Search Me (My Blog)

Mar 31, 2011

Little Boy, Grow Up! Little Girl, You're Good Enough!

I've been catching up on Shidduchim in the blogosphere, when a fascinating juxtaposition struck me. has a section called "I hate shidduch dating" with short blurbs (most of them funny in a tragic sort of way) and gives people the option to vote "one-and-done" or "give it another go" in rating how they'd respond or react to the situation.

One male user posted the following:

"This madeil takes says we should go to this really nice park she knows even though she knew i was starving. The park was dark sketchy and full of not tznius things going on and a lot of people just smoking. The so called park was also just a pile of dirt and some benches. IHSD!"

 The responses voted by users (thus far) are divided thus: "That's a 1-and-done!" = 16, "Give it another go" = 78. An overwhelming 83% felt like the guy should give her another chance. And of the three comments, two of them defended her, giving reasons why the date might unfold that way. I personally appreciated seeing a story like this from a guy. It made me laugh. But then I got to thinking... What if it were a woman posting the same thing? If it had instead read: 

"This bachur takes says we should go to this really nice park he knows even though he knew i was starving. The park was dark sketchy and full of not tznius things going on and a lot of people just smoking. The so called park was also just a pile of dirt and some benches. IHSD!"
Would people respond the same way? Would YOU?

Here's the juxtaposition - it seems we have a recent story with some interesting and similar elements. Bad for Shidduchim wrote about the warning signs of dating a nerdy "Mama's boy" two weeks ago. For her, the revelation came with his insensitivity in the one choice he made to continue walking after she reminds him (presumably more than once) that "my feet are cold." Comments almost (if not entirely) unanimously bashed the bachur's behavior. Some commenting on his resume's information gave much credit for his deeds to his mother's direction and force.

Disclaimer:  I'd like to be clear that I do not intend to berate or bash Bad for Shidduchim here, particularly since I enjoy her blog and writing. I am not questioning her character, even as I present a different way of thinking about the situation. I'm just noting the discrepancies in how the stories are treated, and how we respond to situations differently.  

I have a few confessions. For one, as thoughtful as I may be and as much as I work on being sensitive, I've not had an easy time dating. It has been a struggle for me to take strong leadership and do so with sensitivity. I should comment that leadership generally feels very natural to me. Maybe it's just something about dating.

That aside, we men are often very explicit when we need something. As Bad for Shidduchim's story reads, I recognized that as an observer I was much more privy to how her toes felt than the guy who was out with her. When I'm cold, I may say so, but if they are practically frozen solid and I need to stop and sit down for coffe to warm up I'll say that too. And until I do, I don't expect someone to make accommodations just by saying that I'm cold. It is, perhaps, a male/female difference.  

If I'd only heard a woman say she's cold or that her feet are cold, I might ask and probe, but I'd have no idea that she really needed to stop and warm up. If she does, why not tell me what she needs so we can stop and warm up! (I already hear the sensitive/feminine voice in my mind saying "if she didn't need to stop why would she say she's cold!"). Certainly if I'm worried about something like how long the line is, where the next coffee shop might be, or a million other thoughts my preoccupation may very well get in the way being sensitive. I do sometimes get wrapped up in the logistics or other things going on in my own mind. Forgive me, for I am human.

Part of my mind was screaming when I finished reading the story: "Wait, so she didn't dress appropriately for the weather (ladies, guys really don't care whether you are wearing fancy boots in the snow, we'd rather you are warm than wearing nice shoes), didn't tell him she was ill equipped -regarding her boots -and blames him? Seriously? How much of her mind does she expect him to read?"

But nobody would have suggested she try going out with him again -heaven forbid, he is a spineless, insensitive child! There is no hope for bachurim who do such things! Or at least, that's what I gleaned from her experience of him and the subsequent comments.

I just thought that's interesting.

