First Person Singular (Jewish Week Singles Column)
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.
Whether you’re on the Upper West Side or not, you might enjoy these pieces “from the vault.”
What’s it like inside a Sukkah singles party in Manhattan? Back in 2005, yours truly and some intrepid friends found out. Listen in:
Man: Did you notice JDate’s site redesign? All of the women’s profiles defaulted to “does not want children.”
Woman #3: You’re the third guy to mention that tonight. As if Jewish continuity didn’t have enough problems—now everyone thinks that Jewish women don’t want to procreate. In JDate’s last redesign, they reset all the profiles, so if you said you spoke Hebrew, it now said you spoke Vietnamese. Or Tagalog. What is Tagalog, anyway?
Man: [fiddles with BlackBerry] “Tagalog is one of the major languages of the Philippines.”
Woman #2: Huh. At least we learned something.
Woman #3: Yes, that JDate is still JDate.
For the complete scoop, check out the original article.
What should you expect to see on Simchat Torah on the Upper West Side? Here’s a checklist of 20 “might-sees” – print it out, and see how you score! Including…
3. Israelis on cell phones.
4. A blind date who doesn’t remember you.
5. People you knew in high school who ignore you when they see you.
6. A throng.
7. A thong. Or inappropriate shul cleavage.
The piece below originally appeared as part of the Jewish Week’s “Big Ideas” Issue in December of 2006 and decried a lack of research on Jewish singles and suggested a center for research of single life which could double as a young community center and living space for single Jews.
Very recently, researcher Steven M Cohen produced “Uncoupled: How Our Singles are Reshaping Jewish Engagement,” a study about unmarried 20-somethings and 30-somethings and their habits regarding connection to Jewish life. (He’s speaking at the PresenTense Institute this Thursday at 1pm, and I’ve been invited to comment in response. See here for directions.)
But the more I think about it and write about it (on JDatersAnonymous and in the creation of a book proposal on the subject of Jewish singles), and the more I see of the communal approach of the PresenTense Institute, the more relevant I think a proposal like this is–people have their own projects and interests, but the spirit of the collective inspires individuals and their creativity. While this piece was written for the Jewish Week and therefore centered on New York City, the truth is that such an institute could exist in another major city somewhere–Chicago, LA, San Francisco or Jerusalem–and would yield interesting research as well as perhaps some interesting friendships and relationships.
So here’s the piece again for your re-consideration. Looking forward to the discussion. (And yes, the piece is available for reprints–reasonable rates, just ask.)
JSinglesSpace and the Continuity Cafe
by Esther D. Kustanowitz
Each year, a new crop of idealistic Jewish twentysomethings moves to New York City in an attempt to forge romantic futures and financial fortunes in the city that never sleeps. The number of people crammed into Upper West Side two-bedroom apartments that were converted to three to accommodate each year’s immigrant singles thematically recalls Lower East Side tenement days. 10024 has so many single Jewish women that they may not even all show up in a JDate zip code search (a true story from JDate customer service). And many of those twentysomethings stay uncoupled until they’re thirtysomething or fortysomething, clustering in tribes of the seemingly-eternally single. But despite all of these fascinating trends, academic studies have yet to focus on Jewish singles anywhere, let alone within the borders of New York City.
At the risk of sounding self-promotional (a risk I take regularly), I wanted to re-share one of my best-received and most-often-remembered singles columns; it’s thematically appropriate for the Yamim Noraim (High Holydays) and has this year been reprinted in both the AZ Jewish Post and the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Rereading the litany of dating sins again this year, I am a little depressed by how many of them I am still guilty of. Here’s to not perpetrating them in the New Year:
In this season of atonement, Jews of every stripe of observance stream into temples, synagogues, shteibels and shuls to recount their wrongs. Beating their breasts in repentance, they beg for absolution for the sins they have committed in their daily human interactions over the past year. On Yom Kippur, many wear canvas sneakers, the plainest of shoes, in a show of simplicity and humility.
As singles, trying on different slippers and hoping for a perfect fit, we have assayed to squeeze ourselves into many an improper shoe during the past year, blistering ourselves and others in the process, becoming callused as we try to move our lives forward. This battered state yields an impressively long list (and uncomfortable memories) of dating-related crimes and misdemeanors. It is only fitting that past and current singles seize this moment to take stock of the unique ways that we have wronged each other, as men, as women, as eligibles populating the same singles pool. Once and for all, let’s take the sin out of singles.
Just like the Al Chet – the prayer in the Yom Kippur liturgy wherein the individual confesses to a litany of collective sins – that inspired it, this original reading is also written in third person plural. We may not recall having committed each of the individual sins in this reading, but as members of the global singles community, we admit to every transgression, in the New Year’s hope that the memory of this confession will make us think twice before committing future infractions.
