Note: The following piece was written several years ago by a young man who had recently started dating. He wrote this for himself in a stream-of-consciousness way to try and clarify the various feelings and issues that he was struggling with. He found it very helpful to get it all out, and found his intended shortly thereafter.
Im grateful that he shared it with me and permitted me to post it. He requested that his name not appear on it, for reasons that are best known to himself. (Perhaps it is because he is the son of a well-known Rabbi, and who knows what the neighbors might say ) It is admittedly somewhat rambling it was not intended for publication but I thought it best to leave it as is. The author makes many sharp points and has some priceless lines that I will have to borrow. Enjoy.
On Dating: The Fekakteh Jewish Way
(unedited, unabridged, unbridled)
A Different Time and a Different Place So Much Easier
Yenta: Avram, I have the perfect match for your son, a wonderful girl.
Avram: Who is it?
Yenta: Rochel, the shoemakers daughter.
Avram: Rochel? She can hardly see, shes almost blind!
Yenta: Tell the truth Avram. Is your son so much to look at? The way she sees and the way he looks, its a perfect match!
- Fiddler on the Roof
Here is an issue which has plagued us for the better part of the last couple of decades. With the advent of people going to Israel for a year (sometimes two) after high school, the new exposure to different teachers, philosophies, ideas, schools of thought and friends, our generation has seen many changes in the way our members look at life, Judaism, and the pursuit of happiness. For those of us who decide to go along this path, this includes how we go about choosing our mates.
The ultimate disclaimer: I am not a posek: I am not deciding for you nor telling you how to live your life, at what level of observance or how you choose to define yourself as a Jew. I am not an expert on dating: I have not gone on too many dates, and I have not had extended relationships with too many women (which cover, in my case, for the opposite gender). I am not married: I will not even pretend to be. I am just a normal guy with a thinking head, trying to make sense of the issues that are troubling me right now.
So. Leaving out money issues (who has, who doesnt, who is rich and who is not), leaving out yichus issues (how many rabbis in the family, how many baalei tzedakah, how many choshuv balebatim), leaving out family issues (if the guy or girl comes from a broken home, either because of divorce or death, or there are a lot of step-siblings involved), leaving out cases where rabbis encourage one or more parties to break engagements, and leaving out the tendency of some to rapidly speed through a process in order to get married exactly eight weeks after the young people meet each other, lets begin. We are talking about the two individuals and whatever personal baggage each carries. We are not talking about their families because the bottom line is that each spouse marries one person, his/her spouse, and does not marry his/her family.
When a boy or a girl is ready to enter the dating world, the infernal abyss which spits flames from miles beneath the Earths core that only reach you after a few days, all the necessary circuits are touched off, and a few different kinds of concerned people may enter his or her life, depending on the specific orientation of the particular member of the human race.
If the two members are lucky, they may have a chance meeting, catch each others eye, get introduced at a social gathering and hit it off, work on a project together for school or some kiruv organization, or meet by accident at a wedding or in the bowling alley. If this happens, and both sides relay to each other that each is interested in the other, then something can possibly come of it. As we will see throughout the rest of this document, communication is the key to success.
Sometimes a boy and a girl will have a mutual friend who thinks that the two would make a great couple. When this happens, depending on the gender of the mutual friend, MF will call the friend of the same gender and make a suggestion. If the same gender MF is interested, original MF will call the other gender friend and say that SGMF (same gender mutual friend) is interested in going out with DGMF (different gender ) If all goes well, and if MF#1 is a good salesperson, the two will end up going out on a date and whatever else follows. Nice.
On the other hand, sometimes both members will find that they are interested in each other (or one of them is interested in the other), and a MF will be turned to to set it up. Heres an example: Lets say David likes Rachel. David knows that his friend Bob knows Rachel informally, so because David is uncomfortable about calling Rachel on his own, he tells Bob to set him up with Rachel. Well talk more about this later.
Another way for members to be set up is through the help of a shadchan, one who specializes in knowing everything about everyone so he/she can mix and match human beings to create perfect couples. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein were introduced through a shadchan, as were Mr. and Mrs. Bionic Man, and the Incredible Hulk and his girlfriend. Many people are in the business, so I will do my best not to knock whatever it is they do.
As I am boring myself and you, I will add that there are always the concerned relatives and friends who see members growing older not married, and they always have a perfect girl or a great guy available. As an aside, if everyone is so perfectly great, how come none of them are married? Well get to that one too.
And finally we get to the yentas, those who talk a lot, who are involved in everyones lives and know exactly who is seeing who and what they are doing and where everyone stands in the social ladder and how much they are making, and what they are looking to do with their lives, and how many times a week he calls his mother, and how often she comes home for shabbos and helps with the cooking. We (I) hate these people.
Main point: If you dont feel youre doing BOTH people a favor (and the only way you can feel that way is if you truly KNOW both people), dont even start.
