Every year, it happens again. We surround the base of Sinai, to re-receive what has been given and regiven, year-to-year.
In the span of a year, most of us haven’t changed that much. Or at least, that is what we think, when confronting these texts, ideas, people we may not have considered much in the past few months. But the truth is that perspective isn’t often the big bang, a paradigm shift, a tectonic movement of earth under feet, that rattles assumptions and forces a review of priorities. Sometimes it starts with reconsidering a word, or a person, or a word from a person.
A once-and-perhaps-future friend once told me that you can’t change people. Maybe not at their essence; maybe there’s a part of us that exists before we’re aware of existence itself, and this element is immutable, ingrained. But people change every day. They change their minds. They change careers. They look at a person differently, or see a new meaning in a text, or suddenly claim a path as destiny with a passion that no one could have foreseen.
Some people object to the cycle of holidays, to the annual repetition of the same rituals, often with no change perceived from one year to the next. But I try to take the opportunity to move in some way, to extrapolate a theme from the biblical or the talmudic meaning of the day and let it inform my life, words and actions. It’s a difficult exercise, this receiving, this accepting. The practice of it requires exercise – although the prescription is annual, bound to the calendar, repeated exercise even more often would show greater benefits.
But there’s a disconnect. If the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the mountain was their wedding canopy, and God declared love for the Jewish people at that grand elevation of nature, and we entered into partnership, then the reigning metaphor of the receipt of the Torah was the declaration of relationship, a declaration of commitment and covenant, the analog of which I currently lack. But this time on the calendar comes annually, whether I’m single or not, to remind me that relationship is a value, is possible, is important.
So I think about my words, about how the use of them binds me to others in this world and to those who are beyond, how they aid me in connecting to relationships that nourish me, and how they nurture my innermost self and soul. This year, those words are different than they were in tone and register, but still serve to adhere me to history and to humanity.
I hear voices in the texts, sacred and profane, past, present and future. I have hope that they will steer me toward an enhanced ability to recognize and welcome goodness, should I be lucky enough to find it.
We are constantly in the process of receiving, whether it is Torah, or meaning, or love. But it takes an open mind, and the willingness to say, “my perception is not set in stone tablets.” I might fear restrictive laws and tremble at the foot of the mountain, but when it comes to the opportunity to accept relationship, I am certain that I will.
The most major reason for my absence was the death of my mother, Shulamit Kustanowitz, mid-May. (Those of you who read my other blog, My Urban Kvetch, undoubtedly already know this, as the last two posts over there were about my mother.)
I’m making my way back to life, through the process of the Jewish year of mourning, and her memory and spirit informs my writing and my progress toward a new normal. But both the writing and the progress are slow. So I beg your patience during this time. And may her memory be for a blessing.
Beyond that very major reason for my disappearance, I’ve frankly become aware that writing for this blog about the challenges of dating (and specifically Jewish dating) in a modern, connected world fills me with despair. And it’s not the process of writing itself – it’s the responses: the despair of others, the negativity, the name-calling, the derision of men from women and women from men, the anti-Semitic slurs against Jewish men and Jewish women, the perpetuating of stereotypes that aren’t fair to anyone.
So I’ve been absent. And may remain so. At least for a while. If I’m motivated to write, I’ll write. But this hiatus is important enough for me to violate my own blogging advice (“blog regularly, so your audience knows they can rely on you!”) in favor of emotional balance.
I would still really like it if – on and off the blog – we could live up to the motto I had in mind when I founded this non-geographic place: “Group therapy in a blog…welcome home, singles.” But home is supportive, where everyone knows and accepts you for who you are. This place has not been that kind of home in some time, but I hope that it will be again one day.
Those of you who have been readers for a while and want to submit guest posts, please feel free to do so: jdatersanonymous at gmail.com. But it is likely that, aside from those posts, this blog will not be updated for a while. Thanks for your readership and your support – I will be back when I can.
Until then, wishing you good health, friendship, love and happiness.
It’s one of those seasonal romances, the kind in which you’ve totally forgotten that your partner is there, waiting for you, and then you realize all the time you’ve wasted. You rededicate yourself, knowing that if you’d been more attentive all along, the effort now would be less strenuous, and you resolve to never let it happen again. It’s spring, and suddenly you see the optimism of possibility. You spend late hours together, over lunches and dinners, tea, coffee, or sometimes a glass of red wine or a shot glass full of Bailey’s as you drift past midnight and worry that your brain is buzzing too much with stimuli to sleep. Occasionally glancing at the window, you know it’s late enough at night that some people consider it early morning, and you might just see day beginning to break over the trees in the yard.
