him.

Trusting without believing gets us girls in trouble. We try to do what we’re told because it must be right, and yet, something inside is crying that it can’t be. But, ever trusting, we sometimes allow our elders and wisers to drive us into places we really shouldn’t be.

Back when I was 21, I had friends who were lucky enough to have breakdowns and wind up in therapy before they could be pushed into an inauspicious marriage. Now that I’m 27, I have friends who are divorced, because they didn’t manage it until after. 

I’m sure by now everyone has read Gital’s story in the Post about how she let the people trusted nudge her into a marriage she didn’t believe in with a sociopath simply because he came from the Feinstein family.

I told the matchmaker I wanted to stop seeing him, that we weren’t a fit…

My parents asked me to think about it because his parents were so insistent I had the wrong impression of him.

In Orthodox dating, you rely a lot on what other people tell you — what their impression is. So I gave him another chance.

I don’t want to sing any Disney-style “follow your heart” tunes here. But at some point, the yeshivish community has to believe they’ve instilled their children with the right values and a pinch of common sense, and trust them to navigate the world themselves. Until they do, girls will struggle to trust themselves. Bad decisions ensue.

For a while I thought I was the only girl naive enough to treat feeling of reluctance for a guy with repetitions of the mantra “love comes after marriage” — something oft repeated in high school, but without the sort of elaboration necessary for girls who have been segregated from boys their entire lives. But now I know the unhappily married and the happily divorced — sometimes with children in tow — who weren’t as lucky as I was.

The parents and teachers advising these girls into their relationships mean well. They want the best for them. None of them dream of creating a future divorcee, let alone an agunah. But they still view them as children, girls, unable to trust the inner compass they’ve been cultivating through years of schooling and upbringing. And the “girls” share this view, because it’s held by the people they trust the most.

This makes me sad.

And long term, it makes a lot of other people sad too.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Yesterday, before a first date, I sat down and made a list of Good Things That Can Happen on a (First) Date.  I came up with:

– Interesting conversation

– Learn something new

– Gain new perspective

– Go somewhere interesting

– Do something fun [Editor’s note: Is this the same as the previous item?]

– Food!

– Finish at a good time [Editor’s note: I’m not positive I know what this means, but I think it means the date doesn’t drag or end too abruptly. It feels right.]

Then I compiled a list of Bad Things That Can Happen on a (First) Date:

– Differences of expectations (eg: it’s a 7pm date and he doesn’t go for food; I wear heels and we wind up at Coney Island.)

– Different wavelengths/poor communication

– Disdain [Editor’s note: Why are these all “d”s?]

– Doldrums (boredom)

– TOO LONG

I noted that the Bad Stuff list is physically shorter, but the items on the Good Stuff list could be brought about without actually going on a date.

The Good Stuff is good, but will lose some of its charm to the tarnish of pointlessness if there is no potential to the relationship.

So, if the relationship doesn’t blossom, there’s more potential for bad stuff than for good.

But then again: if you don’t go out again, the bad stuff is over — it’s very finite. Whereas if you do keep seeing each other, the good stuff can lead to better stuff.

So, given the long view, there’s more potential for good stuff than bad stuff.

Ergo, I concluded, jotting notes under my lists, if you think there is long-term potential, it makes sense to go out, but not if there isn’t.

I sat and contemplated this conclusion for a moment. It was clear to me that this was about as profound as the 2005 study showing that too many meetings make employees grumpy.

It wasn’t until I got home from the date that I found a piece of insight:

It doesn’t make sense to go out again.

Until now I’ve mostly operated on the “Everyone gets a second date” principle, wherein I am willing to spend more time with any gentleman who has not placed himself on the list of People I’d Rather Not Ever See Again.

But now I realized that this makes no sense. If I have reasonable expectation that the second date will be a fruitless effort in niceness, and this turns out to be true, both dates will fall into the short-term relationship More Bad Than Good bucket.  And really, how often has that not happened?

Therefore, I concluded, the Automatic Second Date rule needs reexamining.

So I decided not to see him again.

Three Days Straight

My hair is dis-gus-ting!” Good4 shouts, whizzing past me into the bathroom. The door slams. “It’s soooo greeeaaaasy!” I hear muffled through the door. And that’s the only sound for a while, except those associated with lather-rinse-repeat.

Grease is not really my problem. Volume is. At this point in the joyous holiday, my hair most closely resembles a modern afro: big, frizzy, and kinky, but less stylish. I lift a dry, frizzy lock, and think wistfully that, if this were only a four-day chag, I’d have the set-up for a lovely head of dreadlocks.

I do like dreadlocks. At least on black people. White people can’t seem to make them look right. Somehow, they always look like they fell asleep for a month with their hair in a bowl of peroxide. But maybe I could set a new trend. Nice, neat, white-person dreads, compliments of a season of three-day chagim. I could move to Bat Ayin and be the envy of all the hippies. All I need to do is not wash my hair.

“Haven’t you taken a shower yet?” my mother interrupts my meditation.

“Nah, I’m seeing how long I can go.”

And really, how hard can that be? Inertia. Why start now, after three days without? All that detangling and moisturizing and washing hair down the drain… it’s easier not to.

