Sunday, December 27, 2009
Mazal tov to the lucky couple, and I look forward to taking her name off my to-daven-for list at Shacharis tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: make that TWO of the girls I went out with! Huzzah!
This started as a reply to "(not) The Girl Next Door's" response to my previous post about the YU event from Tuesday, but it ended up being so long I figured: why not upgrade this to a blog entry? She was concerned about the possibility of dating a closeted homosexual who viewed her as his "salvation." She also expressed a personal belief that cultural exposure can lead people toward a homosexual lifestyle.
Here is my response:
I don't think you have as much cause for concern as you might think - and I apologize for alarming you. The gist of my point was: although we heterosexuals think we have problems in shidduchim, take to heart the lesson of Koheles and be thankful for your G-d-given portion in life, since the life of people with homosexual tendencies is obviously a lot more difficult, and in many ways, unfair.
It is true that some men who have homosexual tendencies think they can, or try to fix themselves by dating women - and in fact, two of the panelists attempted this with no success. But, not everyone with these issues goes through that phase.
Dr. Pelcovitz, a well-known psychologist at who teaches at YU (and lectures worldwide) was at YU this past Shabbos and talked about these current events at the Friday night oneg. He said that there are different sub-groups of people with homosexual tendencies, and some indeed are influenced by the media. It gives them a sense that it is okay to push forward with the feelings they have, which may be better described as being "one the fence," and the cultural aspects of acceptance within society propel them further.
There are also several subsets that indeed, according to several respected colleagues of his, can be "converted" into living a heterosexual lifestyle (which includes getting married). Yet, others recommend pursuing a life dedicated to helping the Jewish community unencumbered by the burden of having a family. He cited cases from these colleagues where both occurred with success.
I doubt that you should be worried about encountering and/or potentially marrying such a person. As it happened with the panelists, they "came out" to the girl they were dating (or merely ended the relationship) because they realized that it wasn't going to work in the long run. With proper "research," and really getting to know a person, I would hope if your date were indeed affected in this fashion that he would be honest and forthcoming. In the case of one of the speakers - his yearlong "girlfriend" had already figured out he was gay. So unless you are dating someone more to the right (IE: yeshivish) where hiding secrets is a sort of modus operandi.
I personally know of an innocent woman who married someone who was later found out to be involved in child pornography and child molestation - but he came from such a background where these things are kept under wraps because of shidduchim. They were married for several years, had children, and he lived a secret, sick double-life. He was eventually arrested in a government sting that lured him into another state, whereupon he was tried, convicted, and currently sits in jail for a multi-decade sentence.
I admit that reality can be scary; these things DO happen. But, the most significant thing is to make sure you date honest people and work with shadchanim who are open and don't hide information that could be horribly damaging to your future relationship. Everyone's family has health problems of some sort (see my post about a recent date where this came up), and no one's family is perfect. With G-d's help, you will find someone whose imperfections and family history you can accept with love and live with for the rest of your life.
It is one thing not to tell me that my date has mild allergies (who cares) or diabetes (which can be dealt with, and I believe the halachic position is that she must tell the the guy a few dates into the courtship). It is an entirely different matter to refrain from informing me that her parents have a bad marriage, or that her father is abusive toward her mother, her, or her siblings. Stuff like that should NOT be swept under the carpet for the sake of shidduchim, especially when the act of doing this cover-up will never get the family the help they need.
Admittedly, GOOD, upstanding people can come from terrible family situations - and they deserve to be evaluated on their own during the dating process. But, this sort of impression should also be able to be gleaned from the people you talk to when you're doing research into their background. Someone from a divorced home, whose parents had a terrible relationship, could end up being the nicest, most dedicated spouse. Or not. But you have a right to know these sorts of things, since they have to be approached with proper consideration and sensitivity, should you decide to go out with such a person.
It is true that Chazal tell us in many places that G-d is the One behind our eventual choice of a spouse (see the beginning of Sotah for one source) - but that does not absolve you, or anyone else, from putting in the best effort possible to get to know as much as you can (either before the first date, after a first date, even after a few dates) to help you make the most informed decision possible. This is probably the most important decision you'll ever make, so do your utmost to help things proceed from your end, and let G-d do the rest.
In summary: be careful who you go out with, and do your best to work with/go out with honest people in your quest to find your future husband. If something seems fishy, talk to more people and don't be satisfied with one report if you've heard things that sound potentially problematic.
