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Apr 1, 2014

Farewell to the Shidduch Dating World

I've tried it, over and over. Between websites, shadchanim, friends setting me up, I've racked more dates than I want to remember with more women than I should have kept count. Let's just say after reaching 75 I realized that counting is not productive for me, just as dating the "frum" way isn't productive for me. In fact, I'm not sure it really ever was -I certainly didn't quite fit that mold.

What does all this mean? Will I never go on a blind date or shidduch date? Will I be off the internet dating websites forever? Is this my last post? I have no definitive answers forever. I have searched my doubts, considered whether I should simply redouble my efforts, "tone down," "read between the lines," and just keep slogging along the same route(s). As Einstien said, though, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For my sanity, I need to try something else, something new, something different.

I'd like to be clear on a few points here. First, that this isn't about becoming less religious. In fact, I've found more observance as I've worked through the process, and a deeper connection with God as I continue to pour my heart and pain out -both in dating and in davening. I'm not talking here about letting go of my shomer ideology, I'm taking about a dating system that feels broken to me -a system I am now choosing not to participate in. Second, this isn't a decision of emotions, even as painful as it is. I have thought through the process and my place in it. I have come to the conclusion that it's not for me, and I will lay out the reasons below:

1) Relationships are made of experiences not criteria. There is some interesting research about the phenomenon in online dating (and I extend that to my experience of shidduch dating as well) regarding a distinction between search by criterion and experience and how much searching by some "measurable" criteria fails at actually finding compatibility. I am done with questions and information about potential dates (and myself) that have nothing to do with actually experiencing the other person.

2) People are not a pile of characteristics, nor do they need to fit our set of desires. Every time I see and hear about the "things" a woman is looking for, I have a nauseous and visceral retching reaction. It may well be (or not be) the case that I am "mature," "sensitive," "growth oriented," or "humerous," but I'm absolutely uninterested in trying to decide or cram myself into a bunch of those traits (and the religious/hashkafic ones as well) in order to determine my "fitness" or a woman's "fitness." It always felt to me that it's more about searching for those things than meeting and forming a connection with the person, much like objectifying as it is about finding something rather than being with someone. I've learned that people and life are much more vibrant, much less clean-cut, and far more interesting when related to as people than a pile of traits. The best of people are not only highly flawed (as I am), but own it -it is a core part of who they are. For me, it has been a journey of realizing that having a list was a road-block to recognizing and appreciating the entirely of another person.

3) I am a high-contact, deep-connection, intense person. There is something in moments of connection -moments of vulnerability, moments of listening and understanding, being understood, feeling deeply known and knowing the other, simply accepting without need for either myself or the other to be anything other than exactly what we are -that is essential and core to the way I am, every day. It is a testament to my being in the right place with my career. I am comfortable going zero-to-sixty when I sense what I am describing above, and it has been my experience that the "frum" dating world does not often foster that type of connection. In fact, I have often felt that all the protocols, labels, lists, and laborious information-gathering is counter to developing that type of connection.

4) Formal dating artificially increases pressure to consider marriage prematurely. Instead of thinking, "who is this person, I want to really understand them" I often found (and still find) myself asking "do I want to marry this?" over all the little things that I experience as early as the first date. My values for dating and relationships are so dissonant with this thinking that I actually cringed as I wrote that I have those thoughts. Ultimately, I think that is at the core of my choice here -the values I have cultivated for myself with respect to dating and relationships are so far and away from those I was introduced to and experienced in shidduch dating that I have come to recognize it's just not for me.

5) My highest value in a relationship is knowing and being known deeply, accepting and being accepted completely, and trusting one another to make our own way through personal struggles. The first time I experienced this, it was shocking that simply feeling known, understood, accepted, and trusted in my capability to engage life and my personal issues was so important. It's necessary to both have patience as we each struggle with our own challenges, flaws, issues, and find our own growth side-by-side. I certainly have a great deal I struggle with, but I don't need someone to push me along; I'd rather have someone simply sit with me when I am entrenched in my own issues, feeling that they know in their bones that I will make it through successfully in my own time. In dating, it translates as my taking time and continuing to go out in order to be with someone, to remain present and understand who they are, how they experience the world, and what brings them meaning.

