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Dec 6, 2013

What it's Like to be Single in Our Generation

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

Aug 26, 2013

Stop Looking for Your Bashert

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

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

Jul 12, 2013

Simple Dating

Saying that dating is complex is both an understatement and a self-evident fact for anyone who has been in the dating circuit for longer than a couple of dates.

But I believe we also tend towards simplifying the process. Thus categories for religious observance, arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) demarcations for level of religiosity and hashkafah, measurements and details, profiles and resumes, websites and shadchans. Everything to help make it easier to find "the right one."

As I gather dating experience, a feeling has been slowly creeping into my consciousness. A feeling of doubt, wondering if I've "missed the mark" when I've dismissed a suggestion or opportunity, a feeling of having been misunderstood or simplistically categorized and dismissed for whatever arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) information is used to determine compatibility. For a while -and perhaps still -it manifested as feeling judged. Seriously, how can someone presume to know and judge me having had fewer than ten interactions consisting of some texting, a phone call or two, and a couple of dates? Or perhaps I'm just being oversensitive here.

I have certainly felt judged for not spending huge chunks of my time learning and I've consequently experienced myself as having been categorized as valuing learning less, for example. At this point, whenever I see or hear someone place emphasis on kove'ah ittim, I've already come to expect it won't go far.

This is simple dating in its essence -drawing on a singular point of data to make inferences about a person's values, or to make sweeping generalizations about character.

I admit, I'm guilty of it. I've dismissed suggestions due to information that I did not see or information I saw from which I drew inferences about the woman that I've come to use as markers for character attributes and beliefs I'm looking for. I'm aware that I use education -specifically pursuit of a graduate degree -as a mark of the intelligence I seek, and that I specifically look for nurturing character traits in a partner (yes, "nurturing" is a buzz word with me).

I hold two core issues with this type of simplistic dating.

First, I think using a singular bit of data to draw inferences -such as pursuing a masters/doctorate for intelligence -provides both an incomplete and misleading image/understanding of what we are really looking for and who the other person is. Am I simply looking for a woman with a masters/doctorate or do I really want someone sharp that can hold an intense or intellectual conversation with? Are the two one and the same? What happens when I exclude women on the basis of their educational aspirations, am I including everyone who I think is for me, am I excluding everyone who isn't for me (even just considering intelligence)?

Second, I believe that people are more complex, and I think a great example of this is the complexity of my own beliefs and wants. I happen to have very strong traditional leanings, owing in no small part to my heritage and upbringing. I also happen to have very strong modern/secular and feminist leanings, due to both my education and experiences with my Mother and sister growing up.

Sometimes I let slip a few words that hint at my being traditional, and already I see the wheels turning. I have some strong beliefs about masculinity and femininity, about male and female differences. I've been told I should find a "traditional woman" more than a few times by people, which leads me to sincerely doubt their understanding of who I am and what I'm looking for.

I'm not simply looking to find someone to cook, clean and raise kids -all of which I appreciate tremendously. I also plan on being an active parent, but more than that I expect and plan on being involved in all areas of domestic life because it's a joint experience, joint responsibility, and joint endeavor. I want my children to have two primary caregivers. Gone are the days that man brings home flower and woman bakes it into bread; now we get to choose, or take turns, or do them both together. I value the flexibility and dynamic aspects of this type of relationship, it's something I want to fully engage in together with my partner.

Do I have one set of ideas about men's and women's roles? I have lots of thoughts, many ideas, some of them perhaps even seemingly conflicting. That's life, full of complexity, paradox, even conflict.

It's easier to categorize, to box people into polarized titles, to check off a "yes" or "no" on a mental list. It makes dating simpler by drawing inferences about a person's character, about who they are, based on less information. It is also a risk, as people are often more nuanced and complex. Sometimes I wonder if we're missing the mark by trying to pin down our understanding of the person we've barely met.

May 21, 2013

Into the Clouds

Zach Sobiech passed away on May 20th 2013 from cancer. When he was diagnosed in November of 2009, he was told he had months left. Instead, he took four years and showed the world what how to live. Rather than lose hope, his acceptance, maturity, and optimism drove him to deepen his relationships with family, pursue love, and express himself in incredible ways.

This was his way of saying goodbye, and it reached millions in under 6 months:

When his story go out, this documentary was filmed. It touched my heart and made me think about how I'm living:

I'm still left mostly speechless, sitting with raw emotions and thoughts I'm turning over in my head. I think it may be that way for a while.

