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Nov 3, 2014

A Part of Me

Most kids have silly moments, and some kids are silly by nature. I made the silly-by-nature kids seem serious. In the five hundred or more pictures that were taken during my childhood, I had a normal smile in roughly two of them. The rest consisted of every possible set of muscular contortions that a face could accomodate -amounting to a set of odd, asymmetrical, eyebrow-raising/smushing, cheek warping faces that still make me wonder what mood I could have been in to inspire such facial acrobatics.

I always had a silly comment on my tongue -the kind that always seems completely tangential from outside, but made sense in my brain, or if you'd spent the past day (or week) with me. In those days, I used a lot of shorthand -single words to replace entire jokes, references, or phrases. I had a million and one voices which I used frequently for everyday activities. At some point when I was seven, I seriously considered becoming a voice actor for cartoons -well, as seriously as any kid my age was about becoming a firefighter, astronaut, or president. I'm fairly certain that I had fewer than a handful of serious bones in my body.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), as I got older much of it faded away. Some kinds of humor transfer well into the grown-up world, though people tend not to respond very well to seemingly random, out of place, and silly words, phrases, or voices. They don't have a place in the adult world. Neither did my funny bones, so as I grew I lost them. After a while I forgot that I could produce the screeches, squawks, dings, bungs, and flongs of my childhood. There's little space for non-sequitur, ridiculous, shenanigans of the like my childhood was made of.

Of course change is often gradual, so I didn't really notice. It seemed like a natural part of growing up and becoming a respectable adult in society. After a time, I forgot there ever was a part of me that was so silly, that nonsense syllables could be hilarious and meaningful, or that Dr. Seuss's books embodied so much of what I never wanted to let go of as a child and be as an adult. I forgot what it is like to laugh so hard I needed to make a serious conscious effort to inhale. I forgot how much being silly is such a part of the youthful me, a part of my inner child that needs nourishing as much as my adult body. I let go of ever being that way again. 

And then I met someone who brought all of that back into my world. We have our own little universe where all the silliness of my childhood has found a home again (along with serious conversations, stories and anecdotes about ourselves, our families, beliefs, and much, much more). I had never expected that part of myself -from such a different time in my childhood -to find a place in my life again. Not only that, I didn't realize how much I missed it until it became part of the adult me. It's amazing how something I had forgotten about and found again unexpectedly made me feel so alive and whole.

Seeing that mirrored in another person, in a relationship, is beyond thrilling. My abs are constantly sore (just like when I was a kid) because we spend more than half our time together laughing hysterically. I found a lost treasure, one that lights up my life.

Oct 6, 2014

Can't Find a Date? Date Your Shadchan!

I was talking to several wonderful women about shidduch dating and online dating, when one of them blurted out that her shadchan hadn't set her up in months. Another one chimed in, and soon there was a chorus of complaints about how both shidduch dating and online dating is imbalanced and unfair.

I grant that, as a man, I have been privileged and have more dating opportunity by nature of the system and (perceived) crisis. I am willing to accept that has certainly been part of my dating experience, though there are parts of me that would like to vehemently argue that I've got my own merits and work hard on cultivating my character and honing my dating/relationship skills.

Then an idea struck me, one that seemed intuitive to me but perhaps didn't seem very common. When I was more involved in shidduch dating, and even online dating with websites that used shadchanim, I often made contact with the shadchan. Whenever possible I walked into her office (I chose a shadchan who was as local as possible for this reason specifically) and sat down to chat about her work and passions, to talk about my values, and genuinely cultivated a connection. My impulse was to generate a connection and to listen to the shadchan's thoughts about issues in dating, issues in her work, and even sometimes talk about our personal lives (gasp!) outside of dating.

So I asked two of the women when they had last called and had a conversation with their shadchan, and how often they just got together to talk about their respective lives. When I encouraged them to do so at least once or twice a week, perhaps even setting time aside to get together with their shadchan, one of them immediately replied, "I'm in medical school, I don't have time for that!"

My reply was immediate: "well, then you probably don't have much time to date guys either." At first, she was very taken aback.

"What?" She snapped at me. "Of course I would make time for that."

Then I had to backtrack and explain. The time she would spend dating someone and talking to a date she really likes may be spent developing a deeper connection with the shadchan. It has the benefit and consequence of being on the shadchan's mind more, who will in turn be more personally invested in her dating life and motivated to find a shidduch. Someone else added that the shadchan will also learn more about our values and what we are looking for, so she would be able to offer better suggestions.

