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May 31, 2011

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)

While in many places Yom Yerushalayim -the day that the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall was recaptured -gets less attention than Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli independence day), it has powerful meaning to me. Thus, in the spirit of the day, I will relate a personal experience of mine about my first time visiting Jerusalem.

As it so happens, that was also the first time I went to the Kotel (the Western Wall, hereafter often referred to as "the Wall"), which was a revelation for me. Perhaps not in the way you'd think, though.

When, at the ripe age of 18, I first laid hands on the Wall, my entire body welled up with very strong emotions. I had prepared myself with recognition and consideration of my heritage, I had explored and attached myself to the footsteps of my forefathers who had settled in the land and made pilgrimage three times a year. I learned of the yearnings that the exiled had after the destruction of the Temple and attempted to carry within my soul a remnant or shadow of the experience they must have felt, recognizing the gaping hole left when the singular place of worship -a home dedicated to God -was torn away from them.  By extension, though I never had the experience of it, the Temple has been torn from me too, as I worked to inherit the experiences of my ancestors.

But nothing could have prepared me for they intense anger, bordering on rage, that I felt when I made first contact with the stones that had become smooth from millions of people touching, kissing, crying and praying upon them. At first, I was unaware that my passion had taken the form of fury, and the shock alone took a couple minutes to overcome. It had been quite some time since I'd lost my temper, but as I stood there fuming and fostering a strong desire to yell and scream over it's topmost stones, or otherwise to kick, pound and smash whatever part of the Wall I could reach, my nebulous emotions began to make way for clear thoughts and images.

I realized that my wrath had a definite source, and the thoughts started to trickle through my mind, eventually forming a coherent stream of consciousness.

First came the recognition that walls divide and separate. They create barriers and boundaries, most often to keep things out. Next, the realization that this Wall separates the sacred from the profane, that it is a line that distinguishes what may enter and what may not. That I may go only so far -only up to this Wall -and no further. That I am held back from the Presence of the Almighty by these stones. 

This Wall, and so much of its history, separate me from an ultimate closeness with God. Not that I believe the Wall should have been reduced to rubble, for I would not be able to freely walk into such a place. But rather, that we stopped here and went no further. So there I stood, seething -perhaps because I'd tapped into the yearning of my ancestors -over our choice to stop at the Wall and leave the divide as a monument.

While I only heard somewhat recently (in Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" here) that the brick walls in life are there for us to show our determination, to prove how far we will go to overcome obstacles, the concept was not lost to me as a teenager. For this reason, being at the Kotel made me angry. Angry at a people who stopped by the brick wall and went no further. Angry that this Wall I cannot overcome. This left me with the strong desire to either project my voice over its boundaries, to "overcome" its holding my prayers out, or to otherwise breach its stone and thereby pour my soul to God without solid rock to muffle my words.

At that moment, seeing the many notes crammed into the cracks and crevices within the Wall, I wanted nothing more than to cram myself as far into one as I could, perhaps far enough to have some part of me -if only my words -breach the barrier between me and God. Perhaps this was the source of the first note. If I were present when the Wall was secured, I like to think I'd have reached out to Hashem with a note crammed deeply into a crevice of the Kotel.

That anger did not go away throughout my year in Israel, nor did my desire to throw my voice over the Wall. Of course none of that stopped me from returning as often as I could. A couple of inches and a wall is still less division than being halfway across the world.

Something About Me You Should Know...

I believe we each speak from our life experience and orientation. I know I certainly do. And so, despite numerous attempts to weave parts of myself and my experiences into other posts, this part of me deserves its own post.

I was always interested in human nature, something about it just called out to me. I revel in learning about people, understanding the world from their point of view, recognizing them for who they are. People are fascinating.

And so, after finishing my undergraduate degree, I began a doctorate program in psychology. Being in psychology graduate school, I learned, is a serious time commitment and an incredible amount of work. Taking out huge loans doesn't help either, I'll have a mortgage to pay off before I've even got a house.

What do I look forward to? Working with clients three or four days a week, 5-6 hours a day, while paperwork and supervision (professionals telling me what I'm doing wrong and what I'm doing well) tack on several hours per week. After that, I've got afternoon and evening classes as a full time student, and not to mention the travel time which means I'm getting home around 10pm a couple nights a week. Don't ask when my homework gets done, I'm not even sure I know.

Of course, there's also research lab. Either working with a professor on their research or my own, and eventually my own research will lead to a monstrous document we call a dissertation. I should mention some people take years (as in three, four or six) just to get their own dissertation done. I'm working on cramming mine into a year and a half or less.  

B"H I thoroughly enjoy learning new things, and my fascination with humanity is a thirst for knowledge that's hard to quench. Which is why my mind naturally filters practically everything through a psychological lens. 

Welcome to this huge chunk of my life.

May 27, 2011

Letter To My Future Wife

Hello Honey,

I have a few (okay, more than just a few) things I need to let you know before we get married. Hopefully you can understand why as you read.

