YUTOPIA's Guide To Jewish Dating

Introduction
For a prelude, first see the last post. For now, let's get right to it.
Jewish dating stinks.

Everyone has their reasons and explanations. I've heard people blame the men, the women, the shadchanim, the Rabbis, and the whole culture at large. Of course, none of these discussions are productive. Even assuming one could find fault with any element of society, it's unlikely that change will happen on an institutional level. More importantly, it doesn't help the singles with their current situation.

As a friend and Rabbi, I've spoken to many people about their struggles in the Jewish dating world. As a single myself, I've personally experienced my share of disappointments and frustrations. I am not a professional therapist, nor am I trained in psychology. I'm hardly an expert in relationships, and I don't have the greatest track record. However, I do think I have a decent understanding of the situation and of the many people affected. I also have a tendency to think too much.

I've started putting together my thoughts on dating and I've tried to offer some practical advice for singles. Unlike many comments I've seen and heard, I'm going to focus on what you, the individual, can do. Men, women, shadchanim, and rabbis are all out of your control. If you're having trouble finding someone, no one can simply create a person for you.1 If you've fallen for someone, you can't control if that person will respond favorably. However, you are in control of yourself, and only you are responsible for yourself.

My thoughts on dating are constantly evolving, and therefore are subject to change.


The Problem
Part of EndTheMadness's theory is that people look to characteristics as opposed to the totality of a person. This is true to some extent, but it only solves part of the problem. From what I've seen, people have these incorrect attitudes of dating because they do not articulate what it is they are looking for. Even talking about "what someone is looking for" is a misleading statement as it typically invites responses from characteristics. The problem in the Jewish dating world is more fundamental than people realize. It expresses itself not only in the pettiness of checklists, but in the insensitivity of shadchanim. Simply put, we've forgotten what really makes a marriage work.

Paradigm Shift
Like many people, I had my answers to the "what are you looking for" question, based on what I thought I wanted. Alternatively, other people had their ideas of for what I ought to be looking. More often than not, this resulted in dates which looked good on paper, but just didn't translate well in person. This experience usually left me (and sometimes a shadchan) extremely frustrated. Here I am having difficulty in dating, I find someone who seemingly meets whatever criteria I have, and it still doesn't develop beyond a date or two. This was be extremely demoralizing not only for the disappointment in the result, but it also made me question my assessment of myself as an individual.

Recently, I decided to take the reverse approach. Instead of beginning with characteristics I think are attractive, I decided to look at the people to whom I have been attracted. Meaning, over the years I have dated, I have liked some people more than others (to varying degrees of course). Regardless of what people may have thought, there was something about these women that attracted me to them. What did these women have in common that I liked them more than anyone else?

Although this is a logical question, it's not always helpful. When I looked at similarities in characteristics, I've found that many of these women were very different people. Some were more genteel, others outgoing, some were dry intellectuals, and others were hippies (for lack of a better term). In fact, some people told me that they would never have thought of setting me up with my ex at all, and yet we maintained a positive relationship for a time. Not finding any common ground in personalities, I was still left with the question, what made these people so special.

What I realized was that what attracted me to these people wasn't that they were "smart," "nice," or whatever, but for whatever reasons I felt that I could have a relationship with these women. Of course, the nature of the relationship would vary from woman to woman, but the point is that I felt that I could have both an intellectual and emotional relationship of some kind. What mattered wasn't that there was an identity of ideas, beliefs, or feelings, but there was a compatibility which cannot be articulated.
Dating isn't even about the gestalt of another person, but of the relationship between two people.

YUTOPIA's Alternative

What is truly amazing is how something so obvious gets overlooked by so many people. We've forgotten the simple truths of relationships to the point where we cannot even articulate our feelings. We're more worried about what the other person is like than we are about how we interact with them. Of course, someone else's traits will affect the relationship. But the unstated flaw is not the person or his or her characteristics, but of the relationship between these two specific people.

How can we use this to make dating life easier? The first step is try to figure out what it is that you want in a relationship. This requires you to be honest with yourself and not rely on other people as much. Hopefully, you should know how you feel better than anyone else. If you have trouble figuring this out, don't despair. Think back to the people to whom you've felt attracted. What was it about those relationships that made them different? In my case, it was that I felt I could have both an intellectual and emotional relationship with the person. For you, it could be something totally different. What matters is that you try to identify what really makes you happy.

If a shadchan suggests someone to you, accept or decline based on your intuitions. When you interact with the person on the phone or on a date, feel first and think later. Let yourself go and be as normal as possible, then think if this is what you really want. If you can't stand talking to the person, then that could be a negative indicator. If things don't get rolling right away, you might want to give it some time depending on how you feel. If you're in a relationship where you're perpetually "not sure" where or how it's going, don't think "but s/he is a great person," but think about your relationship. If you're rarely comfortable with the person, then you either need more time or you need to move on.