“It’s a kapara on all my avonos,” Good4 says fervently, exiting the bathroom in a trail of steam, her hair wrapped in a towel. “That’s what I keep telling myself about a three-day yom tov. It’s a kapara on all my avonos.”

“You really think you have so few avonos?” I ask, dropping the future-dread I was trying to curl.

I think there’s another reason Hashem gave us three-day chagim. So that we’ll dream of wearing a sheitel. Hair you can hang up at night.  Hair that looks the same the next morning. Hair that, if you don’t like how it looks, you can just put away.

But until then, I’ll have my dreadlocks.

Shoes, Glorious Shoes

I was over at an MF, and we got to talking about guys who are “bad at dating.”

“It’s usually the little things, like as small as just telling you where they plan to take you on a first date. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to a lounge, but if you’re not, it really does! I can’t count how many times I walked around Central Park in 3-inch heels. And I went bowling in heels, too.”

“They let you bowl in heels?”

“I don’t remember if they let, exactly. But I wasn’t going to put my feet in those bowling shoes without socks! That’s disgusting! If I’d have known I’d have brought a pair. And I would have gone ice skating in my heels too if it was possible. I mean, seriously. Why am I handing in a pair of 4-inch stilettos at the skate rental? That’s just weird! There’s something wrong with that situation. And then me trying to skate in a fit-and-flair dress that I bought for sitting in a lounge looking pretty. If you’re going to do something unusual, you tell the girl.”

This rant, mind you, from someone who’s been married four years. I guess her bunions still remember.

 

Thursday Link: Bad Lists

 

Got this from an MF. It links to a blog containing the musings of, apparently, a fantastically in-love (and good-looking) couple on the subject of Cupid’s arrow, sheep-eyed bliss, Aphrodite’s elixir, or maybe something to do with St. Valentine. It’s a Blog About Love, in short.

In this post, the female half ruminates on the viral article by Lori Gottlieb, in which she urges women to settle for Mr. Good-Enough when they’re young, so they don’t wind up totally alone when they’re old.

We’ve covered that ground before.

The blogger says people may be more willing to settle if they realize why they have higher expectations. Do they have a list to fill the void created by an imbalance in their psyche?

Personally, I don’t think that’s my problem, but these things are always more apparent to third parties. I’m sure someone could tell me about my imbalances and how they’re skewing my expectations. Sadly, although many people have told me why other people won’t marry me, nobody has yet endeavored to tell me why I won’t marry other people. Odd that. I wonder why?

To Know or Not to Care?

I have received a correction on the matter of the non-identifying caller  from another reference of mine. Apparently, he wasn’t trying to hide his name from me so I wouldn’t know who had done the asking. He intended to hide the fact that he had called at all, so I wouldn’t be disappointed when nothing came of it. There must have been a miscommunication or misunderstanding, and it got passed along to me as “someone called, can’t tell you who.”

In other words, he wasn’t being creepy and evasive, he was being nice.

So I guess I owe him an apology for suspecting him wrong. While I do usually operate on the assumption that most people aren’t trying to be jerks, I have had enough experience with no-name callers to be predisposed to suspicion.

If we were back in summer camp, we’d say I owed him a brocha. So my wish for him is that he should waste less time looking into people who aren’t right for him.

But really, did he have to do that?

To be honest, I don’t care if I never find out that someone has looked into me. I assume it happens every now and then. But the idea of someone deliberately hiding the fact from me in order to preserve my tender feeling strikes me as, well, a tad condescending. I mean, I’m not a little kid any more. If I can’t handle rejection by the ripe old age of 27, I’m in trouble.

But that could just be me. I have objected to being treated like a child ever since I was a child. In fact, my very first memory, from when I was two and shouldn’t have any memories, was of getting upset at my parents for not taking me seriously. I then spent the proceeding six years resenting relatives who called me cute and pinched my cheek because that’s not the sort of thing you say and do to someone you respect. Clearly, I have taken myself a little too seriously for about as long as I have had a sense of self.

So I decided to find out via proper research methods: is this subterfuge necessary? Or does it just complicate people’s lives unnecessarily?

Study on the Dating Sensitivities of Orthodox Jewish Women between the Ages of 22 and 31 with Regard to Men They Have Never Met But Who Have Already Rejected Them

Methodology: Text messages were sent to all the singles in my Contacts list. In order to avert pool bias toward a Bad4-Friend-Type, I also contacted Good4’s friends. Singles were also asked to pass the questions along to their friends and return the results.

Singles were asked two questions, sequentially. The second question was only asked after the first had been answered.

The question were: “If a guy looked into you and said no, would you want to know, or would you rather not know?”

This was followed up by the question: “Would you be hurt to find out about it?”

Sample Size: 11 singles, 5 under the age of 24, and 6 over the age of 24.

Results: I’ve divided the respondents into “Below 24” and “Above 24” to see if there are age-related differences.

Results for the question “Would you want to know or would you rather not know?”

Below 24:

“Prefer not to know at all. Except for the occasional times that he said no cuz you’re too frum or something because then it’s flattering instead of insulting.”

“I don’t care. It probably depends on the person because some people want to know that people are suggesting things even if nothing comes from it. And some would be hurt to hear people said no. There’s no better way, in my opinion.”