I have a great many fears and concerns about marriage. Fears like not having the physical affection or sexual satisfaction I need. Fear that frustration and anger may breach the foundation stones of our relationships -our desire to fulfill each others' needs and an unshakable respect for one another. Fear that you may not be as obsessed with our children and dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make sure they grow up in a positive, nurturing, loving environment that helps them learn all the most important things about life, especially things like responsibility, that our actions have consequences and how to handle frustration and disappointment. Fears that we will lose touch with each other in those years we dedicate to our children. Fears that we may forget how to reconnect when -God Willing -they've grown up. Fear that I cannot give you everything you need and everything you want. Fear that not being able to do so will make me a failure, or perhaps not worthy or lovable in your eyes. I know these fears are all crazy. I'll get over them, probably the day I meet (or rather, met) you. But these are the things I think about, and I want to make sure we will do them well together. 

I cannot be your everything, and so I beg of you, please don't ask me to be. I will not simply be your best friend, I will be your husband. I will learn everything I can to be the best husband and lover to you, and the best daddy to our children. I started on that path when I was much younger, and I've been working on it ever since. But I won't be your total emotional support, your only friend and I can't make you feel fulfilled in everything. I just can't. I don't have the power. Please, please don't ask me to or expect that of me, for I will fail miserably and it will hurt us both beyond comprehension. Go, have friends, time to yourself, a relationship with your parents, personal passions, hobbies, a career, and whatever else you may need to feel fulfilled. I don't have to be involved in all of it, but I will cherish whatever we do share.

Marriage is a choice made to give for the rest of my life. So I will give you of everything I have and everything I am. Sometimes, because I'm human, I'll need some help or to be taken care of before I can do that. I'll work on letting you know and being clear and I really hope you do the same. I'll give you every ounce of genuineness and honesty I can, and I'll work on undoing the tactlessness I inherited along with my "Y" chromosome.

I am flawed. Hopefully you know and love those things about me. But mostly, I hope you realize that it makes me human, and so when I screw up what I really need isn't to be yelled at or berated, but given the opportunity to take responsibility, apologize correctly and make amends. Just give me the space and time to come to terms with it, and you'll see a world of difference.

I have a purpose in my life, a mission. Family is tremendously important to me, but if I fail at my mission I will feel like a failure in my life -it is, perhaps, a flaw in my construction as a Man. Personally, I don't think so, though; it is the source of my ambition, my drive to achieve and my guarantee to succeed . Setbacks won't stop me and I believe that brick walls and glass ceilings are only opportunities to show my determination, but I can't get there without your support.

God Willing, when we have children, I want -more than anything else -to be there for you and them. They are our legacy and my family is my world. If you need it, I will come home from work, drop my briefcase and get to cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, feeding the kids or playing with them. Actually, I'll play with them anyways, but for the rest... until I know what you need, I don't know how to give to you.

Please, please realize that when I come home from work I'm all stressed, exhausted an drained from the day (and believe me, I know it's the same exhaustion for you after your long days too). I need to be nurtured or let alone so that I can regroup, recoup and draw my strength to have my full attention and presence. If I'm bombarded with a million things when I get home, I will quickly get burnt out. But I know that when little kids are in the mix, that's pretty much the way it goes.

On that note, I will be clear about my needs and how you can give to me. And I will listen to yours. I know we each have different needs, that we approach them differently and that it's not always natural to give another person the way they need. But I will learn your language, I will enter your world and I will give the way you need. To do so, all I need is for you to let me in. I know sometimes that will be really hard, but there's no other way for me to know.

I am not a mind-reader, nor am I a mind-reader's son. If you'd like me to do something, let me know. Say, "I'd really appreciate it if..." or ask respectfully. Demanding and/or complaining inspires resistance, and I know that's a two way street. But since I'm not a woman there's absolutely no way I can know your needs or what's going on in your mind. I know you'd really like me to... and so often I just wish I could reach in there and just pluck out your thoughts, hopes and expectations. But I can't and so I don't know what you are thinking, hoping or expecting of me.

I need you to know that, as a Man, I am a physical being. That's how I relate to the world. I ask that you understand that, and if you learn to connect to me in those ways I will be eternally grateful. I do not demand that dinner be ready for me every night, but few things touch my heart as connections that reach me through physicality. Make no mistake, I know what it takes to shop, prepare, cook and set tables. I will honor and cherish that every time I see it, if you should ever choose to grace me with such splendor.

A quick note on sex -I won't ask, beg or demand. It is shared experience, and you can bet your engagement ring that I'm learning whatever I need to make sure you're having the time of your life. It's about exploring one another's bodies, minds, hearts, thoughts, feelings, fantasies and the most sacred way to know and bond with another person. It's not something to bet, barter, reward or punish with, because that's absolutely abusive. But it is a way to connect, to share, to be one. With that is the understanding that we'll each have needs and the desire to fulfill them in one another.

