Natan turned the corner and brought his car to a stop in front of Shayna’s house. He managed to park his vehicle just so, such that the passenger side door was positioned directly opposite the end of the walkway. He flipped down his visor-mirror, adjusted the knot of his necktie, and quickly checked to make sure his teeth were clear of debris, though he knew he had brushed them quite thoroughly before he left his apartment. This was his fifth date with Shayna, and they had decided together to drop the shadchan after their last outing. That meant things might be shifting into a more serious direction, the prospects of which were very exciting to Natan.
He got out of the driver’s seat as soon as he saw Shayna’s beautiful face appear in the small window next to the front door. He quickly scurried around the hood of his car and opened the door for her as she made her way down the cobblestone path toward him. Natan turned to Shayna and smile gallantly. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that she clutched a small set of papers in her right hand. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, he gently closed the door behind her, then scuttled around the backside of his car to join her inside.
Natan buckled his seatbelt as soon as he sat down, and was about to put the key into the ignition when he realized that Shayna hadn’t secured her own safety belt. She simply sat there, glancing over the series of papers she held in her lap with both hands.
“Is… is there something wrong?” He raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
“This isn’t going to work out,” Shayna’s tone was steady and firm. Natan was blown away.
“I don’t understand…” his mind grasped for words, but remained largely blank.
“I’m sorry,” her voice filled the awkward silence that stifled them both. After a moment, Natan found the ability to speak.
“Didn’t we just decide that we didn’t need a go-between anymore? Isn’t that usually an indicator that we’re thinking about the relationship in more of a long-term perspective?”
“Yeah, about that…” Shayna rifled through the papers again.
“What?” A slight tinge of frustration crept into his voice. Natan did not want to get angry. He knew that would undermine his attempt to defuse the developing situation.
“Well, the report finally came back, and it was largely negative,” she stated, matter-of-factly.
“Huh?” That did not make sense to Natan. “You waited until now to do research on me? Don’t we always do that kind of thing before anyone even agrees to go on a date in the first place?!”
“This,” she indicated the papers with a slight shake, “is not a background check.”
“Then, pray-tell, what is it?” He dismissively displayed his palm and waggled his fingers.
“A complete analysis of your genome,” Shayna replied.
“Is it now?” Natan thought this was beginning to get a little weird. “May I see that?”
“Sure!” Shayna’s response seemed a little too cheery. She handed him the papers.
Natan glanced over the documents. They consisted of a large series of numbers, a bunch of A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s, several graphs of various kinds (bar, pie chart, and line plots), with several sentences or passages highlighted and annotated throughout.
“I’m not quite sure what all this means… Biology wasn’t my best subject in high school,” his brow furrowed in strained concentration as he tried to make sense of all the symbols before him.
“Actually… this is far beyond anything you would have seen in high school, except for the concept of DNA, perhaps. It’s really simple, though,” Shayna chirped.
“Care to explain it to me?” Natan looked up and met Shayna’s gaze.
“Sure! No problem,” she quickly snatched the papers from him and turned them right-side up. She briefly rearranged the sheets, raised the back of her left hand to her lips and lightly cleared her throat.
“Basically, my father, who as you know is a molecular geneticist, utilized some hair and cell samples we collected from you-”
“You collected samples from me!?” Natan felt violated.
“How else were we going to run a full diagnostic prognostication and characterization of your genetic makeup?” Shayna crossed her arms. “My father needed some source of your DNA to perform the required analyses.”
“When did that happen!?” Natan was beginning to feel overwhelmed. “Did you stick me with a needle when I wasn’t looking and take blood or something?”
“No, no, no. That would be too obvious, not to mention an infringement of your personal wellbeing.”
“So how did you get my DNA, then?”
“First, we gathered some leftover cheek cells off the cup you drank from before I came downstairs for our first date. Then, I discreetly picked up a few loose hairs from your car on the ride home that night.” Shayna pushes a few loose locks of her dark blonde hair behind her ear. “After I turned the samples over to my father, he spent the last two weeks running tests in his lab at work...”
“…and the results just came back today. As it turns out, you and I would never really work out.” She pointed to a bar graph, “For example-”
“Wait-a-minute, we already did Dor Yeshorim and were given the go ahead! So what is all this?” Natan exclaimed, his patience wearing thin.
“It’s not that we aren’t genetically compatible per se, it’s just that you aren’t what I’m looking for in a lifelong marital partner.”
“How can you tell that from my genes? I thought we were getting along pretty well so far, and you must have liked my hashkafot and personality at least a little bit, right?” From Shayna’s uneasy facial contortion, it seemed to Natan that had he struck a nerve.