“Rock and hard place. Probably to know he said no.”

“Yes I’d like to know if you aren’t asking this hypothetically. If I had no idea I wouldn’t care.”

“Don’t really care either way. If he said no, it’s not gonna go anywhere.”

Above 24:

“[I would want to] Know.”

“I’d like to know that someone tried to do something on my behalf. But given the above options [know or don’t know], I’d rather not know.”

“To me it makes no difference. Unless I personally know the family/boy, I don’t care if he said no; he’s a stranger.”

“Nothing about it at all. Obv. You know about my low self esteem.”

“Probably know nothing.”

“Honestly I would not care.. I would assume looks, height or something superficial. Honestly if people are saying bad things and the idiot is listening, then forget that dude anyhow…”

Since everything looks prettier in a graph:

Slide1

Results for the question: Would you be hurt to find out?

Below 24:

“Nope. Family policy is “one closer.”

“Depends if I knew him or was desperate to go out with him. But I will get over it.”

“That would depend on how I felt about the guy.”

“Depends if I would have wanted to go out with him. Not so hurt, but a lot of rejection over time is hurtful, yes.”

Above 24:

“More annoyed than hurt. But I’d also rather know the guy said no as closure. How often does someone suggest a possibility and then leave it hanging – did he say no? Did the shadchan just drop the ball?”

““Can’t be uber-offended if he says no without meeting me. I am not that fragile. And then I know not to pursue him in the future. And I know my friends were thinking of me.”

“It would bruise my ego a little but if I don’t know the guy that’s not the worst rejection in the world. Def not the same as being interested and then they say no.”

“Yes, I’d wonder what was wrong with me.”

“No, I am currently going out with someone. Even if I wasn’t, I have the philosophy that if someone doesn’t think I am right for them, it is nothing against me (it just means we wouldn’t be right for each other). One more down. 😉

“No.”

“No, I don’t recall that [ever] happening.”

“No, why should I care if someone I don’t know said no?”

In beautified form:

Slide4

Discussion:

It appears that most women are not quite as delicate as supposed. Only one woman said she’d be upset to be “rejected.” The ones who said “It depends” specified that they’d have had to have previously agreed and truly wanted to date the gentlemen. Notably, these were almost all under the age of 24. A towering majority of the singles over 24 simply said “No.”

Conclusion: 

It appears that when dating a woman who has no prior knowledge that you are investigating her, you need not worry that she will be saddened by your “rejection” of her. If she has previously agreed to go out with you, and is of young and tender age, you may want to tread delicately. If she is old and hard boiled, forget it. She doesn’t care about you.

The Happy Single’s Manifesto

This depressing letter came to me via Kansas.

Every once in a while, an “older single” publishes a letter about how miserable she is, and how her married friends just make it worse, what  with rubbing her face in their children and never setting her up.

These letters make me sad. For starters, they perpetuate the angry old maid stereotype. I do not want to be pitied, however much these letter-writers do.

But mostly, I’m sad because there are single women who are unhappy with their lives. Yes, you want to move on to the next stage. But appreciate what you have while you have it!

As a very happy (too happy?) single, I feel compelled to write a brief guide to happy singlehood for all those miserable women out there.

1 – Move out. You’re a big girl now. Looking after yourself is surprisingly gratifying. I mean everything from making sure you’re fed (or eating out if you’re not) to coming home at midnight because “things came up” and not having to answer to anyone for it. Even housecleaning is more fun when it’s your own carpet that you’re vacuuming.

If you’ve got independent means, you should enjoy the fruits of your labor. Live like an adult. You’ll start to feel like one.

2 – Make single friends. Good4 says that for an introverted misanthrope, I have more friends than anyone she knows. That’s because I keep making them. And I do it very deliberately. Sometimes a little stalkerishly. It took me weeks to hunt down my first single when I first moved OOT. And when I finally came face-to-face with her, I actually blurted out “I’ve been looking for you for weeks!” To her credit, she did not back away slowly while fumbling for her phone.

3 – Hang out with your friends. You’d think this one was self-explanatory. Is that not the purpose of friends? But you’d be surprised.

In both OOT communities I’ve lived it, I’ve noticed the same pattern. Singles go to work, come home, eat supper, surf the net, and go to sleep, all while feeling sorry for themselves.  They know there are other singles doing the exact same thing. But it never occurs to anyone to pick up the phone and say “Hey, wanna come over and play Bananagrams?”

Which is how this introverted misanthrope wound up being the social epicenter of a singles community. For lack of anyone else doing it, I organize game nights, trivia nights, Chanukah parties, Chinese+movie outing, creek walks, bike rides, birthdays, and a dozen other excuses to spend time with people I like.

I’m also very friendly to newcomers to the community. Not because I’m a selfless welcome wagon. I’m just ensuring myself a steady stream of single friends to make up for those lost by attrition to marriage.

4 – But don’t lose MFs. Letters like the one in the link put MFs in a difficult spot. Somehow, they’re at fault, discomforting singles just by existing. That’s unfair. If you’re single and you want to drift away, the ball is in your court. But chances are you were friends for a reason, not just via geographic proximity.

