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.

NEF Overload

There have definitely been times when I felt like the girl in the lower left of this photo. I mean, c’mon people! Leave me some single friends? Or at least space yourselves out so I don’t have to listen to all of you gush at once? Who am I supposed to complain to after hanging up from that?

I admit, I feel for her. I have never had to deal with 9 NEFs all at once trying to blind me with their rings. How fortunate am I! I never realized how good I’ve had it.

they're all engaged

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? 

Six Reasons I Like Engaged People

Lots of people hate on NEFs. They’re flighty, they’re distant, and they don’t shut up about being engaged. But really folks. Look on the bright side. Engaged people are great! For starters, they make you feel wonderful about yourself.

I mean, just for starters, you are a supremely good person for refraining from hitting them over the head. You know, like when they go into teenage angsty detail of their troubles — like that their future mother-in-law suggested that the menfolk wear matching bowties at the wedding — with the same level of apparent trauma that they formerly reserved for being reprimanded by their boss, getting dumped by a great guy, or crashing their car.

And they’re so easy to save! The sanity of an NEF hangs in the balance at all times. If you prevent that balance from tipping, you are her hero. Like when she calls you up at a quarter to five desperate because she has absolutely got to get somewhere and try on a dress tonight  or something bad is going to happen (I spaced out for that part). Honestly: the library books aren’t due yet. The bike can wait another day for its tune up. And alternatives to working late are always appreciated. It’s not a big deal! But her fulsome (and slightly embarrassing) thanks make you feel like you just stepped out of a telephone booth in a cape and tights. In a cape and garishly colored opaque tights that probably wouldn’t pass muster at a bais yaakov.

And then they’re entertaining! Sometimes it’s just observationally, as in, “This woman used to be so level-headed, but a double-shot of oxytocin has completely unbalanced her.” Or when she insists that she’s really totally normal and her NEFness is all in your head, “Yes dear, you’re totally normal. This is us sublimating our jealousy into the more socially acceptable gentle mockery.”

Also, the whole bridal industry is set up to cater to nutty NEFs. They love them and encourage them. It’s amusing to be escorted through David’s Bridal by a woman purposefully stroking your NEF’s Eness:

“You don’t have to worry about a thing, I’ll take care of everything today.”

“So have you known Him long? How did you meet?”

“This dress is like a visual love letter.”

Did she just SAY that?

It’s generally not nice — or even desirable — to mock your friends. But once your friend is infected by e. Bridus, she’s not really the person you befriended anyway. So it’s open season.

And finally, contemplation and meditation is always a worthy pastime, and NEFs offer you fodder for that as well. After all, if an NEF can get so completely dramatic about something they won’t remember in five years, you have to wonder: are you overreacting about anything in your life? What looms overly large now, but really isn’t significant in the grander scheme of things?

Consider, also, the NEF as a warning on the instability of the human psyche. You think someone is rational and self-aware. Then, next thing, they’re gushing about how sparkly their ring is (sounding rather like your 9-year-old niece), and having meltdowns over bowtie ideas (2-year-old nephew).

Makes me think I’d like to elope.

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.

My Solutions to the Shidduch Crisis

Let’s convert the doomed Chinese singles. There are all these Asian and Indian men who will never marry because of sex-selective abortion by an entire generation of parents.

Forced association with SMFs will turn everyone off marriage forever and possibly make them Pavlovian-puke at the very thought.

Polygamy, duh. If there are too few men to go around, why not permit double-dipping? In many polygamous societies the multiple wives band together and create a sisterhood. Imagine always having someone to go to with questions about your hubby, always having girlfriends to hang out with, and always having spare hands to help with the housework. It could be worse.

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.

Mazal Tov to NENYF!

There are some people I feel related to even though I’m not. For example, the young woman around my age who shares my last name and grew up in Queens. I never met her. But I’ve heard all about her from everyone who has ever tried to play Jewish geography with me. If we ever got together, we’d have a gazillion mutual acquaintances to hash over. Sometimes I wonder if she ever gets asked about me. I’d be jealous if she didn’t.

So naturally, I heard about it when she got engaged from a local OnlySimchas junkie.

“Ooh! Look who’s engaged! A relative of yours?”

“Almost.”

It’s weird, but I really am quite happy for her. I don’t know her and I can’t even say that I feel like I know her. It’s more like I feel like I should know her. And now she’s engaged! Mazal tov to my NENYF (Newly Engaged Not Yet a Friend)! May you have many simchos in the future – and may I hear all about them.

