Friday, February 5, 2010

Minimizing Differences In Dating

A date once remarked to me that she felt a bit left out of the general shidduchim scene because she had gone to Touro, and thus had no real connection to get set up with YU guys. Her father attended YU a number of years ago, and she had an older sister who went to Stern, but neither could provide any real contacts to get her “in” the system of the YU dating world.

She mentioned that a bunch of her fellow Touro classmates felt similarly, and that it was a bit frustrating since they saw themselves as looking for guys more akin to those found at YU than at Touro/Landers. The Touro-branded gender-separated schools also lack the frequency of contact that YU and Stern have, so the opportunities for inter-campus dating didn’t really exist for her either.

Thinking back on my own dating experience, I realize that the majority of girls I’ve gone out with did, in fact, attend Stern. Those that didn’t (and there were a few) ended up as somewhat short-lived matches, lasting no longer than 2 dates. While those shidduchim were ended for various other reasons (by me or the girl, depending on the case), I wonder to what degree the difference in educational background played a part in the termination of the shidduch.

The saying goes that opposites attract. However, for most people, I don’t think this is true at all. People are most comfortable around others similar to themselves, and often develop relationships (friendship or otherwise) with different individuals based on a shared experience that then unifies them into a similar experiential subset – such as classmates or HASC/NCSY advisors.

I know from my own experience that I’ve had some difficulty becoming friends with guys who went to Gush. I don’t mean this as an insult in any way to their yeshiva or hashkafa, since I find many things to respect and admire in their approach, just as I do with most every halachically observant group out there. However, there has always been some undermining factor that created friction between me and the Gush alumni. With one particular friend, who I have known for a number of years, dating back to before either of us went to Israel (he went to Gush), I find almost impossible to have a normal, casual conversation with. I don’t think he’s an argumentative instigator of any sort, but we almost always end up verbally tussling over issues such as the existence of platonic relationships (which is another topic for another post and not up for discussion now). Despite all this, I still value him as a friend, and he often has very sharp, extremely intelligent things to say which I find very thought-provoking.

More recently though, I’ve begun to become friends with guys from Gush and other yeshivos as more primary friends than those from my own yeshiva, as has been the trend in the past. This development could be out of necessity from the fact that almost all the guys from my year in Israel at my yeshiva have graduated or gotten married and moved away. A more likely possibility, in my opinion, is that we have gone through the YU educational system and thus our cliquey behavior from post Shana Aleph/Bet has been broken down in favor of a more unified relationship stemming from our new identities as YU students. Sure, we still have strong loyalties toward our alma maters, but YU has become a new home of sorts, a new united yeshiva where we all have our unique niche among the overall Torah Umadda commonality that binds us together.

In the realm of dating, I tend to find that I very often have more in common with girls who go/went to Stern, since there is a very shared history between us, somewhat akin (though different in nuanced ways) to the idea in the previous paragraph. Even though we usually have never met before, we have a mutual educational history. Being able to engage in the ‘hock’ about goings on in the YU world is always a fun topic for the first date or two, and that basic connection is entirely lost when I’m going out with someone who has no connection to YU.

I have noticed a similar thing with regard to girls who went to Israel vs. those that did not (for whatever reason). I admittedly have gone out with very few girls who chose not to attend a seminary for the year, and it always feels like there is this huge chunk of connecting fabric that is utterly missing. We can’t trade stories about the craziness we experienced living in Israeli society or other adventures we took part in – all of which is usually perfect fodder for the first few dates when all you really do is play Jewish geography and compare/contrast the year(s) spent in Israel before college. The less than handful of times that I’ve been on dates with someone who went straight to Stern I end up feeling bad because I find myself going on and on about my Israel yeshiva days, and realize that I’m basically having a one-sided conversation because she can’t participate in a proper give-and-take in this area. Many girls are also a bit (or more than a bit) sensitive about this aspect of their educational record, and that can make things difficult as well.

