Yeshiva in the Marriott

I recall once sitting in the women’s section of a bais-midrash-and-shul and watching the boys learn below. They bent over their books, they consulted with each other, they consulted with even more others, they flipped through books to point things out, but for the most part it was a quiet operation. Still, I’ve heard it can get pretty heated, with arms waving, more books being opened, and crowds gathering, taking sides, and putting money on the winner.

Okay, maybe not that.

But anyway, I’ve always believed this scene of heated Talmudic debate, because it basically describes Also4 when he and I are home at the same time. And I’ve always wondered: is this some magical affect that I have on yeshiva boys? Or is it yeshiva guys in general who have a proclivity to boisterous debate?

I have not dated too many serious learners. In general, friends and family assume I’m slightly off the bais yaakov derech, so they set me up with the “weak” boys — the ones with the jobs and the hobbies and sometimes [lowered voice] the college degrees.

But I’ve been out with a few. And they all went like Shabbos lunch with Also4. We disagreed on everything, even when we agreed. We argued just for the sake of arguing. We wrinkled our noses at each other, insisted the other misunderstood, and were positive that the person sitting opposite each of us was clueless.

Yes, I’ve had superlatively heated debates on dates.

I remember the first time this happened. I came home from the Marriott utterly distraught. “He said YU is wrong. How could he say that? Then he said modern science is right. Then he sneered at me for being religious.” Apparently, it’s okay to try to make your date look dumb by playing devil’s advocate and seeing what happens. I had been under the impression that exchanging dissonant ideas wasn’t a bad way to spend a first date, but after that date I changed my mind.

Civilized debate, to my mind, goes like this:

Gentleman: I think A. [sips tea with pinkie sticking out]

Gentlewoman: Oh really? I happen to think B, myself. [helps self to a crumpet]

Gentleman: Oh dear. You do know that A is supported by fact X, don’t you? [nibbles on a biscuit]

Gentlewoman: No, I didn’t, but I do know fact Y.

Gentleman: Hm. But are you aware of fact Z? [deep, satisfied draught of tea]

Gentlewoman: Yes, and it is countered, to my mind, by fact C. [dabs mouth with lace-edged handkerchief]

Gentleman: Interesting. Well, I suppose I can see you might choose to believe B. What do you think of the weather?

Gentlewoman: Oh! Unseasonably warm, don’t you think?

[Conversation turns to meteorologics]

I mean, let’s face it: how many arguments have you seen where one party actually convinces the other? On a point of law, perhaps. But as soon as you leave black-n-white territory, you leave most of your chances of making a conversion.  Disrespecting your debating partner, however, is a fantastic way to ensure that he or she pays no attention to you whatsoever.

Debate with my Yeshiva Guy went like this:

Yeshiva Guy: A is fact.

Me: Actually, I’ve got reason to believe B.

Yeshiva Guy: [snort] Seriously? B? You do know fact Z, right?

Me: No, but, what about Y?

Yeshiva Guy: [waving hand] Y! Please. Everyone knows what Y really is. And how about Z?

Me: But I think that’s countered by C. [sits back and crosses arms]

Yeshiva Guy: Oh, I see. You’re one of those people.

[Subtext: How did I get set up with you? My mother didn’t do enough research! Boy am I going to complain loudly when I get home.]

For the record, yeshiva guys: this is not how a good date goes.

This has happened to me with no less than three oreos; four if you count the Chofetz Chaim boy who showed up in a regimental blue shirt and spoke earnestly about going forth and doing good rabbinical missionary work in foreign nations like Indiana.

However, I am willing to assume a little bit of the responsibility here. Maybe Talmudic Lawyers aren’t schooled in tea-table debate, but I’m the one disagreeing in the first place. I have discovered that many women never disagree with their dates at all! They nod, smile, and at their most contentious, gently question. “Oh! You really think X is the best explanation for G? Well, I don’t know about these things, but I always thought sort of Yish. But what do I know.” Then they go home and tell the shadchan that they’re not interested, while the bewildered boy asks for a second date.

Possibly, this is an important tool missing from my toolchest, when it comes to getting second dates with men who have bi-chromatic wardrobes.

But then again, honestly, who wants to go out again with a guy who thinks X? That’s crazy when you know Y!

The Final Word in Halacha

Some people took issue with my Da’as Torah post, because it seemed to suggest that men are prone to handing their minds over to their rabbeim for safekeeping. This is hardly my position on the matter. As a woman, I tend to hear bad-date stories from women, hence most of my posts are from the female perspective “OMG can you believe this guy?” However, having attended a bais yaakov, I know perfectly well how far off the deep end women can dive.

One gentleman learned this himself on a date with a nice aidel girl. Conversation flowed until they had a hashkafic disagreement on a matter of ba’al tashchis. Suddenly, she withdrew and wouldn’t answer him with more than a grunt. After some monologuing at her, he gave up and dropped her off at home. He wasn’t sure what went wrong, but he had a feeling that she hadn’t been rendered speechless by awe and admiration.

“I think it’s a no,” he told the shadchan. “She went mute at 7:49pm.”

The shadchan did the post-mortem and came back with the results:

“While she was dating you,  and there was a potential for marriage, there was toeles to your conversation. But once she decided that she didn’t want to marry you, she had no heter  to speak to men, so she stopped.”

I have to say, I’m impressed by the strength of conviction  of this young lady, and I just hope she doesn’t work in social services or any sector where pleasant but unnecessary conversation is part of the job. Either way, she’s now happily married to a man she can talk to as much as she pleases.


