Designer Bride – II

Continued from previous post reviewing ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ by Wendy Moore: Designer Bride I

If you know what kind of life you want, and you know what kind of spouse it will take to make it happen, why shouldn’t you insist on exactly what you need? Such hubris led our hero Thomas Day to attempt to create the woman he could not find. He adopted a 12-year-old orphan and raised her himself, inculcating her with his doctrines.

Sadly, it did not work.

At the age of 14 she rebelled against the heavy burden of housework he put on her. Also, she wasn’t enjoying being pricked by pins and shot at with a pistol to develop her stoicism.  It seems that even meek, grateful orphans have their limits. So he banished her to boarding school.

Lesson 1: You can’t force people to fit your mold.

Day went back to dating women of his social class who were out of his league. One had to be dumped because she was too attached to her earrings. Another returned his proposal-by-contract with a point-by-point rebuttal, saying things like “Equality is essential for a happy marriage,” and “I couldn’t imagine being subservient to a husband in all things.” Yet a third suggested that she’d marry him if he became socially presentable, like by brushing his hair and wearing clothes that fit and weren’t rumpled. (Lesson 2: The most deficient are the most demanding.)

In despair, he went back to his orphan, who was finished school. He gave her strict orders on exactly how to dress for his proposal. But something small was off (record doesn’t say what, but friends agree it was a trifle), and he banished her forever, furious at her disobedience.

Lesson 3: You can’t demand perfection in your spouse. They’re only human.

Unbelievably, lesson 4 is that every pot, no matter how dented and warped, has a lid. There was a woman who wanted to marry Mr. Day. And she did. It was a rocky marriage though, between Thomas Day and Esther Milnes. A marriage full of his tests and trials. A marriage full of verbal spats. A marriage from which Esther stormed off at least twice, moving out of the cottage in the woods and in with her mother-in-law. See lessons 1 & 3.

Which brings us to lesson 5: If you’re pretty sure that the reason you’re single is all the fault of the opposite sex, the fault is probably in you.

Continued in next post: Designer Bride III

HT Kansasian

Designer Bride – I

I just finished a great book called How to Create the Perfect Wife. It’s a non-fictional account of Thomas Day, a Georgian-era gentleman, and his attempt to, well, create for himself the perfect wife.

Thomas Day knew exactly the sort of life he wanted to lead. He wanted to retire from the shallow, frivolous contemporary society and live in a small cottage in the woods. He would spend his day reading philosophy, writing poetry, dispensing charity, and trying to make the world a better place. And he knew exactly the sort of woman he needed as a life partner.

She had to be smart and educated in all the same interests as he, but not so ambitious as to write her own novels or poems. She had to have simple tastes and spurn the frippery of the times. She’d wear her hair loose and unstyled. Her neckline would be high, her sleeves long. She would not own earrings or, preferably, any jewelry. She would be strong and capable, willing to endure his difficult life of privation and philanthropy. She would not engage in trivial pursuits like music and dancing, and she must have plump white arms.

Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, what kind of guy dictates the way his wife does her hair or what she does her spare time? Oh wait…

I once met a guy whose first criteria for a potential date was “doesn’t have Facebook.” His second was “will only cover her hair with a scarf or hat.” It only got more detailed from there. Another guy had a list of acceptable college degrees for his wife-to-be. I asked what he’d think if I found him the right girl, but she came with her own list, like how many times a week he has to learn, and maybe something against the way he asks random girls like me to call him by his nickname. His response was that if their lists didn’t match, clearly they weren’t meant for each other.

This is how many of us date. We have a dating pool of perhaps a few hundred candidates, but we still reel off detailed criteria down to how many years he should want to learn and what he can do bein hazmanim. And heaven forbid he should show up in a pink tie.

But if you know what kind of life you want, and you know what kind of spouse it will take to make it happen, why shouldn’t you insist on exactly what you need? Such hubris led our hero Thomas Day to attempt to create the woman he could not find.

Continued in the next post: Designer Bride II and Designer Bride III

HT to the Kansasian

The Memo

Here is where I reveal myself to be a narrow-minded misnaged. I expose myself because I have a feeling that there are many more like me out there, and I’m trying to help the naive newcomers who don’t seem to have a feel for the topography.

