After my first experience on a singles' Shabbaton, I wasn't too eager to jump into another one.
Eventually, I realized I'd just have to get over myself; there's a lot of opportunity out there and letting some experiences get in the way of dating would be a tragedy, only serving to holding me back. I refuse to allow such things to get in the way of finding a wife; there's no reason to spite myself because of some negative experience.
So, I finally decided to sign up and attend another one. Funny thing about signing up for a singles' Shabbaton, though. They make you sign up a couple weeks in advance. For me, it's like magic; every time I get busy or start to pursue a suggestion, something new pops up. So when I sign up, inevitably someone makes a suggestion and/or I go out on a date, because that's God's ironic sense of humor.
((Looks up)) I mean seriously?! Really?! Hilarious. May that be the worst of my conundrums.
Somehow I'd manage to put myself in "no man's land." On the one hand, I like to focus on one person at a time when I'm dating (see here for why). On the other hand, I can't predict what happens in two weeks and I don't like the idea of being "closed off" to opportunity because I've signed up for a Shabbaton or vice-versa. Kind of an awkward place to be in for a couple weeks, at least for me.
Go figure. "I'll manage it somehow," I tell myself. Moving along...
Of course, as expected, the location was some suburb-like area with plenty of matchmakers to help encourage and facilitate talking (and/or cultivating a dating interest), not to mention the necessarily inordinate number of shiurim and speech-like divrei Torah. (I mean, how else can they legitimize the Shabbaton experience for the frum community? Clearly dating isn't a legitimate enough purpose.) I remember thinking that at least half of them would probably connect the Parsha with dating, relationship or marriage in some convoluted way. Still, it's inescapable, and some of them even turned out to be enjoyable.
When I'd finally signed up, I made the mistake of not dragging a friend along with me, a bit of wisdom I've learned from women who may even drag a friend off to the restroom. So when I got there, I was prepared to be my own wing-man (a la "Hey! Have you met... me?") or perhaps having to enlist the services of a matchmaker as a wing-man-by-proxy. I have to say, as much as I value and appreciate matchmakers' time, experience and intuition, I tend to lean on the side of having less involvement with a third party; plus, I'm not entirely confident of their wing-man skills. Just my own personal pause.
But, as fortune would have it, I ran into a buddy of mine when we all convened for Minchah. Once davening was done, we got to talking and he told me that he didn't expect anything to come from the Shabbaton; if nothing else, he decided to come and just have fun.
I have to say, that's the best bit of advice I'd ever heard. What a perspective! There's no pressure, no expectation, no need to be nervous. Be myself, enjoy myself, let it flow. My immediate thought was "that's my wingman!"
(And for those of you already formulating comments about how dating should be taken seriously and how much you hate those jokers on the Shabbaton, I have to say for anyone who already takes it seriously and has a tendency to get nervous it's quite liberating. For people who just don't care to begin with... well, let them be. At least there's some life in the party with jokers around.)
And good times were had. I think, in the end, it's really what you make of the experience. If you like to be loud, be loud! If you like to sing, tralala away! It was so much easier to be myself when I wasn't worried about being evaluated (even if I was, which no doubt occurred).
We'd pick the women we found interesting -or anyone we had the slightest desire to talk to, or just anyone in the vicinity -and we'd strike up conversation; but not the boring "who are you, what do you do, where are you from?" Jewish-geography-meets-twenty-questions game.We'd ask for the wackiest dating story, or their most awkward experience on the Shabbaton thus far. We'd joke and tease and kid around. Give the women a hard time for giving boring answers, challenge them, tell them we know they could do better.
We were mixing it up, and our mission was to have a good time. The degree to which we were noticed for our (perhaps more than slightly) unconventional approach was an ancillary benefit that only spurred us into a greater frenzy. More positive, upbeat, exciting energy. At least in our little warped bubble of the Shabbaton.
So I've decided that is how it's done. If the air is so full of tension and so thick with expectation that people are suffocating, what's the point? Likewise if it's full of the waking dead who have little more to say than "brrrrraiiiiins." It's great to meet people, to have good times, to wing and help people connect. It's fun to joke around.
And sometimes, it's just nice not to care. There is far too much pressure, especially at some of these events.