Maybe MFs are busy with a different stage in life, but you can still talk to them. I value the perspective my MFs provide on marriage and singlehood both. And one day I hope to be a young mother, and able to benefit from the years of experience they can provide for me on such topics as diaper brands and Time Out procedures.

5 – Host your own Shabbos meals. Spending Shabbos with a proper nuclear family that does things by the  book feels like the best way to “do” Shabbos. But sometimes, you just don’t want to feel like a fifth wheel. Or the single invited because, nebach, she has nowhere else to go. Or just the person without a table of her own. You have a table! And If you don’t, buy one!  Then fill it up with people you like and have a rollicking good time.

And 5b: host your MFs. Yes, your table is just as worthy as theirs. And if you’re worried about the awkward, host multiple MFs so their husbands can congregate at the end and talk about mishnayos or football or whatever.

6 – Invest in some real household goods. Maybe a nice set of dishes for your Shabbos meal, because nothing screams “Just passing through” like a table full of paper plates. Maybe a comfy couch or two sets of color-coded anodized-steel cookware. Your life has worth. Treat it right. And these are all just fewer things you’ll have to buy when you get married.

6b – Just spend some money on yourself. Savings accounts are great, but you can’t save every spare penny for yeshiva tuition. That’s a miserable way to live. Go on vacation. Buy yourself a nice toy. Save for the future, definitely. But occasionally splurge on the present.

7 – Take up hobbies. One day, you will have to be home at 5pm to warm up supper. One day, you will have to be home whenever you told your spouse you would be. One day, you will have to be home simply because someone has to be there when the kids are. One day, in short, you will be tied to your home and your spouse by a short leash. Your recreational hobbies will be limited to things that you can do indoors while being interrupted by crying children.

But now you are free as the wind! You can use this opportunity to level-up your skills in anything. So take a course—in cosmetics or Gaelic or carpentry. Learn a new skill, like kickboxing or rock climbing. Join a book club or sewing circle. Experience the joy of fitness: buy a bike; join a gym; run a race.

If you are the type of person who sees everything you do in light of the marriage you hope is to come, trust me: it will all come in handy. Knowledge, skills, and good health will always come in handy. Plus, you’re more interesting with hobbies.

Imagine you’re sitting across the table from a guy who admits that after work he comes home, stares at the walls,  and waits for a shadchan to call. Now imagine you’re opposite a guy who speaks enthusiastically about steeple-chasing, or who shows you pictures of the longbow he carved himself. Or who is a fount of information on the history of Jews in Omaha. Or who uses a 3D printer to make mini-you action figures as customized birthday presents. Who would you rather see again?

Nothing is more appealing than joy and enthusiasm. Get some!

Wednesday Controversy: Must We Have Offspring to be Fulfilled?

This is excerpted from How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. It is in no way an endorsement of the book or its ideas (many of which I disagree with), nor a recommendation that you go out and read it (it’s sort of PG-13). I didn’t know it was some kind of feminist manifesto when I picked it up; I thought it was the manual nobody gave me at high school graduation. It wasn’t (and I still haven’t got my copy), but it was still a good read.

I found this excerpt interesting, coming from a mother. It states aloud some things I’ve suspected for years, watching many of my friends become mothers. Since it’s been quite a while since someone overtly told me that I don’t know anything about anything, I think it’s time to stir up some mud:

[Having children] is the easy option for women.

Because if you have children, at least people won’t keep asking you when you’re going to have children.  For some reason, the world really wants to know when women are having children. It is oddly panicked by women who are being a bit relaxed about it: “But your body clock!” it is apt to shout.

And if a woman should say she doesn’t want to have children at all, the world is apt to go a bit peculiar:

“Oooh, don’t speak too soon,” it will say—as if knowing whether you’re the kind of person who desires to make a whole other human being in your guts and then base the rest of your life around its welfare is a breezy “Hey—whatever” decision.

…It’s not simply that a baby puts a whole personful of problems into the world. It takes a useful person out of the world as well. Minimum. Often two. Before I had my kids I was politically informed, signing petitions, recycling everything down to watch batteries. It was compost heap here, dinner from scratch there, public transport everywhere. I rang my mother regularly. I was smugly, bustingly, low-level good.

Six week into being poleaxed by a newborn colicky baby, and I would have happily shot the world’s last panda in the face if it made the baby cry for 60 seconds less. Nothing got recycled; the kitchen was a mess. My mother could have died and I would have neither known nor cared.

Every day I gave thanks that both my husband and I were just essentially useless art critics.

“Imagine if you and I had been hot-shot geneticists, working on a cure for cancer,” I used to say gloomily.

“And we were so exhausted that we had to simply give up the project. Lizzie’s colic would be responsible for the death of billions.”

…We think of non-mothers as rangy lone wolves—rattling around, as dangerous as teenage boys. We make women feel that their narrative has ground to a halt in their thirties if they don’t “finish things” properly and have children.

Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow, women are incomplete without children. As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has own children. That there are lessons motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere—and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second. Like mothers graduate from Harvard, but the best the childless [woman] can manage is a high school equivalency diploma…

…No one has ever claimed for a moment that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence and were the poorer and crippled by it…

…It’s worth remembering it’s not of vital use to you as woman. Yes you could learn thousands of interesting things about love, strength, faith, fear, human relationships, genetic loyalty, and the effects of apricots on an immature digestive system.