May 19, 2013

Men of Inferior Quality

I've heard so many devaluing generalizations about men across the board, from Beit Yaakov schools to liberal education. Comments about men being socially inept (especially as compared to women), shallow, selfish, insensitive, interested exclusively in sex, uncaring, and having the emotional intelligence of a teaspoon. Beyond that, just not being up to scratch -not being a learner, earner, rich rabbi-doctor, partner-of-the-century,  intimacy-oriented, perfect present/future father, Adonis, and communicator extraordinaire.Take your pick, mix n' match whichever resonate with you.

For some examples, See these posts on devaluation, ironic standards, gender differences, and outrageous expectations.

I heard it all. In my classrooms growing up, in the my Mother's minor complaints and big arguments with my Father, from female friends starting in middle school and continuing with a steady stream of criticism and complaint up to yesterday afternoon. It's on billboards in subtle and overt ways, in movies, and even the ultra-orthodox community.

For the last twenty years it's most of what I heard about men as a whole. It has been the hip thing to do as long as I can remember -just blame men for their ineptitude and lack of quality. It justifies the anger, frustration, and pain. It's easier to sit up on high and judge men negatively. Nevermind that the Torah says not to do that. 

Let me tell you about some of the damage it has caused and continues to wreck.

Men are considered failures from the get-go. Not because we actually are inept, but because we are told that is who we are and how we are perceived. Regardless of achievement and growth, self-awareness and sensitivity. We are still considered inept simply because we belong to the male sex. If you want to quote the exceptions, or provide examples I invite you to consider that those are precisely the "exceptions that prove the rule." I have certainly made plenty of mistakes in dating including some serious faux pas, like forgetting to call a woman back within a few days of a date. Those mistakes had nothing to do with my character, as in the above example I happened to have been swamped with school, research, and field work that I had not anticipated in the following days that simply flew by. I was surprised to have missed the time. I faced significant ridicule for that little snafu, irrespective of my circumstance and character. In fact I had more than a few attacks on my character for it. 

If I were a woman and thought this way about men, I would never want to go on a date with a guy. In fact, as a man if I thought this way about women I would have a chip the size of Antarctica on my shoulder and I'd be considered a misogynist, among all manner of other unseemly names. Seems like a wonderful place to start when looking for a life partner.

It's insulting to be admired for sensitivity despite being a man. If I had a choice, and could grow up in the way I wanted, I would make sure I grew up in an environment that taught me to be sensitive is to be a wonderful man. It's much better than learning that men are all insensitive and that insensitivity is contemptible. I would much rather be admired for being a wonderful man than non-man-like person.

For those who do not understand the implications of this, let me spell it out. When I hear a woman express negative beliefs about men or generalizations about what men are like based on negative experiences, I am very concerned. I have a hard time believing that a woman can harbor deep seeded negative beliefs and resentment towards men yet have a healthy intimate relationship with admiration and respect for a man.

In fact, I think those beliefs are particularly harmful for dating. I can sense when a woman has those beliefs and it is a serious turn-off. Either I have to work extra-hard all the time to compensate, distinguish myself, and maintain an image of being Superman (which is exhausting and not realistic since I cannot change someone else's mind) or when I fail -even the normal flawed failures that humans all experience -then I am just like all those other men. It's a no-win scenario. I have had this unfortunate experience more than once.

While it may initially feel good to be considered special and unique, I need a woman to build a home with, and that home will create an environment for our children. I think it's important for a father to teach his son about what it means to be a man, and that message should be confirmed and validated by his mother (and vice-versa for daughters).

I plan on raising my children with positive images of manhood and masculinity, and I need a wife and future mother who will validate those both to myself and my (God willing) future sons so that they will grow up seeing and knowing a positive image of manhood in their father and themselves. Only in that way will they strive for and achieve it with encouragement, modeling, and validation. If our children hear and absorb negative images and beliefs about men at home, it will be validated by the messages they hear outside, which will have powerful consequences for their own growth and development. I have and will continue to work hard at creating a positive and nurturing environment for my future children, and that means ensuring that the woman I am with has a strong positive image of men.

Blaming and devaluing men (or women, but in this case I'm focusing on the former) as a group is a damaging and destructive way of explaining frustrating and painful experiences, be that in dating or other contexts because it leads to images and beliefs which continue to negatively impact how we treat and think about one another. It's a lot more helpful to explain it as a temporary, situational, specific event rather than in a way that generalizes men in a permanent way.

