A Sincere Apology

I owe you guys an apology.

If you’re reading this, then you’re awesome. You keep coming back, trusting me to put up fresh, interesting content, and  I have been letting you down recently. And, unfortunately, I am about to let you down even more.

A couple of years ago I tried writing a VBA program  to  simulate the dating process. When I ran my code, it got caught in an infinite loop. Taking this as a stamp of realism, I abandoned the virtual dating code and went back to reality’s dating code.  I was living in the infinite loop, going out with new guys every few months on an endless reel of first and second dates.

Well, recently, a software developer offered to help me drop out of the loop.

And I accepted.

This makes me an NEF, the butt of my own jokes, and no longer suitable to author this blog. With this post, I tender my resignation, effective immediately. Reposts will continue regularly until they reach today’s date. I sincerely apologize to everyone who is disappointed or inconvenienced in any way and wish you all the best.

PS: Since you are doubtless wondering: Blogging is both bad and good for shidduchim. Sometimes for the same shidduch.

PPS: And sometimes 42 really is the answer.

When Everyone’s an Expert

People who get within sniffing distance of marriage are notable for their sudden transformation into SMEs (subject matter experts).  It is amazing, really, how only a taste of marriage can turn someone into a fount of information on the subject. Here are some of the courses available through the Marriage Department at TMI U.

The Meaning of Commitment 101

Taught by a newly ringed NEF, the meaning of commitment covers what it means to declare yourself dedicated to someone for life, no matter what. Lectures range between 5 and 15 minutes and may include an earnest entreaty not to be afraid to commit yourself; after all, it’s probably going to work out great for this NEF.

How to Just Take a Leap of Faith – Seminar

Taught by an NEF, this quick disposition covers the meaning of faith, as well as the necessary prerequisites for it. There is brief coverage of the technique of leaping, as well as some evidence provided that leaps of faith pay off. Really. Things turn out fine. They do.

These impromptu speeches by NEFs bother me the least of all the near-marriage lectures, because I know they’re mostly talking to themselves. They’re nervous, and they’re trying to assure themselves that they weren’t stupid, accepting a ring from a stranger in return for a promise to remain dedicated to them for life.

Sometimes I bait them, proposing more and more dire marriage situations, just to watch them brace themselves to remain committed, yea, e’en in such dire straits.

What bugs me more is when people who have very little experience will marriage become experts on the subject. For example:

The Simplicity of Shalom Bayis – Lecture

Presented by an NMF of about three months, this lecture covers how simple shalom bayis is to maintain. All you have to do is listen to the other person and be willing to compromise. Honestly, what’s the big deal?

How Bad Decisions Messed up Someone Else’s Marriage, a Case Study

Presented by an MF of one year, this analysis of the rocky marriage of a 3-year-old couple will dissect poor decisions they made that led to their current situation. The lecturer will detail how she and her still-honeymooning husband would never make dumb mistakes like that.

Just from sitting around in my armchair watching, I suspect it takes a year before a couple really feels comfortable enough to start taking advantage of each other. Then you have another year before they start getting fed up with each other. So you won’t be seeing any cracks until year three, unless the situation is really bad. Oddly, that’s around when MFs stop dispensing the free marriage counseling.

Of course, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m just explaining my own theory (available in lecture series upon request), and why I’d never take serious marriage advice from anyone who hasn’t been doing it for at least five years. Ten preferred.

Otherwise, you might as well purchase my other lecture series:

Why My Kids Are Going to be Fantastic

In this course I will espouse that raising great kids is simple: all you have to do is understand what each child needs and provide it. What’s the big deal? 

The ANEF

I really and truly don’t get the whole unofficial engagement thing. Either you’re going to marry a guy, or you’re not, and if you both know that you are, then why pretend it’s not certain?

I also don’t get  NMF #17, who bought a ticket home for her l’chaim three weeks in advance, but didn’t get engaged until the chosen date. Hello? That seems quite a length of time to be in suspense.