But I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere.

While motherhood is an incredible vocation, [a mother] has no more inherent worth than a childless woman simply being who she is, to the utmost of her capabilities. To think otherwise betrays the belief that being a thinking, creative, productive, and fulfilled woman is, somehow, not enough. That no action will ever be the equal of giving birth.

Let me tell you, however momentous being a mother has been for me, I’ve walked around exhibitions of Coco Chanel’s life work, and it looked a lot more impressive, to be honest. I think it’s important to confess this. If you’re insanely talented and not at all broody, why not just go and have more fun?

Besides, she concludes, single aunts make great short-order babysitters.

Diminishing Returns on Change

I found this in my drafts folder. I apologize if it’s already been posted. 

Far be it from me to believe that I’m perfect, or that every single single person out there is perfect yet unappreciated, like an artist before his era. Hey, we’re only human.

But the world abounds with people who look at us and immediately realize what the problem is. The range can be from “you’re too picky” to “your table manners stink,” but in every case the speaker is dismayingly certain. My favorite is when people presume to know how I behave on dates. (“You need to talk more,” “you need to ask more questions,” “you need to be yourself,” “you need to restrain your humor until he knows you better,” and so on.)

But sometimes the criticism is leveled at something personal or lifestyle-related. And that’s where it gets disturbing. I don’t mind criticism on my character, because it can always use input. But don’t you dare try to take my hobbies from me in the name of marriage!

That’s why I find this list by the Curious Jew disturbing. Let’s just take an example:

“You’re too well read.”

So, in theory, if she gave up reading, she would be married?

And what would she do then? Could she start reading again, or would that lead to divorce?

For that matter, if she very much enjoys reading, are you seriously telling her to abandon a great joy of her existence based on the theory that marriage will replace it?

If you take any item on the list and reverse it, it’s almost an immediate reductio ad absurdum argument.

“You need to smile more.”

“So you’re saying I could have married any of the guys I dated if I’d have smiled at them more?”

“Well no but what I mean is that…”

Yes, do tell.

(Then there are the alte newlyweds who suddenly perceive why it took them so long to get married. “I didn’t really want to get married.” “So you could have been happily married already to one of the guys you previously went out with? Yes? So where does your current husband fall in the spectrum of men you could have married: is he near the top or the bottom?”)

Look folks, I have no objection to hearing theories on why I’m not married yet. But first say them aloud to yourself and try to phrase it so that you don’t sound so silly.

The Real Reason I’m Not Married

In seminary they tried to scare us into dating carefully by telling us stories about girls who dated Dr. Jekyll and woke up the morning after to Mr. Hyde. I believe men have their own versions of these timeless bedtime stories.

While I’m sure this does occasionally happen—for there must be utterly messed up and even psychopathic people out there (quite a lot of psychopaths, if one believes all the divorcees who have assured me they were married to one)—I think those unexpected body-snatching marriages end pretty quickly.  But when it comes to wonky marriages that last, I suspect something different is going on. After years of watching my friends pair off and be married, I am prepared to advance the following hypothesis: I think people pick people who allow them to perpetuate their neuroses.

This is how the friend with the habit of always making her life more complicated than it needed to be wound up with the OCD guy. The friend who was afraid of her own strength and ambition married the guy who nixed it. And the friend who was always pretty sure the world was out to get her married a guy who apparently is.

While my hypothesis is most obvious in poor to fair marriages, I believe, with further study, that it can be extended into the healthier range as well.  Just because they’re happy doesn’t mean they’re not neurotic.

But therein, methinks, lies my problem. If marriage is about choosing another nut-job who complements or aggravates your nuttiness, what do you do if you’re not nutty? Yes, I’m saying it out loud:

I’m just too well-adjusted.

Go ahead, guffaw. But even my therapist said so.

Seriously, though. Maybe I’m not quite normal, but who is? And maybe my neuroses can’t be complemented by a partner. Indeed—perhaps they require being single. In that case, I’m as happily married as any of you out there. My neuroses are happy, healthy, and fostered by my lack of partnership.

At least I didn’t need a wig and three kids to accomplish that.

Am I Engaged or Disappointed?

You know when people say that when they met their spouse they “just knew” from the first date? I’ve always been a little bit skeptical about that knowing. I mean, how many times did they “just know” with people they didn’t end up marrying? Does anyone keep track?

All you have to do is tune in to any FM radio station to hear that very often one party “just knows” while the other sees things completely differently. I had a hard time believing that “just knowing” about someone you’ve only just met really works.

So I vowed, for the sake of scientific inquiry, to keep track if I ever “just knew” about someone I was dating.

Except, it’s never happened.

Most of the time I was disappointed by the caliber of men I was dating. Where were the confident, competent men? The ones with foresight and enthusiasm and all that good stuff? Was it too much to ask that the guy I marry be at least as good at Life as I was?

My father despaired that I was being too hard on men.

When I did find myself dating someone competent, I would often realize, in horror, that I could potentially marry this person and live a perfectly contented life. Horror, yes. Because when I asked myself if I was willing to give up my independence, my hair, and my nongravid state for a merely contented life with this man, the answer was always a vehement “no.”

