Congrats to NEF #21

Okay, I made that number up. I don’t know what number she is. But she deserves a special public congratulations, because according to her high school teacher, she wasn’t ever supposed to get engaged.

You know how bais yaakov teachers roll. It’s all “Do what I say or you’ll never get married!” Heck, I had a Tefillah teacher in 12th grade who told us she got a shidduch call about a girl who didn’t pay attention in Tefillah class and, well, “I just couldn’t think of anything nice to say about her.”

I can’t think of anything nice to say about that teacher.

So, moving right along. NEF #21 really wanted to go to Michlala in Israel to study for a year. But her teacher told her that if she didn’t go to a bais yaakov seminary, nobody would ever want to date her.

NEF thought about that a bit. She realized that, in fact, people who study in Michlala do not comprise the entirety of the “shidduch crisis” pool. Moreover, if she went to a bais yaakov seminary, she’d probably wind up dating the wrong kind of people. The type who think like her teacher, perhaps. So she went to Michlala, learned a lot, had a great year, and now, guess what? She’s engaged!

Back of the Class

I am very lucky: my high school class has an excellent archivist. So when there was a sudden and unexpected flurry of engagements this year, I was able to request the data.

Here’s what I wanted to know: how many of us are still single?

There were 66 students in my graduating high school class. Of those, 59 are married or engaged. For those who don’t care to reach for their calculator, that’s 89%. Which is to say, 10.6% are still single.

Well, we all know the 10% statistic. So, as a member of the 10% of my high school class, I think I can officially give up.

Yes, I know, it’s a statistic, not a rule. Of course it’s not a rule! I have a friend who is the last in her class still single. Although, granted, at a class size of 15, that may not be a significant variance from 10%. I don’t know – I haven’t got the time to figure it out.

It should probably be disheartening to think that I’m now a statistic. But the truth is, everyone’s a statistic. If you’re not in the 10% single then you’re in the 90% married. Honestly, what’s the difference? We can all be distilled into numbers one way or another.

So I kept adding columns to my spreadsheet. This time I was curious about rate of marriage. Is it sort of bell-shaped, or is there a tail? That’s really what set off my quest in the first place.

And so, I present to you, a case study of a Bais Yaakov High School, marriage rate, sample size 66.
Marriage Histogram

 

As you can see, there’s a slow start, as most of the sample was in Israel, and had a delayed start entering the marriage pool. But those who stayed in New York City lost no time at all in engaging themselves to the local male populace.

Once the Israel-seminarians returned, they too threw themselves into the marriage market, marrying an astonishing 18 of themselves off in the first year alone! This rapid rate of pairing slowed only marginally for the next two years, before dropping precipitously.  This may be due to the fact that a grand total of 71% of them were now paired off and busily reproducing themselves. The remaining 29% were slower and more circumspect. However, eventually another 20% of them also found a mate. These pairings were slower, more gradual, and illustrate undramatically on the histogram above.

You may be wondering: yes, there is a rapid marriage rate. But what about the divorce rate?

Well, I reassure you, the class currently stands at zero divorces, which is a rate of 0%.

“I Just Wish I Was Dating”

The bais Yaakov high-school graduate is suddenly handed a dizzying range of control over her life: what to wear Monday through Friday, how late to stay out at night, what ice cream to have for supper, what subjects to study in college.

Giddy on independence and control, the young single woman sees nothing but promise ahead—a life crafted to her desires, perfect by her own design. She has it planned out, step by step, from volunteer summer job this year to the influential career down the line. She knows exactly what it takes, and she knows that she’ll get there.

Except for one thing. The marriage factor. She’s not really sure where it fits in, though she’d be happy to adjust for it at any point. But neither does she know how to make it happen. And while she’s confident that she’ll achieve it, she really wishes she could see, just a little more clearly, how.

The phrase “career-path” is well-known. The phrase “marriage-path”—not so much. Even though we exercise reduced control over our employment, there are tried and true techniques for job hunting and ladder climbing. We know that if we keep at it, we’ll eventually meet with some success.

Not so with dating. Network at weddings, harass shadchanim—there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get to sit across from a nervous young man and sip coke.

It’s disconcerting. Disheartening. Disgruntling. The most frustrating part of being orthodox, female, and single isn’t being single—it’s not being able to do anything about it. Men, at least, have their lists to occupy them, to maintain that façade of control. But women… well, how else to explain our inexplicable attachment to those SYAS accounts?