Apr 23, 2013

Exclusivity, Commitment, and Serial Monogamy

When I first thought of dating and relationships, it was pretty clear to me that from the moment I asked a woman out or accepted a suggestion that I would date her exclusively.

In particular this meant several things in my mind:

1) Placing all other/pending/future suggestions on hold, telling them that I am busy.
2) Dedicating myself and my energy to getting to know this one woman. In other words, prioritizing dating and the relationship with her. 
3) Staying involved until (a) I am certain I know her well and (b) I've clearly determined she's not for me.

Thinking back, I see this as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I do enjoy focusing my energy on one woman. I happen to be very one-on-one focused, and I experience a unique joy in spending time with individual friends in contrast to group hangouts. On the other hand, it's a high level of investment, commitment, and dedication for someone I have never met and -let's be honest -owe nothing to aside from the aforementioned date.

This type of serial monogamy in dating is likely the culprit for my (a) continuing to ask women out after a date or two based on the assumption that I don't know her well enough to make a decision, (b) feeling pressured to cram more and more into less time, and (c) feeling committed to someone I've barely met.

As an added consequence, I'm often much more interested in talking through our differences in values, viewpoints, observance, or things I hear (or witness) that bother me. I am often ready to do this even on a first date or an initial conversation, though my experience is that most people take months to get to that point.
I also am willing to become invested, to be open and vulnerable quite early on. I'm the type of person who feels it's important to have an open heart and isn't worried about being rejected or hurt -my heart is strong enough to handle that.

What I have felt is stress and pressure, particularly with respect to my predetermined dedication. At times I feel like I'm pressuring myself to be prematurely committed to her. I also have experienced exhaustion, and a feeling of unbalanced reciprocation. I rarely feel that the woman I'm dating is giving me the same chance or dedication I give her, and it can be a frustrating feeling. 

I'm still teasing out all these feelings, and trying to balance my values with some of the frustration I experience. I also expect that this part of my personality has a significant effect on how I present myself on dates, and in particular how it impacts the first impression I give off.

Apr 15, 2013

Quote of the Day #11

Every so often, I work out a little phrase or thought. Often it seems like I've heard it before, but I'll admit I don't read libraries of literature and I'm not well versed in the world's quotes. In any case, here's one from the other day:
"The demons inside us are often simply parts of ourselves that we do not like to see, fed by our unwillingness to look them squarely in the eye and accept them."
As always, thoughts and feedback are welcome.

Apr 7, 2013

Acting Out

This post represents the accumulation of a series of events that I've been reflecting on for some time. After dating intensely during my first year of grad school, taking a break for several months during my second year and finding a more balanced, if frustrating, experience through this year, I have realized three things:

1) I really dislike dating, especially formal/shidduch dating. I'll lump online dating here as well. I dislike the system(s), the imposed structures, the unnatural feeling and pressure I experience. I also dislike constantly feeling judged for little things and big things alike. Could be that's all in my head; perhaps I'm just an anxious person. However, throughout the past three years in particular I have felt and increasing frustration with my dating experience. On this point I'd like to add one thing: I am relationship-focused, and thoroughly enjoy being in a relationship. Most of my quibbles have to do with the initial process of contact and the "date procedure," with all of the hoops and qualifying questions people ask/check to make sure I "fit well enough" into what they want. I mean seriously, fitting into a box or a list is not something I like to do on a first date, I find it both uncomfortable and a tad insulting. I happen to believe we should take our dating partner holistically as a person, search for connection (and add values in here if you'd like, though I believe it takes longer to really understand a person's values), find a bit of romance. I don't want a box or list, I want a person. 

2) I really don't have time for it. This one requires some explanation, because if it were strictly a matter of time management, then there would be no problem. One of the things I have discovered is that with 70+ hour weeks, even when I carve out a block of time to (a) make plans, (b) get ready, (c) travel, (d) spend time and be present with the person, and (e) head back home, I find myself exhausted and stressed before the date (I'm getting exhausted even writing out the list!). Having to go on a weeknight date straight after my night classes (which end at 7pm on my early evenings) with my schoolbag in tow doesn't help either. There is always so much to be doing, so many responsibilities, and so many concerns looming that even when I'm on a date I feel them nagging at the edge of my consciousness. I'll admit that carving out time for some yoga, herbal tea, and relaxation beforehand to allow myself a chance to slow down might help, but it's not always practical and often I'm already sacrificing personal/school/work/research time just to be on the date. I will admit that viewing this time as a sacrifice rather than an investment -or as a chance to unwind, make jokes, and enjoy myself -probably also doesn't help.