I Could Have Gotten Married but I Didn’t Want To

NEFs are weird creatures. Their brains go through bizarre metamorphoses similar to that of someone who’s been inducted into a cult. First, they completely forget what it’s like to be single. This includes everything they disliked about it, such as dating, shadchanim, and especially, NEFs. Next, they become completely unaware of life outside their cul–bubble. Everything revolves around their swami–er, chosson–and the upcoming wedding. Finally, with their neurons rearranging and short-circulations connections so rapidly that their brains look like a synchronized swimming team, they sometimes come to strange conclusions.

Such as, “I could have gotten married plenty of times before, but I guess I just didn’t really want to.”

Really. So, you went out with, say, 50 guys. And you’re saying you probably could have married five of them if you hadn’t dumped them for dumb reasons. So…

This raises a number of questions. The smallest is the implication that if she hadn’t said no to her previous dates, a number of them would have asked for her hand in marriage. It’s a teeny bit arrogant, but I guess a new bride is entitled to feel highly desired.

The most obvious and troublesome implication – to me at least – is the denial of bashert. If you can marry any of a number of people without issue, then how can you say that one is your soulmate? Or, since presumably one can marry someone who isn’t their soulmate, how can someone ever know who is their bashert? How do you know to marry this guy, instead of trying to marry one of those previous possibilities? For that matter, aren’t you a little anxious that your current chosson might be the wrong one?

Everyone in our community talks about bashert. But when it comes down to it, who really believes in it? What does it mean to us?

This reminds me of the advice people like giving single people. “Don’t sound so smart,” or “smile more” or “don’t be so opinionated.” Whenever they say something like that they are essentially saying, “This is the big thing standing between you and marriage. You could have been married already if you’d have just smiled more.”

This also troubles me on multiple levels. But mostly: the idea that you can miss your bashert simply by not smiling enough at him. That somehow, two halves of a whole soul can fail to notice that they fit simply due to one being shy or solemn or opinionated or smart. Somehow, it would seem to me, that if two people click, something so small and easily remedied shouldn’t stand between them. Or else God, who is supposed to occupy his time with matchmaking, could bother himself to intervene and inform the parties about the importance of appearing dumb, tractable, and cheerful before they split up. I mean, there’s a lot at stake here – if we believe in bashert.

Or we could just admit that, as a society, we don’t believe in bashert as much as we’d like to. Bashert is like the Jewish fairy tale. That happily-ever-after we all dream about. It gives us hope because it insists that out there, somewhere, is someone who will be perfect for us. It comforts us by insisting that the forces-that-be in the universe are drawing the couple together, slowly perhaps, but inexorably. So we talk about it, and believe in it the way we believe in Prince Charmings: not really, but as a cognitive shortcut. Because we know that there are no perfect Prince Charmings out there, and we know that the marriage market is a loud, noisy shuk with rapid and often sloppy trading and measuring going on, and it’s all chance and chaos and luck of the draw…

No.

It’s not.

It can’t be.

It appears random, sporadic, and messy, but it’s really just a complex pattern, no more random than the traffic at the Swindon Magic Roundabout.  And this I choose to believe.

If you had images enabled, this would show you Swindon's Magic Roundabout

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.

First Quote of the Week

Found this in the drafts folder.

Received this from DatGal following the post on “My husband doesn’t let.”

Once upon a time there was DatGal and NEF. DatGal borrowed a pair of dangly earrings from NEF and said she wouldn’t bother returning them, as NEF’s DH (dear husband) wouldn’t allow her to wear such things.

Yes, of course she was poking fun.  Isn’t that what engaged people are for? (Rhetorical question. If you don’t know the answer, you must be engaged.)

Realizing she was being mocked (engaged people are not as thick as we would like to think), NEF tried to explained.

“It’s not that he doesn’t let, it’s that when you care about someone so much you just wanna do what makes them happy.”

This was said in that super-smarmy tone that means “Obviously, since your not engaged/married you have no idea what I mean, but I’ll try to explain it anyway.”

If you’ve had the good fortune to never hear that tone, it’s very similar to the one used to say  “Im yirtza Hashem by you” with the little head tilt and comforting smile. It’s a condescending tone. And it’s annoying because it insinuates that single people haven’t got a clue about what it means to like someone or want to make them happy or whatever just because we haven’t found a non-related member of the opposite gender to spend the rest of our life with.

Maybe we don’t know as much about that as married folks might, but – my dear NEFs – neither do you. You’re not married yet. The fact that we’re not engaged does not make us insensitive, selfish cretins, however we might pretend while we’re picking on you. Just FYI.