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. With all the control we have over our lives, it’s easy to forget that we don’t make our own fate. Not to start quoting “kochi vi’otzem yadi” at you (or anyone—I’m talking about myself here… oh God I just sounded like a high school teacher twice in one sentence), but sometimes you need to ram into that wall to force you to stop, breath, and refocus. My dating status is out of my control, and so is everything else. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, and stop backseat driving for God.

 

 

 

The Final Word in Halacha

Some people took issue with my Da’as Torah post, because it seemed to suggest that men are prone to handing their minds over to their rabbeim for safekeeping. This is hardly my position on the matter. As a woman, I tend to hear bad-date stories from women, hence most of my posts are from the female perspective “OMG can you believe this guy?” However, having attended a bais yaakov, I know perfectly well how far off the deep end women can dive.

One gentleman learned this himself on a date with a nice aidel girl. Conversation flowed until they had a hashkafic disagreement on a matter of ba’al tashchis. Suddenly, she withdrew and wouldn’t answer him with more than a grunt. After some monologuing at her, he gave up and dropped her off at home. He wasn’t sure what went wrong, but he had a feeling that she hadn’t been rendered speechless by awe and admiration.

“I think it’s a no,” he told the shadchan. “She went mute at 7:49pm.”

The shadchan did the post-mortem and came back with the results:

“While she was dating you,  and there was a potential for marriage, there was toeles to your conversation. But once she decided that she didn’t want to marry you, she had no heter  to speak to men, so she stopped.”

I have to say, I’m impressed by the strength of conviction  of this young lady, and I just hope she doesn’t work in social services or any sector where pleasant but unnecessary conversation is part of the job. Either way, she’s now happily married to a man she can talk to as much as she pleases.

 

Above Love

What intrigued me most about this conversation was my coworker’s perspective on the question: does marriage need love?

When I was in the bais yaakov system, they repeatedly informed us that love comes after marriage. You pick out someone you’ll be compatible with in terms of personality and hashkafa, and then you fall in love with them afterwards.

I took this on faith, the same way I took most everything on which I had no other perspective, and sallied forth to look for someone compatible to marry.

We all know that yeshiva educations are lacking in many ways. Science, math, history, and basically any secular study. Well, I have found another gaping hole in the education of our young men. It dawned on me slowly, but about a year or so into my dating career it crystallized: nobody had told any of my gentleman callers that love came after marriage. My dates wanted to fall giddily in love before they proposed, and when they didn’t, they told the shadchan “no.”

The one who left me most confused was the guy who was clearly smitten on date one, but failed to ever be smitten again, and after four dates gave the shadchan a garbled excuse for why he didn’t want to go out again, but which even the shadchan admitted boiled down to “Not sure what happened but let’s not keep trying.” I was puzzled. Didn’t he realize that his crush was a shallow, ephemeral rush of hormones created by a combination of lighting and angles and gazing into eyes and as easily gained or lost as the conditions permitted?

But eventually I came around. I realized that love was clearly an important thing, and by not insisting on it, I was short-selling myself. I decided that I too would require my dates to be conceivably loveable in order for us to go out again.

I wish I could say that this changed my dating life. That I started a career as a dating diva, turning down guys because they were too hairy, or skinny, or big-footed. That wasn’t what happened. What happened was that, instead of the guy saying “no” after date two while I dithered “Well, if he’s interested”—instead, we both said “no” after date two, and my ego came out much the less bruised for it.

I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed that phase of my dating career. There was such certainty in it. I never felt guilty about turning down a guy whose company I didn’t mind but who didn’t have a bat’s chance at the optometrist of interesting me romantically. Nor did I feel very bad when one of those guys turned me down. “I wasn’t so into him anyway,” I’d shrug.

There was some cognitive dissonance. I mean, who is into anyone after spending 4-8 hours with them in a formal setting? Do I have a single friend in my life that I fell in love with at first sight? Or even second sight? (Actually, some of my oldest friends are people that I hated at first sight.) Dating like this was some kind of absurd parody, and it was never going to land me a mate. Why was I even trying?

Worst of all was the fear lurking just below the surface: was I in the right, or was this the highway to picky older singlehood? If Mr. Perfect showed up, would I turn him down for failing to make my heart flutter?  Absurd from one perspective, reasonable from another, and completely theoretical from every which way. Mr. Perfect never showed, or else he never agreed to a third date, so I didn’t need to face down my theories with my beliefs.

I coasted along until a late-night conversation with a friend.

“You’re not a guy,” she informed me. “You can think with your head. You pick someone reasonable and you try to make him fall in love with you.”