For most cases, it seems to me to be the most useful method for assessing dates and longer relationships.

Final Response to the Shadchan

Shadchanim and others often don't realize that you are entitled to your own feelings and you have a right to be happy. On the other hand, this gets especially difficult if you yourself don't know what it is that you feel. In my final e-mail to the shadchan, I partially expressed this point.

    Recently, you have suggested several people to me as potential matches, beginning with my only serious ex-girlfriend. Although we discussed the matter briefly, I think that it might help if I elaborate on some of my feelings.

    First, I will admit that I've always been skeptical of professional shadchanim. Unlike friends who try to set me up, shadchanim usually do not really know me. Consequently, few suggestions could really be classified as a "good match." rarely have a sense of what would be a "good match." It's difficult for a shadchan to be looking out for my interests when s/he does not pay attention to what my interests are. Even when I try to specify what it is that I'm looking for, I often find myself being ignored and shadchanim set me up with people based on their own perceptions or desires, not mine.

    Regarding X, I could understand you suggesting her if you had forgotten that we went out. Obviously, since we had dated for a year then it certainly would have made sense to suggest it. However, it is inappropriate to persist in pushing this suggestion once you know that we had dated for a relatively long time. In addition to the year dating, X and I had been friends for a few years prior. Unlike a typical one or two shidduch date, we do know each other quite well and we both invested a great deal in the relationship. If it didn't work out, then one could assume that there were issues serious enough that they would not simply be resolved by someone suggesting "oh, why not try again." If anything were to change that would be a discussion exclusively between me and X. I realize that you are also looking out for X, but when a shadchan makes a suggestion, s/he should be concerned with both parties, not just one.

    I realize that as a professional shadchan you've had much success in setting up people. Whatever system you use or intuitions you have obviously worked for many people. However, I also recognize that I am not a typical single. Unlike many people I've met I've thought extensively about who I am and with which types of people I'm most compatible. I try to be honest with myself as to who and what I'm looking for, and I have a fairly accurate intuition about whether or not a suggestion is a good idea for me (and especially after a few phone calls). In general, I like knowing before hand some reasons as to why someone thinks I'd be good for her as well as why she'd be good for me. Not only does it help give me a better idea of the person, but it also helps my understanding of the shadchan and how well s/he really knows who I am and the type of relationship for which I am looking.

Conclusions

In the end is anything easier? No one can create the perfect mate, and we are all vulnerable to unrequited love. What I hope is that for those still dating to think about what made you happy. What was it about those people. More than what, how did they make you happy. When you have an idea of what relationship you're looking for, then you can try to find people with whom you would most likely find compatibility. If a shadchan sets you up, use your intuition based on what the person tells you.

In terms of finding people, go through the traditional routes of networking and even some of the more high-tech ones. Despite my experience, SawYouAtSinai is still a great tool for getting your name out there. Your own experience will depend on the particular shadchan you use, just like in real life. If you don't want to go through a middle person, browse Frumster and see whom you find.

Whatever the case, remember that a relationship is about two people and their feelings and interactions with each other. Because of this, you should never forget that you are entitled to your own feelings. You don't need to be pushed or forced into a relationship where you're not happy. You don't need to rationalize why he or she is not your type. It is up to you to sort out your own feelings, and it is up to you to act on them how you see fit. Once you're in a positive relationship then the two of you will need to work together to maintain what you have.

All this might seem obvious, but I haven't heard anyone articulate it. Unfortunately, it is the obvious which often gets most ignored.

Throughout a marriage, characteristics and people can and will change. Looks come and go. Interests mature, regress, or change. As life throws its many curve-balls, what will hold a marraige together is not whether someone is "intelligent" or "nice." Ultimately what will make a marraige work is the relationship that two people share. If people are satisfied in their relationships - whatever needs they have are satisfied - then the marraige will be able to sustain.

This is just my take on dating and marriage. If you find it useful or helpful, wonderful. If you don't, find something else that works for you. After all, that's really the whole point of this post.


1. Not that people haven't tried.

Posted in Jewish Dating, YUTOPIA's Guides.
  • http://www.thebronsteins.com Avraham Bronstein

    Hear, hear!

  • Mrs Piggy

    You are entirely correct. The person I married did not fit the picture of my future spouse that I had in my head (to say the least-- our "hashkafot" at that point were very different.) But from the first time we met it was clear that we had a unique connection. We've been happily married for four years, and we are equipped with the knowledge that we can work anything out based on mutual love and respect. The one thing I try to any of my single friends who ask my advice is that people are always changing, and that marriage by its very nature requires two people to change together. As you said, if the relationship is good you can work anything else out. I fear for the people who marry what looks good on paper, because at the time that the other person evolves, what is left?