My mother despaired that my priorities were all messed up.

And sometimes I wondered if she was right. Was the purpose in life to get married and have kids, like good Zeldas and Tevyas? Or was I part of a new generation that could demand just a little bit more?

I self-doubted.

But then I met a guy and just knew. It wasn’t hearts-in-the-pupils love. But I respected him so much that I just skipped over the questions about hair and independence straight to the question of how we could effectively merge our lives. He was smart, competent, funny, and I wanted to be better so that I’d deserve him. I had never felt that way about any guy I dated before.

So, my mother was wrong. The people who were right were the ones who said “You just haven’t met the right guy yet.” And now I’d met him.

Except for one problem:  We broke up at exactly the same point as I had with all the competent guys. For the best.

Oh well.

At least I got a datapoint out of it.

Segula Salesmen

To all such people, and everyone touting their own brand of segula or prayer by 40 kollel chassidim at the kever of a Tanah who was single until he was 64 and promised to personally walk down the aisle anyone who said Nishmas 40 times in 40 days at his kever—-

You. Repel. Me.

There are truckloads of reasons I’m still single. Just ask any of my relatives, or any of the shadchanim I’ve ever visited. Even my friends could probably name a few reasons, although they won’t, because friends can be unfriended.

But oh, wouldn’t it be tempting to believe that they’re all wrong—that the only thing standing between me and Prince Charming under a white canopy and a blue sky is 40 ba’alei teshuva saying the entire Tehillim 40 times in 40 days at the kevarim of 40 obscure Amora’im?

Oh please. That’s ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous. You know it’s ridiculous. We all know it’s ridiculous.

Except the people in the glossy brochure. Chana* (*Name changed to protect her identity and her children’s shidduch chances), the 36-year-old who surely didn’t just happen to meet her man 2 years after writing off a check to this segula. And Dovid* (*name changed to prevent shame from falling on his family and yeshiva for producing such an alte bucher), who got married at the ripe old age of 28 — he seems to believe it works.  And Nechama* (*name changed so you can’t look her up and ask if she’s real), who was childless for years until she dropped a penny in the right pushka finally — she realizes the power of selective charity giving.

All these happy people with their happy stories. Deliverance!* (*Small processing fee may apply.)

All the things the  shadchanim want me to fix—those are difficult, if not downright impossible. I might still be working on them in a few years from now. But the segula? That’s easy. Quick and relatively painless. What’s a few dollars in the grand scheme of things? Besides, it’s going to a good cause: upkeep of a long-dead man’s gravestone and the printing of more glossy brochures. It’s tax and ma’aser deductible. Also, look at all these men with “Rav” in front of their name and “Shlita” after who signed the bottom.  I don’t know who they are, but surely they wouldn’t mislead me?

And, really, it’s only money… What can it hurt to try?

You can’t kill an idea. Not once it’s made a home in someone’s head.

So, pathetic, hopeful singles send you their money, and a small percentage even get engaged after. And you print them up in your next glossy brochure and distribute it to entrap more desperate hopefuls.

But who is compiling the brochure of failures? Where is the glossy book of people* (*names changed to protect them from the judgment that, really, they’re so traif even 40 holy men and a holy ghost can’t save them from themselves) who sent in their check and never got the implied (though not promised, as recommended by the lawyers) deliverance? Where are their stories?

An industry 0f parasites. A national epidemic of tapeworms.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Chanukah Parties

There wasn’t a chance to publish this on Chanukah, so it went into the drafts and I forgot about it until now. So, here you are.

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There’s nothing like a family Chanukah party to remind you about how single you are.

It always starts the same way. Hug and kiss the grandmother while being asked when you will be arriving late due to husband and kids. Smile and say you hope sometime soon.

Then the cousins with the husbands and kids arrive. There are the usual greetings. “Hello, I haven’t seen you in so long, what are you up to these days?”

Don’t be fooled. They are not under the impression that you change your life every year. They just can’t remember what you were doing from last Chanukah party. If you’re feeling merciful, you give them the full rundown, “Still teaching pig-latin to orphans in sub-Saharan Africa.” If you’re feeling cruel, you just say, “Oh, same as last year.” Then wait for their smile to go forced as they ask “And that is what?”

You meet about 18 different cousins and have the identical conversation with each of them. You coo at their babies. You call them cute. You comment on how much or how little hair they have and how smiley they are/aren’t. This is the easy part. The hard part is when you sit down with your latkes and try to find yourself someone your age and single to talk to.

You look around.

You look around some more.

And then you realize that you are the last remaining grandchild within your decade to be unpaired.

So you resign yourself to finding a favorite cousin who happens to be married. But alas. It’s like the bodysnatchers got them. Your favorite cousin is no longer there.

Conversation is about getting children into preschool in Lakewood. It’s about where the cheapest, best-quality diapers are. If it’s a Lakewood table, they’ll cover who is receiving what benefits from the government and how they  deal with all the full-fat milk that food stamps requires them to buy. If it’s a Five Towns table, they’re most likely covering children’s clothing sales.