Da’as Torah

Shimmy is a divorced ba’al teshuva with obviously nerdy tendencies. His five-page introspective dossier describes everything remotely important about him and his dream future spouse, qualified anything about him that might seem unbecoming, and apologized gently for his shortcomings. “Because of this, I have been advised to only look for a girl from a whole family. I think I would like her to be from a very special family.” Further along, he explained that he’s been advised not to date ba’alei Teshuva or divorced women or women from broken homes.

“Basically, he’s being a bit of a snob, and he’s justifying it by saying his rabbi told him so?” I asked. I wasn’t very impressed by that. Granted, I wouldn’t have been impressed either if he’d just been a snob without justification. But you get a smidgen more respect if you stand up for your snobbishness, instead of hiding behind someone with a wide beard.

“That’s nothing,” DIT said. She’d once gone out with a guy who had liked her so much he’d asked her out for a second date at the end of the first. Later on in the week he called, ostensibly to plan the when and where, but… “My rebbe tells me I shouldn’t continue to date you, so I don’t want to go out again after all.”

My response: “You should have said, ‘But my rabbi said to marry you! Maybe we should call a bais din so they can decide what to do.'”

The cyborg yeshiva guy is not as unusual as you’d hope. Somehow too many step beyond the “having someone to ask” position to the “keeping a manager on speed dial” state. When a guy talks about his rebbe’s vision for his life in his shidduch profile, you can just shake your head and move on. But sometimes the influence is a little more subtle. Like the woman who found herself on a date with a Chofetz Chaim boy… and his entire hanhala.

We believe that there’s nothing more important than strengthening the community,” he said. We also had beliefs on internet, child-rearing, and current events. If every Chofetz Chaim boy is like this then dating them is especially easy. You merely verify that your hashkafos match up with the yeshiva line, and then speed date your way through the student body until you find a personality that you like. It’s actually not a bad thing.

But there does come a point when you want to tap a guy’s head to check if there’s anything inside, and demand to know, “Yes, but what do you think?”

Above Love

What intrigued me most about this conversation was my coworker’s perspective on the question: does marriage need love?

When I was in the bais yaakov system, they repeatedly informed us that love comes after marriage. You pick out someone you’ll be compatible with in terms of personality and hashkafa, and then you fall in love with them afterwards.

I took this on faith, the same way I took most everything on which I had no other perspective, and sallied forth to look for someone compatible to marry.

We all know that yeshiva educations are lacking in many ways. Science, math, history, and basically any secular study. Well, I have found another gaping hole in the education of our young men. It dawned on me slowly, but about a year or so into my dating career it crystallized: nobody had told any of my gentleman callers that love came after marriage. My dates wanted to fall giddily in love before they proposed, and when they didn’t, they told the shadchan “no.”

The one who left me most confused was the guy who was clearly smitten on date one, but failed to ever be smitten again, and after four dates gave the shadchan a garbled excuse for why he didn’t want to go out again, but which even the shadchan admitted boiled down to “Not sure what happened but let’s not keep trying.” I was puzzled. Didn’t he realize that his crush was a shallow, ephemeral rush of hormones created by a combination of lighting and angles and gazing into eyes and as easily gained or lost as the conditions permitted?

But eventually I came around. I realized that love was clearly an important thing, and by not insisting on it, I was short-selling myself. I decided that I too would require my dates to be conceivably loveable in order for us to go out again.

I wish I could say that this changed my dating life. That I started a career as a dating diva, turning down guys because they were too hairy, or skinny, or big-footed. That wasn’t what happened. What happened was that, instead of the guy saying “no” after date two while I dithered “Well, if he’s interested”—instead, we both said “no” after date two, and my ego came out much the less bruised for it.

I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed that phase of my dating career. There was such certainty in it. I never felt guilty about turning down a guy whose company I didn’t mind but who didn’t have a bat’s chance at the optometrist of interesting me romantically. Nor did I feel very bad when one of those guys turned me down. “I wasn’t so into him anyway,” I’d shrug.

There was some cognitive dissonance. I mean, who is into anyone after spending 4-8 hours with them in a formal setting? Do I have a single friend in my life that I fell in love with at first sight? Or even second sight? (Actually, some of my oldest friends are people that I hated at first sight.) Dating like this was some kind of absurd parody, and it was never going to land me a mate. Why was I even trying?

Worst of all was the fear lurking just below the surface: was I in the right, or was this the highway to picky older singlehood? If Mr. Perfect showed up, would I turn him down for failing to make my heart flutter?  Absurd from one perspective, reasonable from another, and completely theoretical from every which way. Mr. Perfect never showed, or else he never agreed to a third date, so I didn’t need to face down my theories with my beliefs.

I coasted along until a late-night conversation with a friend.

“You’re not a guy,” she informed me. “You can think with your head. You pick someone reasonable and you try to make him fall in love with you.”

“You make it sound so easy,” I groused.

“I know, I shouldn’t talk. I don’t have guys falling at my feet either. And I haven’t met any that I’d want to. But if I found a half-normal Sephardi guy to marry, I would do it in a second, love optional.”

With that, I was back in mega-uncertainty mode. Not that it mattered, since I didn’t date anyone half-normal for quite a while, but lacking a principle to live by was troublesome.

And now, here was the lab tech, telling me the same thing as my bais yaakov teachers: pick someone likable for whatever accessories they have, and let love follow after marriage.

Wrong? Right? Indifferent? Say it below.