Search Me (My Blog)

Oct 31, 2011

Teenage Trials and Tribulations

One of the most memorable things I heard about teenagers is that when children grow into that time of their life, they define themselves through separation -by rebellion. The basic underpinning idea is that we are much more attached and dependent on our parents when we are younger, but when we reach an age that we decide we want to be separate, we push back against the authority, pushing them away so that we can create the space to define ourselves.

That idea really resonated with me, and it still does.

It's the "terrible two's" all over again. When a kid turns about two years old, their favorite word is often "no." Disagreeing or denying is the msot important part of saying that "I" am not the same as "you." It is the mark of self-awareness. The mere action of saying "no" is asserting myself. The solution, for savvy parents, is to give options instead of orders (Would you like outfit #1 or outfit #2? Would you like to go to bed right now or in 10 minutes?). Instead of forcing one way, to allow two (maybe three) choices gives such a young child a dregree of independence, self-determination. My choice means that I am an individual, that I get to assert myself, my needs, wants, desires, hopes and expectations.

But then what's so complicated about being a teenager?

As teenagers having a choice isn't enough, because that is still being burdened by a system, by a way of thinking and a host of assumptions about who we are. The mentality is one of: "Forget the choices, I want to determine my own choices! And then I want to pick the one I want from among them!"

We have to determine who we are and how we get to be that person, we want to feel our own influence at that point. The way it works, though, is that we feel a need to "push back" many of those influences, especially those that give orders or determine aspects of our lives... by pushing back we create the space and then get to explore who we are, what we like to do and what we don't. We can't find it if we feel trapped in doing only what is prescribed (this is where peer-pressure and non-conformity also comes in).

For parents the art is one of creating the space without losing basic boundaries, rules and principles. To throw away all rules is to completely lose the anchor for our values and beliefs. As parents, I think it would be really scary to think a teenage son/daughter may lose the values we tried to instill in them. As a teen, it may seem necessary to create the space and explore.

Which is, generally, the basic conflict. It's often less about the exact time of curfew, or specific clothing choice and more about asserting one's own taste or individuality. Perhaps requiring first that we push, and try to expand or move the boundaries further to allow for that exploration.

For a parent, it marks (the beginning of) a huge shift from a "caretaker/manager/teacher role" to a "support role." Truth be told, I think that shift begins much earlier, but it tends to hit much harder at this particular juncture because of the way that the family undergoes restructuring at this point in time (with pushing-away of authority and boundary-moving creating an entirely different dynamic that is foreign to parents' experiences and expectations with their children thus far).

Oct 18, 2011


adj. - (1) Trying something different. (2) The art of being smooth.

Admittedly, not the actual definition. But that's what I've been feelin' recently.

One of the things I heard and adopted when I started shidduch dating is creating a habit out of a series of steps from the moment I speak with a Shadchan until I'm on a date (and even during the course of the date).

Some things, like always expressing gratitude and appreciation to the Shadchan, I really feel are important and a part of who I am. Others, like the trite and rote way I had initiated contact, were deserving of some... revisions.

When I started down this path, I wanted to learn what the expectations are and what's generally considered polite and nice. I'm not the type to blunder my way through, I'd rather gather up as much intelligence and information as I can and formulate a plan. I'm a plan man.

The plan I'd initially formulated went thusly:
Once I had a suggestion and we'd mutually agreed, I'd get her number and text her to introduce myself and arrange a time to speak on the phone. And then we'd have a short conversation before arranging a first date. And then we'd go on a first date.


One of the most frustrating issues I feel I've faced is that all of the niceties and expectations set a particular tone for the course of interacting/dating. So, I'm thinking it's time to change the paradigm.

Naturally, this means shaking things up and some people may not be so interested or enamored by my alterations to the fabric of the dating universe, but it's my dating universe and I decided to work it my own way.

So now, I'll talk via text before setting up a time to converse on the phone. Test out the waters, put out a bit of overconfidence and humor, maybe even -gasp- flirt. See how responsive she is. Find some commonalities, make personal jokes out of them. Use the personal jokes incessantly (assuming they actually get a laugh). Have her wonder if I always do this, tell her only with those who inspire me to (which, for you cynics shaking your heads right now, is true... a woman who isn't receptive or responsive to any sort of playfulness won't encourage me to express that part of myself).

I'll call and have a long conversation, ask about motivations instead of mere facts about every "what, when and where" in her life. Weave in the personal jokes. Talk seriously about my own passions. Tease and make nicknames and laugh. Ask her what she really wants out of life. Sarcastically self-deprecate. Then I'll check in, see if she's still interested enough to go out. If she is...


There is a precedent -a framework -to have both lighthearted and exciting exchange as well as tachlit/tachlis talk. To be able to check back with how she's feeling and listen, but also to tease and play. To be serious and completely silly. Have an open heart and an accessible soul. To be a youngster and an adult. To be genteel and a bit of a jerk, but not really.    

Perhaps I push boundaries, maybe even unintentionally slightly offend (or more than slightly), but I can take that as an opportunity to take responsibility and make amends if I go too far. I can learn something by observing how she handles that. There's something about that process -about having those experiences -that changes the way we interact, and avoids the antiquated paradigm of dating as I'd originally adopted it.