Repeated Disclaimer:  I'd like to be clear that I do not intend to berate or bash Bad for Shidduchim here, particularly since I enjoy her blog and writing. I am not questioning her character, even as I present a different way of thinking about the situation. I'm just noting the discrepancies in how the stories are treated, and how we respond to situations differently. 

P.S. I do believe in taking strong and sensitive leadership in dating/relationships -that's my responsibility and the role I take as a man.

Mar 30, 2011

Putting the "Me" in Marriage: Part I

Marriage begins with "M" and ends with "E" - and so I posit that all relationships begin and end with oneself. I will therefore ask here what the "me" needs to be -for dating and marriage.

What must I cultivate in myself to be ready for dating, to find a person for marriage? And what do I need to continue to work on to ensure that "me" and "marriage" get along for the long-haul?

I've come across a fascinating revelation that we -as human beings -very much respond to ourselves more than anything else. Our own history, experience, beliefs and perceptions are the integral components that formulate how we behave, think, act and particularly react to others and what they say and do. Research has actually shown that we don't respond to others' questions, but to our own perceptions.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Say I ask Jim his weight. Jim’s used to be obese, but he’s been going to the gym and dieting and lost 80 lbs over the past six months; he’s worked out so hard he’s now featured on the front of Men’s Fitness magazine.

But I had no clue, because I just met Jim.

Jim isn't just going to answer with a number -his entire experience will factor into how he responds to that question. And his response to the question will play a key role into how he answers. He may get excited, because he’s worked hard on it (and reaped the benefits of health and confidence), and that experience is the filter through which he’ll internalize and respond to that question.
In fact, you’ll likely see his new-found confidence also in how he answers that question, his tone, the words he uses, and how he reflects on himself. But you were asking for a mere number, not Jim’s personal health and training. Jim’s answer still reveals something unique about his life experience, even if he only utters a short statement or two

Okay, so we get the point. What does that mean in marriage -or for that matter, dating?

Well, it means that interactions are largely based on my own interpretations and responses to things. So that if an argument breaks out, the first thing I need to consider is where "me" is. How did I interpret the question, statement or comment? How did I react to it? Why did I react this way? How did those reactions impact my response?

I can either start laying blame, pointing fingers, shirking my own responsibility and remaining ignorant of my own part in perpetuating pettiness, or I can cultivate the self-awareness and realize when I am responding very strongly to my own beliefs or history -instead of what is being asked or said to me. 

(That isn't to say that all arguments or issues are my fault or my problem -only that it is important to examine my own perceptions and reactions first, and then move forward in dealing with the issue.)

This becomes a twofold mission. One, to very carefully notice when a person reacts strongly, and to try and understand what's going on (because it's often not about the content of the issue). Secondly -and the point of this post -to be aware of my own reactions, and to work on how I interpret and respond -particularly when something really gets under my skin.

Everyone brings their life history into their relationships. But when they react inappropriately or badly because something their date or partner says/does, then they are dumping their issues on the other person and misdirecting their anger or frustration. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of that, and it will create rifts in a relationship that should be growing in intimacy, trust and closeness over time.

I'm going to call that Reason #1 why individuals and couples can benefit from therapy and/or pre-marital counseling.

Mar 29, 2011

Good Men, Good Women

I was recently looking over a multitude of perspectives on dating, the "crisis," perspectives and frustrations when something caught my eye.The CJF and YUConnects published a video some time ago, and I'm putting the link in here.

A few comments stuck out to me, but the most relevant piece starts at 13:26 with a Shadchanit describing her experiences with what constitutes "good" men and women. She says:

"I probably have more men than I have women, I do. But I have many more good women, then I have good men... a good man is probably somebody who is -probably a professional, going to a professional school doctor, lawyer, industry agent, accountant, somebody who can learn torah, somebody who davens three times a day, halfway decent... what's a good girl? Got lots of those! God girls -pretty, maybe thin, maybe a little zoptick in the right places, pretty smile... so everybody's like that!" (Disclaimer: the transcription may not be perfect, so I urge you to watch it yourself)

Really?! Wow.