“You make it sound so easy,” I groused.

“I know, I shouldn’t talk. I don’t have guys falling at my feet either. And I haven’t met any that I’d want to. But if I found a half-normal Sephardi guy to marry, I would do it in a second, love optional.”

With that, I was back in mega-uncertainty mode. Not that it mattered, since I didn’t date anyone half-normal for quite a while, but lacking a principle to live by was troublesome.

And now, here was the lab tech, telling me the same thing as my bais yaakov teachers: pick someone likable for whatever accessories they have, and let love follow after marriage.

Wrong? Right? Indifferent? Say it below.

Friday Repost: Insensitive Sensitivity

Don’t you hate it when people are sensitive to you? It reminds me of the time in 9th grade when the teacher was always going on about how friendless we all feel in a new school and we should all do a “neck exercise” to turn and look for someone else who needs our friendship.

Well, after that little speech, I viewed any overtures of friendship with suspicion. Why was Ms. Popular suddenly dropping by my desk to say hello? Did she think I had no friends? What a snub!

Sensitivity is like that. People are trying to be nice to you, and all it does is highlight that they perceive an inadequacy in your life. I read a complaint about the “Happy Holidays” greeting. “We all know that it just means ‘Merry Christmas to all of you poor losers who don’t celebrate Christmas’,” the blogger whinged. In other words, once again, sensitivity is taken the wrong way.

Let’s face it: sensitivity is insensitive! Especially when done sensitively. It suggests that you simply aren’t equipped to handle one aspect of your life, and everyone else is required to tiptoe around you to prevent a meltdown.

I believe that the best solution to this is that everyone just stop being sensitive. Usually the other person won’t notice, because they’re not sensitive on the same items as you think they are. And if they are? They’ll just deal with it the way they deal with all the things you’re not sensitive about (like not being sensitive) – by growing a thicker skin.

All these musings, of course, wer inspired by a post inspired by someone being sensitive about my being single. And back then I was only 21.

 

The Shidduch Threat (2 of 2)

Part 1 was yesterday

With one particular senior teacher, nothing I did made her happy–or content, or even resigned.

She could discern note-taking from novel-writing from across the classroom, and she had a zero-tolerance policy for such creative development. She would even stop at my desk to glare if I so much as doodled in the margins of my notes. Her lack of tolerance extended, insufferably, to my chin-on-hands pose. She demanded nothing less than a bolt-upright position, an alert expression, and eyes wide with inspiration.

Because she did try to inspire. It offended her that I wasn’t blown away by her teachings. Her subject was a fluffy one to begin with, and she frothed it up like full-fat whip cream. It was about as far from my style as goth is from business casual. I didn’t hold it against her–she couldn’t help that her subject didn’t suit me. What I loathed was that she didn’t return my understanding and tolerance. And she, like many teachers, did  not appreciate how painful it is to sit attentively in a wooden desk when you are dying of boredom.

I must not have been the only vacant expression in the classroom. I can’t flatter myself with the notion that she’d stop class on a weekly basis just to lecture to me. Because that’s exactly what she’d do. Quite regularly, she would take a break to remind us of the importance of her subject. She would insist (like every other teacher) that hers was the most important class we were taking.

And then, with barely a pause for breath, she would tell us about a shidduch call she received yesterday—just one of the many she got every week. They wanted to know about a former student of hers—and the girl had been such a great student that she was able to be quite enthusiastic.

But that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the girl wasn’t such a great student. And then she didn’t know what to say. And she hated to give a bad impression, but what could she do? When she had no positive memories of the girl from class, she couldn’t make stuff up, could she?

While going on in this vein, she would march up and down the aisles where my posse sat, making eye contact with everyone. Depending on my mood, I would return her gaze with either my best Chrestomanci-vague expression (“Is this relevant to me?”) or a Charles-Morgan, Double-Barreled blank (“Words cannot convey my resentment and disdain”).

Somehow, she hoped to inspire us via threat. Like some modern version of slapping wrists with a ruler, or a grown-up version of the OD threatening to call the head counselor on you.

So: Students afraid to ask their teachers questions because of shidduchim? Really, I wonder how that could happen. Is it general community hysteria? Or might it be something else… something more insidious, perhaps?

The Shidduch Threat (1 of 2)

A few weeks ago I came across an article by a speaker who gave a seminar on basic Jewish beliefs at a Bais Yaakov. She received enthusiastic and excellent questions from the students.

