Thursday Links: I’m More Mature Than You Are

“Nuh uh!”

“Yuh huh!”

The argument began over here, at SiBaW. The question: who is more mature, single people or married people?

Some people seem to think that maturity is like pregnancy: you either are or you aren’t. Or that it’s like the original Model T: if you have it, it must be of a specific form and color.

Maturity comes in different forms, and people can mature in different ways. There are people who are externally very strong, who do well in the workplace, and so on, but who are emotional midgets. There are people who emotionally very in tune with themselves and others, and who completely stink at life. Some people manage both. Some neither.

There are single people with organized lives and apartments, and married people who live in pig-sties.

There are people who can organize and coordinate extra-curricular activities for six children under the age of ten, and there are people who can organize and coordinate a product launch on six continents, and these are not always the same people. Some people can’t do either. Some can do both. Some of those who can do both aren’t married and don’t have their own children.

Even people who seem mature can have bouts of immaturity.  Parents, for example, can easily reduce their adult offspring to kvetchy, whiny creatures.

Of course, it’s all been said already in the comments, so go over and take a look.

…and yuh huh, even my mommy says so!

 

——-

The funnest part of this article (which I arrived at via Princess Lea) is this paragraph:

Not your usual private eye, Mr. Levin is a practicing Orthodox Jew, a member of the Bobov Hasidic sect and the founder of T.O.T. Private Investigation and Consulting, a New York-based company that specializes in Orthodox-related cases worldwide. The company, whose focus is uncommon — and perhaps unique in the United States — hires forensic experts, former homicide detectives, photographers and even pilots, mostly on a per-case basis. Its services range from investigations into international banks and Israeli investment companies to local background checks for prospective Shidduchim, or Orthodox marital arrangements.

Only a chossid would become a private eye… And apparently some people do go for the FBI background check.

Dating Boys, Part 2 of 2: Warning Signs

Continued from Dating Boys, part 1 of 2: How to be a Boy

I go out with a lot of nerdy types. I also go out with a lot of boys. There is a direct correlation here. Nerdy people are often a little detached from reality and not exactly on top of social standards. I like to think that I’m tolerant and understanding. I have, upon occasion, firmly told a fellow that I want him to plan the date. But usually all that does is treat a single symptom. If you are a nerd of this type or know one, please read these two posts carefully. Unless, of course, you actually do want to marry a virago, in which case, keep doing what you’re doing, and please add your preference to your shidduch profile. It will save the rest of us the frustration of going out with you.

Like I said, I’ve gone out with a number of guys who exhibited these symptoms. But it wasn’t until recently that I had the little revelation that brought me to the “Mama’s Boy” classification. I had that epiphany on a slushy street corner in Brooklyn, snow drifting down gently, my toes soggy and numb, listening to my date explain why we shouldn’t go into the Starbucks two feet away from us.

Maybe it was my fault. When he’d asked where to go, I’d given my standard suggestion of a walk in the park. But since it was winter, I suggested we end the walk someplace where we could find a hot drink. I thought I had skillfully left him an opening to take charge of the date again by finding some cute boutique coffee shop for us.

Just in case, though, I googled up some local Starbucks shops.

Prospect Park was beautiful in snow drifts and flurries. I tried not to let it bother me that he let me choose the direction at every fork. It seemed to be because he had little interest in, well, anything. But maybe he was just being courteous. Conversation was pleasant, but my feet were soon frigid. I was wearing my pretty boots instead of my warm ones.

I suggested we head someplace warm, and he obligingly followed as I chose a fork that went to a park exit. There I stopped. He stopped.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Dunno,” he answered. Sparing you the back and forth: he hadn’t looked up any local coffee shops. Forget the boutique shop, he didn’t even know where the nearest Starbucks was. Luckily, I did. I didn’t want to rub in my lack of faith in him, though, so I just pointed in a direction that I knew would prove fruitful and said, “Why don’t we walk that way and see what we find?”

Wouldn’t you know, we came across a Starbucks in only a few blocks. I waited for him to suggest we go inside.

He didn’t.

My toes were sending Mayday signals that were increasingly urgent. I said, “Shall we go in?”

He peered in the window. “The line is too long.”

He was right. Every single person in Brooklyn had chosen to drop into this particular Starbucks on this particular afternoon. The line was at least a half-hour long, probably longer. But that wasn’t the point.

“My feet are cold,” I reminded him.

“Let’s walk a little further and see if there’s another,” he suggested.

His first original suggestion for the date, and it was wrong. I told my toes to hang in there. There was another Starbucks six blocks down. Their response was faint and pitiful, but they faithfully kicked into gear again.

And that was when all my illusions about him came crashing down.