There's a term that's been floating around which I really appreciate, "with-ness," which is some kind of amalgamation of "with" and "witness." It refers to the experience of standing by and sharing in experience while trusting the person to manage and take care of whatever is going on independently. There is a kind of deep trust and knowing which comes with that stance, and it is an experience I have experienced reciprocally and treasure. Aside from being rare, it is my way of searching for a soul mate. At this moment, I feel the shidduch system isn't very conducive to that way of relating.

Feb 24, 2014

The Counteroffer

I have encountered this particular phenomenon many a time during the course of my dating experience. The interaction starts of fairly benign, talking about each others' lives, interests, beliefs, experiences, what have you. Then the date planning gets under way, it's about the logistics and sorting out the "what," "where," and "when." Inevitably, there are some hiccups along the way. Either the time(s) I mention I am available don't work, or something comes up before the date.

Then comes the moment of truth; does she make a counteroffer?

Whether or not you think about it, there is subtle communication in this little gesture, or lack thereof. A counteroffer communicates interest, a desire to spend time together -if only to get to know the other person. Lack of a counteroffer communicates -for whatever reason -that she's not very interested in meeting, dating, or spending time together.

It can even communicate that she's actually uninterested in dating altogether -and even impact my interest. I had a first date with a lovely young woman once, and followed it up by asking her out on a second date no less than three times. Invariably, all three times she said she was busy for one reason or another, but she made absolutely no counteroffer on any of these occasions. While it could be perceived as legitimate reasons to have been unavailable, after that many attempts without her showing interest or offering to reschedule, I was done.

Jan 2, 2014

Halachic Prenup from the Inside Out

As I read the recent Commentator article advocating for Halachic Prenups, I had a number of thoughts and some very conflicted feelings.

On the one hand, I get the point. Part of the advocacy is starting a movement, creating general practice. Of course it meets with resistance (as most major changes do) and the article is addressing said resistance. Some of the (counter)points rubbed me the wrong way, though. Which -as per usual -got me thinking.

I happen to generally be in favor of granting leverage over people who are abusing power as is the case in withholding a get. In fact, I have brokered a number of Halachic Prenups with couples who have had all kinds of challenges and tensions broaching, considering, and working through the process.

Let me emphasize that point: IT IS A PROCESS. Not something that should be expected to easily or simply be "taken care of" or "required" like paperwork. Most of the Halachic Prenups I have had to broker have been with couples who may have brought up the topic once or twice and then two weeks before the wedding began actually working through it. Bringing it up evokes fears, insecurities, and even blame in both men and women.

I want to make a brief but powerful distinction in how I am considering the Halachic Prenup in contrast to the article. I am considering the interpersonal, relationship-oriented perspective of what it is like to consider the Halachic Prenup from my view as a man (and experience with couples). The author of the article was making points and putting forth arguments for leaders of Jewish communities, considering the broader impact and goals of the Halachic Prenup. I agree with that view in principle, and I am considering the complex set of feelings and implications of a couple actually facing the possibility, with all the fears, insecurities, implications, and reactions that may come up. The way I see it, making a global argument to a couple in crisis over the feelings and reactions evoked (as I have faced several times with couples) is not particularly helpful in that moment.

As a quick (and perhaps dirty) comparison, consider what it may feel like for a woman who gets engaged and the groom suggests or demands a financial prenuptial agreement. Whatever the reason, it may certainly evoke strong feelings, questioning the man's trust in her, feeling that he is looking towards the end rather than being in the relationship. There are many, many differences between financial and Halachic Prenups, but the point here is that they share some similarities and may thus evoke similar feelings.