Sadly, the situation above is not one of romance, but one of tax frustration. The long hours come before and after a long day at one or more jobs, and the exhaustion level is considerable. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my receipts, categorizing and adding them together, trying to figure out how they all fit into the financial picture that is my state and Federal income taxes. This year, I’m consulting an accountant, and hope this will make the process easier at some point – if not during the birth pangs of this startup reorganization of my finances, then hopefully by next spring.
And it occurred to me that perhaps there is a lesson here for some of us, especially those who tend to read into things a lot.
There are things we do because we want to do them so much that they become a life requirement; these things are intrinsic to our self-identity – if we ceased to do them, we would cease to be the selves we have constructed ourselves to be. Other things we do because we have to do them, but if someone – a parent, the government, society – was not forcing us to do so, under penalty of fees, imprisonment or being grounded – we would not do them. The looming threat of jail or going to bed without supper or being shunned by society is what motivates us to do these things. This is why we do an annual tax review or pay our bills even if we think the cable bill or the rent is too damn high.
But then there’s everything in the middle. We might enjoy doing some of those things, but we don’t make them a priority. If we happen upon them – if we see someone post a funny video on Facebook, or if we note that someone is on GChat and has changed his or her message, we might check it out, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t feel a void because we wouldn’t know what we were missing. If we really see something in that middle zone that catches our attention, we might change its status – realizing it was something important, either because of obligation to a person or relationship, or because it was something that we realized we wanted to do a lot more of.
During the busy day-to-day of any given year, we can forget about the things that we have to do, and only see what we want to see, and do what we want to do. Around tax time, it becomes all about the obligation – to count the literal level of our own worth and submit a report to our supervisors so we can make sure we are pulling our own weight in this crazy world. But there’s a middle ground full of possibilities, some of which can move and inspire us in the months ahead to achieve a more steady, committed pace – we can send some of those minor attachments up to the majors, making them priorities instead of past-times, and maybe break it to some of the devoted, but limited, pursuits that they’re better suited to minor league play.
Perhaps a bit of attention to the middle, on a more consistent level year round, can help strip the literal or figurative Tax Days of their power to terrify; without a threat looming and forcing us into drastic action, we can identify the ideas and pursuits with staying power and invest our energies and resources accordingly, and hope that our investments enrich our lifestyle in inspiring and energizing ways.
Since my days writing the Jewish Week column, I’ve occasionally acted as a Lorax for Jewish singles: I speak for the women who are also struggling as we encounter men who range from oblivious and inconsiderate to deliberately rude and cruel. I try to balance things – I mean, the Mean Girls of Tina Fey’s film of the same name certainly exist in the dating realm as well – but the reality is there’s a real imbalance when it comes to cruelty. And every time I think I’m done with this post, I encounter another anecdote, another tale of ludicrous human behavior. I try to write with a balanced sense of where the blame lies and attempt to avoid gender stereotyping. But with the title of this post, you get an idea where my head is at.
I’ve of late been privy to some rather disturbing dating anecdotes in which grown men behave like babies, or teenagers, or bullies on the playground exploiting the weaknesses of the women they date/hook up with/rely on. These men bill themselves as single, divorced, separated or even still married. Through deliberate deceptions or lies of omission, they leave the ladies sad, crying, disillusioned, distrusting, damaged and increasingly cynical. Some of these stories were even told to me by the men in question, with a mixture of pride and matter-of-factness. They don’t think that they’ve done anything wrong, or even particularly remarkable, and maybe, if analyzed by dating experts, they haven’t.
All the questions we ask of ourselves and of each other – are there rules and should we play by them, why are men scared of commitment, can Mars and Venus ever have a conversation, why do women ask if their outfits make them look fat, who pays on a first date, why hasn’t he called, etc – don’t produce any real answers to speak of, because every person’s situation is different. But we keep asking our friends because we need reassurance. And the eventual outcome of this constant querying is Cosmopolitans and camaraderie, dining and commiserating with the other amazing people who fill our lives while we’re waiting for “the one, ” or “a one.”
