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.

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

Friday Repost: Gaffe Contest

The good stuff usually gets said as the evening wanes and the conversation gets stilted and the daters desperate. When they’ve stirred the ice in their glass too many times, when they’ve already casually glanced at all the paintings, when they’ve covered everyone’s siblings and summer camp history, then the brain turns to slush and the tongue slips.

~ The Bulwer-Lytton Dating Contest

Shidduch Reading List Additions

I started on a shidduch reading list many years ago:

Reading List 1

Shidduch lit

And now I’m going to add another two books to the list.

This past Shabbos I finished Seven Blessings by Ruchama King. This one is an astonisher. Written by a frum woman about frum women, the characters are actually real people you could potentially meet on the street. This may be why it was not published by Artscroll or Feldheim. Pick it up at your local library.  Or support a good religious writer and buy it instead.

The second book I literally couldn’t put down. I read it in one straight sitting, finishing in the wee hours and tottering off to bed. Data: A Love Story presents a paradigm shift for the serial dater. Sick of bad dates with lousy guys, Amy Webb sits down to crunch the numbers and find her husband the 21st-century way: via algorithm.

She then proceeds to prove that you don’t have to date everyone every suggested to you “just in case.” Oh, and that wisdom about how you shouldn’t make a list? Throw it out. You need a list.

Naturally, her parents freak out. She’s being too picky. She’s being too hard. She may be letting someone great pass her by. But she perseveres and, wouldn’t you believe: finds a guy who matches her list! Who likes her! Who proposes!

So you see, it can be done if you do it the right way. So excuse me now. I’m off to compile my List.

 

The Bachelor’s Soliloquey

I am a big fan of Hamlet’s soliloquy. When you think about it, life hardly ever averages out on the euphoric side. I don’t think human programming permits it to. So why do we bother going through with it? In his soliloquy, Hamlet does an excellent job hashing out our reluctance to kick the bucket (although I think he leaves out two biggies: inertia and curiosity).

But I’m not taking this into the realm of literary criticism or existentialism. What I meant to say is that the soliloquy is eloquent and thorough, and rarely done justice in a parody. But the one below manages. It’s even easy to elocute with proper inflection.  If I knew who it belonged to, I’d cadge the rights for the Shidduch Musical. Thanks to Relarela for sending it.


O wed, or not to wed;–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in a man to suffer
The slings and sorrows of that blind young archer;
Or fly to arms against a host of troubles,
And at the altar end them. To woo–to wed–
No more; and by this step to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand hopes and fears
The single suffer–’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To woo–to wed;–
To wed–perchance repent!–ay, there’s the rub;
For in that wedded state, what woes may come
When we have launched upon that untried sea
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes celibacy of so long life;
For who would bear the quips and jeers of friends,
The husband’s pity, and the coquette’s scorn,
The vacant hearth, the solitary cell,
The unshared sorrow, and the void within,
When he himself might his redemption gain
With a fair damsel. Who would beauty shun
To toil and plod over a barren heath;
But that the dread of something yet beyond–
The undiscovered country, from whose bourne
No bachelor returns–puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of!
Thus forethought does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And numberless flirtations, long pursued,
With this regard, their currents turn awry
And lose the name of marriage.

My Contribution to the Community

I have a great idea for an invention. (Listen up all relevant parties; yes I mean you.)

It started when Good4 and I were sprawled on my bed with our heads stuck out the window, enjoying a spring breeze. A young wife was shoving her way up the block, pushing a double stroller in front of her. She was practically 45-degrees with the ground in her effort to keep the heavy thing moving. And this was on level ground.

“When I have a double stroller, remind me to stand straight when I push,” Good4 said. “It looks so awful.”

“Not as awful as her husband strolling along behind, hands in pockets,” I observed. “But you know, she’s doing that because it’s heavy.”

“Yeah I know, but still.”

“You’d be like Black Beauty in the bearing rein if you insisted on standing straight. And that was outlawed as cruelty to animals.”

“Still. It looks terrible.”

I recalled that conversation a few months later while pushing a friend’s single stroller up a steep Israeli hill. I tried standing straight, but the darn thing (not to mention the kid) was heavy. I gave in to physics.

While I was pushing (and sweating), I thought about uphill bicycling.

Bicycle commuters are not always enthused about the exercise opportunities of their transit medium. That’s why they invented these motors you can attach to your bike. The smaller ones just kick in on hills to make it easier to pedal up. You still have to pedal somewhat, but it’s a whole lot easier.

I think we need something like that for double strollers. A small motor you can kick on that will make it easier to move those things.