As a Man, there are a bunch of other quirks about me you should know. First, that I say what I mean. There's no "in between the lines," just read the transcript and take the words at their literal face value. If I "mean something," I'll say it. No, really. I will. Second, when I'm focused on something, absolutely nothing else sinks in. If there's something important, please make sure I've first let go of whatever I was focusing on before you tell me, or just put it in writing for me. Either way, please be gentle; being torn from my focus is actually painful to me. In the same vein, asking once doesn't mean I'll remember, or that something will get done; I know it can feel frustrating, but either asking again or putting it in writing will greatly help me. Third, if you know how to stroke my ego -make me feel good about myself and who I am -everything is much softer on me. Fourth, when I'm angry I don't always need to talk about it, I usually just need to sit on my own and process it. We men take more time to integrate that kind of thing. Please just give me the chance to do that. Trust that I will come to you when I need to talk, as long as you know how to listen. But the best thing you can do is lend me your physical presence. No speech, just silence (if I'm really agitated, it may require a soothing "shhhh" with your index finger touching your lips to show me it's not about the agitation/issue). Maybe also your head on my lap (or vice-versa), and perhaps your hair to play with. Believe it or not, those things really do help, they'll calm me right down. Fifth, my favorite activity is doing nothing. No, seriously. Because all day I burden myself with the million-and-one stresses like work, family, finances and a million other things, the way I de-stress is to literally space out and completely forget any of that exists. Call it floating in la-la land if you must, but that's just how I operate.

The heart is a wondrous entity; emotions tell us so much about what is going on. Pain is inevitable, as is hurt, frustration, anger, resentment... there will be storms. I will weather them. I will listen, I will do everything I can to be present, not to take them personally or try to "fix" everything, but to be with you, as an anchor, as a pillar, as your rock. I will be the calm, the eye of your storm, when you need me to be.

I ask that you never hold your emotions from me. I've worked so hard  to be ready, to listen to them and to accept them, whatever they are. You have every right to feel however you do, and I want to hear and share in your joys and sorrows, for shared joy is double joy and shared pain is halved pain. More than anything I ask this because I know that when we do not keep our hearts open, our reactions to pain lead us to create shells with layers upon layers of thick hide and armor to try and protect our hearts. A healthy heart is one that can bear and live with pain, and a beautiful relationship is one where the two hearts are open and connected, so that they experience those emotions together, be that the wild excitement and pleasurable ecstasies or the deep wells of anguish, grief and loss. I am doing everything to prepare myself for the unpleasant truths, because if we can be honest and accept that it may hurt while keeping our hearts open and connected, we'll make it through anything together.

About my Mother and Father - I learned from them how to love and how to be a good parent. If nothing else, I need you to appreciate this fact. I want to live up to the amazing way they raised their children, and I count myself among the luckiest in the world to have them as parents. I know they'll welcome you as they did me when I entered the family, because you're just the natural extension of me. Or, in other words, if you're supporting me, helping to fulfill my needs and making me happy, they'll be thrilled. That and they're absolutely crazy about having grandchildren, but don't worry they won't rush it. They'd rather we had the means and foundation first.

I'm sure there's much more, but some things we'll just have to figure out together.

With an open heart,

Ish Yehudi

May 26, 2011

Did You Know that Maralyn Monroe was a size 14???


Goes to show, dress size isn't everything. Far from it.

On this I have personal experience and I'd be glad to share it, if there's an interest.

May 24, 2011

Foray into the Fray: I Just Started Online Shidduch Dating

Fair warning, this is long (though I hope it is entertaining and informative). 

My previous experience with shadchaniyot notwithstanding, I decided to enter the shidduch world. It's another roadblock I've had to overcome in recognizing that, since I feel ready for marriage, all avenues are valuable and should be pursued.

In the beginning...

I got onto SawYouAtSinai, and made a profile. I spent five and a half hours(!) filling out surveys  and pondering my own little quips such as "why are there many types of Ashkenazim but only Sefardi and not Eidut Hamizrach???" I carefully crafted answers for the open questions that reflect a genuine presentation of who I am, found pictures I liked on Facebook and hounded old friends for higher quality versions and cropped them appropriately while silently thanking God for shomer space, as it made cropping so much easier (especially since I've got pictures from weddings with my thousands of cousins). I was careful to employ literary tactics such as showing-not-telling who I am in the "about me" section, having an opening and closing sentence that stand alone as the introduction and conclusion with four succinct two-sentence paragraphs as a body that address different values of my life in ways that add depth and enrich the character of my profile. I use embroidered language that creates rich descriptions and avoid "I am... I do... I like... I want..." like the plague because, frankly, that's boring and less trustworthy. Hey, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right.