You see, I’d heard wonderful things about him before we went out. About his dedication to the old lady across the street. His packaging food for Tomchei Shabbos. His helping Russian immigrant children with their Hebrew studies.

But standing out there on the slushy street corner, my toes crystallizing in my thin (but pretty!) boots, I realized that he hadn’t done any of these things. He had yet to demonstrate the thoughtfulness and initiative it would take to dream up even part of one of them. It must have been his mother. I could imagine her, a bustling woman who told her boy to do nice things like clear the table after a kiddush, who he promptly obeyed.

Well, she could keep him.


Dating Boys, Part 1 of 2: How to be a Boy

There are two types of women who might be considered “aggressive.” Well, maybe more than two, but this isn’t about the taxonomy of the female genus. So let’s stick with a two-species model.

The first is a genuinely bossy woman. She is convinced that she knows the best way to do everything, and she is not shy about telling – or even enforcing – her opinion on others.

Then there’s an ambitious woman. She has a strong drive to achieve, and enjoys the feeling of accomplishment it gives her. But, something I’ve noticed: many of these women are nowhere near as aggressive in their personal lives, and can be quite passive when away from their job, hobby, or academic environs.

I was thinking about this because a specimen 2 type (S2T) called me up the other day rather distraught. She’d had a phone call with a guy, which was unusual in her Brooklyn-Bais Yaakov circles, but no matter.

After the introductory platitudes, the conversation went something like this:

Him: So, where are we going?

Her: I don’t know, what are the choices?

Him: I don’t know, I’m not from around here.

Her: Well what did you have in mind?

Him: Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you want.

Her: So, like… a lounge in Manhattan would be fine?

Him: Will you meet me there or do we go by train?

Her: Wait, aren’t you going to pick me up?

Him: Yes. Sure I could.

Her: So we’ll drive.

Him: I don’t have a car.

Her: What about borrowing?

Him: I don’t drive.

Her: You don’t drive?

Him: I don’t have a driver’s license.

Her: Really? Are you getting one?

Him: No. Why?

Her: Because, well. Um.

This conversation struck her as wrong on several levels. For those who don’t instinctively understand why, I’ll go into now in detail.

But first, a quick statement about the pre-date phone call. As a bais Yaakov maidel, the phone call is not mandatory in my circles. I was always very glad of that, because carrying on a telephone conversation with someone I’ve never met strikes me as rather awkward. I have trouble enough with people I know. However, I could respect a guy who wanted to call. I thought it showed confidence and an old-fashioned gentlemanliness – very much something out of the more courteous days of our parents.

Now I realize that all too often, it is directly from the days of our parents. Because sometimes what it means is that a guy is taking orders from his mother. With S2T’s guy, it was pretty obvious that this applied.

Here are his main errors:

1 – Plan the date. Plan. The. Date. You are the guy. You must come with at least one idea for the date. You want to give a girl options? Fine. You want to have backup or hear her feedback? Fine. But plan something. We are not comfortable spending your money without any idea of what your price range is. I regularly threaten that the next guy who pulls this on me is going to wind up paying for my sirloin at Prime Grill. But I never have done that. It would be like taking money from a little boy. A little boy who thinks he’s old enough to date.

So I always suggest a walk in the park. It’s cheap, it’s local, and it’s usually pleasant.

2 – Know the local customs. The average Brooklyn girl needs picking up. Car preferred. Yeah, it’s a large demand to make, but it stems from the same old-fashioned concern. Her parents want to know that she’s in good hands, and they want to see you first so they can give a description to the cops if it turns out she isn’t. If you don’t have a car, borrow. You can rent. You can hail a taxi or hire a driver.

The S2T was flummoxed because in her high-achieving world, one doesn’t tackle a task blind. One learns how to perform in the best manner possible before starting. If she were a guy, she’d get a license just for the sake of dating. Why didn’t he show her that courtesy?

S2T’s question wasn’t “Is this guy a total loser?” To her, that seemed self-evident. She wanted to know if it’s okay to call it off after the phone call. I said I always give a guy a second shot, so my advice would be to work something out with him: walk to a local restaurant or take the train somewhere. He might just be young, naïve. He might improve on acquaintance.

That’s what I tell her, but I know he won’t. Because I’ve gone out with these guys before. They are not men. They are boys. Mama’s boys. They think marriage is swapping one mother for another. They will wind up marrying a Type 1 Specimen who will wipe their noses for them in public, and they will not understand why.

If you want a woman who will respect you, respect her. Date with courtesy.

Continued in Dating Boys, Part 2 of 2: Warning Signs.

Today I am a (Wo)Man

Everyone chuckles at the bar mitzvah boy’s announcement. Not just because he’s so short that he has to stand on tip-toes to see out of his hat. But because we all know that, bar mitzvah or not, there’s no big black line that you step across to become a mature adult. It happens gradually, and not always at a regular pace.