A lot of shadchanim have so many people to set up it is hard to be so invested in them all. Make yourself the one she's most invested in. Give her a ring. Ask about her family. Take her out to dinner if that's what it takes.

Some things I have done and would consider doing include:

* Texting to find a time to talk, perhaps even a regular weekly time.
* Asking about her interests, hobbies, and family. Especially children and/or grandchildren.
* Listen and pay attention to her feelings. Sometimes a shadchan feels harried, pestered, or stressed by myself, other daters, or other aspects of her life like work, family, or community issues. Sometimes just listening or letting a shadchan vent is a small but important way to reciprocate and show we care about them too.
* Be aware and sensitive not to make every moment of each conversation all about myself. It is exhausting to think about having to constantly take care of someone else every time we hear from them, and shadchanim may somteimes feel this way about the singles they set up. We are a lot of work and can be a handful!
* Writing a letter or thank-you card. In a pinch, an email will do, but it is really important to feel and share my gratitude and appreciation for the time that is spent thinking about me and other singles. The more personal the touch, the better it conveys how I feel. It can make quite an impression!
* Treat her to a thank-you dinner sometime.

I know that it's probably a bit awkward for a guy to take his shadchan to dinner (especially if the shadchan is a married female), and that a lot of guys just take it for granted that we get handed more suggestions. But guys aren't the only ones who should be asking their shadchanim out for dinner. The best way to stand out is to develop a closer connection with the shadchan.

If everyone put in the work in connecting more deeply with their shadchan there would be a lot more overwhelmed shadchanim. That being said, I also believe that cultivating a deeper connection results in more investment and more thought about those we are connected to, leading to both better quality and more frequent suggestions, resulting in better opportunity overall.

Sep 28, 2014

Find Inspiration, Make a Plan, and Watch it Fail

Sometimes, I revel in ironic shock at the sheer number of things that must converge for a moment to occur -the type of moment that jolts my attention, sends an electric bolt through my mind, stirs my heart, and instantly forms the resolve in my soul: I will find a way meet and get to know her.

The rest is a confluence of meticulous planning, some smoothness, and a serious dose of what could either be called arbitrary luck or the hand of God.

Sometimes, you look across a dimly lit room, lock eyes with a gorgeous woman, and feel butterflies in your stomach. That day, the room was bright, she had just ended a ridiculously long work day, and didn't look back at me. I later found out that she felt sweaty, disgusting, and exhausted. I was nowhere near her radar, though I was aware of her from the moment she stepped into the goodbye party for our mutual friend.

That was the moment I started calculating. I know I've talked about preferences before (here and here), yet it still caught me off guard when I encountered someone who immediately seemed to fit so much of my "type." Every cog in my brain was turning with the express goal of inserting myself into a conversation, finding an appropriate moment and method of introduction, making a point of connection. While the inside of my head churned furiously, I waited patiently. I joined other conversations with friends while very intently paying attention to my peripheral vision. I cannot remember the last time I multitasked so strenuously that my mouth was on autopilot while my brain was in a completely different zone.

She was having a conversation by a table with drinks, so I carefully chose an angled approach to the drink table, ostensibly getting water. Who cares that I was actually thirsty, I was on a mission. I listened hard as I poured water, spilling a little because of my careless attention to the useless task of actually getting liquid in my cup. The moment I turned to add a comment to the conversation, both her body and the conversation took a turn away from me.

Mission failed, for now.

Don't ask how many cups of water I got over the next hour. Sometimes, a move just doesn't work, but for lack of another tactic -and honestly because getting a cup of water and taking a drink is no small comfort in a social setting that I'm feeling lost in -I just kept going back for more water.

One thing I absolutely love about being a man is that when people leave a party, I have and ace in my back pocket; the perfect gentlemanly way of getting into a short conversation with a person of interest is while manscorting her.

It was a short conversation, perhaps about sixteen minutes and forty seven seconds. We walked to the main road where she wanted to get a cab, then spent several minutes failing to find one, to my inner delight. So we contended ourselves with the evolving conversation keeping us company. She had an endearing sarcastic wit to her that could only be described as sassy, and I told her as much. She told me I didn't have to wait, and when I simply stood there with a confident yet semi-puzzled look and said, "I know" to convey that I was merely enjoying the fleeting moment, she insisted by saying "you've been nothing but a gentleman." Of course, as is wont in such picturesque scenarios, that very moment was when no less than four cabs appeared -one from each direction of the intersection -and she was whisked off into the night, leaving me with an extra spring in my step as I walked home.

That was at the end of the evening, and thus the end of this part of the story.

