On Being Muddled

A hat tip to the Curious Jew for sending me to this post by Fudge. It captures the enervated malaise of an Unmarried Person taking stock of his/her life.

It’s not that I’ve ever thought I was a crummy human being because I wasn’t married. I’m good at lots of things, even if getting myself married isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s about that detached, confused state that a single person so easily slips into. Where do I belong? What should I be doing?

It’s so simple, or at least so defined when you have a family. Family first. Husband and children. The important parties are there to give their input. But for single people, it’s all a tangled muddle of loops of hope fading off into a million uncertain futures.   Maybe half the desire to get married stems from a desire for definition and clarity in life. To just know what you should be focusing on.

An example of this that frequently arises in my life is the Career Question. Everyone knows that your chances of bumping into the right guy are higher in the tri-state area than out of it. But career progress in a job can often lead to OOT. (Which is not unwelcome. Who wouldn’t want to live outside the tristate area if they had the option?) However, if one moves OOT for a job, one is being Career Oriented and Independent, which is anathema in a (n ultra-orthodox) woman and bad for dating in general. Also, there’s nobody to go out with. Whereas if one stays in NYC then one is being family oriented sans the family – and how pathetic and depressing is that?

(It gets even more muddled if the OOT job is more family friendly than the IT job. It loops, cancels out, and leaves you stranded someplace, pathetic, but not entirely sure why. Well, you know why. It’s because you’re single.)

Fudge’s solution is to get direction in life from something else. Slot yourself into the grand scheme of things without a spouse. Find meaning in life as an individual.

The idea is inspiring. It sounds wonderful.

…except, yeah. It still doesn’t help. I’ve never really had a grand personal ambition. I try to do well in my education, employment, and hobbies. But I’ve always taken a more passive approach to Big Meaningful Missions. I take them as they land in my inbox. It’s given me some interesting tasks in life, but nothing near steady employment. So choosing Fudge’s route is going to require a full-blown mid-life crisis. Why am I here? Why do I exist?

But even so. Let’s just say I’ve found meaning in expressing my love for God by bringing spirituality to knock hockey. Does that mean I can move to Thailand now? Stop paying the SYAS tax? Channel my spare cash into trust funds for the kinfauna? This approach may help me figure out how to spend my spare time, but it doesn’t answer the big question of what should be important right now.

And so I remain, befuddledly yours,

A Uxorially Challenged Person

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Who [Hearts] 2-Shul Communities?

Question: does there exist, anywhere on the planet, a humanoid from a small, OOT community, who would ideally like to live in a small, OOT community?

I ask this because I have dated and befriended many OOTs in the past few years, and they all seem very attached to the in-town axis. Which is to say, greater NYC, Lakewood, Monsey. (Queens is not out of town, sorry folks.) Now, I know that often people think the whole world is better than the specific section that they grew up in, but c’mon. There are people from Flatbush who like it there. I can’t imagine why there aren’t any OOTers who like it out there.

I mean, seriously. Get the average OOTer to stop bashing New York for thirty seconds and ask them where they’d like to live and why they’re not living there. They either don’t know or they haven’t got a very convincing reason.

This suggests that they really do prefer New York. And by that I mean they are attached to something that only New York offers, which is, imho, just as good as loving New York. For eg: If your job/yeshiva only exists in NY, then you clearly don’t prefer OOT enough to switch careers/yeshivos. Your preference for the in-town offering is stronger than your preference for OOT.

Disaster Out of Town

This was originally written for publication in the TC South newspaper, but like everything I write, wasn’t quite sensitive enough for the audience. I present it here in all its harsh glory, wishing myself better luck next time.

When I first heard about Touro College South I worried. It seemed to me that if the college succeeded, it would be a disaster. Bringing kosher college to the wilds of “out of town” could only cripple the chances of its students. Because then they can’t come to New York anymore. And deep down—though they all protest otherwise—they all want to be in New York City. Because they have to be. Here’s the view from Brooklyn:

When an out-of-town girl leaves to seminary it is a huge event. Ostensibly, she is leaving for ten months of study in the Holy Land, but in reality, this is the last time she steps across her parents’ threshold as their child; after this, she is an adult, seeking her own way through life, far, far from home. For when she returns, she will aspire to higher education, and because she will want it in a religious environment (if she doesn’t yet, she will soon), she will tread the path many have tread before – heading to the big city to seek her fortune via wisdom acquired in either Touro or Stern.

And so, her pre-seminary goodbye is an emotional one. Her parents are tearful, because their little baby is all grown up (and because how will they ever get the rest of the family to take over her chores), while her younger siblings grimly look forward to the contest over who will claim her newly vacated room and what contents they think she won’t notice are missing when she returns—oh so briefly—in the summer.

After a year or two of spiritual study, our Wandering Jewess’s path leads where all roads lead for the young and ambitious – to New York City, capital of the world. There, she will cram herself into an attic or a basement or an apartment with too many other young ladies just like her, earn her rent and sustenance money by day working as an assistant teacher or secretary, and study by night to be a variety of therapist or social worker, and dream of the day when she will leave New York for more friendly environs.

If, like myself, you have the fortune of having been born and bred in Gotham, you have ample opportunity to host these young ladies for Shobbos, and hear about their lifestyle that so resembles that of a Mexican worker.

Why do they do it? One can’t help but ask. “For the environment,” they reply simply. They leave out so much. Because it can’t be just for a kosher undergraduate degree.

When they finish their bachelor degrees, they go on to get graduate degrees from Hunter, NYU, Columbia, Downstate… all non-Jewish NYC universities. Why don’t they go home to Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia to finish their even-higher education? There must be another reason they’re here—a reason they won’t confess to, but is easily discovered by observing the out-of-town single in her non-native habitat.

There is one thing this young lady will do aside from work, study, eat, and sleep. There is only one other subject that occupies her thoughts and permeates her conversation. And it happens to be related to the largest advantage the New York Jewish community has over any other.

Dating. NYC is within driving distance of almost every major yeshiva and religious study program in the United States, and a whole lot of minor ones. When Single Men decide to settle down, they turn their eyes toward the nearest (and largest) concentration of religious single women in North America. And every eligible bachelorette wants to be there among the masses, jumping up and down shouting “Pick me!” when these young men scan the crowd, seeking their future bride.

That’s really why they come to New York. Touro is just an excuse. But with a Touro now in Miami, that pretext—at least for Miami residents—has been eliminated. No longer do they have a reason for living in high densities in New York apartments. No longer have they a reason for living on the same prairie as large herds of Single Men. How will they get married?

Do they?

How?