Okay, maybe I am blundering my way through. But hey, I might as well enjoy the interactions as I am. Plus, I'm not sure anyone is really doing better than blundering through the dating part of being single. At least this way, I get to blunder with a spring in my step.

Finding Out You're Beautiful

...can be a shocking revelation. Especially when it comes from a stranger. And when they're of the opposite gender. Also, when they're not Jewish.

It's not about how I think of myself or what I see when I look in the mirror that's shocking, it's that others see me that way. Kind of like listening to my own voice recording with someone, and hearing them compliment my voice.

Oct 10, 2011

Fasting on Yom Kippur

For the first time in seven years (!) I didn't take upon myself a ta'anit dibbur for Yom Kippur (you thought I was going to talk about food deprevation? Ha!).

I have to say, it did not feel the same. While I can be quite chatty in my social time, I often reserve my attention and focus for that particular day. Though it's not like I chatted up anyone during shul or spent hours hanging around with people, it had a very different qualitative feel to it. For one, it can be nice to take a moments' break from all of the confessing, self-humility and imploring forgiveness. A moment of normalcy in a sea of unrest.

But being in the sea of unrest, asking and praying out of that place, finding myself doing so out of choice, care and even -perhaps for a moment -love is tremendously important to me, and I found it harder to achieve this year.

My mind kept drifting off... and I'd find myself thinking about the things I've done, the accomplishments and the failures, the people I have wronged and learning to make amends and of course the many other distractions including hunger and thirst, the tunes that were used by the chazzan (and the ones that were not used), the aching heels of my feet and my favorite past-times or moments of the previous year. So much just kept invading my mind.

I'd find myself absentmindedly twirling the fringes of my talit, or cracking my knuckles, or some other idiosyncratic behavior I tend to do when I fall into thought. After a few times, I started paying attention, and when I found myself twirling or cracking I knew my mind was away from where it should be.

Perhaps -for me, at least -something about focusing only on speaking to The Almighty in Heaven and otherwise keeping my mouth shut opens up a different type of thought, a type of dedication and an avoidance of thinking about the random things that nudge and pull at the recesses of my mind. It probably has to do with the level of awareness required to monitor the words coming out of my mouth.

Or, maybe, I've just been really distracted of late, having a million and one things to do all the time. It could also be that it's been a jam-packed year, and all those thoughts and memories and events -the things I appreciate and the ones I regret alike -were important enough to come up. Maybe, as with Rosh Hashanah, I simply did not take/have the proper time to prepare.

But either way, looking back... this year was different.

Oct 9, 2011

Doin' My Own 'Thang

When I was younger -and this wasn't so long ago -I'd decided I wasn't ready to date.


For me, it was a feeling that I wasn't ready for marriage. Not feeling mature enough, prepared, patient, having the necessary skills, understanding and experience. Not having put in enough work. It didn't feel like it could be the right time for me.

Flash forward to about 6 months ago, when that began to change. I started seriously looking, buckling down about dating issues and removing the barriers to begin dating with a real sense of purpose, a clear goal, concentration.

And in my naive state I figured that, since I wasn't ready before and now I am, Hashem would send the right person.

"Well," I thought to myself the other morning when I woke up, "I'm ready! I've been working for years to get to this point, preparing myself to feel ready. Now... Where are you, God? Where is she?"

Then it struck me that my own little mind and limited perspective don't determined the forces of the universe for when I meet the right person. Plenty of people meet the right person before they are ready, and they date (or have a relationship) for a long time. Others wait seemingly endlessly.

But a mentor of mine -one of my professors in graduate school, actually -noted that sometimes, even though we may feel ready, our lives may not yet be. For me, the implication was that I'm at a critical point in my life and in pursuing my dreams. Perhaps, in some way, doing so means that even though I may feel ready, my life may not yet have the flexibility -or the space -for a wife and (eventually also) family.

It was an interesting perspective, though I'm not sure I completely agree with it. Still, it's silly to assume that when I feel ready, that the stars and planets will align (metaphorically speaking), that my mazal will bring the right influences into play and the right person will simply walk into my life.

It will all come in its own time, which I'll have to discover as I plod along, doin' my own 'thang.

Oct 6, 2011

Being Single Was Easy... Until I Began Dating...

From Young Bachelorhood to the Wandering Man

Being a bachelor can be a blast. But I was never one to party, drink, dance in public (at least, not with women) or do any of that type of stuff. I've been to a bars very few times and each experience strongly reinforced why I don't go to such places. Clearly, they're just not for me.

Still, being single didn't bother me. Between school, my hobbies, my passions, my life mission, working, going to the gym, dieting, community building, making time to learn and everything else I pursued (you heard me, that's not even the end of the list!) in focusing on taking care of myself, I found that I was happy, energetic and really loving life.

While some of those things have been dialed back and replaced with other responsibilities -a la graduate school, fieldwork, research -I've noticed that dating has also taken a much higher priority too.