The Phone Call
The suggestion has been made, and the two have agreed to have a go with each other. Naturally they need to arrange it amongst themselves. After all, we are adults here.
Depending on how the setup took place, he will probably call her to talk about making the first meeting. Or if they met already somehow, the next meeting. If they were set up through a shadchan, he will probably be given a very precise time at which he can call her, so they can figure out what to do from there.
Here comes tangent number one. For a long time I thought that were I to call, Id manage to find a bad time, I would be disturbing something or somebody, and that would look bad. And then I thought to put the ball in the other persons hands, looking at it from my perspective if I were on the receiving end of such a call. I would be delighted. No matter what I could possibly be doing would not be as important as this development in my social life, and to think that the person is disturbing anything I might be doing is ridiculous. And if worst comes to worse and I happen to be busy in a way that I cant avoid, Ill say, Can I call you back? take the number and call back as soon as I am available. The problem with this is that when this happens, the original caller thinks he has done something wrong and that he has interfered or messed up. Ridiculous! You havent done anything wrong, why should you be so upset? Again, in my being the receiving end, I would love to be noticed, paid attention to, made to feel important, cared about. So why sweat the details?
So the phone call is made, details are sorted out, and because both parties dont really know each other there are uncomfortable silences in the conversation that are quickly covered by, Ill see you then. OK? OK. Good. Uh, byebye. Or they might talk about how they know the MF or the shadchan, and all the crap theyve found out about each other from the research theyve both done, which is more than both have done for all their reports and papers for all of their years of schooling combined.
I happen to believe that any two decent people who find something to do can always have a nice time together, as long as they dont get on each others nerves by creating tension between them for stupid reasons, and they leave personal things out of the conversation. And until they need to do things for each other in a way that asks them to go out of their way in a way they wouldnt normally for anybody, or something else comes up that doesnt allow the two to live in a harmonious existence in each others company, things could be nice and rosy. Nice times are easy to come by.
Dates and Beyond
I can describe a dream date, I can describe a boring, dead, lost at the first minute date. I will leave details of dates up to your own imagination. Assume some of the objectives are to have a good time and to find ways to talk about things in general, not issues just yet, and do just that. Dont waste money, dont go to a restaurant, get out there and do something interesting or fun. Go to a museum, bowling, skating, a ball game. Movies are probably not the best thing for a first date because you want to see the other person and you want to be able to talk. And even though you can talk after the movie (about the movie!), its not the best idea. Plays and musicals are out at first because they are kind of expensive, unfortunately.
So the date is done and everyone has had a good time. Take a look at the person (and I stress that word for a reason) you have just spent an afternoon or evening with. Nice person? Probably. Attractive? Possibly. Had a good time? Probably. Want to have another try? Possibly. Will you? Probably not. WHY NOT? (Hold that thought!)
Or lets say its after the second date and you arent sure whether you want to continue or not. Lets weigh the options:
1. Continue, have a great time, eventually get married. Mazel tov.
2. Continue, have a great time until you find a small problem rendering the person no longer perfect, and then dump him/her on his/her face.
3. The same, but do it nicely and respectfully.
4. Dont continue, and be absolutely fine about it because its the right choice. Something doesnt quite click.
5. Dont continue, and later be miserable about it because you should have continued.
6. Spend weeks and weeks debating about whether you should continue, and destroy those weeks and the weeks of the other member while you decide.
7. Same as 2 and 3, but decide that nobodys perfect and maybe this could work out in any event.
There are probably more options, but my brain is tired.
Getting back to the Probably not thought, why not? Are we afraid of what might happen. Whats the worst that could happen? You fall for someone who isnt so attractive but is a nice person any way? You give it another try and you find that you actually like the person? You give it another try and you find you dont like the person? You tell me? I sure as hell cant figure it out.
So what do you end up doing? My favorite is those who beat around the bush. I dont think I am ready for this, I was once told. Not ready for what? Not ready to possibly commit yourself to another person for life? Not ready to go out with me ever? Not ready to go out with me right now because you have other things going on in your life right now? Or is it just that you dont like me, or arent what you are looking for? If thats the case, please say so. Dont leave me guessing.
And on that note, what are you looking for? I think some people have their priorities very mixed up. I want to know that the person I marry can think for herself and isnt bound to others who dictate what her life should be and how she should live it. You want role models? Thats fine. But please be your own individual. Obviously there are other issues, but none are as important to me as that one. Other issues can be dealt with. People can make compromises about frumkeit and about ideas on raising children. And most things that come up as issues are not really issues. They are just a misguided view of someone thinking that one day youre going to meet a knight on a white horse. I got some news for you. There aint no more knights. Has anyone ever seen a knight on a white horse? And if you did, would you want to marry him? He sweats and stinks and he cant even get off his horse. And he cant move because his armor is so heavy. Whats he going to do? If he tries to carry you over the threshold, hell fall flat on his back and probably break his neck. And he definitely wont be able to put you on his horse. Besides, do you really want to go on his horse? I personally would prefer someone with a nice car. If you want to be cheesy, a mustang. But a horse?