Sep 18, 2014

The Chain of Dating

At the beginning of summer, one of my married friends set me up. Not the everyday setup, this one had been in the works for eight months. Yup, that long. It was hard to say no, despite my previous assertions, though mostly because I had practically said yes already several months beforehand. The short version of the story is that the lovely woman and I were alternately too busy or seeing someone else. The sheer persistence of my friend allowed the pairing to come together as the spring semester ended, both for me as a student and her as a teacher. I haven't experienced it often, but on rare occasion someone gets an idea into their head and simply will not let go of it. I have to say, half the time it's flattering and the other half annoying. This time it was more flattering, or maybe that was when it finally worked out after hearing about it every five weeks. 

It was a pleasant first date at a coffee shop, which has quickly become the bread-and-butter of my first date experiences (cue sidebar). Aside from the ease in planning, and the flexibility for length of date depending on how it's going, it requires less thought and investment but can be creative. In short, it's the quickest, simplest, on-the-fly date I can plan with a creative twist if I want to bring board-games or other tabletop activities with locations everywhere. I've been known to shoehorn the coffee first date into an impromptu park walk or parlay into another date-like activity when it was going very well, and finish my drink faster to end it within an hour when it's not. 

Rant aside, I enjoyed the date. I found her bright, opinionated, accepting, passionate about her career, and we connected in our mutual interest and joy in working with children. It was, however, short lived. One and done, as she didn't see our personalities meshing. I was impressed and found myself thinking that she's fantastic, despite my limited experience with her. I had hoped to get to know her better. Oh well. 

Then the chain began. She set me up with a friend of hers, and I do sincerely believe that someone I've been on a date with knows me better than a Shadchan would, at least in the realm of experiencing me. Since I'm not much for categories I thought I'd give it a whirl. Another coffee date. Another one and done. She set me up with a friend of hers too. It all began to feel a bit like I was getting passed around a group of friends -all of whom let me down easy (read: guiltily -though it made me curious as to why is it that these wonderful women felt so bad about not being interested?), said I'm a great guy, and set me up with a friend in turn. At least the last one had a bit more substance -intellectual conversations over art, talk about emotions and matters of the heart, getting deeper into our personal stories -the kind that are milestones and shape who we are. 

As an aside, I joked with my sister that I was being handed off. Then she told me that she recently did the same thing with a number of men she'd dated over the summer as well! Of course I heard stories and connections that were made about the personalities, interests, and wants of these men and what inspired the idea. It was eye opening to see that from the other side. 

Ultimately, the dating chain ended. As it turns out, I still prefer the flexible, potentially spontaneous, straightforward coffee first date. I also had a light bulb moment after my summer dating stint. Dating is a huge pain, right up until the moment you find someone you like (and who likes you back). Then it is the simple thrilling joy of discovering that person (and, incidentally yourself).

But that's another story for another time. Soon. 

Apr 1, 2014

Farewell to the Shidduch Dating World

I've tried it, over and over. Between websites, shadchanim, friends setting me up, I've racked more dates than I want to remember with more women than I should have kept count. Let's just say after reaching 75 I realized that counting is not productive for me, just as dating the "frum" way isn't productive for me. In fact, I'm not sure it really ever was -I certainly didn't quite fit that mold.

What does all this mean? Will I never go on a blind date or shidduch date? Will I be off the internet dating websites forever? Is this my last post? I have no definitive answers forever. I have searched my doubts, considered whether I should simply redouble my efforts, "tone down," "read between the lines," and just keep slogging along the same route(s). As Einstien said, though, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For my sanity, I need to try something else, something new, something different.

I'd like to be clear on a few points here. First, that this isn't about becoming less religious. In fact, I've found more observance as I've worked through the process, and a deeper connection with God as I continue to pour my heart and pain out -both in dating and in davening. I'm not talking here about letting go of my shomer ideology, I'm taking about a dating system that feels broken to me -a system I am now choosing not to participate in. Second, this isn't a decision of emotions, even as painful as it is. I have thought through the process and my place in it. I have come to the conclusion that it's not for me, and I will lay out the reasons below:

1) Relationships are made of experiences not criteria. There is some interesting research about the phenomenon in online dating (and I extend that to my experience of shidduch dating as well) regarding a distinction between search by criterion and experience and how much searching by some "measurable" criteria fails at actually finding compatibility. I am done with questions and information about potential dates (and myself) that have nothing to do with actually experiencing the other person.