And now that I'm searching and struggling with handling everything on my plate, I'm finding myself very often tired, exhausted, busy and not focusing as much on taking care of myself as I used to. Perhaps that's not all a result of dating, though the constant cycle of investing, planning dates, going out, beginning and ending the dating process with one woman after another leaves me feeling drained.

Feeling drained that way -especially when my dating career with a particular woman ends abruptly -often has me thinking about reshuffling my priorities a bit. Perhaps placing priorities, such as pursuing my own hobbies and working out, higher up and allowing my dating life to mellow out.

As I'm growing and moving forward through life I'm finding I have more to juggle, but my time and ability to handle so many things -to make time for each one in the right amounts to truly care for myself -is not particularly increasing. It's a tough spot to be in, and part of me wonders how much I can handle, while the other part is telling me I have to buckle down, develop more discipline and simply increase the skills for self-management.

I anticipate life will get far more complicated, particularly when things like a relationship, marriage and children enter the picture so that more of my focus is naturally drawn to those connections and other people outside my own self.

Back to the dating thing, though. With the ups and downs, the cycling of one woman after another in and out of my life, I have to say the experience has given me an interesting perspective on balance. It's like trying to walk straight with one leg wildly-kicking and one stone-solid. The cycle also has a very interesting impact on my heart. It's tough, trying to get to know the other person, build some connections and screen them when I've begun to almost anticipate the potential hurt of being dumped.

The effect is one that lacks a sense of permanence with my romantic life/relationships, reminding me of the story about a man who kept trying to build a home on top of a river; the foundations just keep washing away. Perhaps I'm concerned about the erosion of these experiences on the sense of home, family and relationships that I'm looking to build.

The toughest part about it is moving to a new location, moving on to a different person, only to find another river washing away the potential beginnings of a foundation (which, clearly, are not meant to be built there) gives me the impression of a wandering man, without a place to settle.

But that's exactly what it is. I am the Wandering Man.

Oct 4, 2011

I Want Her... I Want Her Not...

I’ve heard men are simple and our relationship choices/perspectives are simple, and generally I’ve found that to be the case. But having a certain straightforwardness when it comes to attraction can lead to its own complications.

There’s this woman, see (it’s always a woman, isn’t it?). Okay, maybe there’s been more than one. But here’s the short –and the long –of it. I meet her; she’s nice, sweet and a wonderful person. But I feel no attraction, so I don’t think much of it. Saying that I move on would imply there was something I’d been stuck on, but in that sense it was really straightforward for me.

No attraction = non-starter.

Nothing starts. But I live in a community, and –as these stories go –I see her around. We interact. We happen to spend time together. Nothing particularly planned or thought out, per se. It just “happens.” (That coming from a guy who has no trouble making a move). No, this is coincidental.

But then I start to see things. Things about her character that grab my attention. Thoughts that nibble at my mind when I’m not paying attention. Tidbits of comparison when I think about the woman I’ve started (or recently ended) dating.

Nibble-nibble, munch-munch; gobble-gobble, crunch-crunch.

Suddenly I find myself wondering if we’d be compatible. The thoughts swallow up whatever else happened to be on my mind. I see in her the things I value in a woman, things I want in a wife. It’s striking a chord, resonating within me.

I see her, and I’m stricken with her character; I admire her. But I don’t feel attraction, I’m not smitten with attraction. I torture myself a bit about it. I wonder if there’s something I just need to “get over.” Why can’t I appreciate her that way? Is there something wrong with me? She’s pretty, to be sure… which only implies that there’s something inside me that’s getting in the way.

I let the torture go on, because there’s so much I see in her that I want in a wife. Then I let it go because, well, I’m not feelin’ it… For now.  


This is so much more complicated than I tend to allow for myself. Part of me asks if I'll find such wonderful things in such a combination with another woman. Part of me wonders if she'd even be receptive to the possibility of dating. Part of me keeps saying I should just drop it... after all, it's a non-starter, right?

Oct 3, 2011


Something I’m sure I’ve read and heard somewhere else is that many –if not most –marriages are the result of a guy who was quite persistent. Sometimes the woman wasn’t interested, sometimes she didn’t know he existed, sometimes she wasn’t sure… whatever she was thinking, it’s the guy who said to himself (and perhaps to her): “She and I, we’re getting married. She’s the one. That’s all there is. It’s going to happen, I’ll make it happen.”

Now, clearly I’m not talking about stalker-creepy style obsession, but a respectfully slow, persistent, and consistent determination. The kind that has a woman wondering and feeling there’s something special about her that this guy is pursuing her with such patient fervor.

The idea got me thinking about the couples I know, and I remember distinctly hearing time and time again that the woman was not sure, or reluctant, or not really into it. I used to feel that she’s got to be interested, excited and passionate for him. Otherwise, what’s there to pursue?

The implication of this realization was potentially profound. Perhaps it means that by simply making the choice and executing a slow, steady unwavering resolution to show a woman she’s the one it’ll happen. 

Perhaps that’s a tad scary to me.

Or maybe, that’s part of a greater whole. Things fitting together in other ways that require a bit of a push, a show of commitment to solidify.

Who knows? But the correlation has been fascinating to consider. Think about it, about the couples you know. How persistent was the man?