Another similarly relevant point is the in/out-of-towner status. As an out-of-towner, I was initially encouraged by my rabbeim to only go out with girls that were also out-of-towners, simply because it meant we would have a common background that would potentially help produce mutually feelings about lifestyle and hashkafa. Being from out-of-town has a real profound influence on how a person views the world – I still can’t see myself ever living in New York on any permanent basis. I love YU, but I can’t stand New York. At first, I only went out with girls from hometowns similar to my own – which was probably more coincidence than absolute intention, since the candidates that married friends and their wives thought of always happened to be of that particular background.

Then, after a dry spell of not receiving any suggestions from my helpful and caring friends, I started using YU Connects and ended up dating several "local" girls. All were fairly unproductive, lasting no more than 3 dates (with refusals coming from both sides at different times). That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m entirely incompatible with in-towners, and in fact many probably wouldn’t mind living somewhere a little bit warmer and with a slower pace of life. So while I don’t outrightly turn down any girls from the Tri-State area anymore, I do make sure to inquire to see what their mindset is about at least the possibility of leaving somewhere very out-of-town. As a result, I’ve met some very great girls, and have also rejected profiles sent to me (via YU Connects) of people whose mantra is “New York or Israel.”

As an aside, take notice that New York is dead last in the CDC’s survey of the nation’s happiest states, while New Jersey is 47th.

The last major point of comparison/contrast I find is the ba’al teshuva (BT) vs. frum from birth (FFB) interaction/disconnection. I will proudly admit I am a ba’al teshuva, dating back to my early high school days. I, along with my family, have gone through a lot of growth in the last decade since I’ve become religious. The experience of becoming frum can be very tumultuous, resulting in tense/argumentative relationships with parents and siblings, a ton of self-doubt about the entire process, and at worst can ostracize parents and their children. Thank G-d, the rougher times of conflicted interactions between my parents and I have long past and we are on extremely good terms wherein they recognize and appreciate the value of being religious (and have made great strides in that direction as well, to follow their children). If anything, our relationship is far stronger than it was before this religious journey began. But not every BT’s story is the same. Some never regain a positive relationship with their parents, and some maintain a very tentative “walking on pins and needles” connection to their mother and father (certainly a sad situation).

Oddly enough, I’ve only gone out with 2 ba’alei teshuva. One became frum along with her family at a very young age, so for all intents and purposes, she was no different from any FFB I’ve gone out with. The other had a situation similar to mine, but only her mother became more religious and not her father, so her parent-child relationship, though generally positive, is far from perfect in many ways (as are all of our parent-children relationships, though this adds an extra kink into the mix). Though we had similar basic stories in how we became frum (NCSY, rabbinic mentor, religious friends) our overall experiences, and the perspectives we developed were markedly different. That was the only “one-and-done” shidduch that was entirely mutual. She is a great person, and I very much admire her inner strength and tenacity for becoming religious in an admittedly difficult situation that I could really relate to, but we were on very different wavelengths.

I had thought that the mutual ba’al teshuva background would be a ripe source for finding connections between us. There are a great number of shared experiences that BT have had in their past which FFB’s will hopefully never encounter (this is also not up for discussion now, and could easily fill a post or two) which we draw strength from and have helped mold our often very unique perspectives on life and Judaism. I have always thought that the Gemara in Brachos (daf 34B) is an example of this principle. The Gemara there talks about the place where ba’alei teshuva stand in shomayim is a location that even tzadikim gemurim can never reach. Ba’alei teshuva who utilize their past, incorporating all the things they learned and were exposed to fashion a very distinctive pathway in Avodas HaShem. This includes the positive elements as well as beneficial points which can always be extracted from even the most negative situations.

So while BTs can have somewhat similar backgrounds (sometimes VERY similar) there can also be very disparate experiences that just don’t mesh. The conversation we had over the course of the entire date felt as though we were just talking past one another. We simply couldn’t properly grasp, or agree with the other’s views on lifestyle, interactions/relationships with gentiles, frumkite, and other things BTs struggle to define for themselves.