The most you can really contribute to these conversations is “I heard that…” or “My friend says…” You have conversation via proxy experience. If you really make an effort, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. You are not you: you are the sum total of the related experiences of others that you have accumulated in your grey matter.  Thank God you have married friends on food stamps.

Well, sort of. I mean, obviously it would be better if they weren’t. But since the government is so generous, your friend benefits, and you benefit, and your table at the Chanukah party benefits because they don’t have that awkward single sitting there quietly swirling the sour cream on her plate. It’s like a great ripple of joy emanating from Washington D.C.

Uncle Sam’s Chanukah gelt.

Happy Holiday, all.

Crushing

Elyu went on a first date with a decent guy. There were no apparent hashkafic issues. He wasn’t slovenly or rude. She saw no reason not to go out again.

 

But, the shadchan informed her, the Guy didn’t quite see things that way.

 

Elyu had not either been slovenly or rude or hashkafically off. But Guy had not felt any “sparks.” And so, he was off to strike his flint against a woman of another mettle.

 

“Sparks?” Elyu asked indignantly. “We sat across a table from each other for two hours. What was he expecting?”

 

Not being male, I couldn’t say. Presumably not the same thing he feels when he sees an ad for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

 

There is a concept of “love at first sight,” also known as the “crush,” a phenomenon that can occur before even making a person’s acquaintance. The best illustration of this can be seen in photos from a Twilight premier, with weeping girls trying to touch an actor they don’t know at all, and who probably has character flaws they would never tolerate in an ordinary boyfriend.

 

The Crush is a powerful motivational force – just look at Romeo and Juliet. It’s also a really bad way of gauging long-term compatibility.

 

But maybe, with all the checking out that we Orthodox Jews do before the first date, it doesn’t matter. You already know that you are basically compatible with the person. It’s just a matter of seeing whether you want to be.

 

Except I do know of at least one person who gazed soulfully into her future-husband’s blue eyes on the first date and made her decision immediately. I don’t know if she completed shanah rishonah before the mental disorder stopped being an endearing quirk and became a form of borderline abuse. Would she have noticed this issue if she’d gone on her seven dates without “crush goggles” on? It seems more likely. She might even have gone on more than seven dates.

 

Yes, we all want to be attracted to our spouses. But please please! Not on the first date. That’s just asking for trouble.

 

The chances of crushing on a first date are kind of slim anyway, wouldn’t you say? Our society goes through a great deal to keep crush goggles from fogging our judgement. There is no touching, no dancing, no tiny black dress. You’re not supposed to be head over heels on the first date. It’s actively discouraged.

 

What Guy highlights is a weakness of our hybrid dating method. We have secular expectations, but traditional behaviors. Crushes are inevitable in high-contact, low-lighting situations. Less so over sushi in a crowded kosher restaurant. Crushes are fine if you’re going to be in perpetual company for the next year or two, sharing an apartment. You’re bound to find out all the turnoffs sooner or later. Not so much if you’re going on 7 to 14 stand-alone dates before exchanging vows.

 

Having a first-date crush, then, seems both over-demanding and ill-advised, from my perspective. But I could be pontificating from an ivory tower. What do you think? (Please ID as male/female.)

 

Other BadforShidduchim posts about love:

What Is This Thing Called Chemistry? – an exploration of this vague reason to discontinue dating.

I Knew Right Away – I’ve known right away that I would be great friends with someone. Is that how you ‘know right away’ that you’ll be great spouses with someone?

Does Marriage Need Love? A Non-Jewish Perspective – Who needs love anyway? It can come later.

Marrying Someone Second Best – The point is to settle down – key word being “settle.”

Rescuing to Create Love – Love is just oxytocin. How to create some with the right ambiance.

Thursday Link: Same Old Familiar Pleasantness

Ha’aretz makes you register to read their articles free, but it’s worth it for this beautiful piece.

My favorite parts:

I can already predict the end of the evening, or perhaps next week or three weeks after that, when he will make that inevitable, anxious joke: “So, will your next story be about me?” And I smile and think, “Do something interesting first.”

The beauty of this line is that she actually is writing about them. It has a subtext not unlike that associated with the great music blogger’s line:  “You’re so vain you probably think this post is about you.”  I do get that question too often. It makes dating while blogging about dating rather awkward at times. How do you tell someone that they’re not being written about without implying that they’re not worth writing about?

She also writes:

The neighboring tables watch too, curious about the young couple who might be engaged to marry within months; she knows that the younger girls are wide-eyed as they play guessing games nearby, because only a few years ago it had been she herself watching from afar: “What do you think, Leah? Is it their fifth date? No, no, they look too uncomfortable, must be a third.”

Hey wait, younger girls? I still do that. It’s always fun to nudge your neighbor and point out a date, the couple standing a careful distance apart, the awkwardly restrained conversation of two people who are still trying to make a good impression on each other, who still don’t trust each other quite enough to just be their regular selves…

Just last week I was out with some girlfriends and a date took the next table over. I guessed they were on 5 or 6 based on their greater comfort level and the way the guys eyes shined when he gazed at the girl. They made a very cute couple too. If that was you in Shalom Bombay, I wish you all the best.

There are times when I consider putting aside these shidduch dates, but I realize that I have no interest in stepping outside of the warmth of my small, familiar world. There’s no other place I’d rather be in, no dizzying cocktail party that can rival the quiet intensity of our traditions.