2) People are not a pile of characteristics, nor do they need to fit our set of desires. Every time I see and hear about the "things" a woman is looking for, I have a nauseous and visceral retching reaction. It may well be (or not be) the case that I am "mature," "sensitive," "growth oriented," or "humerous," but I'm absolutely uninterested in trying to decide or cram myself into a bunch of those traits (and the religious/hashkafic ones as well) in order to determine my "fitness" or a woman's "fitness." It always felt to me that it's more about searching for those things than meeting and forming a connection with the person, much like objectifying as it is about finding something rather than being with someone. I've learned that people and life are much more vibrant, much less clean-cut, and far more interesting when related to as people than a pile of traits. The best of people are not only highly flawed (as I am), but own it -it is a core part of who they are. For me, it has been a journey of realizing that having a list was a road-block to recognizing and appreciating the entirely of another person.

3) I am a high-contact, deep-connection, intense person. There is something in moments of connection -moments of vulnerability, moments of listening and understanding, being understood, feeling deeply known and knowing the other, simply accepting without need for either myself or the other to be anything other than exactly what we are -that is essential and core to the way I am, every day. It is a testament to my being in the right place with my career. I am comfortable going zero-to-sixty when I sense what I am describing above, and it has been my experience that the "frum" dating world does not often foster that type of connection. In fact, I have often felt that all the protocols, labels, lists, and laborious information-gathering is counter to developing that type of connection.

4) Formal dating artificially increases pressure to consider marriage prematurely. Instead of thinking, "who is this person, I want to really understand them" I often found (and still find) myself asking "do I want to marry this?" over all the little things that I experience as early as the first date. My values for dating and relationships are so dissonant with this thinking that I actually cringed as I wrote that I have those thoughts. Ultimately, I think that is at the core of my choice here -the values I have cultivated for myself with respect to dating and relationships are so far and away from those I was introduced to and experienced in shidduch dating that I have come to recognize it's just not for me.

5) My highest value in a relationship is knowing and being known deeply, accepting and being accepted completely, and trusting one another to make our own way through personal struggles. The first time I experienced this, it was shocking that simply feeling known, understood, accepted, and trusted in my capability to engage life and my personal issues was so important. It's necessary to both have patience as we each struggle with our own challenges, flaws, issues, and find our own growth side-by-side. I certainly have a great deal I struggle with, but I don't need someone to push me along; I'd rather have someone simply sit with me when I am entrenched in my own issues, feeling that they know in their bones that I will make it through successfully in my own time. In dating, it translates as my taking time and continuing to go out in order to be with someone, to remain present and understand who they are, how they experience the world, and what brings them meaning.

There's a term that's been floating around which I really appreciate, "with-ness," which is some kind of amalgamation of "with" and "witness." It refers to the experience of standing by and sharing in experience while trusting the person to manage and take care of whatever is going on independently. There is a kind of deep trust and knowing which comes with that stance, and it is an experience I have experienced reciprocally and treasure. Aside from being rare, it is my way of searching for a soul mate. At this moment, I feel the shidduch system isn't very conducive to that way of relating.

Feb 24, 2014

The Counteroffer

I have encountered this particular phenomenon many a time during the course of my dating experience. The interaction starts of fairly benign, talking about each others' lives, interests, beliefs, experiences, what have you. Then the date planning gets under way, it's about the logistics and sorting out the "what," "where," and "when." Inevitably, there are some hiccups along the way. Either the time(s) I mention I am available don't work, or something comes up before the date.

Then comes the moment of truth; does she make a counteroffer?

Whether or not you think about it, there is subtle communication in this little gesture, or lack thereof. A counteroffer communicates interest, a desire to spend time together -if only to get to know the other person. Lack of a counteroffer communicates -for whatever reason -that she's not very interested in meeting, dating, or spending time together.

It can even communicate that she's actually uninterested in dating altogether -and even impact my interest. I had a first date with a lovely young woman once, and followed it up by asking her out on a second date no less than three times. Invariably, all three times she said she was busy for one reason or another, but she made absolutely no counteroffer on any of these occasions. While it could be perceived as legitimate reasons to have been unavailable, after that many attempts without her showing interest or offering to reschedule, I was done.

Jan 2, 2014

Halachic Prenup from the Inside Out

As I read the recent Commentator article advocating for Halachic Prenups, I had a number of thoughts and some very conflicted feelings.

On the one hand, I get the point. Part of the advocacy is starting a movement, creating general practice. Of course it meets with resistance (as most major changes do) and the article is addressing said resistance. Some of the (counter)points rubbed me the wrong way, though. Which -as per usual -got me thinking.