And I’m not buying the excuse that she wanted her parents around when it happened. I mean, they obviously knew why she was coming home.  So  she was already engaged, just not admitting it. And if everyone knows, why not admit it? …

…we can go ’round and ’round this loop forever. I will close it off by throwing up my arms and declaring people illogical and slightly cooky. Besides, I’d like to point out, unofficially engaged people are very nearly engaged, which means they’re only one proposal short of losing their senses altogether. One must be forgiving if they seem less than lucid. They’re obviously practicing.

One cheerful byproduct of this unofficial nonsense:  it does lead to a delightful expansion of the vocabulary. Because, as a LeahR points out, we now have a young person in a heretofore unidentified state: that of being not-quite-engaged. So, they are not SFs (single friends), nor are they NEFs (newly-engaged friends). They are, she suggests, ANEFs (almost newly-engaged friends; pronounced “Ay-Neff”).  They begin to exhibit some of the broader symptoms (being busy most evenings, not returning phone calls, smiling to themselves at odd moments in the conversation), but they don’t yet have anything sparkly on their hand to really trigger an episode. 

If you’re lucky, you are let in on the secret by the ANEF, as part of their strategic preparation for their engagement (see link for details). If you’re not in the top tier of informed friends (like I was with NEF #17), then you’ll just have to infer it from their erratic behavior. (Hm… flying home shortly after starting a new job with no vacation allowance built up… odd that. She must really miss her mother’s cooking… or maybe something else?)

Either way, it’s essential to identify when you have an ANEF on your hands. It will prevent untold frustration and sleepless nights wondering if aliens abducted your friend and left one of their own in her body.

Mazal Tov NEF#17

For finally just doing it and getting officially engaged (must have been unofficial for a few weeks, by my estimation).  I will try to like your significant other of choice, even though he’s stolen my camping partner.  It was great freezing, dripping, scorching, splashing, and belting it out in the woods with you.

…by the way, some relationship experts recommend that you keep the mystery alive by vacationing separately. Just sayin’.

The Ring Thing

I was sitting in class gazing at the whiteboard with glazed eyes when the student next to me, who was also a bit bored, whipped off her engagement ring and wedding band and slipped them on my fingers.

Whoa.

That looked weird.

And felt weird.

I’ve never been much of a ring person. Rings get in the way. They weight down your fingers. They bang and snag on things. Having that big rock sticking off my finger felt… weird.

I can kinda get why engagement people always seem distracted by their rings. It’s a weird feeling.

Hard to imagine wearing one of those things the rest of my life. Do you get used to it eventually?

An Endless (Not Bottomless) Market

Every now and then someone in a gaggle of women will kvetch that all the good boys are already taken.

Everyone else in the gaggle will sigh in agreement because none of them have met any single good boys either – if they had, they’d be married. Not that any of them would agree on what constitutes a ‘good boy,’ but they all know that there aren’t any.

Then, a month or so later, the kvetcher has morphed: she’s now an NEF. No good boys, huh? You don’t even have to vocalize it. She’ll sheepishly defend herself without prompting. “I got the last good one,” she’ll say.

Some people take offense at this line. “So what’s she saying,” they’ll huff. “That there’s no hope for me? Gee thanks. With NEFs, who needs enemies?”

But I always saw it as something with encouraging implications. Here is a young lady who had thoroughly worked her way through the season’s line of available men. Her conclusion? It’s hopeless. And yet, just when it seems that the bottom has dropped out of the market, she unearths a decent specimen!

Who knows? There might be another one hidden out there. Keep looking. It’s really more of a flea market than an outlet  store, anyway.  Keep sifting through and you’re bound to find a hidden gem.

Engagement Rings

I do not like mall dates.

I haven’t got a vast experience to draw from. Just one, in fact. But it did not go well.

Malls are noisy and crowded and littered with traps and pitfalls. And I’m not just talking about Victoria’s Secret, though that’s bad enough.

Actually, I think things went south around the jewelry display.