Amen.

Missing Part of the Equation

Three single people in a shared apartment living room. They are discussing how comfortable they are in their current living situation, and how perhaps a Boston marriage is in order, and who needs to get married anyway?

“Everyone I know who is married has issues. Either it’s the spouse or it’s the kids or it’s the trying to have kids. But they’ve nearly all been messy – sometimes permanently – in some way,” says First Single.

Second Single nods in agreement. One of her good friends recently filed for a divorce after five years with a deadbeat.

Third Single looked at the first two incredulously. “Are you saying you think being married is worse than being single?”

First and Second Single look at each other. “Well, it does look that way, from the outside.”

“Look,” Third Single began. “Granted, all the married people I know have Married-People Issues of some type. But don’t we all have Single-People Issues?” Her voice trailed off as she realized the inevitable response.

“Um, aside from the fact that we’re not married?” First Single said. “Not really.”

“We’re missing something, I think…” Second Single said, perturbed.

I’m Ready Now!

I was skimming some old posts when I found one about how I wouldn’t want to marry the first guy I dated because I don’t know enough about guys to make an important decision liked that without comparison. I was worried that maybe all guys were super-awesome, and if I took the first one, I’d be giving up the even-more-super-awesome guys waiting in line.

That was four years and 28 guys ago. At this point, I think I’ve seen what’s out there. I’m ready to go. So, where’s the super-awesome dude who is going to blow all the rest of them out of the water? Please ring my doorbell and invite me out for a bike ride.

Quote of the Wedding: Broken Heart

It’s very sad when a good friend, with whom you’re used to having physical proximity, goes and gets married. Suddenly, they’re not there to talk to in the evenings any more. They’re not conked out on your couch Shabbos afternoon, or borrowing your toothpaste because they forgot to buy (yet again), or making you laugh at your loathed boss at midnight over cold leftover couscous. Instead, they’re off with some guy that they’ve chosen over you. And you’re all alone in an empty apartment with an ugly Craigslist couch that looks pathetically empty.

“She was the first to break my heart by getting married,” reminisced the bride’s former flatmate about a long-married friend. “There’s been a long string of them since.”

Living in the Now?

Sometimes, I really hate feminism for making us all have to work, instead of staying home, cultivating hobbies, and making dinner every night.

Then, sometimes I really love it for making it possible for us to spend our time productively, even if we’re single.

It is a female habit to analyze every change in one’s life against the effect it will have on a hypothetical future family. How will I handle kids and this job? How will  I support a learner on this income? If I get electrolysis, will it all be undone by pregnancy hormones? If I get a job in finance, what will I do if my future husband wants to live in Kansas City? Do I really want to get promoted if it means working longer hours that will keep me from being at home when my kids get off the bus from school? And on and on.

A few days ago, eating tuna out of a can on a business trip in Manitoba, similar thoughts crossed my mind. And suddenly I realized: that’s a really stupid way to approach life.  Imagine if I’d done that 6 years ago. Where would I be right now? Definitely not in Manitoba. Imagine all the things I’d have missed out, hugging the metropolitan area, working part time, living a family-oriented life with no family to orient around.

You can always rearrange your career later, if necessary. Why downgrade ahead of time in anticipation of what might never be?

So, my resolution for the next six years is not to worry about the hypothetical. I’ll just live my life based on my current life, which is one situation I know I can count on being in (for nine months at least).

New Rule: Don’t Rely on Single Friends

I propose the 3-month rule for making plans with single friends. Beyond that, their priorities can get fuzzied by a gentleman caller who may have called more than the usual amount of times.

There was the time a few of us had loads of fun at the Rennaissance Faire, so we decided to go again next year. We all whipped out our phones and entered the appointment.

Well, within 9months one had gotten married and moved to Israel, and the other was married and in Connecticut.

Then there was the time I made a bet on a matter that could only be proven at the end of the year. Again, Friend and I marked it in our phones. But before I could win (or lose) the prized pie of pizza, the phone was lost down the drain and the owner had left to Israel, met a gentleman, married him, and moved to Houston.

So I probably shouldn’t have gotten excited about the idea of an annual kayaking trip with a NMF#17. Granted, you don’t often find nice Jewish girls willing to spend a week paddling down a river and camping in the woods. There is no reason to suppose that someone wouldn’t come along and snap up such a rare gem on sight. But I can’t help but feel a teeny drop let down about it.

When you get down to it, every single woman’s goal seems to be to get married. And she will prioritize that well above any of her other single friends. So, it’s important, when dealing with single friends, to never plan more than nine months out. This way, you will never get stood up, or jilted for a man.

Friday Repost: Pride and Prejudice

I confess to it: I have a little bit of a pride issue. I’m a little bit biased, but I happen to think that I’m really not bad. Yes, yes, I have my faults, but they’re part of my charm, aren’t they? (After all, really, what is less charming than someone who is perfect?)

So being rejected is like a punch in the gut. It means that someone out there disagrees with my self-assessment. How sickening is that?

Which is why it’s nice to be reminded that it’s really nothing personal. Well, actually it is personal, but not that personal. Or anyway, not usually that personal…