May you, and everyone else wading through the vast ocean of shidduchim find their true beloved in the proper time and place, with G-d's help.
Friday, December 25, 2009
As great as Shidduch Vision is, one would think that "turning a corner" in the "shidduch crisis" would be news just as big as proclaiming that America has "turned a corner" in its current economic recession. If this is true, why hasn't anyone else mentioned this in the Jewish blogosphere? Perhaps it's just a marketing strategy, implying that Shidduch Vision has/will stem the tide of aging singles.
I do think the video is a little bit cheesy, it's as though this video technology has been discovered for the first time. I know friends who utilized webcams to faciliate an ongoing dating relationship, and both ended up married to the girl on the other end of the digital divide. The few times I have suggested trying this out (based on my friends' success) during the course of a shidduch that went over a Sukkos/Pesach/winter/summer break, I was politely turned down in favor of phone calls.
Has anyone else tried this before (successfully)?
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I think we all, to one degree or another have a problem with this - unless someone is so full of themselves that they can't bear to say anything even hinting toward a personal flaw (and that is a whole different can of worms). I usually only realize I've said this sort of thing in hindsight, but I am pretty sure I avoid anything of this sort on the first date or two. I'll definitely be more aware of what I say in the future, and cultivating a conscious involvement in the dating process is always a good thing.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I took part in an historic event at YU tonight. I attempted to attend the "Being Gay in the Orthodox World" discussion panel, and was turned away after waiting outside in the bone-chilling cold, half-freezing to death for half an hour - along with about 200 other YU and Stern students. This is absolutely unheard of for any extra-curricular event that (to my knowledge) has ever been planned and held on campus. The room was filled to its legal fire department mandated capacity, and security (which was a different firm than the usual campus guards) were very unforgiving and not up for negotiation.
Not to be rejected so easily, the group I was standing with decided to try to sneak in via the underground secret passageway and a back staircase. Of course, we were caught (other had attempted this earlier and succeeded) and sent back upstairs to go around and out the main entrance. We made one last attempt to convince the security at the front door before they basically shoved us (not quite so physically) out into the cold night, where I saw another 100 or so people waiting fruitlessly to be let indoors.
The whole issue certainly fits into the GREY AREA of discussion when it comes to observant Judaism. A "kol koreh" signed by several roshei yeshiva was hastily composed and posted around campus (Update 12/23/09: read it here). The gist of it was that in any public discussion of these matters, sensitivity should be given to those individuals who find themselves having a homosexual identity, but in no way, shape or form should the act of homosexuality or such a lifestyle by condoned. The emphasis was that the act itself is still a Biblical abomination, but concern and support should be given to people out of respect for the fact that they, too are Jews - but such behavior cannot be encouraged.
I think that having that mindset (which has been publicly stated before) is certainly the right way to approach this extremely difficult issue. People deserve compassion for their personal struggles, whatever that specific area may be, but any act that is clearly against halacha cannot be accepted or normalized. But therein lies the dilemma that has made this such a hot-button issue this past year (especially since the publication of several Commentator articles: here, here, here, and here).
I really wanted to attend the event to hear firsthand the students and graduates express the situation from their perspective. I firmly hold by the position the roshei yeshiva proclaimed, but the issue can no longer be ignored as it has been for so long. It seems like this is one of the greatest, most unsolvable halachic/hashkafic quagmires that we face in our day and age. I sort of know one gay student at YU as an acquaintance, but have never had any real friends that have been confronted by this issue of personal identity. I do commend the YU Tolerance Club and the community in general for addressing the issue in a forum - I just wish I was there now to listen to what has to be said.
The consensus our little group of failed secret agents was that the Tolerance Club, knowing that the crowd was going to be enormous, should have set up a video taping to be broadcast across the street in Furst 501 on a big projection screen. They really dropped the ball on that opportunity. I hope I can hear enough about it from friends who got in legitimately (or covertly), and perhaps they even had the foresight to record the panel (although I have no idea when I'll have time to listen to it).
So just some food for thought, assuming that some readers have checked out the articles I linked above: while we typically oriented singles may find difficulty with our quest to find a spouse, take time to consider the plight of our brothers and sisters who struggle with a far more personal, seemingly impossible conflict. While we are out there in the dating world, facing frustration from not finding the "right one," they face an inner battle that is counter intuitive to the halachically and hashkafically normative drive to even desire finding that "right one."