While filling out the longest questionnaire I've ever encountered, the only thought that kept me going is that answering fully and honestly puts me in a pool of "peers," more or less. The idea of matching is, essentially, to get those who think, act and feel alike together. But that's all it is, a group of people who have commonalities or similarities. None of that really indicates much about a relationship, per se. That, I thought to myself, is where the "human element" comes in, and what a shadchanit does. The way I thought about it is... that's the skill. Not just putting together similarities. It's not just about throwing as many atoms as possible at each other and hoping some will bond. That's the difference between experimental work and science.

But successful dating that lead to lasting, healthy, happy relationships is more than science, it's an art too. Is this reasonable to expect that there be a reason other than "you two are similar" that prompts a suggestion? Perhaps they ask only that the similarities are given a chance, that those who are suggested take that chance, that opportunity. Assuming a person can take every opportunity, this would work. But that depends on a whole lot of factors, including available time and resources, level of similarity and initial interest. Some have more time than others, and some get more suggestions than others. These things are important to consider, and my experiences thus far are recounted below. On the flip-side of that coin is giving reasons for declining a potential match. We will get to this in a moment.

Something I should note is that I've grown up with an attitude that flexibility is important, being open to different people, different backgrounds. Qualities I am looking for do not just fit in religious categories (though dedication to Halachah is tremendously important to me) or music tastes. So I began with a broader and more open idea of what I'd consider in looking for a spouse. More flexibility means more options, which means more opportunity.  

It has been less than a week, and I already get the feeling I'm a commodity, that I'm being handled and perhaps that I am not being treated as a person. It has been a tad overwhelming. Here's the summation my initial of experience:

Here are some descriptives:

11 Shadchaniyot contacted me through SawYouAtSinai
12 Matches have been suggested or proposed in some form

10 Sefardi women were suggested (2 Ashkenazi)
2 Same religious/hashkafic area (8 further right, 2 further left)
9 My age or a year younger (1 three years younger, 2 a year older)

10 Stated no reason for the match (1 had a single sentence written by the shadchanit).
0 Had more than a couple sentences in the "About me" section.
7 Matches currently suggested or pending approval (I'm "full" and can't take another suggestion) 

First off, that's a lot for less then a week, and my first exposure. I have more time in the summer, but still cannot consider and go out with all of them at once. I am partially tempted to just leave it be so that I don't continue to get more suggestions. It's an onslaught, and I understand where the impression comes from that men are having women thrown at them. At the same time, it puts me in the place of feeling like "fresh meat."  

Based on this, the conclusion I draw is that I am being introduced to a population (otherwise known as targeted networking). There are more of a certain type "suggested" to me than others. Now, if this is the case (and I gather that in part from the lack of stated reasons for a suggestion or contact required coupled with the lack of expressive or informitive "about me" sections and the multiple-sneak-attack suggestions), then why would not giving a reason for declining be a big deal? I admit I am new and my past experience with a shadchanit wasn't particularly positive so I may have a tinted lens, but am I missing something here? 

Onto the stories...

One Shadchanit asked me to email her (apparently doing so through the website would be "too complicated"), and proceeded to send me a resume with little information and no picture. Upon asking what her inspiration was, she replied emphatically: "Because you would want to date her!" I'm not sure how she figured that, since all I got was a list of siblings, references and schools. Perhaps she'd scoured my profile and decided so on her own, though leaving me out of the loop as to why doesn't give me much motivation or a reason to do anything about it. I still have little/no idea what this particular woman looks like, what her personality is or what her life values and goals are. I don't even know where she is religiously. Sure, I could call a bunch of strangers who would give me a list of positive qualities (or have someone else do so on my behalf). But would it be so unrealistic to ask what went on in her mind (i.e. why) that she put two and two together?

Another shadchanit (not through SawYouAtSinai) cornered me in person and gushed, "I found your wife! Only problem might be... she's not shomer." I sat her down (yes, I sat her down) and had a talk with her, telling her about my life story, my values, my ambitions, my flexibility, my home growing up and what I am looking for. B"H she actually listened. Her convictions swayed as she learned more about me. Finally she "backed off" by telling me it's a "vacation" like "getting to know the other side," gave me the woman's contact information and told me the woman expects to be contacted. Thanks, I'm looking forward (okay, I actually do like to get to know people, I learned to be flexible and have hope for religious growth from my parents... but, seriously!?). I will, of course contact her. But my expectations are not overly-inflated. 

I declined three others, since I recognized from the pictures and profiles that I wouldn't be attracted to them. Of course the shadchaniyot always ask "why" I decline, and so I have to give a reason. I found out, though, that saying I don't find the woman attractive is a taboo. Apparently, shadchaniyot complain and tend to be peeved by that. This is where I'm wondering what's going on. The suggestion comes without a reason, the profiles I have come across often have missing information, only a single picture or very little in the open-ended question about the individual. So I should make a snap judgment for dating potential, and then give a reason why not for all the times I have to make the snap judgment "no"? Or perhaps I'm expected to give them all a chance? Prioritize and put the rest on hold? Reject and ask for a callback in three weeks?