Well, when you look at it like that... OF COURSE there'd be less good men! All you need to be a good girl is pretty with a nice smile! The rest, I've gathered... is implied, or assumed... women generally have -or don't need -whatever else it means to be a good girl.

Perhaps these comments are based on what this particular shadchanit hears from the men and women she sets up -what they expect or look for in each other. Then again, maybe not.

But I'm not looking to put a woman in my trophy case, I'm looking to build a home and family with her.

So when I'm dating, I focus much more on her character than her smile -things like caring about halachah (while recognizing and accepting every individual's challenges and fallibility), emotional and psychological maturity, basic respect for people, being a very growth-oriented and nurturing person and of course a desire to fulfill each others' needs. That's my perspective of the necessary characteristics to build a healthy relationship and family with Jewish values.

That is, aside from personal tastes and preferences -and I've got plenty of those -which are much more flexible and should be viewed as the "whipped cream and cherry on top".

Don't get me wrong -I'm a man, and if I don't find her physically attractive, that's unlikely to change (unfortunately) and I'm unlikely to date her. A smile may increase my curiosity, put her on my radar, but beyond that it's really not that important, aside from basic physical chemistry.

A crude way it was once told to me is that "her looks should buy the first two minutes of conversation -beyond that, it's her character and how she treats you that should inform whether you stick around or not."

The more exposure I have to people, the more I think that too many people make a big deal out of petty things.

Mar 28, 2011

When Plans A & B Fail... Plan Some More.

I'll preface this with a short prelude into my mind before considering a date. I have some nervousness because I'm concerned about all the logistics going smoothly, which I assume is normal (and my experience tells me often things do not go exactly the way I've planned). The way I handle that anxiety is by accumulating every bit of information possible. I obsess about the tiny little details and have backups for my backups. I go early and scout the place out just in case, so that if something isn't looking right I can move to "Plan B" swiftly and seamlessly.

If I plan on going for tea/coffee, I'll look up every coffee shop within a mile radius of the one I plan on going to. I'll call and ask about their usual customer volume (specifying the expected time we would show) and if they have ample seating. I'll scout them all out for the best tables, chairs, view... you name it. If I decide to bring a board game, I'll probably secretly cram six or seven of them in, for the off chance that one may be preferred. Chances are, with all that, we just sit down and have some great conversation, some laughs, and get to know about each other.

Maybe play one or two rounds of a game. Maybe.

And yet, thought I can't quite explain why, practically every first date I've been on has had more than a few hiccups. By which I mean a logistical disasters. I always walk away from the experience having learned a lot; about myself as a dater, about the woman I went out with, but most of all about Murphy's Law.

Of course, I win out in the end -Murphy's Law has no chance against my preparedness and determination. Still, I sometimes feel frustrated, as if the lack of control I have over logistics undermines how I present myself on a date.

I don't know to what extent people recognize the work that goes into planning a smooth date (at least for me), but it's the difference between seeing a new car on the street and watching the process from conception and design to prototypes and testing to manufacturing and transport.

That's the way it is for me -I've got to consider ideas, figure out how to execute the logistics, and try it out (either on my own or with a date, which I hate to say may end up turning us into crash-test manikins), then refine the process and make sure it translates into my current locale and the local customs. On top of all that, of course, I have to make sure that who I am -the genuine charm and humor that I love in myself -is coming across when we're out, regardless of all the other things I'm trying to keep track of.

And they say men can't multitask.

The whole thing is a very long process, I didn't just decide to start dating one day and know how to do it all perfectly well. Some days I think about how much easier it would be to say "I dunno, what do you want to do?" Of course "easy" isn't my goal. Neither is dating. Or my wedding day. It's my drive for growth that enables me to push so passionately onward, and that's what my life and relationships are all about.