I definitely don't have any answers... nor can I claim to. Hopefully everything will be resolved when Eliyahu HaNavi arrives as the harbinger of Moshiach ben Dovid to announce the good news and set everything that troubles us aright. May that day be soon!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
A friend of mine came up with an easy solution that only requires a few minutes and a permanent marker.
Voila! I think it kind of looks like the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt"l (no offense to any Chabad readers intended). Also, for those who think that the modern Santa Claus was invented by Coke, apparently it isn't really true.
Friday, December 18, 2009
No, this isn’t a post about tzniyus and wearing modest attire, which I am sure was the first thought that came to your mind. Rather, I’m being quite literal.
In basically every single sitcom known to mankind that features a young protagonist (usually in their teens or early 20’s), there will always be one particular episode with the exact same plot. Namely, our hero or heroine wakes up the morning of a highly anticipated date, and discover to his or her horror, that they have developed a pimple in some noticeable location on their face (such as the nose or forehead) overnight. He or she will of course freak out ad nauseum, and friends and family all offer advice of different sorts to conceal or heal the unacceptable blemish, often with hilarious results.
In the real world, however, most typical human beings don’t have perfectly clear skin like the famous TV stars do, and facial blemishes are a fact of everyday life.
I remember that back in my high school days, while attending NCSY Shabbatons, eating a meal at a family friend’s house, or any other social situation that involved being around girls close to my own age, that I was very self conscious of my complexion. Even though I was nowhere near the stage of life when I would begin to date, the mere fact of being in the presence of females made me anxious about what I presumed was their fickle nature regarding minor skin imperfections.
Whether or not middle and high school aged girls really are that finicky about someone’s facial skin was irrelevant then (since I didn’t want a girlfriend based on hashkafic principle of “what’s the point, if you’re shomer negiah and aren’t thinking about marriage?), and more irrelevant now, since dating such young girls is a sick concept that no normal man should think about. My point is that this Hollywood created notion negatively impacted my view of the clarity of my own facial appearance.
The problem is: this fictional perspective still bothers me now – when I am actually dating. I don’t really have what I would classify as “bad skin,” which would entail a constant presence of many pimples spread across various parts of my face. I do, however (like most normal people) get the occasional blemish or two here and there. I then wonder if this will impact my date’s assessment of my general appearance. Do I really lose points on the physical attractiveness scale because of a pimple here or there?
This often makes me grateful of the fact that dates, at least in the beginning of a shidduch, are spaced a week apart. This means that if I, to my personal horror, discover a pimple, I at least have some time to properly medicate it/allow the skin to heal enough to no longer tarnish my complexion. Or, for example, that the blemish appears on my upper forehead, near the hairline, where I am able to fiddle with my hair a bit to conceal the discoloration.
However, my rational side makes me think I’m being unnecessarily paranoid about this. I have friends who, unfortunately, do not ever seem to have totally clear skin. Yet, they go on dates; some have steady girlfriends, while others have gotten engaged and are happily married. So what’s my problem? Am I the only one scarred by this sitcom stereotype? Is there anything to really be concerned about?
Comments from female readers are most appreciated.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Recently, (within the last week or so) there has been some anonymous person leaving spam related comments on a large number of my posts. I have removed them and changed the settings which now let me approve if a comment is in fact added or not. I think this is an annoying necessity, but it's also very bothersome to have to go through the posts and delete these advertising related comments one-by-one. So I apologize for the added procedure, and I am figuring out ways to avoid attracting such attention in the future.
Thank you for your consideration and cooperation.
Shades of Grey
P.S. Please do continue to comment, and certainly let me know if this new commenting process is overly frustrating.
For the most part, I think everyone, excluding the stark raving anti-TV/movie types, or anyone simply sheltered enough from the world who might say "vus es D-V-D?" has had some exposure to the popular culture around us, in some form or another. Continuing along that train of thought, most people probably have an interest in a specific TV show, movie, book series, musical artist, sports team or something of that nature. I would also venture to presume that some, though maybe not all, people have a very vested interest in one of these bits of entertainment that is very dear to their heart.
But where does one draw the line between, "Oh that's cute, I can live with that," and "When are you going to grow up already?"
In other words: with regard to a shidduch candidate, when is an interest in an element of pop culture "permissible," and when does it become too much to bear?