Lest it be said that my criteria is to broad (though I am very open to that possibility and may tweak my settings for that), the majority have easily been well within what I'd consider.

Currently, I'm working through the rest. Heaven help me, I'm trying to give each one some real attention, my full focus... but I expect I'll have to put a bunch "on hold" because it's just too much. Additionally, the more I have piled onto the potentials, the more comparisons begin to creep in. I don't want them to slap me in the face, I don't want to miss out on wonderful people by creating a prioritized proverbial "line" in order to limit how overwhelmed I get. However, if the trend continues, more shadchaniyot will go around the system to suggest from those outside the network or above and beyond the set limit of seven suggestions.

What does it all mean to me?

Back to the descriptives, no less than eleven shadchaniyot have contacted me, but only a single one took the time to relate to me as a human (the one not from SawYouAtSinai), and I had to sit her down  to get that far. None of the others have made any other type of contact beyond a suggestion, commented on my character, religiosity, or taken a moment to relate to me as a human being. That sort of treatment, as "efficient" as it may be, gives me the impression I am being trafficked. It can feel, in some ways, degrading. From the moment I got on the website, I had no idea what to do, how anything works, what the system or protocol is, or what happens if I accept. It's a good thing I can climb steep learning curves quickly, especially with the right help.

Maybe it's too much, but perhaps I'd like to take just a few moments of a shadchanit's time when she decides I'm a good match for a particular woman. It's not that I expect to be spoon-fed, I'd just like to be treated as a person with dignity and respect. To have my humanity affirmed. Seeing the quotation flashed on the homepage: "We bring the human touch to online dating" conjured up the idea that I'd get some sort of human contact (though not necessarily in-person) with matchmakers, which I have yet to experience on this particular website. Or maybe I should just open a spreadsheet, embrace comparisons, input their stats and manage the whole thing like a business project. Not that it's my first choice, but that may simplify things (at the cost of turning wonderful women into data points).  

Don't get me wrong, I the whole thing has been a fantastic adventure and a wonderful learning experience. The challenge itself has been very enjoyable as it presents many opportunities to work on myself, learn and grow. I'm excited and looking forward to seeing this through. To that end, though, I credit my own personality. Wherever I am going, I shall not drag my feet on the way.

May 23, 2011

Hunters Versus Scavengers

If I’ve heard it once… I’ve heard it a million times. Men are hunters. Always were. They are designed and programmed to chase. This bit of advice I’ve heard given to men and women alike. Men, get ready to chase, to hunt (take initiative and leadership)! Women… flee (be elusive), or play dead (uninterested, aloof)… in short: make good “prey.”

Somehow, it doesn’t work out as much as people think, or claim. Why?

It is precisely because men are no longer hunters; men have become scavengers.

Why? We’ll get to that in a moment.

How does "the hunt" work? Man prepares his tools, goes out and tracks his target. Quietly, slowly, knowing with certainty that when the moment is right, the opportunity arrives he will make his move. If he acts too soon, he will frighten the target away. If he waits too long, the target will be out of range and out of his reach. It is a carefully honed skill, learned from experience and practice.

But now, men go to the supermarket and pick up a package. Having a particular image in his mind, he'll choose what fits his fancy. There is no more hunt.

Unfortunately, it's not just the case for food anymore. Man sits in a cubicle at work, and behind a computer for dating, expecting opportunity to smack him in the forehead.

I’ve heard it a hundred times, by a hundred women, about a hundred different men: Why won’t he just move things forward? Does he even like me? Why do I feel like I’m being strung along? Is there something wrong with me? What does he really want? Why won’t he just DO IT ALREADY? Why didn’t he? And everything starts to feel like it’s slipping away. Which gives way to frustration and anxiety… .

As if everything should just drop in his lap, easy as that. Who does he think he is? I’ve asked that question myself at some point in time. But then I realized that it’s not some sort of ego or complex. It’s not because he figures women should fall from the sky onto his lap. Absolutely not.

Many of us –myself included, or maybe specifically me –didn’t grow up with the “go get ‘em” attitude (though perhaps I have been overcompensating and overly-zealous of late). Assertiveness is valued but not taught. Leadership is lauded but not learned. Humor is enjoyed but not cultivated. Courage, confidence and strength are exalted but not developed.There is no curriculum for developing these traits.

What’s the difference between a hunter and a scavenger?

Does a cheetah worry about NOT catching its prey? Not in a million years. What makes it a good hunter? The tools, the skills, the patience, the timing… putting so many of these things together, creating opportunity, taking every available opportunity and learning how hunt well. There is no rejection, no real failure –only experience… learning experience. There is always a next time, another opportunity.

But vultures, they circle around, they make sure their target is already served up and waiting for them; they will wait for days to make sure of this. They just wait. And if there’s nothing left, they move on… and wait some more.