I certainly admit to having understood a man feeling that way when his fiance demanded he sign a Halachic Prenup. I can admit to considering how I would think if I were in his shoes myself, and have experienced that same feeling myself.

Some points that came to mind (and then I will consider them more in depth):

1) It communicates strong feelings, which may include fear, anxiety, and insecurity while advocating addressing those feelings by requesting a contract from the other person.

It is form a vulnerability, the potential of being stuck. Hearing stories and knowing others who are chained can sow insecurity and doubt. Not unfounded doubt, the possibility is certainly present. While presenting a Halachic Prenup may provide a security, it is addressing the concern with a request/demand on the partner. From my own perspective, I dislike the idea of addressing feelings by placing a contract on the other person as a general rule, especially with a spouse. I know it can be very helpful in this instance, though I dislike that it may communicate "this is the way to deal with relationship issues."

I acknowledge there are certainly more than feelings at stake, which leads me to point #2...

2) There is a small (or not so small) part of requesting/suggesting/demanding a Halachic Prenup which communicates that the man (or woman) is capable or even likely to withhold (reject) a get.

The issue in point #2 is that it constitutes a breach of trust in the relationship.  Like insurance, it may be considered a policy for safety, but the need for such a policy means there is a risk. The risk here is between two people, i.e. how they treat one another, which implies that one (in particular often the man) is the risk factor. It can even feel accusatory, particularly for a man who would not consider himself or his relationship at risk of getting to that point. Being the risk factor is certainly hard to hear, and may be construed as (pre)blame. I believe that breach is both mend-able and even strengthens a relationship when effectively addressed.

3) This Halachic Prenup is about other men/women, about agunot. Not about You/Me/Us.

This message is both prevalent in the article and one of the most used arguments when met with resistance. First, I have to say it is the worst way to try and convince a partner to accept a Halachic Prenup. Second, I believe it actually subverts the interpersonal or relationship concerns, which include insecurity and trust. 

As I noted above, I am very much for movements and policies that grant leverage over people who abuse power, and the Halachic Prenup has potential to be quite effective. However, my own thoughts have brought to my attention the impact of considering the Halachic Prenup on a micro-scale, i.e. within a relationship.

I was once given advice that I should spend a day in family court before deciding to get married: half a day in divorce court and half a day in child-custody. At first it sounded like a horrible ordeal to witness and a sure way to dissuade me from marriage. Then I realized that if I am able to consider the worst with my partner and we can get through it together we will likely never get there. Working together through issues that tear couples apart can be a way to build a stronger relationship. 

I am a stubborn believer in being prepared and working together in relationships and especially in marriage. To me, that is likely to include having very difficult conversations about raising children, financial issues, and Halachic concerns -both concerning (a) working towards staying together and (b) the unpleasant possibility that we split up. I still believe in it, I plan on having those conversations -including the Halachic Prenup and working through it with whomever I end up with.

Dec 6, 2013

What it's Like to be Single in Our Generation

Aziz Ansari on being single... surprising how some of it really resonates...

Aug 26, 2013

Stop Looking for Your Bashert

I was surprised to have run across this article over a year after it was posted on the OU's website, but I was equally surprised to see some of the points contained therein. Here's the short version:

1) There is no such thing as a "bashert" or "the one." Compatibility is in large part a choice to make things work.
2) Marriage doesn't just happen "at the right time," it takes work to build up to. Maybe even getting over yourself, at least a little bit.
3)  Don't be so narrow minded about who may or may not be marriage potential.
4) People are not a half of anything, nor are they incomplete until marriage.
5) Stop being superficial. Question your image or expectations (eg. where did they come from? what about them is actually important?) instead of blindly letting them drive you.
6) Commitment is a choice most people make with a degree of uncertainty. We don't "just know" if the person is "right."
7) Online dating isn't pathetic or desperate, it's another path in the dating world.