Disclaimer: The examples I'm going to use do not necessarily reflect any personal interest of mine, but are rather things I am aware of, to one degree or another, in the great big world of pop culture. So don't point at me and ask where my pocket protector is or what color my suspenders are - especially since I own neither. Also, as much as I may attempt to keep this as gender neutral as possible, I will probably speak more about the guy than the girl, and will use male pronouns, since guys seem (from my perspective) to have more of an issue with this than the girls do.
Let's start with a stark contrast. What's the difference between someone who is devoted to a more mainstream TV series like "Lost" and someone who is an X-Files devotee? Both are fairly popular among the masses, but if your shidduch prospect believes "The Truth Is Out There" as a fundamental personal aphorism - is that a stigma on his/her head?
A lot of people have a hobby to collect an item of some sort. What's the distinction between your crazy aunt Ethel who collects salt and pepper shakers of all different variations and a potential shidduch who has a few shelves full of Transformers robot action figures?
It would seem to me that most people would brush off tanta Ethel as having an odd, but respectable hobby, whereas the shidduch prospect would be castigated as never having graduated the 5th grade.
But is it right to do that? If the guy goes to minyan three times a day without fail, has a set, regular chevrusa, dresses and acts like a mentsch, is observant of every aspect of halacha in a serious fashion, but is a "Lord of the Rings" fanatic - which includes the movie-authentic Elven armor that he made and wears to the occasional comic convention - does he then have a pgam (blemish) against him?
A lot of people often have some sort of novelty toy or little pop-icon tsochke sitting on their desk at work (or home). The "typical" person has something like a little squishy stress relief ball with some inspiring catchphrase scrawled on it. Would it make a difference if he had a Power Ranger action figure instead? What if he had two or three different action figures on his desk/shelf?
What if he's into comic books? Some may say, "that's kind of cool, I like Bat-Man too. After all, The Dark Knight was a great film!" But what if he has 800 individual issues of DC comics bagged and stored in boxes his attic that he has been collecting since he was 11 and never stopped?
I have a friend who is a HUGE comic book fanatic. Aside from a collection of comic books of a size that I can't even begin to guesstimate, he actually interned at Marvel Comics as a script editor for a summer job. Even post Shana Bet, he had a small book shelf in his dorm room that held trade paperback collections of his favorite story arcs from Spider-Man and other series. He also has an incredible passionate spiritual side, is very talented in learning, gives an amazing shiur, and happens to be happily married to a someone, who I am fairly certain, has probably never read an issue of Captain America in her life. So how did he manage that?
If you happen to okay with someone who can recite Weird Al Yankovic's "The Sage Begins" by heart, when is such geekdom considered too much? Let's say that every year for Purim he creates a fantastically detailed costume from one of the Star Trek series. Is it then okay for him to regularly attend Trekkie conventions? Assuming you come to really like the guy, would you ever accompany him to such an event? Perhaps even wear (egad!) a costume with him? Even if you wouldn't go that far, would you let him go off with his best buddy to experience the geek-fest together - or is the whole premise enough to make your skin crawl?
Is there a tolerable level of fanboy-ness, and is that tolerance based on what the interest is? In think there are different areas of pop culture/fandom that have become mainstream "guy stuff" enough to be written off without a second thought. I my view, the gold standard of such female-to-male toleration is the ever popular realm of sports. The typical guy has his team (or teams), and heaven help you if he misses a game, especially if they made it to the play-offs or championship. From my own experience, even wives/significant others who don't even have a passing interest in football will join in on the excitement of a Superbowl party.
Why is this guy's "obsession" any more readily acceptable than say, a guy who is an "otaku" - and is really into Japanese comics and cartoons (AKA Anime and Manga). A show like "Naruto Shippuden" has a storyline more compelling, characters far more engrossing, cerebral thematic elements, moral lessens, cinematic value and high-level action that outshines most every mainstream American live-action (meaning human actors as opposed to animated) show on TV. Yet, the typical shidduch dater would dismiss a guy who enjoyed that show as being immature for watching "cartoons." Someone who watches "Family Guy" or "The Simpsons" is probably okay for the most part, whereas our anime-loving example guy would be pushed aside as having childish interests. Those two shows feature far more offensive and downright unfunny/juvenile humor, so why are they acceptable? There is a clear difference between American children's cartoons and the far more stimulating and interesting Japanese Anime that are out there (presuming he stays away from any shows with inappropriate/untzniyus content).