I was taught to wait. But I discovered that waiting forever doesn't resonate with me, so I tapped into that innately instinctual inner part of my being. I am Man, hear me roar! I shall hunt, my will is strong, I will take action!  

(More on that action plan to come.) 

May 20, 2011

How Jewish Geography Serves a Vital Purpose in Life and Dating

Following my recent post on asking a woman out and the discussion that ensued, I had a fascinating conversation with a friend and a small epiphany that I'd like to share.

The conversation, as is apt to be when I'm in the mood to delve into something I have not yet fully considered, revolved around how women generally take to being asked out. The impression, from what I heard, is that though being asked out may be flattering to a woman, it carries a lot of emotive-psychological push. In other words, it often comes as an unexpected shock and is "too much," leading the question to create an unwanted burden. The insight my friend shared is that nowadays, even when two people ostensibly "go out to have coffee and talk, it's never just to have coffee and talk." It's never simple anymore.

This attitude reminds me of the post on 10 Reasons Why Stern Girls Won't Date Me, particularly Reason #5, which states:
"I'm in the middle of something" (i.e. went on 1 date with someone else) - Let's clarify something! Going on one date with someone isn't being in the middle of something! Going out for a couple months is "in the middle!" Going on one date barley qualifies as "the beginning" because nothing of substance has even started yet! And for the record, it is completely muttur to go on a first date with multiple people at the same time...just ask your parents or anyone from the previous generation!
An unspoken pressure -"dating" -thrusts its own weight on the situation, bearing down with concerns and possibilities, questions and seriousness that surrounds the dating world. Just talking about it reminds me of the tremendous anxiety I myself recently unloaded much of, and every so often I have to remember to shake that stress and pressure off. I keep reminding myself that going on a date is not a big deal, I'm just getting to know someone (however seriously I take marriage, an initial date isn't and shouldn't be quite so serious).

Setting aside that I have a real issue with this perspective -and it is either a source or a result of the impending image of gloom and doom from the concept of a shidduch crisis, probably both, thereby creating a feedback loop -the result is a discomfort (call it emotional/anxiety/stress overload) that overrides any flattery. So while I'm still hearing complaints about why guys can't just "Man up," the resistance to taking real action -acting like a man -undermines the complaint itself. Why would a guy bother to develop his leadership and bold confidence with women when he can continue to have everything served to him on a platter? (I plan on exploring this further in separate post.)

And then a light bulb went on in my mind. I've had this question floating around in my mind for months, and never really got to a good answer until now... "what's the purpose of Jewish geography?" Click. It all makes so much sense now.

These connections -however vague -are avenues to reaching someone. Nobody plays Jewish geography when they know the person well. But when connections are few or nonexistent, particularly modes of finding the person or pursuing them (directly or indirectly) -whether dating or for other things like community or synagogue functions and volunteering opportunities -this is prime talking material. This is basic intelligence and reconnaissance 101, providing more ways of connecting, finding the person and getting in touch (perhaps specifically through indirect means).

A smack on the forehead is in order (SMACK!). Duh. 

Whether or not I take issue with this system, I have to say I think it's pretty cool that this meme developed and spread so readily through the community.

May 19, 2011


Is the word that best describes my current stance and attitude towards asking a woman out.

Now, I don't go around asking out every woman I see or meet, and I may take time to come to that decision, but once I do... there's little that can stop me from popping that particular question. I've invited women to coffee, simply asked them to go out on a date with me, and a few other choice ways of doing so.

Neither a fake sneeze nor feigned ignorance can get in the way -and I'll do it however I can, usually as soon as possible once the decision is made. I've done it in person, on the phone, via text/chat, you name it I've probably asked a woman out that way (or would be open to, as long as it's not completely tactless). I much prefer to be in person more than any other mode of interacting, communicating and -in this case -asking a woman out.

I have to say, the most common answer I get is a woman saying she's busy, which is clarified by stating she's currently dating someone else. Often enough, once I'm sold on the decision to ask a woman out, I want her to know that I'm impressed and fascinated by her, so I'll add in response to the above excuse that I'd like to hear if/when she's available.

I admit, I've got no idea if the women I find attractive, impressive and fascinating, are just more often busy dating or it is a veiled attempt to let me know she's not interested. I'm not quite that fluent in womanese, which means I can't read her mind.

But seriously, I'd appreciate more honesty and less mercy. My feelings aren't that fragile, my ego isn't that frail and a woman may very well simply not be interested or not find me attractive. She does have every right to feel that way.

Personally, I'd rather hear that explicitly. But I'm a man of simplicity and clarity, a "straight shooter," as they say. I'd rather a woman trusted my emotional fortitude then assume it would be painful to me and try to spare my feelings. They don't need to be spared; I'm quite stable, thank you very much.