To: All BTs who want to date smart and interesting centrist Orthodox women but who include a photo of themselves wearing a bekesher with their profile

Subject: How you are narrowing your dating pool

A conversation I had not so long ago while perusing a fellow’s profile:

Me: He looks really interesting—look, he’s been to Cambodia with the Peace Corps after he became religious. But what’s up with the bekesher in the photo? Think it’s Purim?

Father: No, it looks like a wedding. And you see he mentions Chabad further down.

Me: Yeah—he became religious through them and he likes their ideas. But what’s that got to do with the wrap-around tapestry?

Father: It seems he’s got chassidish leanings. Maybe he’s not for you.

A conversation I had not so long ago with a friend:

Me: So why don’t you want to go out with him?

Her: Well, he’s gone a little weird. He started wearing a bekesher. Tsupwithat?

Another conversation with another friend:

Her: You’d like him. He’s really into lots of stuff. Plays seven instruments. Invented a new golf shot. But… he wears a bekesher. I don’t know why. He’s totally normal otherwise.

Look, I get it. You became frum in college through the campus Chabad, and you have a soft spot for the sect. (We all do.  They’re the indispensable if adorably odd sibling.) But do you sit on your hat before you wear it? Do you grow a bushy beard? Do you walk around with your shirt untucked? No. So why the 16th-century Polish costume?

A bekesher doesn’t just represent chassidus, an ultra-orthodox sect. It represents the irrational part of chassidus—the part where they can’t tell the difference between an anachronism and a custom. Or, it sometimes seems, between an anachronism and a Torah commandment.

It makes the average over-educated woman uneasy. She begins to wonder about your BT motivations. She wonders at your opaque rational processes. She wonders if you’ve finished your BTing, or if you’re still travelling across sects, and might wake up in Satmer one day. Or maybe Bat Ayin. Or someplace else she’d rather (in her admittedly narrow-minded way) not be.

So, if you’re trying to weed us out, you’re doing a great job. Just keep posting those bekesher pics.

But if you want to broaden your dating circles, and you can’t figure out why otherwise intelligent and charming women are making the unintelligent choice of not dating you, take this suggestion: shock her with the bekesher on your Shabbos sheva brachos.

The Best Kind of Shopping (1 of 2)

If I had grown up in a world without internet shopping, I’d walk around in rags.

I hate shopping. It’s one long nuisance from beginning to end. First, you’re carrying something. Either it’s a jacket or a handbag. Either way, your hands aren’t completely free, and that bothers me like almost nothing else. I’m the girl who still uses a backpack to tote things around because it’s completely hands-free.

It’s not like I live in a world where I need my hands free to punch attackers or clamber up walls at a moment’s notice. I just like them available to do what they need to do – like flip through racks or hold up two things for comparison. Hands are handy tools, but only if they’re not being used as storage racks – a task just as ably done by an otherwise useless back or waist.

When you shop online, you don’t have to touch anything but the mouse, leaving one hand free for a mug of steaming hot chocolate or a fork full of pancake and dripping with syrup.

Then there are the racks themselves. Do they offer a MFA in store organization? Some stores organize by brand. Some by the dressiness of clothing. And some use a bizarre logic that designates some items “contemporary” and others “misses.” I’ve never understood where a contemporary miss is supposed to look, or why there’s no “vintage” or “ma’am’s” section.

Online, you can shop for exactly what you need. Orange top, ¾ sleeves?  Just check off the boxes and see what comes up. Want to know if there are any skirts that will cover your knees? The length is listed with the skirt, so all you need to know are you own personal measurements – something you’ve undoubtedly saved to an email in your inbox.

Oh, there are always surprises when it arrives in the mail, but as long as you’re within driving distance of a brick and mortar store, returns are no hassle at all. And the act of breezing in and out of the store without flipping a single hanger gives me immense joy.

Not walking into a store means fewer unexpected expenditures. You know, like when you dash into Marshalls to grab a spatula and somehow find yourself at the dressing room, with an ancient crone trying to decide whether to give you a number 5, because you’re carrying five items, or a 2, because the immersion blender, boots, and box of Jelly Bellies aren’t going to be tried on. (Spatula? Oh right, the spatula. Have to remember to get the spatula on the way out.)

And let’s not forget the greatest advantage of all. Online shopping can be done from a supine position in one’s overnight wear without the necessity of braving elements of any sort.

It’s just so comfortable. More than any kind of store shopping.