Curious, she asked them why they had never asked their regular teachers these questions. The students glanced at each other and said, “Well, those teachers get calls about shidduchim. We don’t want them to think that we have emunah issues.”

The article went on to do some lamenting, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I was transported back to my high school days.

Are these students paranoid? Or are their fears well founded?

Actually, their fears might be planted.

Like tweenage babysitters threatening their charges with monsters if they get out of bed, some teachers threaten their students with bad shidduch references for similar misdemeanors.

I will begin this narrative by explaining that I was never a teacher’s student. I’m not an auditory learner and I struggle with audiobooks, meetings, and lectures. In fact, I don’t even bother attending shiurim anymore, as I cannot seem to sit and listen with any manner of grace. This has ruined my frum cred in the eyes of the pious, but I consider it more respectful to the speaker.

Another problem I had in high school was the tendency of teachers to repeat everything three times. I learned that I could fall into a consciousness cycle wherein I paid attention for 20 out of every 60 seconds and still catch everything of importance.

The problem then became: what to do with the other 40 seconds?

Well, my default was to cross my arms on my desk, slide them forward, and rest my chin on my forearms. This way my head wasn’t in the objectionable Napping Position, but it was close enough to be comfortable.

“I feel sorry for your teachers,” my father interrupted a dvar Torah once to inform me, after I slid into position. “You look so painfully bored.”

It always did seem to make my teachers unhappy. I never really understood why. I got great grades on tests and I could usually parrot back whatever they’d been talking about when they called on me unexpectedly. What more could they want?

“Active engagement,” one teacher informed me after her first test. She explained that my grades made my disengagement inexcusable. Apparently, if you’re a poor student it’s okay to slouch and not take notes. But if you’re a good student you’re expected to sit straight and alert, scribble non-stop, and wave your hand in the air like you’re auditioning for the part of Hermione Granger. This teacher tried to engage me in standard bais yaakov style: by ordering me to be engaged.

With the help of some friends, I tried to simulate the appearance of engagement. That is: we filled the other 40 seconds with busy scribbling: epistolary novelettes, underground class magazines, cryptography, and a comic strip series about a group of superhero students who fought to rid the world of tyrannical, narrow-minded, and unreasonable educators. Except with the most eagle-eyed teachers, it seemed to help.

Part 2 tomorrow

Turning Down Dates

For the third time in my life, I found myself explaining to a colleague why I won’t date a non-Jew. It was my fourth time running through it (once I had to do it on behalf of another orthodox girl in college whose identity I still don’t know), so I condensed it into one convincing but diplomatic line. Nothing against his friend who sounds like a great guy—this is just how it is. But I was beginning to note a pattern.

Non-Jewish men with strong values dig orthodox women.

Yes, ladies. There are guys out there who think you are hot stuff. Your aidelkeit catches their eye and they like what they see.

Okay, I’m laughing. I mean, I’m not exactly the prototype aidel bais Yaakov maidel. Not for lack of trying—I really gave it a shot once. But it just didn’t take. Still, compared to my colleagues, I’m the picture of sweetness and modesty. Also, I’m nice, friendly, kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous, and good with kids.

Oh wait, this isn’t my shidduch profile. Scratch that.

Anyway, this little discovery was a boost to my self-esteem. In addition to the demographic of men over the age of 50, it turns out I am also of interest to non-Jewish men with strong family values. At this rate of discovery, I might find a Jewish demographic to date by the time I’m 30. Hey, they must be out there.

Has anyone else had to field feelers from non-Jewish colleagues?

Ne-ext!


I give up. That’s it. There’s nobody for me to marry so I’m not getting married.

What’s so great about marriage anyway? Instead of lying awake at night worrying because you haven’t got a husband and children (which I don’t actually do), you lay awake at night worrying because you do. Why would anyone want that?

There’s a lot more you can do when you’re single. I could start that spinster colony. Or become a crazy crusader. You know, one of those women who fly about making the world a better place. And everyone watches them zoom around and says, “She does such wonderful work but…” they twirl their fingers around their ears. Then they lower their voices and add “And it’s only because she never got married. If she had, she would have just settled down like everyone else.”

And they’ll decide to marry me off but I will refuse to go out because why do that to yourself? It’s just a stupid cycle of hope and misery. And then they’ll wander off muttering that I’m too picky and that’s why, yes that explains everything, they should have known, because what normal person would still be single at my age?

There are lots of things in the world that need improving. I’d never be short of a crusade. For example, I’ve always wanted to go back to my high school and teach Jewish history so that it’s actually interesting, instead of as a long list of names, dates, and books written. If I have a latent hatred for book-writing rabbis, it’s because of that class. Also dying rabbis, because then there’s another date to memorize. That would be my first crusade.