The world won't end, her lack of interest or attraction to me doesn't make me less worthwhile and I prefer simple clarity to roundabout excuses. So please, just tell me what you really feel. I'm sure can handle it.

Hey, if you can toss in a reason or two, maybe some constructive advice, then I'll actually get to learn something, and do better.

May 17, 2011

An Ounce of Assertiveness is Worth a Thousand Pounds of Punishment

There are a lot of bad date stories out there. The main protagonist, a beneficent man or woman, goes on a date with an ill-mannered, tactless, inflexible or otherwise unsuitable partner. Or, in another version, there is some embarrassing or unlikely series of events that, in retrospect, seems not only highly improbable but tremendously comical.

I had a first date at a restaurant that ended up costing me upwards of $100, but I learned nothing from it. Was I being punished? Am I the ill-mannered, tactless, inflexible antagonist in some woman's dating story?

For all eternity, I will never really know. Conversation flowed well, I was -as usual -careful to be respectful, sensitive, inquisitive and to genuinely listen. Still, I was a exhausted from weeks of hard work and nights of little sleep, so I may not have been my best. Without any feedback, I can never really know what I did or didn't do right or wrong.

What is right or wrong for a particular woman? Different women have different beliefs, attitudes, preferences and each is an individual, which means that I won't know whether she'll respond positively or negatively unless she asserts herself and her preferences. In dating, my choice is to simply be myself, and see how she responds.

But I have come to realize a few things. First, that restaurants can be really expensive dates. Secondly, it is better to postpone then go out when I'm exhausted or tired. Thirdly, an expensive date or bill may not mean I'm being punished. Fourth, that an ounce of assertiveness is worth more than a thousand pounds of punishment.

I'm Just Waiting for "The One"

 This idea of having one bashert, a single person with whom we are destined to spend our lives with and is our true mate, other half, the completer of our essence and fulfill-er of our needs, in my humble opinion, has pervaded too far into our minds.

I do believe Disney has had an influence, as has the concept of "true love" that exists in the Western world.

However, when I hear someone say that they're just waiting for their bashert to arrive, to show up, to impress them and sweep them off their feet, to rock their world, fix their issues, take away the loneliness, relieve the pressure... what I hear is that the person is stuck. Stuck and expecting someone or something else -some external force -to intervene.

Stuck with an idea of what should occur, what has to happen, in order for them to choose a life with someone. Waiting, not being active. Active doesn't mean searching, it's not my job to search. God does that, He does the matching. Let me repeat that. My job is NOT to search, that's God's job -and what he's out there doing with his unlimited time.

My job it twofold -to make myself ready, and make myself accessible. Being ready and available isn't so simple. It's not like saying "I'm here, come get me!"

Then what is it? This ties into my idea of when a person is ready to actually date, and it's an epiphany I had recently. A person is ready to date when they're ready to shed all preconceived notions about married life, about what a man (or woman) "should" or "has to" be (in terms of character and looks alike), when they realize that it takes two, and that each person they go on a date has wonderful qualities and areas of challenge, but that the whole point is to make it work together. When they can let go of everything else and explore the possibility of making it work together (I call this flexibility), then -and only then -are they engaged and present in dating. And that requires a few key things, like minimum self-esteem, basic respect, some communication skill, and a genuine desire to fulfill another person's needs.

 Back to topic, I don't believe in the idea of "The One" as a guiding idea for dating, relationships, and marriage. Like the idea that there is just one person out there for me -who simply fits into who I am and what I'm looking for. To me, the concept is a tad ridiculous, and perhaps narrow-minded, in particular because it puts control of life, one's spousal relationship and everything external to me (and the other person).

Why does this irk me so?

Because I believe in the power of choice. That there isn't just an external force that will just make everything work out perfectly (and anyone with a small amount of relationship experience will tell you it never works out perfectly -that's just a fact of life), I need to work hard and choose that person every day. I need to choose to make it work, choose to respect and dedicate myself to them and to the relationship, dedicate myself to fulfilling their needs and trust that they do the same.

The ideas of having a bashert and working hard on myself are, quite likely, not mutually exclusive. But trading in the latter for the former is just a cop-out, because it's easier to point the finger elsewhere then to ask if I'm really making myself ready and available. If I'm asking "can I make this work?" and focusing on building all the necessary skills to make a relationship work with practically any person who I find attractive and is working on those skills too... then its The Almighty's job to search and tweak the circumstances to put us together. And he's good at that.

May 15, 2011

My First Singles' Shabbaton

Also, for y'all to know in advance, this is the story of why I harbor an irrational dislike and mistrust for Shadchanim/Shadchaniyot.

I have an older cousin who dragged me to a singles' shabbaton once. I was younger and most definitely not ready to date, but he managed to convince me, and I thought to myself "if nothing else I'd be his wingman."

