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.

I’m 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.

– Chananya Weissman

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 shoemaker’s daughter.
Avram: Rochel? She can hardly see, she’s almost blind!
Yenta: Tell the truth Avram. Is your son so much to look at? The way she sees and the way he looks, it’s a perfect match!
- Fiddler on the Roof

9:00pm, 10/25/01

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 doesn’t, 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, let’s 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.

The Setup
When a boy or a girl is ready to enter the dating world, the infernal abyss which spits flames from miles beneath the Earth’s 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 other’s 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.” Here’s an example: Let’s 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. We’ll 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? We’ll get to that one too.
And finally we get to the yentas, those who talk a lot, who are involved in everyone’s 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 don’t feel you’re doing BOTH people a favor (and the only way you can feel that way is if you truly KNOW both people), don’t 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, I’d 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 person’s 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 can’t avoid, I’ll 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 haven’t 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 don’t really know each other there are uncomfortable silences in the conversation that are quickly covered by, “I’ll 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 they’ve found out about each other from the research they’ve both done, which is more than both have done for all their reports and papers for all of their years of schooling combined.

The Meeting
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 don’t get on each other’s 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 wouldn’t normally for anybody, or something else comes up that doesn’t allow the two to live in a harmonious existence in each other’s 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. Don’t waste money, don’t 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!), it’s 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 let’s say it’s after the second date and you aren’t sure whether you want to continue or not. Let’s 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. Don’t continue, and be absolutely fine about it because it’s the right choice. Something doesn’t quite click.
5. Don’t 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 nobody’s 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. What’s the worst that could happen? You fall for someone who isn’t 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 don’t like the person? You tell me? I sure as hell can’t figure it out.
So what do you end up doing? My favorite is those who beat around the bush. “I don’t 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 don’t like me, or aren’t what you are looking for? If that’s the case, please say so. Don’t 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 isn’t bound to others who dictate what her life should be and how she should live it. You want role models? That’s 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 you’re going to meet a knight on a white horse. I got some news for you. There ain’t 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 can’t even get off his horse. And he can’t move because his armor is so heavy. What’s he going to do? If he tries to carry you over the threshold, he’ll fall flat on his back and probably break his neck. And he definitely won’t 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 isn’t 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 isn’t), 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. I’ll talk about me for a minute. Do I want to live in Israel? I don’t 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 don’t know. And if I don’t know, it means I probably don’t. But I have friends who do have the strength, and the proof is that they’ve done it. I used to ask myself when friends did this, “Who is he going to marry? Where will he meet her if he’s 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 you’re better off moving now. That’s 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 don’t 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.
Don’t decide that because you have ideals of yours that you’ve developed because you were brainwashed by people living in Israel (remember? You’re 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 won’t make it anyway, so who’s the loser now?
And I didn’t 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 can’t figure them out.)
Please don’t make me talk about the “issues” of plastic tablecloths and other horseradish. By now you should know better.

The Struggle
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 else’s 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 that’s the case, then both of you are missing the damn boat. Of course nobody’s 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 can’t come up with the guts to ask her. She wants to know how he feels but can’t 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, don’t know what’s 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 friend’s 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 can’t he just call her up himself and tell her how he feels and what he’s going through?

Easily the most immature approach I’ve 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, you’re not paying attention to the person you’re going out with now. And if that’s the case, you’re wasting everyone’s time. If the person is wonderful in every way but that he/she isn’t “someone better,” who is the real loser for not seeing how wonderful this person is?

The Problems – What We Can and Can’t 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?

There are many other rules, all unofficial of course, and of course there are many people who break them all the time. I raise my glass to these people and salute them.