It is rumored that there are good-hearted guys out there, the “nice guys” who “would never treat you like that,” the ones who smile and mean it. But the guys referred to in the title of this post are ruining it – and us – for the men who would make suitable partners. If and when we’re lucky enough to encounter more gentle considerate souls, we may not trust them, because our experience has taught us that to protect our fragile selves, we should trust no one at all.
But I’ve long believed that – as idealistic and perhaps unlikely as it sounds – we can earn each others’ trust as we swim in what is sometimes a murky and somewhat seedy dating pool. But we will all of us – men and women, those who behave well and certainly those who behave less well – need to treat each other more honestly and considerately in the courtship and dating process. Like anything worth doing well, it takes practice and effort. But a perhaps foolishly optimistic voice in me says that it’s possible.
Communication today is a series of short missives, texts, instant messages, tweets, or if we’re feeling verbose, emails. And none of us has figured out quite how to do it: either we self-edit like our lives depend on it and parse every letter of a person’s response, or we don’t edit at all – saying whatever we feel and then “unsaying” what we wish we hadn’t said with a simple “J/K.”
What if we were more honest with each other, turning off the self-editing and being real with each other in every medium – from the instant message to the text to the in-person conversation? Is that too risky? Too scary? Too unreasonable?
There are those who will tell you that the dream state means nothing, that it’s a free association of jumbled thoughts assembling into random pictures, that to analyze dream stories is pointless at best, and, at worst, is to court the impossible madness of trying to ascribe meaning and import to something inherently meaningless.
But I am not one of those people. I am one of the others. I am one of the people who tries to learn from her dreams, tries to maintain the momentum of the dream state on waking, to dwell a few moments more in that space between, tries to glean glimmers of meaning from the corners of that night’s field of dreams.
This dream featured a man: he was no anonymous abstract; I saw his face, recognized him from real, waking life. We had connected on some level, and left the depth, then hazy, to be determined at some time beyond that moment. But the moment was its own totality; I perceived mutuality, but he withdrew. That was the reality of our reality.
But in the dream, we shared a symbiotic wave of energy , a constant exchange explored over endless hours wandering one of the largest cities in the world. From bars to restaurants to conversations in foreign languages with locals, we traversed the geography and offerings of New York City, lost in time and space, humming along with the pulse of the metropolis. We spoke in conspiratorial tones, our eyes made intimate contact, and our easy conversation was peppered with smiles and laughter. We wandered through the night, past midnight’s magic, past the point of reasonable bedtimes, moving on the momentum of chemistry and toward the expectation of sunrise.
The lull came way before dawn. It was a vast and awkward quiet, a pause palpable even in REM sleep. The inertia of momentum ceased, to be taken over by the inertia of something still and stopped. We seemed to have reached the end of a road. There was nowhere left to go. It wasn’t just symbolism; it was an end parenthesis.
We said a perfunctory, not entirely comfortable good night and promised to meet again when circumstance allowed. He was as sincere-sounding in parting as he had been when first we met, and that smile in his eyes massaged me into belief even as my mind knew better. He went on his way, vanishing foggily into a clear night, and I was left standing, knowing it was over. Marooned in early morning several hours before sunup, I wondered where I would go, where I would take refuge or find a bed, that late at night in a city where I no longer lived.
Perhaps, in my dream state, the New York I’ve left represents unlimited possibilities and endless night; my subconscious seems to believe that Los Angeles, where I dwell in daylight, while bright and sunny, is romantically limited.
Or perhaps the geography doesn’t symbolize a thing. Perhaps we’re all just smarter in our dreams than we are in real life. Perhaps only in sleep, our filters are shelved long enough to foster epiphanies that elude us in waking. Perhaps dreaming is passive decision-making, with just enough control relinquished to choose a less magical, more realistic path than our romantic little hearts might prefer.
If it’s New Year’s week, and you’re a single woman, and you have a TV, you’re probably watching “When Harry Met Sally” right now. From “BabyFishMouth” to “tell me I’ll never have to be out there again,” you’re equal parts loving and hating yourself as you watch for the 20th time. The film itself has some of the most perfect comedic timing ever seen in movies over the past 20 years, and, since we’ve all grown up on this film and experienced it deeply personally, we can’t help but feel that since Harry and Sally got their perfect wedding to their perfect soulmate, so should we. In short, it built romantic expectations for a generation.
But then we run into the central premise, and debate it ad nauseam with our male and female friends. Can men and women be friends? And is that really what the movie is about? Let’s hear from co-author Nora Ephron. (I read this in the book edition of the screenplay and copied it out to share with you.)