That was what I was thinking about while reading some of the comments to last Monday’s post (“Are People Pitying Me?“). Far be it from me to say that people who get married at 19 are miserable and stuck in foreclosed identities (though I know there are some). The post was about me, and how I believe the extra time has made me more than ever ready for marriage. However, I know there are many women who didn’t need that extra time, and I don’t begrudge them their marriages.

Some of us are just late bloomers.

I’ve always known I was slow.

In 5th grade we learned about Helen Keller and our teacher asked us to write a composition about what we’d do if we had three days left to see. I didn’t have to think too hard about that one. I was in 5th grade, and had hardly seen a world that I’d read about extensively. I picked some of the sights I thought I shouldn’t die without seeing and wrote a little itinerary for my three days (allowing that my parents would have to  escort me).

The teacher asked who wanted to read theirs aloud, and of course the class goody-two-shoes (G2S) raised her hand. Then she recited an essay all about how she would spend the three days memorizing the facial features of her family. As she read, a smattering of students around the classroom surreptitiously picked their pens back up and oh-so-nonchalantly added another paragraph to their paper.

I was among them.

It would be fair to say that I resented her and her dumb composition (and who needs three days to remember what their parents look like anyway?). She had the right answer – always had the right answer. A right answer that showed me up – not for having the wrong answer, but for lacking… lacking something, some instinct that led her to the right answer. What exactly, I couldn’t say. But it wasn’t something you could learn from a book, or look up in an encyclopedia, or even understand by being told about it. Either you got it or you didn’t. And I didn’t. And that bothered me.

My best friend (BF), on the other hand, didn’t understand why I was so bothered. She’d written about going skiing and hadn’t felt the slightest compulsion to amend her story.

G2S was about a decade ahead of me in emotional development. I should mention that she was in the first wave of engagements and marriages. BF also got married, but a few years later. I wonder when she finally understood G2S’s composition, and if it had been sudden or gradual, early or late, if she’d even noticed at all. I wonder about all the other surreptitious paragraph-adders in the class.

But most of all, I wonder about what else there is that I might be missing. And when I’ll finally learn what they are.

Are People Pitying Me?

I remember when I thought 24 was kind of old to be single. Being single at 24 meant you were having an unusually tough time getting married. You’d been out with a gazillion guys and seriously, you still couldn’t find anyone to marry? You were nebach and you were suspect.

Now I know that at 24 you haven’t gone out with a gazillion guys. That engagement isn’t a milestone you pass like a birthday, and that it’s not something you can miss by accidentally taking the scenic route. It’s something that very consciously doesn’t occur when it isn’t a good idea for it to happen.

But most of all, I don’t think 24 is kind of old any more. Women my age with 2.5 kids fill me with wonder, not envy. Maybe I’m behind in building a family, but I haven’t been wasting my time. I’m not a pathetic single, sitting around waiting to get swept off her feet. I’ve been busy, living and learning and growing.

Now is not as good a time for marriage as ever before – it’s better. I’m older, I’m more mature, I know more and can do more and can feel more. I’m more patient and less judgmental, more crystal about my own desires and less clouded by the expectations of others. I’m different from the person who graduated seminary, in some ways perhaps for the worse, but on the whole, I think, for the better.

It was that high school self who thought the current me was a sad case. And the people who currently agree with her are probably in the same stage, or never had reason to move beyond it. To all those people: I’m sorry for causing you such distress. But please don’t waste any sympathy on me, because I don’t feel like a nebach case. I’m 24 and I feel great.

Living at Home and Maturity (Mutually Exclusive?)

Conversation at an editorial meeting preceding the publication of Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift:”

Female Editor: “…and these guys are living at home in their parents’ basements for years until they’re 27—even 28!”

Female Marketer: “I lived with my parents until I was 34.” Awkward silence. “Then I bought a house.”

Female Editor: “Ah, but you had a plan.”

There is a general conception that living at home breeds immaturity. I, for one, have never understood how maturity, the emotional state of reacting to situations in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner, should be dependent on the location of one’s abode.

It’s not that living away from home doesn’t have its allure. The Independent has the ability to exercise many exciting options the Live-at-Home doesn’t, such as leaving breakfast dishes in the sink, vacuuming after 10pm, and snacking on leftovers whenever he or she pleases.  In short – the ability to live without being held accountable for one’s every action. I would not, however, go so far as to call this line of reasoning “mature” by any stretch of the imagination. “Independent” and “mature” are not and never have been synonyms.

Overheard:

Conversant 1: “I’m sorry, but a person isn’t mature if they’re living at home. Sorry to say it, but if Mommy is still packing your lunches—hello! Grow up!”