I could expand it by creating a Jewish History Society with a recreationist museum full of actors pretending to be burned to death in shuls and stuff like that. We’d have swashbuckling Jewish pirates, Jewish merchants, turban-tying Jewish viziers, stylish Jewish bankers, and horseback riding, pistol-toting Jewish explorers. All the people you never hear about because they were Rebs and not Rabbis (although some of them did write books).

Then there’s my bais Yaakov improvement project. I’ve noticed that a lot of bais Yaakov grads, who in all appearances are very aidel knaidels, believe that their high schools failed them in a single, very significant way. Not off-the-derech nobody-loved-me types of people and complaints. More if-I-wasn’t-so-well-grounded-this-would-really-disgust-me types.  I want to go around collecting interviews, searching for a possible common denominator, and then presenting the study to principals in the hope of improving our educational system. That could keep me busy for a while.

Yes, there are a lot of great and important things to do in the world. And as a single spinster, a crazy crusader, I will have the time and resources to do them. There is a bright, husband-free future ahead of me. So why get upset? If it ain’t working, just give it up. Not everyone can succeed at everything. Move on to something that you can do instead.

Note: This is not the post I promised commenter Noah. That one is still in second draft and will probably need four more to be presentable. This is filler material off my hard drive.

However, please rate this post on a five-star scale, with five meaning “I emailed this to my friends” and one being “gosh you were desperate for filler.”

From the Also4 Files

Also4 is probably the only forever-learning yeshiva guy who has a bone to pick with the bais yaakov system. The problem is that the teachers occasionally shoot off at the mouth (for lack of a better description, all due respect intended, etc), and there are wide-eyed, impressionable young ladies who actually take everything they say quite literally. (I’m not mocking: I was part of that group to an extent.) These students then take a line carelessly tossed off by someone older and wiser and solemnly incorporate into their understanding of the world in general and their husbands in particular. This means that Also4 has to field formally posed interview questions like:

“What if you had a sheila to ask but you were feeling lazy and didn’t want to ask it?”

Also4 replied, “The same thing as if I didn’t feel like getting up for shacharis or learning a full seder.”

Oy. I had to cover my face when I heard that. Also4, if you ever get convicted, keep your mouth shut and don’t waive your right to an attorney.

I agree with him, by the way. It’s amazing the sorts of things people try to feed us aidel maidels, as if we’re the most naive, gullible things on the planet. Which is why I burst out laughing when he related the following conversation:

Her: “Do you smoke?”

Him: (proudly) “No, of course not. I’ve never touched a cigarette in my life.”

Her: (disappointed) “Oh. So you’re not a serious learner then.”

I don’t know which enterprising young man started the rumor that all serious learners smoke, but he should be given some sort of prize for chutzpa and then hanged immediately. Yes, I’ve heard it. No, I’m not falling for it.

Thankfully, I date here in the good ol’ US of A, where we at least put up a facade of not interrogating each other.

Protean Me

I recently ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. The only way I recognized her was from her voice. She’d gotten married, changed her hair, her weight, her dress… Granted, I had almost never seen her out of a ponytail and uniform before, but seriously, this was drastic change.

It got me thinking: how much had I changed since high school?

And it’s hard to think of change without trying to categorize it: good change, or bad change? The idea is that if you identify bad change you can attempt to reverse it.

But there I ran into a problem. So much of what goes for “good” or “bad” is based in something very ephemeral. A while ago BoSD posted about meeting a high school teacher in the grocery. She knew the teacher would disapprove of her mascara, but she’d been ordered to never leave the house without it by a woman she knows. So basically, in high school, eye makeup is the invention of the devil, but for women of marriageable age it’s one of life’s necessities. Is wearing it bad or good or neutral? This subjective nature of rightness baffled me.

There was another thing that stymied me. Namely, of the ways that I appear different than in high school, how many are actual changes, and how much is giving up on changing? In high school they operate very much on a “chitzonius mi’oreres es hapenimiyus” theory. It mostly didn’t work for me. I tried many things in high school based on the promise that they would eventually cease to be objectionable, and they mostly fell by the wayside after graduation when I discovered that they were as objectionable as ever. So, did I change, or did I just cease to try to change?

So I gave up on trying to quantify my personal evolution. Maybe I should stick with the standard-issue cheshbon hanefesh and see if I’m happy with who I am now, without comparing to someone I may have once been.