I sit down at the quaint little café table just like every other time.
What’ll it be tonight? Games, sparring, war?
Within minutes, she casually flips her bangs with the back of her hand and I can tell she’s not really interested in me. It oozes from every look and mannerism. The date is effectively over, and now we’re reduced to pure social recreation.
She volleys well. She positions herself to receive my remark and then launches another of her own. One more meaningless bit of Jewish geography or fluff piece from her past or something vaguely interesting she read in the news the other day. She doesn’t share anything substantial with me, because what’s the point anyway? As soon as this date is over she’s going to whip out her phone and call the shadchan to tell her it’s a ‘one and done.’
I have to play along, of course. I must be the perfect gentleman, despite the fact that she’s completely and utterly unplugged her mind from our conversation.
I may as well be talking to my dog. At least she’d cock her head to the side, raise her eyebrows and tilt her furry little ears this way and that with interest and rapt attention to my words, even if she has no clue what I was really saying.
Thank G-d, she happens to steal a glance at her watch and notice how late things are getting. She has a paper to write and needs to get back to her dorm. I know it’s a lie because she’d never have gone out in the first place if she had to turn in an assignment tomorrow. She told me so herself when we scheduled our little outing over the phone last week.
I smile and nod politely, offering to take our half-empty foam cups over to the trash bin. She accedes, as she should, thanks me for the favor and for the pleasant evening together in one hurried, mumbled breath. I know deep down she doesn’t mean it, and she thinks this was really a waste of her time. She wanted to but couldn’t, perforce the rules of civility and decency, simply excuse herself and vanish into thin air after she made her judgment call ten minutes after we sat down together.
We don’t even walk together back to the subway station. She wants to get away as soon as possible and waves halfheartedly as she doubles back behind me and heads in the opposite direction, away from the trains that would take her to her dormitory. She probably has other plans or something. In any case, I don’t really care at this point. In fact, I am thankful that I got off easy tonight.
Things don’t always go so smoothly. Especially when things don’t ‘click’ as I would like.
Sometimes hostility brews. I don’t know if it’s because of hashkafic differences or that she just doesn’t like my haircut or the style of my shirt. I can’t recall ever offending a date, but something will just set her off and we begin to go at it like two heavyweight boxers trading blows. We hardly ever raise our voices, though that has happened on occasion. Instead of a meaningful give-and-take conversation, we take turns slugging one another with stories or anecdotes, each trying to outdo the other.
I don’t enjoy this sort of competition, mind you, but I won’t just sit there and let her steamroll me with her frippery. Sometimes it’s about religious topics, whose rabbis and teachers were greater in seminary or yeshiva, sometimes it’s about our childhood experiences, difficulties we’ve been through and survived, or dealing with parents who don’t quite understand what we’ve chosen to become in our level of observance.
Maybe I’ll get a second date out of those girls, but very little changes during the second or third outing. I know deep down that my wife will be inherently different from me in a vast multitude of ways, but I’d rather not end up marrying someone I’m destined to butt heads with at every exchange.
Then there are the times when it’s all-out war and I’m forced to lay a siege at her castle of identity. The girl is so distressed by dating, or maybe again it’s my shirt, that she raises the draw bridge and bolts the windows shut. I can’t learn anything about her, no matter how innocuous my questions or charming my compliments are.
It’s like trying to court Rapunzel when Rapunzel won’t even let down a stand of hair, thus leaving me alone and abandoned, shouting at the sky from the base of her tower.
I try almost anything to pierce that ironclad armor, to get beyond that unbreachable façade of caked-on makeup, straightened to death hair, and razor-sharp creases on her skirt. However, such a task is nigh impossible. My only reward is a neck-ache for staring into the clouds above.
All I want to do is get to know her a bit, so why does she make this so unbelievably difficult? Does she expect me to take her shidduch bio and phone-a-friend references at face value, to put my full faith into the belief that everything that fits on paper is the absolute and only way to go? Is the Shadchan’s word really the last one I’m going to hear before I hear “I do?”
Not all my dates are bad, though.
When dates are good, the evening proceeds less like two opposing forces firing cannons at one other and more like a fencing match. There is an art to it, a rhythm and flow that is engaging and enlightening. There is a cerebral connection as one of us lunges to thrust with an idea and the other deflects and offers a riposte. We share a unified choreography, for every move is deliberate and we must work together to form links and mutual associations. An aura of comfort begins to descend from a higher plane.
Here, we are likeminded, not hiding behind impenetrable defenses, but trying to get underneath the natural precautions any person sets up when encountering a stranger for the first time. There is nothing to fear, but we must take time to become used to one another. I begin to connect to the way she talks, laughs, smiles. She becomes more than an unknown person represented by words written and spoken by others. A fully realized individual, with unique qualities worth appreciating materializes. The butterflies in my gut whisper softly that I need to push further and keep the momentum going.
If things go well, I begin to find myself no longer sitting across from a stranger, but an acquaintance, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, a friend.
Upon completion of our polite round of fencing, we transition into a dance.
The rapiers are cast aside, joined by the semi-transparent masks and lightweight armor, and we don fine evening wear.
I notice the twinkle in her eye and the brightness of her smile, and I sense a deeper dialogue is taking place. If we truly connect, I can feel my soul lift into the air above me where it meets hers and they embrace one another. The orchestra swells and our spiritual forms sway in tune to its measure. Our corporeal frames remain firmly planted on our very tangible chairs, but our souls dip and spin in an ethereal bliss, ascending to heavenly realms normally far beyond our mortal reach.
All fortifications fade, revealing the inner essence that was hidden away.
Time has no meaning, and the world simply stops.
More often than not, I fail to notice that our establishment has closed for the night, and an annoyed employee interrupts our spiritual ball, evicting the physical us from the premises.
We walk side-by-side down the street, reluctant to part, though we know we must. She smiles at me, and I respond in kind with my own grin. The hour is late, but our elation brushes away all feelings of fatigue.
We say our goodbyes, and she starts off toward her abode. I watch with longing as the brilliance of her lithe form merges with the distant darkness, and my temporal eyesight fails to detect the glow of her beauty any further.
My soul reaches out for one final caress, and I feel warmth pervade throughout my being.
As I make my own way back to bed, the butterflies within me chatter with mirth. Their excitement is contagious and I revel in the sensation of their exhilaration. It will take effort to calm my thoughts as they flit about, but I will eventually fall asleep and rest. Dreams of all sorts of pleasant futures bounce through my slumbering mind.
Of course, as I write this, I am still dating. Unfortunately, this means that I have been forced to face the premature termination of the lofty connection that my soul ever yearns for. Such a blow can be devastating at first, but with time, I recover and approach the task once again with renewed vigor and determination.
Yet, each time I wonder to myself: is she the one? Will this transcendent grace last forever? Or will it evaporate, ever ephemeral?
I long to find my eternal dance partner. My soul cries out for its long-lost companion.
But for now, I remain steadfast in my quest. I steel my nerves with unwavering resolve, eyes and heart open for the one who will make every day an everlasting waltz of spiritual bliss.
And the band plays on…