So figure out what you want. I think materialism isnt as important as people make it out to be. One girl told me she wants to live in a nice house with a nice yard and a swimming pool, in Israel. Well maybe you should get your priorities straight. Unless you are very wealthy (which she isnt), and unless you plan to marry someone who is very wealthy (and who can plan something like that?) you need to set less lofty goals.
Israel. Another great topic. Ill talk about me for a minute. Do I want to live in Israel? I dont know. Do I have the strength to decide I will drop everything here and move to Israel (not say I will move to Israel, but actually move)? I dont know. And if I dont know, it means I probably dont. But I have friends who do have the strength, and the proof is that theyve done it. I used to ask myself when friends did this, Who is he going to marry? Where will he meet her if hes going to be in Israel? And then it dawned on me that the women who feel similarly have done the same thing. They went to Israel, and they too will meet their spouses there, will marry there, and will build true homes in Israel, in every sense of the words.
So to those who say, I want to move to Israel, and therefore I only want to marry someone who wants to move to Israel, I have some bad news for you. I think youre better off moving now. Thats right. Get on a plane and go. Do you know why I say this? Because excluding the very few exceptions, most people who plan to move to Israel five years after they marry, begin to earn a living and build a family, usually dont make it. Something always comes up. Kids, family, job, not enough money, friends. And once you push off moving, then the kids are in grade school, high school, and then you need to support them through college, and then you have grad school and/or weddings to pay for who can afford all that (in the manner you have grown accustomed to because you live in America) on an Israeli salary? So usually it gets pushed off indefinitely. This may seem very cruel, but more people make aliyah in coffins than those who make it alive.
Dont decide that because you have ideals of yours that youve developed because you were brainwashed by people living in Israel (remember? Youre breaking my rule!) that you need to write off the individuals who may be perfect for you in every other way except this. How stupid can you get? Because even if you one day find the one who wants to live in Israel (and it may take years), the chances are that you wont make it anyway, so whos the loser now?
And I didnt even mention the dumb things people are concerned about, such as if he wears a hat, or other issues of Frumkeit that people get so worked up about. There is the old minyan/movies question. Does he go to minyan, does he go to movies? Does he do both? If yes, is there something wrong with that? If no, is there something wrong with that? And for both, why? Figure out why these are issues! (For the life of me, I cant figure them out.)
Please dont make me talk about the issues of plastic tablecloths and other horseradish. By now you should know better.
Members suffer from tremendous inferiority complexes and questions about self worth. Am I really so good or so special? How could I throw my infirmities and complex issues into somebody elses life? Am I good enough for someone else? He/she is so good and really deserves better.
HelLO! The other person may be thinking the exact same thing and probably is. And if thats the case, then both of you are missing the damn boat. Of course nobodys perfect. Of course everyone has baggage. Of course each person is going to have issues that need to be dealt with. Welcome to the human race, you are cordially invited to our next membership drive. It requires you to be on this Earth every living day of your life (unless you choose to become an astronaut and somehow get launched into space).
So people struggle and analyze and talk with friends and discuss and weigh and think and moan and wonder and stress and cry and mourn and finally decide Ah the hell with it all and jump off a bridge. WHAMMY SOUND. WRONG!! BUZZER YOU LOSE!!!
And then everything gets lost in the communication network. He wants to know how she feels, but cant come up with the guts to ask her. She wants to know how he feels but cant come up with the guts to ask him. (More on this later) So she talks to her friend who talks to her friend who is married to a friend of his friend, and through the grapevine they discover that they have the same feelings, are both confused, dont know whats happening to them, and are at an utter and devastating loss as to what to do. And so they call it off because somehow in the middle of it all, her friend skipped a step and went straight to her friends husband who in turn went straight to the guy, something got lost or was changed and miscommunicated in the process, tearing the whole thing apart. I hate it when that happens. Why cant he just call her up himself and tell her how he feels and what hes going through?
Easily the most immature approach Ive heard from a friend of mine (and I told him so) is if somebody wants to break it up, because he/she feels he/she can find someone better. Note: This is the most destructive thought to any relationship. If you line up dates and are looking forward to the next guy or girl you may be going out with, youre not paying attention to the person youre going out with now. And if thats the case, youre wasting everyones time. If the person is wonderful in every way but that he/she isnt someone better, who is the real loser for not seeing how wonderful this person is?
The Problems What We Can and Cant Get Away With
The way we have structured our social arrangement, we are allowed and not allowed to do certain things. Bear with me or enjoy?