It would have to have the following criteria:

(1) It has to be removable. For chagim and for locations with eruvim.

(2) It has to be small enough that we don’t wind up with motor-vehicle classification issues. It has to be legal for sidewalks.

(3) It has to be strong enough that a small woman, laboring under the weight of a large sheitel, could push a double stroller uphills without compromising her posture.

Someone, please invent this before I have my first kid.

Courting Flea

For the Courtship Customs series...

I was reading a fascinating article in a 1998 National Geographic about the human ecosystem. That is: the ecosystem that thrives on the human surface.  It detailed our sometimes cozy relationship with bedbugs, head and body lice, follicle mites, scabies mites, dust mites, crab lice, fleas, as well as ticks, leeches, mosquitoes, various fungi from athlete’s foot to ringworm, and the fascinating botfly. It provided statistics such as that a square inch of exposed skin can host a hundred bacteria, while an armpit might have millions. I don’t recommend that you read it if you are susceptible to delusory parisitosis, which the article credits with causing both suicide and homicide.

There was, however, a paragraph about how, in the past, these creatures have represented intimacy to the point of being used in courtship:

European lovers of the 17th century sometimes wrote seduction poems about a girlfriend’s fleas. John Donne once petulantly complained that a flea, having bitten both girl and boy alike, “swells with one blood made of two/And alas this is more than we would do.”  A few gallant French lovers actually plucked a flea from their lady love and kept it as a pet in a tiny gold cage around their neck, where it could feed daily on their own blood. In Siberia, according to one story, an explorer was disconcerted to find that young women visiting his hut tossed lice at him; it turned out to be their way of expressing amorous intentions.

Clearly, this would not be a successful dating strategy today; for one thing, the human flea itself has almost vanished from modern homes. […]

Thank goodness for that! And aren’t you glad you don’t live in Siberia?

If She Could, I Could – by Fauna

I haven’t really got time for a post, but I came across this item in Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, a slim novel in which matchmaking plays its part. (It’s a sequel to Cannery Row, for Steinbeck fans.)

Anyway, a character named Fauna is trying to sandbag the local most eligible bachelor with a girl Suzy, who just blew into town. And she has a truckload of advice for Suzy on how to make herself appealing.  She has enough advice, she claims, to write a book entitled If She Could, I Could.

So, in the spirit of advice being only worth passing along, I have transcribed the short volume for you. This being a family-friendly blog, I have expurgated anything bleep-worthy.

Rule 1:

They ain’t  no way in the world to get in trouble by keeping your mouth shut. You look back at every mess you ever got in and you’ll find your tongue started it.

Rule 2:

Next thing is opinions. You and me is always busting out with opinions. Heck, Suzy! We ain’t got no opinions! We just say stuff we heard or seen in the movies. That’s the second rule: lay off opinions because you ain’t really got any.

Rule 3:

There don’t hardly nobody listen, and it’s so easy! You don’t have to do nothing when you listen. If you do listen, it’s pretty interesting. If a guy says something that pricks up your interest, why, don’t hide it from him. Kind of try to wonder what he’s thinking instead of how you’re going to answer him back.

Rule 4:

Don’t pretend to be something you ain’t, and don’t make like you know something you don’t, or sooner or later you’ll fall on your [derrière]. And there’s one more part to this one, whatever it is: they ain’t nobody was ever insulted by a question… The nicest thing in the world you can do for anybody is let them help you.

Rule 5:

Nobody don’t give a particular about [you] one way or the other. It’s hard to get them thinking about you because they’re to busy thinking about themselves. There’s two, three, copper-bottom ways to get their attention: talk about them.

Rule 6:

If you see something nice or good or pretty, tell them. Don’t make it fake, though. Don’t never start a fight, and if one starts, let it get going good before you jump in. Best way in the whole world to defend yourself is to keep your dukes down.

Additional warning:

Now look, Suzy – tonight, just before you say something, say it first to yourself, and kind of dust it off. …Sometimes if you look at it you don’t say it. A whole lot that passes for talk is just running off at the mouth.

All of this goes a long way to polishing Suzy me. One  item Suzy discovers herself, on her date:

She then lifted her glass slowly, looked at it carefully, then sipped and held it a moment before she put it down. S-l-o-w-ness. It gave meaning to everything. It made everything royal. She remembered how all the unsure and worried people she knew jumped and picked and jittered. Just doing everything slowly, forcing herself, she found a new kind of security.

This little epiphany occurs after she manages to bite back a “Whattaya think I’m an invalid?!” when he opens the car door for her going in and out. I definitely identified with that one.