I happen to generally be in favor of granting leverage over people who are abusing power as is the case in withholding a get. In fact, I have brokered a number of Halachic Prenups with couples who have had all kinds of challenges and tensions broaching, considering, and working through the process.

Let me emphasize that point: IT IS A PROCESS. Not something that should be expected to easily or simply be "taken care of" or "required" like paperwork. Most of the Halachic Prenups I have had to broker have been with couples who may have brought up the topic once or twice and then two weeks before the wedding began actually working through it. Bringing it up evokes fears, insecurities, and even blame in both men and women.

I want to make a brief but powerful distinction in how I am considering the Halachic Prenup in contrast to the article. I am considering the interpersonal, relationship-oriented perspective of what it is like to consider the Halachic Prenup from my view as a man (and experience with couples). The author of the article was making points and putting forth arguments for leaders of Jewish communities, considering the broader impact and goals of the Halachic Prenup. I agree with that view in principle, and I am considering the complex set of feelings and implications of a couple actually facing the possibility, with all the fears, insecurities, implications, and reactions that may come up. The way I see it, making a global argument to a couple in crisis over the feelings and reactions evoked (as I have faced several times with couples) is not particularly helpful in that moment.

As a quick (and perhaps dirty) comparison, consider what it may feel like for a woman who gets engaged and the groom suggests or demands a financial prenuptial agreement. Whatever the reason, it may certainly evoke strong feelings, questioning the man's trust in her, feeling that he is looking towards the end rather than being in the relationship. There are many, many differences between financial and Halachic Prenups, but the point here is that they share some similarities and may thus evoke similar feelings.

I certainly admit to having understood a man feeling that way when his fiance demanded he sign a Halachic Prenup. I can admit to considering how I would think if I were in his shoes myself, and have experienced that same feeling myself.

Some points that came to mind (and then I will consider them more in depth):

1) It communicates strong feelings, which may include fear, anxiety, and insecurity while advocating addressing those feelings by requesting a contract from the other person.

It is form a vulnerability, the potential of being stuck. Hearing stories and knowing others who are chained can sow insecurity and doubt. Not unfounded doubt, the possibility is certainly present. While presenting a Halachic Prenup may provide a security, it is addressing the concern with a request/demand on the partner. From my own perspective, I dislike the idea of addressing feelings by placing a contract on the other person as a general rule, especially with a spouse. I know it can be very helpful in this instance, though I dislike that it may communicate "this is the way to deal with relationship issues."

I acknowledge there are certainly more than feelings at stake, which leads me to point #2...

2) There is a small (or not so small) part of requesting/suggesting/demanding a Halachic Prenup which communicates that the man (or woman) is capable or even likely to withhold (reject) a get.

The issue in point #2 is that it constitutes a breach of trust in the relationship.  Like insurance, it may be considered a policy for safety, but the need for such a policy means there is a risk. The risk here is between two people, i.e. how they treat one another, which implies that one (in particular often the man) is the risk factor. It can even feel accusatory, particularly for a man who would not consider himself or his relationship at risk of getting to that point. Being the risk factor is certainly hard to hear, and may be construed as (pre)blame. I believe that breach is both mend-able and even strengthens a relationship when effectively addressed.

3) This Halachic Prenup is about other men/women, about agunot. Not about You/Me/Us.

This message is both prevalent in the article and one of the most used arguments when met with resistance. First, I have to say it is the worst way to try and convince a partner to accept a Halachic Prenup. Second, I believe it actually subverts the interpersonal or relationship concerns, which include insecurity and trust. 

As I noted above, I am very much for movements and policies that grant leverage over people who abuse power, and the Halachic Prenup has potential to be quite effective. However, my own thoughts have brought to my attention the impact of considering the Halachic Prenup on a micro-scale, i.e. within a relationship.

I was once given advice that I should spend a day in family court before deciding to get married: half a day in divorce court and half a day in child-custody. At first it sounded like a horrible ordeal to witness and a sure way to dissuade me from marriage. Then I realized that if I am able to consider the worst with my partner and we can get through it together we will likely never get there. Working together through issues that tear couples apart can be a way to build a stronger relationship. 

I am a stubborn believer in being prepared and working together in relationships and especially in marriage. To me, that is likely to include having very difficult conversations about raising children, financial issues, and Halachic concerns -both concerning (a) working towards staying together and (b) the unpleasant possibility that we split up. I still believe in it, I plan on having those conversations -including the Halachic Prenup and working through it with whomever I end up with.