Or so I thought. Until I found a store where supine was a standard shopping position (prone wasn’t discouraged either).

To be continued in part 2

 

Another One Bites the Dust

I would like to dedicate this post to a fine young woman who is no longer with us. Charmingly cynical, you could always count on her for epigrams worthy of a demotivational poster.  Her daily uniform was a worn out, floor-sweeping denim skirt. She probably had jewelry just the way she probably had ankles. You rarely saw either.

And then she went and got engaged.

Some other creature is wearing her skin, now. Someone who smiles a lot; who wears dresses and heels and sparkly things framing her face. Someone who admits to bursting into tears at emotional moments (wait, did she say emotional moments?) and worst of all—yes, this is the most ominous of all—confesses to a desire to be nice to everyone.

Dear Friend (if you are, indeed, the same person): you are a lesson to us all. Nobody is immune. No matter how hard core, deeply baked, or hard boiled you are, in a moment of weakness (like a proposal) your defenses can be broached and you be reduced to a shy, giggling, mirror-checking, hair-flipping, makeup-fixing, dress-tugging girl.

Mazal tov, NEF#16.

Why You’re Still Single

It’s always been a mystery to me: why am I still single? Well, somebody knows, and she wrote it in to the Chronicles of Crisis this past week. For those who don’t read this oh-so-essential column, here’s the lowdown. If you’re still single, you probably fall into one of these categories:

1 – You’re obsessively spiritual

2 – You will only accept perfection

3 – You have a psychological need for a parental figure and don’t socialize well with people your own age

4 – Require a spouse they can worship on a pedestal

5 – Require a knight in shining armor to wrap them up in fluffy clouds and chase the big scary world away

6 – You’re fat, frumpy, or you have a big nose

The author has come up with these six categories, and notes that she doesn’t fit into any of them. She therefore wonders why she’s still single. I think she neglected one category:

7 – You’re an insufferable know-it-all.

Now, perhaps it is true that all single people fit into at least one of these categories. However, you can’t conclude your correlation = causation theory without checking the other end. Meaning, how many married people fit into these categories?

I admit that I don’t have enough friends to create a statistically significant pool, but I believe I have MFs who fit into most of those categories. Definitely into category 6. I’ve met men and women who fit into category 5 who are married; four – possibly, it’s a little hard to diagnose one’s friends; and one – definitely. Even category sevens get married sometimes.

Black Outlook, part 1 of 2

Gentlemen, a word to you before you get married. You are not allowed to be critical of feminine dress. The only thing you are allowed to say about your wife’s turnout is “You look nice. No, of course it doesn’t make you look fat. Nothing – no, I’m not lying. Well I just said ‘nice,’ I really meant ‘gorgeous’ and ‘beautiful’ it just didn’t come out right. No, really…”

That is totally irrelevant, but I mention it because I noticed that some guys weighed in to criticize women for wearing too much black and brown back in this post (or was it another? It’s a subject that comes up often). Which is a pot & kettle accusation, as someone pointed out, unless the guys in question wear gray suits and white straw hats. But even then they really haven’t got a right to be critical. Not until they’ve actually gone shopping and tried to buy something for a woman.

Here’s what it’s like:

First you have to narrow it down to something tznius. So, that rules out about 85% of the store in the summer and spring, and 65% in the fall and winter. Once you’ve found something that fits your standards, it’s got to be a style you don’t consider completely hideous, or that makes you look fat, or that’s snug in the wrong places. When you’ve found the perfect style and cut, you eagerly sift through the rack, past the black ones, past the white ones… if you’re lucky, there will be gray, brown, and navy as well. Sometimes they throw in red or hot pink to jazz things up, or sweat-suit gray, or something equally unhelpful. And if by some miracle they have a color that falls somewhere between garish and depressing?They don’t have it in your size.

Story of my life.

Why am I whinging about this? Well, I always have to get in a clothes-related complaint during this season. I think it’s tradition by now. It’s the only time I ever completely hate the business of dressing up.

To be continued in part 2.

Shadchanim and Suits

It was not so very long ago that I made fun of young women who visited shadchanim while ostensibly unwinding from the stresses of life. Thus, it is with deep embarrassment that I confess to… <Blush/>

To visiting… <Deep blush/>

On vaca… <Covers face/>

But I can justify it! I mean, I never go anywhere near that Town. It was a once-in-three-years opportunity! I know it’s against the rules of vacation, but it would have been foolish not to!