In general, a casual pass of the jewelry is, in my opinion, a strategic move. Let’s face it – if you marry the guy, he’s going to be buying you jewelry (probably), and you should know beforehand whether you can trust his taste. I’ve had dates I was reluctant to dump merely because of their saving grace of having better taste than mine. Meaning, not only could I trust him to pick out nice stuff, I’d actually want him to do my accessory shopping for me.

But it wasn’t the earrings that threw us into discord. It was the engagement rings.

Yes. There we were on a second date discussing engagement rings.

He said CZ ought to be fine.

I said absolutely not.

We then proceeded to not see eye to eye for about five solid minutes.

What exactly is an engagement ring? To him it was just an expense. Something you have to do when you decide to marry someone. A way of irretrievably consolidating a whole lot of handy green into a very small, shiny, and completely useless object.

I see his side of things. Diamonds are pricy. A young couple has enough expenses without throwing in a rather expensive rock.

I agree that frivolous expenses should be cut down. Skip the bracelet. Skip the necklace. Skip the atara for the tallis. Skip the gold watch. Skip the silver leichter tray (most are ostentatious and awkward anyway). You can skip every “required” gift on the planet and I wouldn’t object. But you can’t skip the engagement ring.

Because to me, the engagement ring symbolizes so much more than an expense.

This ring custom dates back hundreds of years before anyone thought to put an atara on their tallis or their leichter on a solid silver tray. It predates hot desserts at weddings and seven-man bands with singers.

The ring symbolizes a man’s intent to marry a woman, and also exactly how much he values that intent.

Chocolate, flowers, and love letters may also symbolize this, but they severely lack the value. Small gifts and sweet nothings are courtship rituals. A ring is an investment. Nothing says it like diamonds. Or any precious stone. Cubic zirconium, pretty as is it, completely misses the point. We don’t need something glittery to stick on our finger to dazzle passersby and make our friends jealous. Seriously – the very suggestion is insulting.

It’s a Torah concept that once you decide to do something you should perform a tangible action to solidify it for yourself. The ring symbolizes the engagement. There it is – yes – on her finger.

And don’t guys get some (any?) thrill at all from seeing their ring on their betrothed’s finger? Is the engagement not, somehow, more real?

After a bracelet engagement I can see to turning down the ring – might do it myself (those rings are a bit too bulky and flashy for my taste). But that’s the woman’s prerogative. And really, a bracelet doesn’t have the same solidity or cultural clout. No, really, there’s nothing quite like a ring.

So guys, don’t rock the boat.

(grooooaaaan)

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.

It’s Officially Unofficial!

Another friend has officially joined the dark side, and Bad4 is officially confused about the official part of it.

I’ve never understood this “not officially engaged until tomorrow night” business. Either you’re engaged or you’re not. If he proposed and you accepted, then you’re engaged. If he didn’t propose and you didn’t accept, then you’re not. And if he didn’t propose but you both know he’s going to propose and that you’re going to accept, that makes you, apparently, unofficially engaged, and also, in my opinion, quite weird. Why not get it over with already?

How do you end up in that sort of situation anyway? He calls up and says, “I’m going to propose tomorrow at 4 pm,” and if she doesn’t say, “I’m going to refuse you tomorrow at 4 pm” then they go ahead and tell everyone that they’re “getting engaged”? But you can’t say mazal tov yet, because they’re not engaged. So what’s the point? I guess so you can be parked outside their house when you get the call on your cell phone, “I’m engaged!” so you can run in to their l’chaim shrieking, “Ohmigoshohmogosh! You’re engaged?!!? Mazal tov! When did it happen? I had no idea!”

I used to not understand this “unofficial” business at all, but I think I have a handle on it now. I’ve been getting a lot of this “when you get engaged, you better tell me” business. Ironically, the more you tell people that you’re not getting engaged, the more firmly they believe that you’re a hop skip jump from a diamond ring, and the more urgently they press upon you the importance of letting them know ASAP – preferably before it happens. In fact, while trying to notify people that Friend #7 is now “officially” engaged, I had at least two conversations that went roughly like this:

Me: Guess who’s got herself engaged?