There are also areas that seem to be changing and evolving to become more female friendly, yet still retaining its essential "guy thing" nature. Case in point: video games. I don't think the typical girl "in the parsha" would think that a guy who spends hours plopped on the couch in front of an XBOX 360 blasting his friends to pieces in Halo is a suitable marriage candidate. But what if his console of choice was the Nintento Wii, which has revolutionized how people of all ages approach video games? No longer is the typical video gamer the 14-30 year-old male - females of all ages (even grandmothers) are getting into the Wii-craze.
I actually had a date once at a now defunct arcade-type place where you could rent video game systems by the hour. We rented a Wii and played the Wii Sports game, which has a number of different sporting events that are controlled by the ever-nifty Wii-mote. While I was better at baseball and bowling, she annihilated me in boxing. Yes, BOXING. We had a blast, and I wish the venue was still open so that I could take other dates there.
So are video games totally taboo anymore?
I presume that most serious YU guys have very little time for consistent, prolonged gaming (unless they either don't take their learning seriously, or their secular studies, or both). Just as a reminder, I am also not referring to the yeshivish guys who sit in the beis medrish 24/7. But is it so wrong if he has an occasional gaming session, especially if he's being social and playing against/with a friend or two?
What if he retains an active interest in some pop culture element from his childhood, say "Fraggle Rock," or "GI Joe?" Is it wrong to still find "The Muppets"charmingly hilarious even after passing the two decade mark into the adult world?
Serious bonus points to anyone who recognizes/can name most of/all the characters that appear in the above Muppet video.
What about all the people who are "Harry Potter" fanatics? Or the current fad, the Twilight series of books and movies (which admittedly have a heckuva lot less tzniyus content than the "snogging" of the Potter novels). I think the pop culture thing can work both ways, since I tend to find that girls are more interested in these two series than guys. I don't think I have a right to be judgmental about a potential shidduch who happens to be in love with reading each new "Twilight" release (objectionable content aside).
I know there are girls out there that have mutual interests in these areas, as commenter Moshe on Bad For Shidduchim has mentioned that his own wife shares similar "geeky" interests. Yosef, another commenter there, has a wife who indulges his more guy-type pop culture interests (Star Wars), while they reach a mid-point of sorts and "bond" over things such as "Harry Potter" and The Princess Bride.
So I guess there is hope out there for us slightly geekier (or fully geekified) guys out there. Now I just need to find my own princess whom I can call "your worshipfullness."
Sunday, December 13, 2009
In the meantime, enjoy this post by yubchur on ShidduchDater about Facebook shidduchim/dating research etiquette (yes, I realize it's from Thanksgiving, but I just found it). I think he's pretty much on target.
I will hopefully have something new posted in the coming week. Until then, have a Lichtegen, Freilechen Chanukah!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
A series of remarks by commenter The Apple has inspired me to write a post about what I refer to as the “happiest break up” of my dating career.
I had been going out with this person for several months, and by all accounts things were going great. We matched well on paper, we matched well in person with regard to hashkafos and religious level, and we were getting along fine. However, there was one point of disconnect – and I mean that literally, a disconnection. We gradually found ourselves unable to continue conversation. It seemed as though we ran out of things to say.
We had definitely established a close connection and had shared enough experiences and information with one another to form well-developed opinions about the other person. I could easily see that she embodied most everything that I could want in a wife. But, it seemed like we had hit a wall. It simply felt as though no further progression was possible. This was a very perplexing feeling, to put it mildly.
One could theorize that there was an issue with the hotly debated, vague concept of “chemistry.” I know I definitely felt chemistry with this person, especially during the earlier part of the dating process. I always looked forward to the time we planned to spend together. There was no question of lack of attraction. Additionally, there were no major red flags about her personally, or her background/family. Everything seemed to fit so well.
So what was the issue?
As best as I can tell, we just weren’t meant for one another. At the end of our last date, she pulled me aside when we arrived back at her apartment before she went inside. It was time for a “where do we go from here” conversation. I’m not sure if it was out of courtesy, or because she could tell we were of like mind about the relationship, and wanted me, as the guy to say it. She posed the question and asked my opinion first. I mentioned all the things I wrote above; that in short, I thought we fit very well together, but for some intangible reason didn’t see us going any further. She then affirmed that she felt the same way as well. So we thanked each other for the experience, wished one another hatzlacha in future dating ventures, and I went on my merry way.