The shabbaton was for sefaradim in particular, and I was on the lower end of the age limits, so my expectations weren't particularly high for finding someone. I mean, how could I compete with a bunch of doctors, lawyers, real-estate agents and other well-established men? Especially since many women are taught and told to look for established men? I did have a few things to my credit - I happen to be a very capable chazan (and I absolutely love singing zemirot) and even at a younger age I looked significantly more mature.

The program was actually well done. They had a multitude of speakers talking about tons of topics from dating etiquette to practical marriage advice. They had hired a handful of shadchaniyot as facilitators to help match people up.

Friday night, after teffilot and dinner, more divrei torah than I could count and my personal favorite medley of sefardic zemirot, there was a quazi-game that was aimed at forcing men and women to interact. I noticed how necessary it seemed, as the men and women both simply stood around in packs, looking over each others' shoulders and commenting about the pickings. I found it weird. Then again, I'm not much for conventions like that, I have no problem being myself and doing what I enjoy.

The game was, perhaps, well intended, but it didn't really do much to break the ice or soothe any nerves. So the shadchaniyot swooped in to rescue the day. I soon found myself the object of great interest to a particular shadchanit, who, upon approaching me and offhandedly asking my name, began rattling off her "credentials." This, of course, consisted of a list of all the people she'd set up who ended up married, her pending conquests, her deepest sympathies for the plight of the single Jews of the world and a declaration of her undying passion to personally do whatever it takes to solve the issue (and find me a spouse right there and then, of course!).

I was already impatient when she finally asked me the question I'd been expecting: So, what are you looking for?

After one word, I already saw her tune out. Her eyes were gazing, hawk-like, out to the crowd of women. I decided to test her multi-tasking listening powers, so I threw in some outlandish comment like "oh, and she has to love pinapple, because I'm obsessed with -"

"What about her?" She interjected my sentence before I could finish (I'd wanted to say "vegetables" for good measure).

"Uhhhh," I faltered, having no idea who she could be indicating to in the sea of headbands and straightened hair, "which?"

"The one in purple, right behind me" she stated. I began to peer around her, but she snapped baack in response: "DON'T LOOK!"

Good grief. I'm supposed to feel like she's going to put me together with the right woman? She's not listening to me, and won't even let me get a decent look at the young woman she's trying to sell -yes, sell -me. The lips are asking what I'm looking for, but the eyes are scanning me, trying to see what they can get away with.

I manage to answer her with a question: "how am I supposed to know whether or not I'm interested in her if I don't even know if I find her attractive?"

"Okay, follow me" she says, and then we walk in a wide arc around the room, giving me the distinct image of vultures surveying a carcass for viable feeding opportunity.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get some bit of information -anything that might perk my interest -so I ask, "do you know what her family is like? How old she is? What her interests are?"

Her response is halfhearted, vague and curt: "She's in her twenties, has a nice family, she's interested in having a family herself."

Well, duh. Thanks. We finish our arc. I'm not interested. We move on.

She introduces me to a freshly-back-from-Israel teen. I talk to her for a few minutes, during which time I find out she's looking for the perfect combination of yeshiva boy and doctor in his early or mid-twenties. Good luck, lady. 

So I change tactics, and try again to tell her what I'm looking for. Maybe she'll get the hint, or put more thought into a suggestion before cutting me off. And all of a sudden, I'm talking with a used-car salesman. I want something simple, a family car like the four-door sedan, something that'll fit into a compact parking spot and isn't too flashy. Meanwhile, she's pulling out the hummer and the ferrarri.

No such luck. A few more attempts and I'm more than fed up. While I tend to feel that I usually have a lot of patience, not for this. If someone is going to set me up, I think it's basic respect to listen and have some consideration. After this, I resorted to all kinds of excuses. Anything to keep the cheeky shadchaniyot off my case.

And this was my first real taste of the dating world. Needless to say, I wasn't eager to get another taste so soon.

Chia Pet... On My Face.

Today is the 22nd day of the Omer. 

I haven't shaved in 23 days (since before Pesach), and I'm starting (Ha, "starting." Starting was two and a half weeks ago!) to feel like a chia pet. The rate of growth is alarming, I don't ever remember my facial hair growing so quickly.

I've got split ends on half the hairs on my face/neck and no matter how many people say my beard looks great, manly, mature, etc. and tell me how it's much nicer to have the thick, full beard -particularly, they mention, in comparison to having just a few scraggly hairs -very few people know what it's like to poke oneself a thousand times every time I move or turn my head when I finally get to sleep.

In the morning, the prickling alone wakes me up. Don't even ask about my few feeble attempts at brushing, taming or otherwise grooming (without shaving, of course) this mane of camouflaged torturous needles.

You should see when it gets itchy, and I scratch. I look like a dog, with one hand pawing over and over in that one nook between my jawbone and my neck.

Maybe plucking is okay. How long does it take to pluck about 10,000 individual hairs? Anyone? Oh well, I'm probably not allowed to pluck anyway. Sigh. Back to life.