Methinks I doth protest too much.

Good4 says I must be getting desperate, but I would have phrased it differently. Perhaps that I have a heightened desire to close the single chapter of my life or an intensified awareness of the drawbacks of being unpaired at this stage of my life, or… Whatever.

To my own credit, I would like to point out that it was not part of the original vacation plans. I only thought of it while in the car driving away from NYC. Which spawned a problem of its own, immediately grasped by my ever-perspicacious mother, who asked, when I related the tale, “What did you wear?”

An excellent question – one that I pondered throughout the week of vacation. When you’ve packed a small carry-on full of t-shirts and long black skirts, what do you wear to visit a shadchan?

People make fun of women who pack fat suitcases full of clothes and shoes for every occasion, but it really isn’t a laughing matter. You simply don’t know what situation will arise, and invariably it will require clothing you didn’t pack.

A woman can never pack too many pairs of shoes.

I was contemplating that truism while surveying in dismay the three pairs I’d brought along. The hiking boots, the water shoes, and the sneakers.

Granted, the sneakers weren’t too bad. They were my LBS – Little Black Sneakers, the preferred footwear alternative for women who wear black socks. They would have to do. I hoped the shadchan wouldn’t notice.

The skirts – well, a long black skirt is respectable, isn’t it? It’s not like I even own any slinky skirts or pre-worn denim or anything. And as for shirts – well, thank goodness there was a sky-blue polo among the sweats-gray and orange t-shirts. Really all I needed was a quick stop in a pharmacy for some mousse (thank goodness I keep hair clips on my knapsack zipper pulls) and I’d be good to go.

Well, good enough to go.

At this point in my narrative my mother and Good4 are silent, positively riveted with – well, some strong emotion. The wonder in my mother’s expression is doubtless admiration for my resourcefulness. Or else uncertainty over whether I’d done myself more good or harm. But none of us had taken into account the view from the other side of the dining room table. That is to say: what does a shadchan wear when cramming a last-minute appointment into her busy evening? Hm… Never thought about that one.

When a nervous young lady, dressed to the nines, is arriving in your house, I guess you can’t really come out to interview her in your housecoat and plush bunny slippers. The pressure runs both ways.

“I’m so glad,” the shadchan confessed to me. “I felt bad about not changing into my sheitel and shoes, but then I see you…” her hand gesture takes in my sneakers and hemline. I murmur my excuses, but they seem unnecessary. She isn’t rudely pointing out my under-dressed state. She is contentedly pointing out the happy coincidence (Good4 would shout “Hashgacha pratis story!” at this point) of our being mutually dressed down on this occasion.

I wonder if, in the future, if  I ever visit another shadchan, I should call ahead and offer a sort of truce: I’ll dress down if you dress down?

What Every Femme Must Know If She Wants to Catch a Beau

Hayley Mills singing in Summer Magic about what every girl should know/if she wants to catch a beau.

“You must walk feminine/Talk feminine…”

Well, this explains everything. Or almost everything. I’ve been trying to understand this business of femininity ever since I discovered that I was a girl, which was when they threw me out of the men’s section in shul at eight years old.

I know it’s tied to the color pink, to shrieking/squealing, and involves a spiritual connection to department stores. It would then follow, in my mind, that squealing in delight at a pink sweater in Macys should be the ultimate in femininity, but another well-documented characteristic of femininity is its unpredictable lack of adherence to logic.

Impracticality, I know, is part of femininity. We wear skirts that aren’t meant to be walked in, bathing suits that aren’t meant to be swam in, and shoes that kill the feet that wear them – first degree murder at that – and we’re supposed to be happy because it’s pretty. And we don’t have any pockets.

Pockets were eliminated from women’s clothing so that designers can sell more handbags. They could double their market by taking the pockets off of men’s clothing, but men are not yet ready to walk around with little bags dangling off their wrists. They would storm the bastions of style and tar and feather the designers and ride them on a rail to Harajuku to get their pockets back. Which is why they still have them. Women just squeal in excitement at the opportunity to accessorize and rush off to the nearest department store.

That just about sums up my knowledge, and as you can see, walking and talking feminine aren’t addressed.

“Smile feminine/beguile feminine.”

Beguile feminine – this I understand. It involves flattering the male ego, mostly.

