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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.