3) I have been acting out rather than being honest with myself (and those women). Now I don't mean crying, throwing tantrums, or being rude. As I have reflected on the above points, I have come to realize that the way I present myself is a far more "under pressure" and non-ideal version of myself. I'm not ashamed of it, but I also don't think it's the most attractive side of me to be putting out on display. I can chalk it up to my long hours and the responsibilities of graduate school. I can also blame it on the system and my experience of the looming question "will I marry this person?" that silently invades dates and underlies many a question and conversation topic. But I'd rather be honest and acknowledge that I have not been on top of my game when it comes to dating.

Part of me has hoped that the person I'm on a date with can see through, or will give me more than one, two, or three chances to really get to know me -which is perhaps why I do this myself -but that may not be a realistic expectation. Perhaps I hope to find someone who is more like me and is patient and tolerant enough to invest in a relationship rather than making a quick choice within several hours of contact. In fact, those expectations and hopes likely fuel my frustration and growing resentment. 

But wait, then what should I do? How should I address this?

Well, I'm certainly not going to start blurting out my recent reflections prior to -or on -a first date. I have thus far found one work-around: meeting the person and developing a connection more organically rather than (a) point-blank asking women out within a short time of meeting them or (b) being set up via shadchan/friend. I acknowledge this particular method likely puts me in a significantly different dating pool, and I've been wondering if perhaps I'm simply more comfortable swimming in that pool. Other options include (1) taking a break until life lets up a bit (2) gritting my teeth and continuing to trudge along, (3) taking school/work/research less seriously to free up some of that stress, (4) changing my expectations/hopes, (5) loosening up and allowing the more relaxed, playful, fun part of me to show in other areas of my life -including formal/shidduch/online dating. That last one has the merit of all around increasing my happiness, though it may be a tad over-reaching just yet.

The first step is being aware. The second is making myself accountable, which I'm doing here. Where I go from here... I'll have to update y'all as I make progress. 

Mar 11, 2013

In Need of Some Kiruv

I’ve been away a while. Well, perhaps “away” would not adequately describe the circumstances surrounding my reduced presence on the blogosphere. But the blogosphere isn’t the only part of my life that I’ve been away from.

To say that graduate school has kept me busy is an understatement. After my 80 hour weeks consisting of class, fieldwork, reading, papers, and commuting in between, I’ve found I barely have enough discipline to stand up straight. I’m always exhausted, regardless of how little (or how much) I’m sleeping. I find myself running out in the morning with a prayer for forgiveness because I’ve missed davening (again). I haven’t been to shul on time in recent memory, even on Shabbat/Yom Tov. On that note, thank goodness for Shabbat! Every moment not having to stress is a blessing, and having time to eat, drink, sleep(!), play games and spend time with friends/family is an absolute pleasure.

My learning consists of a one hour a week chavruta that doesn’t meet as consistently as I’d like. With so much pressure, I’ve rearranged my priorities and every few months I take a moment to reflect –often the first moment in as many months I have to breathe or think about myself –and realize that my observance is not at the top of that list.

I think in an ideal world, I would be able to keep my Jewish observance as priority number one. I’ve slowly been realizing that either (a) I’m sacrificing (some of) my observance in this stage of my life, or (b) it’s not possible to place observance as priority number one all the time. When I was in Yeshiva, I thought it’s possible to keep one foot in yeshiva and one in university. I had expected that to extend so that I could keep one foot in grad school and one in learning Torah, one foot in (field)work and one in davening, one foot in the gym and one in the beit midrash, one foot in research and one in dating.

Was I ever wrong! I only have two feet, and I’m finding that I can’t handle all of the demands, requirements, and obligations for graduate school on one foot. So I end up doing this funky dance with my one other foot, a dance I'm struggling to keep up with. 

I’ve been polling my friends informally about dating and graduate school, and I’m finding that it’s not just me (at least dating-wise). Some of my friends reflected that they rarely give their date a chance during the semester, often thinking to themselves that they’d rather be studying than out. Usualy, dating during semester breaks (or possibly summer) reveals a different, more open mind in those same friends (and for myself as well). I have to say that my experience has been similar, having to plan and create a 4+ hour block of time to get ready, travel, go on a date, and return within a decent time frame to get half a night’s sleep can be stressful just to think about. 