Conversant 2: “Because buying your lunch at Starbucks is really mature?”

Of course, living independently does throw one into situations that are likely to develop mature behavior. Such as, for example, choosing to wash the dishes because one desires cleanliness, and not due to authoritarian dread. But, although it may be more difficult to develop these behaviors at home, there is certainly nothing preventing the assiduous adult from doing so. Moreover, plenty of people living independently never take advantage of these opportunities either, preferring to eat off paper or throw out the dishes when the sink gets too full.

At the same time, I have to admit that my behavior is very different when I’m living independently. On my own, I do the dishes without reinforcement, clean up for Shabbos spontaneously, and even prepare a brown bag lunch for the next day. At home, well, a certain amount of reminding is usually necessary. And forget the lunch. That’s why God invented vending machines.

So, do I magically mature when I leave home and regress when I return? Unlikely. Rather, when I’m on my own I’m playing house. In my house. The systems that help things run efficiently are the ones that I compose after my own trial and error. I have a feeling of ownership for my little household that I don’t have at home. When I was a teen and tried slacking off, the parents would remind me, “This is your home too.” But they were wrong. I was just living there.

Popular psychology tells us this is normal. The best way to motivate and encourage participation is to create a feeling of ownership. Etcetera, etcetera. And this would have been a good enough excuse for me if I hadn’t spent some time working in an environment with a two-tier employee system. The upper tier was a management caste that made the decisions. The lower tier was a union caste that carried them out.

Observing the union workers, I was struck by how much they resembled children going about their assigned chores. They dragged their feet, cut corners, and complained. In fact, sometimes they even whined.

Manager: “So, you were supposed to replace the candiflange. Did that happen yet?”

Mechanic: “Nope. But I recommend using the ATK-984.”

Manager: “We discussed that last week and we decided to go with the ATK-779 instead.”

Mechanic: “Piece of junk.”

Manager:  “Did you order it?”

Mechanic: “Nope.”

Manager: “Why not?”

Mechanic: shrugs “Nobody told me to.” Manager looks astounded. “I just carry out orders.”

When I heard this exchange I was initially embarrassed for the mechanic. Here was a full-grown, middle-aged man with adult children, and he sounded like a sulky teenager. Yes, he was in a situation where he did not feel ownership and so on, but he was an adult. He had a choice about how to behave, and he was supposed to choose the mature way.

And almost immediately, I was embarrassed for me. Because I’m also a full-grown woman, and sometimes I sound like a union worker. In fact, I even refuse to do things that I insist are not in my contract—like washing chulent pots.  Shouldn’t I also be taking the mature route?

Does the fact that we have always abused the better nature of our families give us the right to continue doing so as adults?

So yes, I enjoy living independently, with all the privilege it brings. But there is no doubt in my mind that living at home provides unparalleled opportunities to develop new facets of maturity.

Because as long as I’m living in this house, why shouldn’t it be my home too?

 

(Note: this does not extend to chulent pots.)

 

On Cows

It would be nice to know for certain that every day in every way one is getting better and better, but it’s hard to keep track of how much one changes over time. I feel like we ought to keep some kind of record like the yardstick on the wall so we can go back and see how we measure up to last year. Like some document every Rosh Hashana detailing our defining characteristics, goals, ideas, top list of things to work on, etc, to be reviewed annually for signs of progress.

Of course, that would require being able to pinpoint everything of interest that could change. It never really works that way. I was thinking about this while toodling through the Alleghenies with a friend one lovely afternoon. She was driving and I was sitting back and admiring the scenery – the rolling green hills spotted with the occasional tree jutting into the azure sky, etc, not to mention the red barns and so on.

I was thinking how, when I was younger and we were on road trips, the parents would point out the mountains rising in the distance or the colors of the foliage and urge us kids to appreciate the scenery. I would nod with minimal politeness and ask if we were there yet. My obsession with knowing if we were at our destination could only be mitigated by something truly exciting, such as a cow. It didn’t matter that, in the course of the time it takes to drive past a pasture, a cow does nothing more exciting than a tree. Cows were interesting. Trees were not.

And now, here I was admiring trees. Like my parents had. It seemed a sign that I’d reached some sort of benchmark. I was adult because I appreciated pretty things that weren’t furry. Like scenery. I could enjoy a drive just because of the scenery. Why, I bet if we passed a cow right now I wouldn’t more than give it an indulgent glance–

“Look! Cows!” my friend said.

“Where? Where?” I jerked out of my reverie and craned around to catch the field of bovines.

Okay, scratch the second half of the theory. I still like cows. But I also like scenery. Can I be a grown up with an inner child?

Does one ever grow out of liking cows?