And Fauna’s final advice:

Just remember a lot of things:

first, you got to remember you’re Suzy and you ain’t nobody else but Suzy.

Then you got to remember that Suzy is a good thing – a real valuable thing – and there ain’t nothing like it in the world.

It don’t do no harm just to say that to yourself.

Totally Off Topic (Just Because)

Speaking of Wilde Wisdom, I found a few other quotes I feel like sharing just because why not.

Remember back in high school when people would whine that they shouldn’t have to read all this old stuff because it’s not applicable to them today? So untrue. Here’s another line from An Ideal Husband that clearly demonstrates that politics haven’t changed significantly in about 100 years.

Lady Basildon: I don’t know how the unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.

Lord Goring: By never listening… You see, it is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens, one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.

Now, have you ever heard of the Pearl Type? This is a type of young lady whose jewelry consists mostly of a string of pearls as a necklace and a pair of pearl studs (or short dangly) in her ears. Why pearls, one may wonder? Well, it turns out that pearl-wearers have had the same reputation for about a hundred years. Here’s this line from An Ideal Husband:

“…I am thoroughly sick of pearls. They make one look so plain, so good, and so intellectual.”

There ya go: the Pearl Type. Pretty, but in a very modest way; intelligent, but not flamboyantly; due to being oh-so-very good.

Clearly, Wilde has some insight into even the most aidel bais yaakov maidel.

Now, as for why he ought to be read in yeshivos: here is some advice provided by a couple of women discussing the ideal husband (but in A Woman of No Importance):

Mrs. Allonby: He should never run down other pretty women – that would show that he has no taste, or make one suspect that he has too much. No; he should be very nice about them all, but say that somehow they don’t attract him….If we ask him a question about anything he should give us an answer all about ourselves. He should invariably praise us for whatever qualities he knows we haven’t got. But he should be pitiless, quite pitiless, in reproaching us for the virtues that we have never dreamed of possessing…

…he should always be ready to have a perfectly terrible scene whenever we want one and to become miserable, absolutely miserable, at a moment’s notice… he should be perfectly broken-hearted…[and] allowed to admit that he has been entirely in the wrong, and … it becomes woman’s duty to forgive, [so] one can do it all over again from the beginning, with variations.

And finally, here’s one last one to remind you to give your mother a hug before you leave after Pesach:

“…and boys are careless often, and without thinking give pain, and we always fancy that when they come to a man’s estate and know us better they will repay us. But it is not so. The world draws them from our side, and they make friends with whom they are happier than they are with us, and have amusements from which we are barred, and interests that are not ours; and they are unjust to us often, for when they find life bitter, they blame us for it, and when they find it sweet we do not taste its sweetness with them…”

Good Advice

I was reading An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde, last week, and came across this line of unmatched wisdom: “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”

If good advice were meant to be passed on, I imagine isru chag would contain a flurry of advice-exchanging from “older” singles who have had the secret of their singleness revealed to them by wise relatives over the holiday.

One of the nice things about strangers is that they don’t give you advice. They just adapt to your “quirks” and get on with business. This is why some very flawed people have become very successful. Friends will sometimes share their insights, but only after agonizing over whether it’s really a fatal flaw, and then rehearsing their lecture in the shower. Relatives, I am sorry to say, rarely take showers before starting in on you.

Now, my relatives behaved this Pesach so I have little advice to pass along. I am only scarred by a few backhanded compliments (my favorite: “You sound so reasonable online”). However, on an annual basis I get an earful. I have become quite good at taking it. I can now listen to advice for a full five minutes before my eyes cross, my ears turn red, and steam starts dribbling out my nose. At this annual rate of tolerance growth, I will be more than ready to handle the censoriousness of my teenagers when I have them.

It’s not like it’s usually such great advice, I must note. People grasp at the simplest solutions. If you tell them “Former Date didn’t like my boots,” automatic reaction is “You should wear nicer boots on a date.” Yep, that should do it. One shopping trip and they’ll all be falling at my feet – and proposing to my footgear. I mean, seriously. If he’s going to be a shoe critic he can find himself dates by standing outside the outlet store of his choice.

I take it because I tell myself that the advice itself is a compliment. They really care. They think I’m not completely hopeless. No… what I mean is like this:

If you think Someone is absolutely wonderful, you naturally assume that everyone else will see this Someone as wonderful too. When it becomes obvious that scores of dates do not realize how absolutely wonderful Someone is, you begin puzzling over why. Could it be that so very many dates are blind? Or is Someone somehow obscuring his/her wonderfulness? You can’t help the amount of unperceptive people that Someone goes out with, but you can help Someone make his/her wonderfulness more obvious to these not-quite-perfect date.