  • Danny

    All and all a very positive post. Yasher Koach!
    I would just like to state that my current research has yet to positively conclude that a severe problem exists in the Orthodox dating world. Although my positive research is not completed, I have successfully debunked the diluted and misleading statistics presented in the recent articles on this subject. I am not trying to belittle anyone's plight. There are individuals who may be having a very tough time but I posit that this is true in every generation. To say that our generation has a crisis would be reliant on statistics that are very hard to formulate. For example, lets say that for some arbitrary reason we believe that 30 year old orthodox Jews should be married. (I personally think that 30 can be a perfect age to get married, as can 35 or later, but we'll use 30 as an example). What the Cassandras would have to prove is that in different "generations" throughout Jewish history there was a lower percentage of 30 year old singles than exists today. This would require data on how many orthodox Jews lived in the control generations. It would have to take into account changes in birthrate predominating social structure (were you called away to fight in the Czar's army for 20 years?) and change in the cultural morees of the society in which Orthodox Jews live. Another important factor would be the change in life-expectancy. Although puberty in both men and women is onesetting at a younger age, people are living much longer than ever before. When my son was born, I was told that he had a life expectancy of 100 (despite being born in "war-torn" Israel)! I'm sure any baby born today will have an even higher life-expectancy. Therefore, it may be reasonable to assume that college grads with 75 years of living left in front of them may be less likely to take dating seriously than a person from another time who expected to die at 40. Even if all of this data was successfully compiled, one would still have to take into account the number of late mariages to show that even if there are fewer 30 year olds married, by 35 the numbers fall in line with acceptable patterns. As I said, my research is not complete, but all indications seem to state that, no matter what your personal inclinations, you are as likely to meet, date and marry someone today as you would have been 20, 50 or 100 years ago.
    I am not trying to argue with Josh, Chananya or anyone else who says that individuals should re-evaluate their dating rituals to create positive experiences. I am saying that people should not feel overly pressured to do so because, as hard as dating is, that's what it was, what it is and what it will be.
    One last point: Please don't be angry at married friends. I admit that I was very young when I got married (I was 23, my wife 21) but I don't appreciate it when people tell me that I am lucky to not be divorced by now or that I have no idea what being single is like. I cannot tell you my wife's precise thought process when I proposed but I can tell you that I made an introspective decision for which I, so far, have no regrets. Being single in your 20s is normal but that doesn't make married people horrible freaks.

  • Jessica

    While you make some good points , I don't agree with your general premise. It's true that two people can look really good on paper but still not be right for each other, because there are intangible qualities that may just not be there. However, those "on paper" qualifications are still important. It's important for two people to have the same goals, values, and hashkafa. Once that's established, then you can take it from there and see whether or not the feelings are there that should be. But if you only focus on the emotional component, and how it feels, that can lead to a lot of problems, because you can have amazing chemistry, and a genuine emotional connection with someone who's totally wrong for you. A frum Jew could conceivably have a very deep, loving relationship with someone not religious, or not even Jewish, and ultimately they won't be able to get married, no matter how wonderful their relationship might be. Obviously, that's an extreme example, but the same thing could happen with two people who have vastly different hashkafot. They may brush it aside because they feel very connected, but ultimately, they won't be able to get married due to their hashkafic differences, and it will be much more difficult to end their relationship after they've built up such a strong connection. So my point is that while it is important to make sure the the emotional aspect is there, it is just as important to make sure that you are compatible when it comes to the more practical issues of values and lifestyle.

  • http://xxx.com anon

    Jessica, IME people can work out amazing differences if they really want to. You're defining what's important to you in a relationship - sharing hashkofos, values, etc - and then insisting that a relationship in which people have very different hashkofos/values won't work out. It will if the people involved are willing to forgo agreement on those types of issues and can work out some way to raise kids that they are both happy with. You can't insist that everyone share your values in a relationship - for some people, shared goals are really not that important. Understanding and connnection are based on different things for different people.

  • szl

    For what my thoughts are(n't) worth: A comment on the goals/values vs feelings/relationship debate.
    It is true that because we are all unique individuals, it is impossible (and undesirable) for any person to marry a carbon copy of themselves. Consequently, by definition, a successful marriage requires the willingness and ability of both partners to build constructive compromises where their opinions differ. It is also true that compromise does not always mean meeting in the middle; sometimes it means living differently but harmoneously together.
    I believe the point Josh is making, and quite validly, is that if you aren't comfortable enough with the other person to compromise or live differently but harmoneously, all the goals about which you do agree will become irrelevant. You will not be able to build a peaceful marriage. If one string is out of tune, it takes a musician with G-d given talent to play the guitar...and likewise if the guitar strings are all tuned to the same note.
    However, I'm not sure even Eric Clapton could do much with six strings tuned to EADGBE if three of them are on a guitar and three are on a viola! Yes, you do have to identify the fundamental commonalities about which you WON'T compromise. For some people that may be as detailed as which rav their partner looks to. For others it may be as basic as kids/no-kids. Every person has their limits, and those limits should be consciously considered before a relationship is allowed to progress. Otherwise you end up marrying someone you love but can't live with.