So maybe (in line with the most recent issue of The Beacon) I'm in need of a little kiruv. Almost every week, after davening, I take a moment to thank Hashem that I'm still connected, but I also know I'm not nearly where I'd like to be.

Jan 2, 2013

Oral Hygiene

I recently received an email with a story/question, and I wanted to share it with y'all: 

I am a long time reader of your blog. I recently had a dating experience/question that I thought I would pose to you/your readers. I recently went out with a girl and had a lovely first date. While sitting with her though, I noticed a rather odd smell. Thinking it was something to do with the venue we were in, I ignored it. On the second date though, the smell was back. Upon paying a bit of attention, I realized it was her breath. It was a foul earthy like smell. It brought to mind the tale in Jewish folklore of the Talmudic sage who was so poor that he ate dirt, thereby causing his breath to smell.

Once I noticed her breath, I also noticed her teeth. They were covered in plaque and appeared as if they hadn't been brushed in ages. It was quite unappealing. The smell of her breath and appearance of her teeth drove me crazy. We went on a few more dates, but I just could not get past those two "issues". Speaking to her face on would nearly induce gagging. After a few dates we realized we were not compatible and ended things. The experience, however, left me with a question: should I have said something?

This girl was one of the most put together people Ive ever met. She dressed nicely, her life was in order, it made no sense that she would ignore something as important as oral hygiene! I did not think it was my place to say something as it could be highly offensive. However, something like that could serve as a turn-off for any guy she dates and is also simply gross. It undoubtedly bothers / is noticed by her friends and colleagues who simply don't say anything. Aside from that, it could be an indication of a gum disease or some other oral issue. 

As we are no longer dating, my relationship with her is nonexistent. There would e no way for me to say anything. What I wonder is if I should mention it to a friend of hers who can then say something to her? 

Any advice would be welcome,
Yodel Deedle


While it may not seem common, the experience of dating someone who may not cover all the bases when it comes to hygiene can be frustrating -whether it's their teeth/breath, extensive body hair, or some other grooming issue. It brings to mind a date I once had involving a woman with rampant leg hair... at the time I was tempted to offer her my shaver.

First, I'd like to draw attention to something you mentioned. On the first date you ignored it and were able to enjoy her company, despite the smell. However, once you determined the cause, you noticed the details (her teeth, plaque, the particulars of the smell) and provided quite a rich description of how repulsive it became to you. The contrast is important to note, because humans often have a tendency to focus on a particular detail, especially in dating, and allow it to overshadow other aspects of their date's character (for example, you noted that she is very well put together). Whether or not that was the driving force the decision not to continue I certainly don't know, it's just some food for thought.

As far as whether you should have said something, I'd like to acknowledge that pointing out a flaw in someone's self-care/health is a very touchy issue, and takes a lot of courage. Even when approached constructively, it's not an easy thing to do and is not always taken well. That's the case even with close friends/family, and so much more with someone we have practically no relationship with!

However, if this was the singular deal-breaking issue that was unbearable, I would at least have put it on the table, out in the open. Until she is aware of it, there is a small chance it will change; there may have been a simple remedy available if only the concern/frustration were communicated, uncomfortable as it may be to put forth. If you were set up via the grapevine, a friend, or a Shadchan, then you also have the option of broaching the concern indirectly through the third party. This is usually more comfortable for daters, often purported as a plus in Shidduch dating.

Personally, I am a big fan of constructive feedback -if there is anything I could do to improve myself I like to hear about it. For that reason, I support the idea of giving feedback, and if you could still provide constructive feedback through a friend I would encourage you to do so with great sensitivity. Telling someone they have plaque and bad breath can be more hurtful than helpful. If you can also find a way for her to receive feedback anonymously so much the better, since it is often harder to hear from a date (especially if the decision to part ways was initiated by you).

There are more subtle approaches that can be taken too. For example, bringing a pack of mouthwash tabs, mints, breath fresheners, etc. and offering her one when you pull them out for yourself. If you want to really be suave, when you pull them out you can admit that you're sometimes self-conscious about your own breath (Who isn't? I know I am!) and it may put her more at ease (or at least bring some awareness). This may be a short-term fix, but if it frees your mind to enjoy the date, gesundheit!

Unfortunately, I don't think whipping out my shaver in the middle of a date would have been helpful in my case.