The Modern Age
The Modern Age has brought to the fore new forms of communication that can make everything so much easier. Between cell phones, which put everyone on tabs 24 hours a day, and email, and AIM (Instant Messenger) that basically put someone on the other end of a computer screen any number of times a day, getting messages across is real easy. Too chicken to call? No prob. Drop an email. Too late to call? No prob, drop an email. Want to say things you are uncomfortable verbally speaking, but want immediate feedback? No prob. Wait on line for the person to sign up on Instant Messenger.
Unless one is really busy, everyone loves getting instant messages. (If you’re really busy, why the heck are you logged into AIM?) And the best part about it is that you can say what you want and you don’t have to worry about the other person looking at you, trying to figure out what you meant by it. You can ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask but never had the guts to say. And you can take as much time as you want responding as you compose yourself (if you’re the receiving end of such a query), trying to figure out what was meant by the comment, because “you’re a slow typist” or “someone else was talking to you online” or “you were doing something on the internet and got delayed.” Of course, you can also choose to ignore an IM and claim, after the fact, that you had stepped away from your computer and didn’t return until four days later when the person had already logged off. It’s easy to avoid confrontation.
Despite all this, I still contend that the only way to get anything accomplished is to talk to the other person, face to face, and just put your cards on the table. That’s all there is to it.
Living in a modern world in which how we should live our lives is dictated to us by movies, I proceed with an example from a movie (sorry about the age of the movie. I like old movies.): In How the West Was Won, a male character that decides he wants to marry the heroine “because she has a good body for bearing children,” and because he likes her and feels he could take care of her. He lets himself out on a limb, sells his “wares,” his “goods” to her, hoping she’ll buy. She doesn’t, he persists, she still doesn’t, and he is very hurt by it. She thanks him for his feelings, his kind words, his sincerity, but being the strong woman she is, she can not see herself in that lifestyle, so she goes on her own way. The movie makes it clear that he is hurt.
The point is, however, that he needs to go through that process, to let her know exactly where he stands, in order to be able to find out what he needs to hear. And even if what he needs to hear is not what he wants to hear, he hears the word and will now move on. It’s a matter of a having a problem versus having an inconvenience. Her saying “No” is more of an inconvenience, a setback to his plans. He wanted to settle down and start a family. She said no, so he’ll have to do it with someone else. A problem would have been more along the likes of a life and death situation. But for an inconvenience? Live to deal with it and deal with it.
And for dealing with inconveniences, I hate to break it to you, but the phone doesn’t do it, IM doesn’t do it, and email doesn’t do it. You need to see the person. See how she reacts to what’s being said. Body language communication is lost in phone conversations and IMs. The concept of understanding each other through the verbal alone (ie a phone conversation) is something that is lacking in a relationship that has taken place in snippets over the course of a few weeks or months. And if it’s just a few weeks into a relationship, the boy and girl don’t know each other, so it’s harder to say things out and have them understood in the proper way over the phone. How many times do you find yourself apologizing for something you said because it was misunderstood or misconstrued because of the way it came out over the phone? Face to face conversations are much different.

If Marriage Isn’t the Answer
The options abound. If the two parties don’t end up marrying, the breakup could have taken place in a number of ways.

And then there are those who are completely unsure of anything that say things like, “Can’t we just be friends for now?” The problem with this is that if one side is thinking “just friends” and the other side is thinking “‘just’ friends for now, but this will please God develop,” somebody will be hurt majorly.
For a guy, what does it mean to have a girl as a friend? I don’t know. As a college student in When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal maintains that it isn’t possible because the sex always gets in the way. As a young Jewish man, I can’t see how it’s possible to have a girl as a friend, if there is nothing going on. A girl as an acquaintance, I can understand. But as a close friend and confidante? That usually means something deeper is running in the river. I maintain that that type of relationship doesn’t and cannot exist. If I have an issue I need to discuss, I will turn to my friends for their help, support, advice. I don’t need a girl to start telling me that it’s not an issue, that I’m a wonderful person, that things are good, I just need to see the bright side, and all that BS. I know what I am, and I don’t need a girl who I don’t care about (in the way that I care about my friends) to tell me. If I need a girl who I do care about to tell me, I would hope that she cares about me as well. And if she does, then she should entertain the idea (as I certainly would be) that we could marry each other. If not, then I am sick of the games and don’t want to play them. At this stage, I don’t want to have to try to figure out what is going on. If there is something, let’s take care of it, try to act on our impulses. And if there is nothing, let’s make sure we are both aware, so we can get that factor out of the way. And if we can get the factor out of the way, we have the choice of either getting out of each other’s lives, or being able to pick and choose when we want to enter each other’s lives again.
If one is trying to maintain a friendship with a girl (as per her request, or she with him, as per his request – in either case, the one who did not make the request to remain “just friends” wants to continue the relationship), though he knows what he would like to happen, she is in no situation to respond favorably (the way he would like) to his advances. So he continues to call and keep in touch to the point that if he doesn’t call, she and her friends think there is something wrong. Why didn’t he call?
In my opinion, if that’s the attitude, either someone is really desperate or doesn’t know that she has what she thinks she doesn’t have or doesn’t know if she has, and that is: a working relationship of dependence and trust. And once you have that, you are halfway there. You just need to take the next step.