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.