So, by advising me on my boots, these well-meaning folks are just affirming that, in fact, they think I’m wonderful. Except for my boots. Those could use help. But everything else about me is just wonderful.

After all, there’s no point in advising a hopeless case, is there? Which means—can you imagine—they think there’s hope!

But… Wait… why didn’t anyone give me advice so far this Pesach?

Have they given up?

Wanted: Literary Character

Wanted: Atticus Finch, to marry one single young lady. Please email bad4shidduchim[at]gmail if you have any idea where he can be found.

Not for me, actually. This one is for someone else. I’m just jealous I didn’t think of it first. I mean, who doesn’t want to marry the perfect man? The one who always knows exactly what to say and do? It’s almost unfair to create such a guy because it makes everyone else inadequate in comparison.

He’s definitely at the top of the literary heartthrob list, up there with Fitzwilliam Darcy. Who else should be up there? (Howl Jenkins?)

Sweep Her Off Her Feet

I received the following intriguing email a few weeks ago:

A friend, getting desperate at ever finding a good girl (yes, that happens to guys too), hatched a plan to kidnap a nice BY girl. He would use a friendly shadchan’s services to preselect the very best girl. Whisk her off to a carefully prepared New Mexico cabin. Adobe stucco, very picturesque. Treat her in a most kosher and cavalier way. And allow the Stockholm Syndrome to do the rest. Within 6 weeks he would deliver her back to the parents: safe, secure, and happily married.

There would be a few complications regarding lo signov, but we could rely on the few poskim who say shidduchim trumps  mitzvos lo sa’asei (everybody agrees that it trumps mitzvos asei). That’s it. Desperate times require desperate hishtadlus.
…Are you calling the police?

In the words of the king from Cinderella, “Love, ha! Just a boy and a girl meeting under the right conditions. So, we’re arranging the right conditions.” (Thanks, O.) But are these really the right conditions?

Bride kidnapping is not a new idea. Fiction is rife with such tales, most of them perpetrated by creeps, and generally unsuccessful—think The Phantom of the Opera, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Among the attempts at kidnapping that are successful is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but that’s a post-WWII musical, which have a reputation for presenting women as far more tractable than they are in real life. (One egregious example of this rewriting of reality is Annie Get Your Gun—in real life, Frank Butler was not a self-absorbed jerk [he stepped down to become Annie’s manager], and Annie had enough backbone not to be his simpering puppy. One wonders why they use the word “tribute” in their descriptions of the film/show. Tribute to who, exactly?

There’s a simple measure of how closely a movie/musical mirrors reality—it’s called the Bechdel test. There are three criteria the production must meet to pass the test:

  1. There must be two significant female characters (with names),
  2. They must speak to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.

Good luck finding a handful that fit. And yet, I know that many women speak to other women about things besides men. Are we still in parentheses?)

But this wasn’t an entry about film criticism. It’s about kidnapping women and hoping for Stockholm Syndrome to kick in. Truth is, even with Stockhold Syndrome, kidnapped women still try to escape. They just find excuses for their captor. Every few years such a case hits the news.

The best course may be the one outlined in the Restoration drama ‘The Conscious Lovers,’ by Richard Steele. There, the main character, a Mr. Bevel, takes under his wing a young lady shipwrecked and all alone in the world. He provides for her all the comforts a young lady needs: an apartment, a maid, and a piano. And he visits frequently to ensure that she’s comfortable. They both become secretly besotted with each other, but neither dares mention it for fear of offending the other with their presumption. But of course, in the end, with typical Restoration drama chaos, everything comes all right and they marry.

Kidnapping a woman immediately gives her reason to resent you. Rescuing her immediately gives her reason to like you. And as Maureen Dowd snidely states, “Women like firefighters because deep down, they all want to be rescued.” Sadly, shining armor is out of fashion these days. Think of the wide appeal of The Princess Bride; it almost certainly stems from its adherence to the knight-in-shining-armor-rescuing-damsel-in-distress model.

So for all desperate gentlemen considering this course of action: It would be far better to arrange for someone else to kidnap the woman, so you can go in and perform a daring rescue worthy of a Jewish thriller novel. On the long trek back to civilization (a kidnapping to the Congo or Amazon would be ideal), the two of you will doubtless bond. By the time you ring her doorbell, the only thing left to discuss will be “Should we send Bad4 a response card?”