…What “When Harry Met Sally” is really about – not, as i said, whether men and women can be friends, but about how different men and women are. The truth is that men don’t want to be friends with women. Men know they don’t understand women, and they don’t much care. They want women as lovers, as wives, as mothers, but they’re not really interested in them as friends. They have friends. Men are their friends. and they talk to their male friends about sports, and I have no idea what else.
Women, on the other hand, are dying to be friends with men. Women know they don’t understand men, and it bothers them. They think that if only they could be friends with them, they would understand them and, what’s more (and this is their gravest mistake), it would help. Women think if they could just understand men, they could do something.
I’ve been thinking about these words, and Nora Ephron’s wisdom about this topic. What we’re really trying to achieve is not friendship, it’s understanding why they do what they do (presumably to us). It’s only fitting, since I’ve spent decades thinking about whether men and women can be friends, that I try to give this some serious thought. I have some men friends, but the level of friendship isn’t even close – the trust, the reliability, the sympatico…it’s just a miss. And when they’re in relationships, they’re just gone. If the relationships don’t work out, they’re back. And then, when they vanish again, I know there’s someone else.
It’s fine. I mean, I get why it happens. But the fact that I get it doesn’t mean that I think that’s optimal behavior for friends. But of course now, we have a new definition for friends. And so I declare, “we have reached a new era, an era when men and women can be friends. On Facebook.”
If you have thoughts on this issue, please, share with the group.
And whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, keep your expectations reasonable, and find a designated driver. Wishing you all a safe and happy new year.
Last week, I met someone who told me that while he had not met his wife through JDate, but that the process of going out with (200!) women from JDate had made him a better dater. Well, that figures, right? I mean, practice anything 200 times and you’re going to get better at it. He noted that the process had made him better at his job, too, had trained him to listen better to people, even if he wasn’t overly interested in the subject matter.
But I was more intrigued by his description of his process – that he had obtained feedback even from dud dates that made him able to improve to the point of being able to meet his soulmate. He told me that after any woman told him she didn’t think a next date was a good idea, he told her that he respected her decision, but that if he had done anything that annoyed her, he’d love it if she’d tell him what it was.
I was fascinated, and tried to imagine myself as one of these women. How honest would I be? How sincere would I have thought he was in his “desire to learn”? It made me think of the tongue-in-cheek suggestion I made to friends years ago about handing out evaluations (or sending a surveymonkey link) to dates to enable honest feedback on dating technique and reactions to compatibility based on the dating experience.
While it’s very easy to joke about this, many people do a “post-game” analysis (let’s be optimistic and NOT call it a post-mortem) of their dates: this could include self-assessment (“did I talk/fidget/play with my hair/order/eat too much?” etc.) or sociological observations about behavior of the other person (“did s/he like me, or just tolerate me?” “was that banter or arguing?” etc.). But all of this assessment happens internally: is there a value in externalizing, vocalizing, concretizing this analysis as a way to evaluate performance and potential, and perhaps as a learning tool? And are we all man (or woman) enough to accept the criticism?
After years of enmeshment, our lives diverged,
as if in poetic woods
and silently, we parallel parted.
I thought there’d be closure, but there was no treaty signed —
just the slow vanishing
into separate horizons.
At unexpected intervals, the unbidden returns
to haunt the empty mansion, spook my creativity
and whistle at me — half-encouragement / half-mockery.
The visitation echoes
longer than it actually lasts
and in those ripples, expectation and desire
still beckon Picasso-like
all angles, fluid borders, and jagged edges.
Those edges create shadows, where irritants
lodge as immigrants, vagrants seeking shelter.
Now there are other things there.
With repeated revisiting, I fade-float
into the vision, grasping at the asymmetry
that most resembles reality.
So I haven’t written in a while. But there’s a good reason. After more than a decade in New York, I’ve moved West, to a state as predictable as the sunshine and as volatile as the earthquakes that it experiences. Like those who sought the gold rush in them thar hills of California, I’m prospecting.
There will be more posts, but I’ve been trying to reestablish a home base, a source of stability to draw on in the life that I intentionally uprooted and relocated. Here’s hoping that these intervening weeks have proven stimulating to you, on and offline. Looking forward to seeing you back here for regular singles-related discussion over the next few months…
Stay tuned for refrigerator poetry. Seriously.