As ironic as it sounds, and especially because I certainly don’t have a right to be particular about the issue of dating fellow BTs, (since that is entirely hypocritical) I would honestly prefer someone with a FFB background. I love my parents and extended family to no end, and I don’t have any halachic issues with them anymore, but I like the idea of being part of another family that is far more grounded a knowledgeable about the finer details of halachic observance. Like I said, I can’t demand to only date girls with a FFB background, but this is something I think about a lot.

Lastly, there was an idea that I remember reading from Rav Aharon Feldman’s The River, The Kettle, and The Bird (which is FANTASTIC, by the way, and a must read for everyone engaged, married, or especially single – so you can work on the points of mussar he mentions NOW rather than waiting to improve yourself during marriage) or from my personal Rav (or it could be another source). In any case, the particular rabbinical figure said that whenever he meets with newly engaged couples for pre-marital counseling and guidance, he always has them sit down together in his office and starts off by relaying the same message. He turns to the guy and tells him “Your soon-to-be wife is a female,” then turns to the girl and says “Your soon-to-be husband is a male.” He does this to drive the point home that people often have unrealistic expectations about their spouse. Simply because this very special individual is someone you have committed to spending the rest of your life with, and hopefully your absolute best friend, doesn’t mean that he/she is also going to be the best equivalent of your male/female friends.

I recall hearing from another source that commented on the above mentioned catechism (“opposites attract”) that those who are looking for opposites have enough to deal with already since males and females are inherently different enough – why worry about other things like drastically different backgrounds, nationalities, family lifestyles, etc?

In any event, I know of at least one YU-Touro couple who are very happily married. My YU friend’s Touro-educated wife has acclimated quite well to the YU environment, and now she fits right in. I do think any specific differences of the sort I’ve written about in this post are by any means major red flags or deal breakers, but they are definitely something to consider.


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  2. Opposites attract but, similar is forever. However, I think a certain amount of differences might be inevitable. Maybe you should try converts, unless you're a kohain.

  3. When people say "opposites attract" they mean personality-wise, as in, my husband's mellowness levels out my sometimes-dramaness. Similar hashkafic backgrounds are usually a better idea, as people do feel more comfortable with spouses that have similar childhoods and second-nature religious assumptions.

    Secondly, I don't know if this is totally inappropriate, but I've been reading your blog for awhile and I have a friend who I think you would really like. I completely understand if you want to preserve your anonymity, but if you're interested, reply to this comment with an email I can contact you at.

  4. Bored Jewish Guy - everyone's experiences (and hangups) are different - and it may be better not to be particular in these areas, depending on the person.

    Michaltastik - While not a Kohen, I've never tried deliberately to date or not to date converts. I usually take whatever suggestions are given to me, evaluate what seems to fit best, and go with that. I wouldn't be against the idea, given a suitable candidate. The issue I mentioned regarding my desire to really want to fit into a more halachically knowledgeable family of in-laws would still come into play in my mind. That isn't a bias (if you could call it that) against converts specifically, but anyone who's parents aren't so observant. Certainly the person herself is the most important thing, but based on my close-knit extended family, family is very important to me as well.

    Ariella - I didn't even think about that (even if I probably should have). It makes a lot of sense from what I've learned and read, particularly with regard to the ideal of both spouses working toward a unified, middle ground between their two perspectives.

    Second - I had a feeling something like this would come up at some point in writing this blog :-) Regarding contacting me - there is an email address at the bottom of the side bar on the upper-right (I guess it's not so visible). I would rather continue this conversation in private and not here - so I can be reached at shadesofgreyjblog (at) gmail (dot) com

  5. Hey! I'll send you an email in the morning. :)

    Anyway, this is a SUPER IMPORTANT point, expanding on what I said before. Let me try to be clear.