Why do you want to get married?

Why do you want to get married? I tend to ask this of people a lot. You’d think that I’d usually get something like “I want to fulfill my tafkid by raising a family of good Torahdik Jews” with a “And support/sacrifice for Torah” for those who want learning boys. Well actually, I think I’ve only heard that once or twice.

It’s always possible that the girls I hang out with are smart enough to realize that they are not mechuyav to have any family at all, and that there are other ways to sacrifice/support Torah than by doing its laundry. In that case, they would give an answer to the tune of “I want to find my soul-mate and become whole so I can serve Hashem bishleimus.” I actually did hear something like that once, but in response to a different question entirely.

I was asking two recently engaged friends why it is that for the first two months after they get engaged, girls don’t stop yapping about how they’re going to set all their friends up with all their husband’s friends and marry everyone off happily ever after. (This usually lasts until they get busy arranging their wedding. It totally falls off the radar screen once they become “young couplish” and fail to touch base with their friends at all, let alone set them up.) Anyway, they answered that it was twofold: first of all, they never knew guys before (except the ones they were dating, and you can’t exactly say, “Some guy I dated was totally off—maybe he’d be good for you?”) and now they have someone who knows dozens. Secondly, they now have a significant other; they are a team; they are whole… it is such a great feeling that they just want to share it with all their friends.

Well, it’s nice to know what it is that makes engaged people so euphoric—if only single people knew to want it. But nope—never got that answer to my question.

So what answer have I gotten? Here’s a very common one:

“What? Whattaya mean? (nervous laugh) Why wouldn’t I want to get married? Like what—don’t you?”

In other words, either she has no clue why she’s getting married, or she has such a deeply personal reason that she cannot bear to voice it to me. I’ll accept either possibility, because I like to think I’m open-minded, but I’m also a tad cynical, and I suspect that it’s usually the first reason. After all, we all know that after we come back from seminary we start getting married.  This is so obvious, that many of us fail to wonder “Why?”

Here’s another:

“I want to move on to the next stage in my life already.”

How’s that for a reason? The girl is simply sick of being single—and mind you, this is after only a few months of it. I don’t think she was so sick of $350 rent in a Brooklyn attic (meals and laundry included) that she wanted to swap it for $900 rent in a Lakewood basement (no meals or laundry included, and maybe not even utilities). She was sick of “being single”, the worst possible stage a girl can inhabit in our community. She was sick of “trying to get married”, a pursuit that consumes time and robs us of our dignity. And of course, she was sick of not being taken seriously simply because she didn’t have a wig on her head. Who can blame young Orthodox Jewish women for trying so desperately to get married? Marriage beats pre-marriage hands down. And for post-seminary girls, it’s all pre-marriage.

Another answer I only heard once, late at night. Me and a friend had attended a wedding out of town and stayed by a third friend who lived nearby. We stayed up well into the wee hours, chatting in the darkness about just about everything, but particularly marriage.

“Don’t you want to get married?” she asked me in exasperation, after some discussion.

“I wouldn’t mind it at all, providing I found the right guy. But I don’t want it for its own sake,” I explained.

“Well of course not, but most girls want to get married.”

“Do you?” I asked.

“Yes! Of course!”

“Why?”

“Why? What do you mean? That’s what you do!”

“Oh come on. That’s not a good reason to take on a lifelong relationship!”

She was quiet a minute, and then said, “You want to know the real reason I want to get married quickly? I mean, I want to get married, but the reason I want to get married right away? Because I don’t want to be the nebach case. I don’t want to be the one everyone looks at and thinks ‘Oh that’s so sad, she’s not married yet.’ And I don’t want to get left behind. I don’t want all my friends to be on to the next stage, raising babies and talking about mother things and I’m left out of it all. That’s why I want to get married.”

And that’s not the end of the story. So desperate was she, that she got engaged before she was ready, and within two months broke the engagement. The stigma would follow her into all her other shidduch attempts, sabotaging her chances, potentially leaving her the old maid she feared so much to be.

 

How many other girls harbor such fears in their hearts? How many feel pressured to marry simply so they won’t “be left behind” or be the subject of pitying whispers at gatherings?

 

What are we doing to our young women—and what are we young women doing to ourselves?

 

Yes, to ourselves. Nobody can make us feel any way we don’t allow them too. After that conversation, I vowed (b’li neder, of course) that I would not feel any pressure to marry for any reason whatsoever. Let them cluck sympathetically and shake their heads. My eligibility for marriage is between me and God, and no third parties need stick their noses in.