Classic example: Scarlett O’Hara saying, “Oh, I never can make up my mind which of you two’s handsomer. I was awake all last night trying to figure it out.” to the twins Brent and Stew. (Hey wait – is that odd use of emphasis feminine talking? We’re making progress.)

“Complement his masculinity…”

Another classic: Many a woman who would sensibly take a shoe to a cockroach while home alone, will shriek and hop up on a chair when her husband is around to rescue her. It’s the clasped-hands-‘my hero’ thing that both men and women seem to love. Hey, the damsel in distress theme has lasted so long for a reason. Women feel special when they’re rescued, while men feel strong and virile when they’re rescuing. Think about what happens when Bambi first sees Falene – speaking of which, there’s a doe who knows how to smile feminine. You know – head tipped slightly down, looking up through the eyelashes, coy smile. If you don’t look like a Disney heroine (Ariel preferred), better practice in the mirror first. That probably also takes care of “Glance feminine.”

“Be radiant but delicate…Be demure, sweet and pure.”

I think this is where the average career woman trips over her corporate pumps – but there’s hope. A year or so ago the BBC ran an article on a woman who wrote a book suggesting that marriages would be happier if modern women abandoned their power suits at the door and went back to the 1950s housewife charade – soft, helpless at everything not traditionally feminine, great at dressing well and cooking meat and potatoes and saying ‘whatever you prefer dear’ a lot. The response was huge, and the comments ranged from “Yes! Women need to remember that their place is in kitchen, and they should stay there!” to “If my wife ever stops trying to get the last word in an argument, I’m divorcing her.”

Every pot has a lid.

But just in case, practice glancing through your eyelashes.

(Thanks O for the idea)

Please Don’t Engage Me

Sorry ‘bout being late today. It’s been a busy week. I usually have some posts “in the galleys” for busy weeks, but last week was busy too. And don’t you dare look at me like that; it’s term paper season. Being “busy” doesn’t always mean being “busy.” No, I am not on the brink of engagement.

It seems like a “girl” in shidduchim can’t make any changes to her routine or appearance without being accused of serious dating. A friend of mine told me that at her friend’s l’chaim, someone said, “I thought there was something going on… she’s lost so much weight!” To which friend replied, “Nice try, but she lost half of it before she met him.”

At the beginning of last year I had a job on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9-5. So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Touro College days, I dressed down, in a way that was probably bad for shidduchim. Then, about halfway through the year I switched to a job that had morning hours, Monday through Thursday. And suddenly I was showing up in Touro College dressed up instead of down. It is absolutely disgusting how many people said things along the lines of, “Is there something I should know about?” or otherwise hinted that it was just a matter of time before they heard from me at a strange hour of the night. Irritated, I borrowed a costume jewelry bracelet that was silver and set with a few dozen rhinestone diamonds, which, if you don’t know, is the symbol of engagement among local young ladies. It raised a few eyebrows and made a few people, in their own words, “wonder,” but nobody congratulated me. Oh well.

Then there was the time I briefly took up a tutoring job and had to get home at certain hours and be unavailable shortly after. “No it is not for a date,” I had to specify, because otherwise the rumor-mill would have my wedding date settled on by the end of the week.

Many people figure they can plot dating patterns based on frequency of “doing” hair, niceness of dress, new additions of clothing to the wardrobe, and lack of availability in the evening. When these patterns persist or increase over time, they believe they can confidently expect an engagement. Unfortunately, these are all rather superficial signs, and easily read into when there’s nothing to read.

Commenter mickey mouse has her own methodology for predicting engagements. She points out that after a certain period of dating, you begin to hear with greater frequency things like “I was discussing that with someone and…” or “Somebody told me…”

I have learned the hard way that you never ever ask “Who told you that?” no matter how outrageous it is. Not unless you want to watch a friend blush, squirm, and eventually, lie. (Because “Oh I don’t remember I heard it somewhere” is still a lie.)

But, says mickey mouse, you know an engagement is impending when the pattern changes to “we.” Meaning, “We were just discussing that yesterday!” More subtle than dress patterns, and possibly more accurate; we should probably do a serious study to test it out (and by “we” I mean the general population involved with dating couples, and not me and some significant male).

Considering how briefly I think before I speak, the “we” pattern will probably be a fair predictor for me, so please don’t monitor my clothing or availability because you are just going to be disappointed. And someone agrees with me.