Mar 27, 2011

Man, Marginalized


Odd as this may seem, in the post-modern and feminist-aware Western World, we don't have to look very far to see man-hating. It took me a while to start noticing, since it was so ingrained in the media and educational system I grew up with that I took it for granted, but it is all over our culture. The rampant bashing and berating has a silent but powerful side-effect; it leads to developing negative beliefs about men, particularly within relationships. 

I've heard -out of women's mouths to my own ears -phrases like "men are shallow," "boys don't know anything about relationships," "guys are stupid" and other words along the genre of men being utterly incompetent or useless.

And what happens in my mind when I hear a woman say such a thing? Red flag. Some women have negative assumptions and beliefs about men, and to say such disrespectful slander -to a man's face no less -is a pretty quick way to make me think twice as to whether I want to continue associating myself with her.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. When someone berates me as a man -or my gender categorically -I'm less inclined to want to talk to her, and further away from dating or even considering potential marriage and having children with her.

I should note that I'm not talking about the way men are (clearly some men are exceptional on both ends of the spectrum and the majority fall in the middle), but how we are portrayed and perceived in today's society as a gender -separate from who we are. I will agree that it's hard to separate the two out, especially when so much of our roles may stem from societal expectations and the jokes supposedly have at least a kernel of truth.

I used to feel marginalized and deprecated as a man, particularly since I'd heard it over and over again from so many different women of different backgrounds and life stages. When I was a young teenager I was even apologetic, as though being a man was something I should be ashamed of or make amends for. Society had told me that's how I should feel about my manhood.

Over time I've realized the untruth of those beliefs. I am unapologetic of my masculinity, and I don't really tolerate that kind of disrespect. Hearing a woman bash men simply tells me what she believes about men and informs me of her experience with men, reflecting her own biases and attitudes instead of defining me as a man.

And clearly she's been hurt, which I can empathize with. But I don't extend that empathy to forgiving the disrespect.

What do I Need?

"Everyone close your eyes."

It was a great way to start the lecture. I already felt a twinge of excitement about the forthcoming half hour.

"Gentlemen, if you please, raise your hand if you believe that you really need a woman."

I raised my hand dutifully, thinking about the things I value and look for in a woman. I don't just mean having a healthy, athletic, attractive wife at the age of forty/fifty and beyond, though that's a fantasy I can't shake off. I know that I need a woman -above and beyond sex and staving off loneliness -to build a home, a family, a life. I know that I'll need her femininity, her nurturing support to get through my draining and busy days, to give me strength so I can fulfill my life mission. I need a woman's affection and touch -things that I live without daily and pain me. I know that her soft touch will make my hard days much easier to bear, that shared pain is halved pain and that shared joy is double joy.

I know that without her, I'll never father children or create a lineage and I'll find myself lost over time. I know that the massive log we carry -otherwise known as "life" -will be a hell of a lot heavier without the support of carrying it together, and I'll get worn out younger. Without a woman, I won't grow nearly as much as I can, because through intimacy that opportunity opens up.

And then I had an epiphany at that very moment: I realized I can live and probably plow on through life myself, but that's not really living. I need a woman. Every fiber of my body was aware of that fact. I really need a woman.

"Thank you. Now, ladies -if you please -I have the same question for you. How many of you really, truly, honestly believe you absolutely NEED a man."

I kept my eyes closed, at the request of the esteemed lecturer. But I secretly hoped every woman in that room felt she needed a man the way I know in my bones that I need a woman. That's some recognition I sometimes feel is sorely missed.

"Interesting. Ladies, with your permission I will allow the men to take a peek."

And with that, we were invited to open our eyes. Out of nearly seventy women, close to ten of them had their hands raised. The rest sat with an array of expressions on their faces. Some defeated, some angry, some resentful.

The lecturer made an astute observation -and noted that this was often the case when he did such exercises with his audiences -that for some reason, while most or all of the men in the room felt they need a woman, most of the women did not express the basic belief that they need a man.

We spent the rest of that evening exploring such a fascinating phenomenon.