  • kochav

    I'm not sure I should be posting on such a serious discussion but...
    I think szi makes a very good point. I have seen (at a college Hillel, of course) a wonderful book called "Making your intermarriage work" - a guide for Jews and Christians. Anon is right that people can work out amazing differences - however, the greater Orthodox community doesn't always think that's such a good idea...
    I think everyone who has posted so far has made interesting points. The only word of caution I would offer for Josh's idea is that sometimes people get too caught up in how the relationship is going - such that the 'relationship' takes on a life of its own and the people in the relationship become secondary. This is usually not a good thing...

  • Hoss

    If some dates that turned out to be bad "looked good on paper", does it not stand to reason that it's possible that the person who you will ultimately decide to marry is one that on paper would not look like a good match? It seems to me that too many people reject going out on a first date with someone because of certain qualities they are looking for in a mate that they feel are non-compromisable. Whether that quality is something superficial ("Does he wear jeans, black hat, what color shirt does her father wear on Sundays") or something more serious ("Intend to make Aliyah, how much does he learn during the week?") In either case you will find people who ended up getting married to people who on paper looked like they were incompatible, or crossed one of the red-lines of one of the spouses requirements. So then maybe it is not so unreasonable for a shadchan or friend to set up people on a date who on paper don't look like a good match.
    Now don't get me wrong, I know that some of the shadchans set people up totally inappropriately but there does need to be some leeway involved by both sides.

  • http://xxx.com anon

    "Yes, you do have to identify the fundamental commonalities about which you WON'T compromise. For some people that may be as detailed as which rav their partner looks to."
    For some people, the only thing they won't compromise on is closeness and understanding and intimacy. They are willing to live with major ideological differences, and you CAN work those out, much more often than "people" think. Yes, there are limits - if you're orthodox, you can't marry a nonjew. But these limits are much more flexible than most people think - or, better said, these limits matter more to some people than to others. I am married 15 years to someone whose hashkofos are wildly different than my own.

  • http://xxx.com anon

    "however, the greater Orthodox community doesn't always think that's such a good idea..."
    Good thing that no one actually marries the "greater Orthodox community."

  • http://xxx.com anon

    "Intend to make Aliyah, how much does he learn during the week?"
    For an issue like aliyah, you really have to be honest with yourself. You have to ask yourself if it's a practical issue - you want to make aliyah and the other person doesn't - or whether it's a make-or-break value - you just can't relate to people who don't see the need to make aliya, and you don't want to live with a person who doesn't see that value enough to act on it.
    If it's a practical issue, you can decide that marrying the person you are in love with is more important than some other dream. That making aliya married to someone else is worse than not making aliya with this person. If that's the case, you can work it out, you WILL find compromises. If that's not the case, you shouldn't try to compromise; you don't love the person enough and you never will. Maybe that seems simplistic to some, but it's how I view it.

  • hoss

    RE the aliya issue - I don't think that issue should be used as a make-or-break value to reject someone for a first date. After all, maybe you have such a convincing argument pro-aliyah that you would convince the other person as to why it is so important.
    I understand why someone might want to use this as a litmus test - if you do go out on that first date, maybe you will like each other, and continue dating. Eventually the relationship might become serious and then if you have not resolved the aliyah issue then you either breakup the relationship with both sides being hurt on some level, or one of you gives way. But still I don't think that's a good enough reason to reject a first date. The reality of life is that personal priorities change, even things that were at one time felt to be deeply held beliefs. The change might happen to the pro-aliyah person or to the not-for-me-aliyah (or not-right-now aliyah) person.
    Then maybe the answer at least in regards to aliyah, is to make aliyah first, and then look for a spouse in Israel (where you can be reasonably certain that the singles feel the same way about aliyah).

  • SingleChristian

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/19/national/19DATE.html?hp
    Great NY Times article on single christians. If you replace christian with Jew and Kansas with UWS, it could have been written for the Jewish Week. They even have their own OZ:
    "Heindrich Shirley, 34, a pastor at Redemption World Outreach Center, a Pentecostal church in Greenville, S.C., with 6,500 congregants, more than half single."

  • one

    Every Kansas needs its OZ...

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