“Well…” She squirmed in her seat. “I do like you... But-”
“‘But’ what?” He inquired.
“I just don’t want to be a widow for 20 years,” she blurted out. “Among other things, that is.”
“What does that mean!? You know when I’m going to die?!”
“Not precisely. Dad calculated your genetically programmed lifespan, give or take three years. He compared those figures with my own, and it turns out you’re expected to live until around 75, while I’m going to make it until upwards of 90,” she frowned slightly. “I just want to make sure I have companionship in those last two decades, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can be a handful, you know.”
“This is ridiculous. What were the “other things” you mentioned?”
“To be honest, I’m not such a fan of your predominate gene for darker hair color. Everyone in my family has shades of blonde or light brown – including my older siblings’ kids – so I don’t really want to disturb that motif.”
“Seriously?!” Natan shouted. A realization hit him and he retorted defiantly, “Does this have anything to do with the fact that I have a Sephardic background? Are all these scientific shtuyot a covert means to disguise your high-and-mighty Ashkenazi racism against your fellow Jew?”
“Chas V’Shalom!” Shayna cried out and stared downward into her lap. Natan’s irritation lessened ever-so-slightly upon hearing her religious aphorism. She gradually lifted her head and looked him in the eye again. “However…”
“Oh, this should be good,” he rolled his eyes to accentuate his sarcasm.
“Well, due to the close-knit socio-cultural background of your particular Sephardic heritage, it seems that your extended family had a practice of intramarriage among first cousins.”
“And what’s wrong with that? True, that still happens every now and then, but it’s such a rare occurrence in my generation. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of marriage al pi halacha. Are you worried about some sort of social stigma? Do you think we’re a bunch of inbred rednecks or whatever?”
“Not at all!” She answered assuredly.
“Well, that’s a relief,” he sighed.
“On the other hand,” she began, but stopped herself to wait and see if Natan would react. He refrained from issuing another indignant outburst and gave her a “go-on” expression. “Because of your ancestral history of intra-family marriage, you inherited a familial genetic mutation for polydactylism.”
“Being born with an extra finger or toe, sometimes on one hand or foot, occasionally both. It tends to run in families.”
Natan’s mind flashed back to memories of his Savta in Israel, and the little bumps on the other side of each pinky finger. His cousin had told him that Savta was born with six fingers both hands, but had them removed shortly thereafter, leaving the little protrusions as a physical reminder.
“In your case, the extra digits appear every third generation,” Shayna continued. “Which means that at least one of your kids will have superfluous fingers or toes. I just don’t want my children to have to go through that kind of thing. It would be very traumatizing, even if the additional fingers are amputated at a young age.”
“You know, this is really making me angry. I can’t believe that you are putting so much substance into these reports of yours!” Natan gripped the steering wheel, his muscles tense.
“That was the other major issue that showed up,” she flipped to another graph that had a lot of red color in it. “Your dispensation for having a short temper and your tendency to suffer from frequent bouts of anger,” Shayna pointed at the graph, indicating how much larger the red portion was than the other colors.
“Look, no one is perfect, and everyone gets angry now and then. Do you doubt my ability to learn mussar and improve my middot?”
“That’s the problem. Based on your genetics, I’m afraid that whenever you do get angry you’ll end up blaming your genome. Basically, you’ll excuse your bad behavior on a lack of free will, and I really won’t be able to say anything back in my defense.”
“Ok, that’s it!” Natan’s voice had risen in pitch and was almost trembling. “I can totally understand that you want to dump me, but I am really sick of hearing about how bad of a husband and human being I’m going to be in the future. I really don’t care what your precious data tells you, because I know I’m going to be a good husband and father!” He stopped his tirade, closed his eyes, and took in a few deep breaths. “Now, please,” his tone of voice was much calmer, “leave my car, and have a good night. I’ll stay here for a minute to make sure you get inside okay.”
“Alright,” she reached for the door handle. “At least we understand each other now,” Shayna offered a well-practiced smile. Natan gritted his teeth.
“Go on, get moving!”
“How rude!” Shayna replied, her hand pressed to her collarbone, fingers splayed to emphasize her offense. She hurriedly opened the door, slammed it hard behind her, and stormed up the walkway. Natan didn’t even bother checking Shayna out as she made her way back to her house, and instead stared at the lifeless speedometer.
“Just like my dating life,” he remarked, contemplating the unmoving indicator. He flinched slightly when he heard the front door slam shut. Natan started up the car and drove off.