    My husband's rebbe from his yeshiva told him, when he started dating, "I want you to marry the daughter of a talmid chacham, but who also is "out there" in the secular world." My husband is the son of a prominent rabbi in an out of town community. Now, saying to someone, "I want you to marry the daughter of a Talmid Chacham" sounds extremely old-country. Who says that anymore? My husband and I were actually set up by this rebbe, my father is a rabbi who is very non-traditional, we dated, we got married. Voila.

    Now, when my husband told me what his rebbe said, right after we got engaged, I was confused. Why did it matter if my father was a Talmid Chacham? My husband was going to medical school, not kollel. I didn't got a BY. Nobody cares about "yichus" in the 21st century.

    But a few months ago - after two years of marriage! - I finally got it. And it was BRILLIANT! Incredible. Let me explain.

    What this rebbe meant was this: when people first meet and marry, they want to be the best they can be. Being with another person and starting your life together inspires you, and all those lessons about Torah and families and marriage seem so real and important. If one person is more religious or less religious than the other, it doesn't matter a much, because you are both working towards building the best baayis ne'eman biyisrael.

    But time goes on. People become busy with work, school, children. You don't have time to try and work so hard on your ruchniyus and davening and bentching and learning. And what this rebbe meant - and I still can't get over how brilliant it was - is that YOUR DEFAULT RELIGIOUS LEVELS SHOULD BE SIMILAR. My husband and I both grew up with similar religious backgrounds, and therefore, even when we're not even trying to be the "best Jews we can be", we have a harmonious Torah home we're both comfortable.

    If one of us was a BT and one an FFB, or one Chassishe and the other Litvak, or one YU and one Lakewood, we would have issues - because our "default settings" would be different. I would think he would be an apikores if he forgot to bentch or that he was being crazy-religious for washing his hands after going to the bathroom. All those little nuances you get used to and grow up with - those are what should be similar.

    Sorry this is so long, but you raised the exact issue I just think is so important. And I still can't belive how brilliant my husband's Rebbe is. My husband and I are perfect for each other in a multitude of ways - but this is something the Rebbe was so right to insist on. Simply brilliant.

  6. Long replies are very welcome - and are far more meaningful than the random "great post, keep it up!" comments (although those are also appreciated, since they at least let me know people are reading).

    I look forward to your email.

  7. Another thing you could try is going to Shabbatons for other colleges. Brooklyn, Queens, Baruch and I think Hunter have Shabbatons put out by their Hillels. I go to Brooklyn. I heard the rebbetzin say she wants to mix people in from other schools for the Shabbatons. We just had one, though. The next will probably be at the end of the semester. Also, they do Sushi kiddushes. I mean, don't worry about having something to talk about. Talk about the menu, anything. Right now is great, you can talk about the superbowl ads.

  8. Another thing, a lot of people don't have family and it's not their fault. People unfortunately die. People who have lost most of their family would really want to marry into a family like that. However, it's basically impossible because this is a case where the "haves" have and the "have nots" are left without for not having.

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  10. Michaltastik - I appreciate the ideas.

    Regarding family issues - everyone has something, but it definitely takes a specific kind of guy/girl to be able to sensitively handle someone who has been affected by a family trauma like that. I know someone who was very seriously involved until he found out that a family tragedy basically tore apart the girl's family - and they never recovered. As he learned more about the situation, and discovered that the girl herself had a number of lingering issues, he wisely ended the shidduch. Conversely, I went out with someone who had a younger brother who died tragically, but the family really came together and were that much stronger for their unfortunate experience.

    It really varies person-to-person, but you have to able to accept, tolerate, want to work with the entirety of a family's situation. I don't think it would be healthy to go into a marriage dreading future in-laws or overt family disfunctionality.

  11. Hey - I emailed you on Monday, by the way. Did you get it?

  12. I actually didn't receive anything, I had figured you became busy and were occupied with other things. I think you may have mistyped the email address. Just to clarify it's shadesofgreyjblog(at)gmail(dot)com - just replace the (at) and (dot) with those symbols - @ and .


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