This was totally unlike a different in-person break up scenario where after several months the girl sprung her rejection on me the moment I arrived (having travelled all the way downtown) without giving any reasons. I was caught entirely off guard and had no idea what to say, and was a bit distraught for a few days following that final meeting. After much thought and speaking with a sgan mashgiach, I was able to figure out my feelings. I even called her in an attempted reconciliation of sorts, but she wouldn’t hear any of it. All in all, that was not the most pleasant experience, but a necessary and educational one. As Rav Goldvicht says, if she says no, it just means she doesn’t like you and that’s that.
In this case, I walked away humming a happy tune and smiling to myself. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t going to end up marrying such a great person. However, it also would have been equally unfortunate to force a relationship to trudge onward without a fruitful end in sight. I’ve never been in such a good mood post-break up before or since.
In fact, I modified my personal tefillah regarding the potential success of whatever ongoing shidduch I am involved with. The older version was something to the effect of: if she and I are truly meant for one another, can accept one another’s positive and negative points wholeheartedly, etc, that we should continue to grow closer and develop ourselves as a unit toward marriage; and if not, that we should go our separate ways and find our proper spouses, whomever they may be.
The updated version retains the first, positive half, but now the latter half goes something like this: if she and I are not meant for one another, we should still grow and benefit from this relationship (it wasn’t for naught that we went out after all), and when things end, we should part amicably and find success in meeting and marrying our true intended spouses.
Instead of finding the conclusion of that relationship as yet another “setback” in the ongoing journey to find my future wife, I was very inspired by the positive experience. She was also the first, and thus far, only ex-shidduch to ever suggest another person to me, and I still maintain a very high opinion of her.
We should all be zoche to have such happy break ups and recognize them for what they are – not as crushing events that depress us – but as one step closer to finding the real “right” person.
Monday, December 7, 2009
On occasion, I come across one sock that has properly gone through the dryer cycle (IE warm and appropriately dehydrated), and when I happen to find its shidduch shortly thereafter, it still has some moisture left (usually in the toe/sole area).
This would seem to parallel the sometimes occurrence of the suggested couple who are very well made for one another, and all indicators point to a happy, long life together - with the small exception that one of them just isn't quite ready yet.
The damp sock is hung out to dry, or thrown back in for another cycle, and not too long thereafter they're ready to be rolled up and placed in the sock drawer.
So too, once things line up just right, and the obstacle/hindrance is removed or resolved (whatever it was), the couple can finally get a move onto the start of their matrimonial journey together.
I've seen this happen to a relative of mine, and heard stories from others as well. So cheer up, it might just not be the right time just yet for that certain someone you've been keeping an eye on. Take the chance to work on your middah of patience, and hopefully it will all work out for the best.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I remember participating in an interesting conversation while sitting at the Shabbos lunch table of some family friends a few years ago. The subject of discussion was the daughter of our host, and her plight of not being allowed to return to study in Israel for Shana Bet. Her father was insistent that she begin her college education, and that she had spent enough time focusing on Jewish studies (high school plus Shana Aleph). She was pleading that she could, in fact, attend Touro in Israel and start her college career in the Holy Land. This however, would lead to complications of finding an apartment along with a roommate (or two) to share the rental cost - unlike the previous year where she resided in her seminary dorms.
Another guest at the table remarked, with a twinkle in his eye, that all she had to do to solve her problem would be to find a nice male roommate to share the apartment with her. The comment went over my head, particularly because I wasn't yet dating at the time. I sat there, quite confused, trying to figure out why this frum man would suggest something so scandalous. Then it hit me - he was suggesting she find herself a nice Jewish boy to settle down with.
Insert forehead smack here.
I feel as though I have learned a lot from the roommates I've had over the years that could be/will be relevant in married life. True, I've never had a female roommate before, but living in close quarters with anyone can teach you a thing or two about being courteous, respectful of privacy, and in general being considerate for the other person. You become aware of behavior that you would usually assume is normal and acceptable, but in reality can actually get on a person's nerves and/or offend them. This is especially true, given the vast divide between acceptable male behavior vs. acceptable female behavior (and the fact that we simply don't understand each other at any rate, coming from two very different perspectives). So while I may not be privileged to have insider knowledge on how to live peacefully with a female roommate yet, I can share some experiences I've had that I have found educationally beneficial.