Her: You?

Me: No! Would I go and do something like that? Friend #7 is engaged to Guy #7 from Location #7! How cool is that?

So when I run down the list of people who absolutely must know the minute I get engaged, it makes me want to crawl into bed and not go out. First there’s your parents, because heaven knows they’ve been waiting long enough for the opportunity to hang up the phone, slap each other five, and go, “Ye-ah! Finally she’s someone else’s problem!” Then there’s your grandparents because you can’t have them find out second hand – that’s just rude. And any siblings who are married need to be informed as well.

Then either you or your parents need to call the aunts and uncles who would be insulted to find out from anyone else, even though you know they’re going to wrinkled their foreheads and wonder, “Someone proposed to her? Well, every pot has a lid. Can’t wait to meet this guy.” But before them come your close friends who you really want to tell because you’ve been dying to tell them about this super-awesome guy you’ve been dating for weeks, but couldn’t. And then there are the good friends who absolutely cannot find out from OnlySimchas first, or you can kiss your bridal shower goodbye. And a handful of friends you need to call because they’d want to hear it from you, for some reason. In summary, getting engaged sounds like a headache of obligations.

This “unofficial” engagement takes care of all that. The first tiers of people to find out are of course the parents and grandparents. They surreptitiously spread the information to immediate relatives so they can be strategically nearby when it becomes “official.” Meanwhile, since no secret stays a secret once more than one person knows it, it somehow gets leaked to a single loudmouth friend. Because it’s a leak, nobody feels insulted that they weren’t told directly, because of course no friends are being told directly, because it isn’t official. And of course they only spread it among the upper tier of friends, who are all primed to be available the minute you call them. But you don’t need to call them. Because along with the information that you’re “unofficially engaged” comes the release time for the official engagement. As soon as the clock strikes, your name is on OnlySimchas and friends are calling each other, and everyone understands that they’re not hearing second-hand because nobody has yet heard first hand. So when you finally get around to calling, nobody minds that you’re the fifth person to tell them that you’re engaged. How efficient is that?

It works very well, but it’s still silly. If and when I get proposed to, I’m going to give my answer and go home and go to bed. My parents will sleep better if I don’t tell them until the next morning, and I can do all my phone-calling over a leisure breakfast. Nobody will be insulted because everyone will be insulted. It’ll work great! I think.

The Onlysimchas.com influence

Onlysimchas is fodder for many a post. It is a phenomenon in the Jewish community, creating many new problems for people to grapple with.

For example, there’s the No That’s Not Me issue that people with semi-common names have to deal with. A friend of mine recently spent a week fielding calls from happy friends and acquaintances, whom she had to inform that ‘no, she was not engaged. That was a different Shoshana Fried from Lakewood.’

Then there’s the I’ve Been Posted Wrong problem, where the first friend you call to tell that you’re engaged goes and posts you on onlysimchas, invariably spelling your chosson’s name wrong. Onlysimchas has also created a new sort of stress upon friends. After all, how will it look if your friend gets engaged and you haven’t posted a “MAZAL TOV!!!!!! Ohmigosh I’m sooo happy all the best & may u build a bayis neeman biyisroel!!! :-)”? Even if you’ve done all the shrieking in appropriately loud decibels over the phone to her—nobody else knows that.

And then there are people who just don’t want their name on the net, for privacy reasons. Maybe they don’t feel like sharing the simcha (gasp), or maybe they don’t want their name to be googlable alongside “Boruch Hashem! My crazy roommate has found someone who can handle her! May you have only brocha and hatzlocha.”

And don’t forget all the relatives and onlysimchas-junkie friends who will be insulted to find out that you’re engaged via onlysimchas instead of by personal phone call; never mind that you were posted within minutes of engagement and didn’t have time to call your own parents yet.
Ah, onlysimchas. What was life like before you?