One roommate I had was very meticulous about keeping the room clean, neat and tidy. While I am not the messiest person in the world, I tend to keep my belongings in a fairly organized, slightly disordered fashion. The particular thing that most impressed me was the fact that every Friday/Thursday night, before he went home for Shabbos, he would make sure to empty our trashcan and make his bed. He wasn’t just taking care of a necessary chore, he sanctified that mundane activity into a preparation for the holy Shabbos. That really opened my eyes to the ability to perceive kedusha in everyday life. While I still often fail to make my own bed on Fridays before the onset of Shabbos, I have adopted his practice of clearing out the garbage from my room. It definitely adds to the feel of getting ready to experience the holiest day of the week.
A later roommate made a remark (after several months of sharing the dorm room) that he wondered how our often-full-as-of-Thursday-night garbage bin became "magically" empty when he returned from his Shabbos outings. I informed him that there was nothing even vaguely supernatural about the weekly occurrence and that I had been the one making sure it was taken care of. It happened to be that the garbage was rather full at that moment and he had just topped it in a precarious fashion. After an awkward pause, he finally got the hint and proceeded to empty it himself.
We see from here the importance of recognizing the little things that people (roommates/spouses) do for us. I remember reading somewhere that husbands (most often) fail to realize how many seemingly small things their wives do for them on a regular basis. One example it mentioned was the amount of time she puts into doing his laundry, especially his socks. Aside from washing and drying the socks, very often you have to flip them from being inside out before you fold/roll them. The author mentioned the frustration often felt by a wife from having to repeatedly flip every single sock before folding them. Imagine the difference it makes when a person (you/husband/whoever) simply takes a few seconds to make sure that the socks are oriented the right way when you take them off before throwing them into the clothing hamper. Viewing things from the other person’s perspective, this small change in your daily undressing routine makes them sense that you truly do appreciate all the effort they expend for you.
I figured out that I had been inflicting this annoyance on myself ever since I started doing my own laundry. After reading this article, I made sure to remove my socks so that they didn’t become inverted – and it made such a difference in my laundry processing. So I can verify that this little bit of consideration does work. The basic point is to be aware of even the little things a spouse does for you, and to show gratitude and help out in whatever way you can – even small efforts can be meaningful.
One big area of consideration I have encountered is sleeping habits. I’ve had roommates who had very different sleep schedules. One roommate, who regularly stayed up later than me doing work, actually repositioned his desk so that the lamp wouldn’t shine in my direction while I slept. That evoked great feelings of appreciation within me. The fact that he was sensitive enough to make sure that his own independent activities didn’t impinge upon me was a testament to his character and attentiveness toward those around him.
I had a similar experience where a roommate went to bed much earlier than me, and was also very easily disturbed by noises in the room. I then had to learn how to do things like brushing my teeth putting on my pajamas, and even getting into/positioning myself in bed as quietly as possible so as not to disturb him. True, it was very hard at times to be so silent (especially on the occasion where I accidentally dropped something), but it certainly trained me to be more aware of my roommates personal needs. I don’t think I could live like that for the rest of my life, but it was a valuable educational experience in developing sensitivity.
On the other side of the equation, I’ve had roommates who were very inconsiderate on a regular basis.
Being a guy, I know that there are certain things we take for granted as typical modus operandi, for example: belching. We don’t think it’s such a big deal, especially when we’re younger and think the expulsion of built up gases from our digestive system is hilarious. But, boys do grow into men, and there has to be a certain “legislation” of sorts that regulates this kind of behavior. As an adult, you make an attempt not to publicly show off and belt one out, particularly if you find yourself in mixed company. When you DO happen to belch, you should say “excuse me.”
As a side note, this is most awkward on dates. However, between stifling the developing urge, contorting my mouth to reduce noise level, covering my lower face, and promptly excusing myself without fanfare – I’ve never had any issues or reports from the shadchan that she doesn’t want a second date because of my inappropriate behavior.
Yet, I’ve had a roommate who, as a manner of daily practice, drank soda from the large 3-liter bottles (which is another disturbing point – who DOES that!?) and after noisily slurping several gulps, proceeded to belch loudly without a second thought and without excusing himself. In actuality, he did this multiple times over the course of each single soda chugging session. There was no need to do this at all! I would like to hope that most people can consume a beverage without basically announcing each effort to put the liquid in his mouth and declare his personal satisfaction afterward with unnecessary bodily noises. Do I sometimes belch after drinking soda? Certainly – but not every single time I take a sip!
Other offensive behaviors that I have observed include: eating very noisy/crunchy snacks while chewing with their mouth open when I was trying to study in relative quiet, clipping their nails all over the room (instead of, say, over a trashcan, as I do, to collect the cut nail fragments – aside from any halachic ramifications), maintaining a growing pile of garbage strewn about their part of the room (which encroached on my side of the room as well), and watching movies late into the night on their laptop (with and without headphones), loudly laughing as I attempted to sleep. In all instances, I made an attempt to ask them nicely to refrain from/curtail this behavior and was mostly ignored in response.
I’m not writing this list of previous grievances of past roommates just to air “dirty laundry,” but to make a point. I had never been on the receiving end of these sorts of insensitive behavior before I found myself in these close-quarter living situations. Now I can imagine what it is like when the female members of my family recoil in disgust at my occasional belch at the dinner table, as well as the general female perspective that men can be gross, obnoxious, and unaware of/callous toward others’ needs and feelings. I found these experiences to be profoundly educational in ways that I would never have encountered in any other situation. When you are stuck living with such troublesome conditions day in and day out, it really makes you consider your own habits. I don’t think it is so typical that all guys respond to these behaviors in the negative fashion that I did, but I feel that from my perspective, it was worth being exposed to these circumstances to enhance my own degree of sensitivity toward others – and hopefully my future wife.
Another important lesson I’ve learned from my roommates is learning to understand/tolerate/get along with others of very different hashkafic perspectives. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m usually pretty open to hearing out diverse viewpoints and not restricting myself to one particular standpoint. So it sometimes rubs me the wrong way when someone holds to a specific hashkafic view in a very dogmatic fashion, expressing intolerance of others or looking down on people who have a certain hashkafa. I have attempted to reason with some of these people (and it isn’t just one hashkafic brand that does this), and point out that every group has their positive element in addition to their drawbacks – no one is perfect after all. Sometimes that works, and in others I simply give up trying to discuss anything of a hashkafic nature with them, which can become difficult and somewhat alienating.
I once took a bio-ethics course with Rav Dr. Tendler here at YU. Rav Dr. Tendler is known for his strong opinions, so I was fascinated when he began the course by stating a “rule” of sorts regarding why it is important to understand other perspectives (here he was referring to biological/medical ethical issues). He said that even if we know that the other person is utterly wrong, the mere fact that a thinking, intelligent person believes it to be true requires us to do our best to understand what they’re thinking and why.
Aside from the importance of this advice when debating nuanced/controversial topics in bio-ethics, I think this was a great point for life in general and for marriage in particular. People really have a hard time understanding one another – most often because they have their view firmly entrenched in their mind and won’t see the issue in any other way. Clearly, this is not a good approach for establishing harmonious relationships. The whole “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” may not always work (from my experience), because unless you are literally in their position (which I mentioned with regard to the role-reversal from my bad roommate experiences) it’s hard to visualize how they see things. Instead, be open to what they have to say and make a concentrated effort to listen and comprehend the “what” and “why” of their viewpoint.
I have had success implementing this in some cases, where I just stopped trying to continue the ongoing tension between the roommate and I and forced myself to pay attention to them more. One roommate, who I was initially totally at odds with, eventually became a close friend over the duration of time we shared our room. I can’t guarantee success (as I mentioned above, I myself have had experiences which could not be resolved), but it is certainly worth a shot.
These types of interactions are incredibly important to have now, as a single person, because you’re allowed room for error and the chance to improve your technique. The worst case scenario here is that you’ll find another roommate. Clearly, if one is properly invested in the idea of a permanent marriage – as opposed to today’s societal “normality” of higher than 50% divorce rate – you can’t simply give up and get yourself a new “roommate.” Think of this time as an opportunity or trial-run of sorts. Granted that marriage to, and living with, someone of the opposite gender is an entirely different ballgame, but we all have the obligation to do the utmost we can to be prepared for married life. Singlehood isn’t meant to be simply a time of moping around from loneliness, frantically running from date to date, and hoping to find the right one – we have to be proactive in bettering ourselves as well.
In the end, we all have to learn to live with some elements in a spouse that aren’t exactly identical to the ideal image we have created in our minds. Some things will never change in a person, while others can and will improve with time, sensitive encouragement (not by demanding or issuing ultimatums), and each person’s own desire to please the one they love. It is up to us to determine what our limits are in these areas (while trying our best to be open-minded) and find the right person for us. I think everyone should look at their roommate experiences (past and present) as a source of inspiration for self introspection that will hopefully prove to be of great benefit in their future married lives.