Preliminary studies suggest that this reading is at its most potent when read responsively before or after a singles event. For maximum dramatic effect, read the first two lines in each stanza responsively, first men, then women. The third sentence should be recited by men and women together. And while we’re asking God for forgiveness, remember – it can’t hurt to beg for a vision or a bat kol (heavenly voice) that reveals the e-mail address of your bashert (intended). Or at least a location, so you know whether you’re trying on uncomfortable shoes in the right city.
What’s on your t-shirt? Are you a “local celebrity,” or are you, unfortunately, “with stupid”? And seriously, how addictive is that status update feature on Facebook?
People wear slogan-ed shirts for a reason. Still, since we often make a concerted effort not to judge books by covers, maybe we shouldnâ€™t judge people by the T-shirts they wear. But itâ€™s always nice to encounter a little more information about the people who intrigue us. And we certainly all enjoy tantalizing tidbits of information, whether Google-learned or freely offered, that make us want to learn more.
This brings us to a contemporary addiction that also provides insight into human self-perception: the Facebook status feed. This insanely popular social networking tool asks us to define ourselves, as many times a day as weâ€™d care to do so. â€œEsther is on deadline.â€ â€œDeb is contemplating a great day.â€ â€œWilliam is, and therefore he thinks.â€ As information goes, it may not seem like much. But if done right and changed regularly, it does tell your friends everything they might need or want to know. (Or at least everything youâ€™d want them to know.)
Check out my latest Jewish Week singles column, “Honest-Tees: A Song of Ourselves?“.
Everyone loves a summer romance; until they’re over. (Insert Debbie Downer’s “wah-waaaaah.”)
In tribute to my summer romance with Jewish innovation (I know…sounds totally hot, right?), I present this latest column, whose name — picked by my editor, apparently — is so bad that I’m not even putting it here. Just click and read.
And if you missed the column before that, click here for “Find His Wife, Please,” a column about standup single comic David Kilimnick, who I am officially declaring July’s Single Semite of the Month. Check out his website at israelcomedy.com, and tell him I sent you.
Don’t you love Valentine’s Day?
In response to last week’s Jewish Week column, “Checkbox Commitment,” I received this lovely letter from someone I’m rebranding as “a fan.”
Maybe another reason that so many of you folks are single in your 30s is your compulsion to discuss the intimate details of your relationships with your friends and your relatives. On more than one occasion, a girl did that to me and that usually sent me running the other way. It still angers me, why does what happen on a date become fodder for a discussion between a woman and her friends.
I met my wife via a personal ad in [location deleted]. To this day our friends know that, our families think we met via a mutual friend. I may be old-school, but I am not ancient.
I occasionally would be chided for keeping my private relationships private. I would simply reply that a gentleman does not kiss and tell and neither does a lady. Perhaps your crowd should follow that axiom. You may have a bit less to talk about, but maybe you’d screw up less relationships.
It’s the use of the term “screw up” that shows he really cares. But seriously, I don’t necessarily think he’s all wrong. As I wrote in my response to him, the communication in the relationship, especially starting out, is often so uncertain and confusing–and in some cases demoralizing–that the only way to survive is to ask friends for advice. But I do think that sometimes people take the private into the public too often.
What do you think?
Usually when I hear about a book like Eric Schaeffer’s “I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single,” I do an internet search for the publisher or PR agency, send them an email, and ask for a review copy so I can write about it in the Jewish Week. And if the author is cute and Jewish, I might nominate him for Single Semite of the Month. But in this case, I owe a debt of gratitude to a gossip website. Thank you Gawker, for providing excerpts (“I mean we’re men. We’re wired to see a woman, smash her on the head with a bone, drag her unconscious body back to our apartment by the hair, and fuck her”) and saving me the trouble. Somehow, I don’t think the Jewish Week’s quite ready for Schaeffer.
What’s interesting to me is how Schaeffer seems to have become a guilty pleasure of sorts over at the G–they began posting about him, then swore they wouldn’t post about him again, then swore that they’d just do one more post, then one more…if you trace the headers of the Schaeffer posts, you’ll see how reluctant blogging transitioned to full-on taggable addiction. They can’t stop. Partly because it’s their job to snark about guys like Schaeffer. But I think it’s also partly because they love it. Or love to hate it. Or hate that they’re loving it. Whatever. It’s a fine line.
This past Friday night, I did a Bloggers’ Roundtable at the Town & Village Synagogue in downtown NYC, featuring participation from the venerable bloggers of BlogsofZion, Kesher Talk, Shabot6000 and Jewschool. And my column in the Jewish Week for this week focused on “Dating 2.0“–a new model for approaching relationships in the digital age. So when a reader/attendee at the roundtable approached me afterwards and asked me about “playing hard to get” and whether women should engage in this, I thought before answering.
My immediate response was that playing hard to get, a la “The Rules” was ridiculous. That there’s a number of days minimum that women should wait before agreeing to date a particular gentleman caller seems antiquated and a little too game-oriented for my taste. But anecdotal evidence does seem to suggest that men do enjoy a bit of a challenge–if something or someone is accessible, it doesn’t seem to be as thrilling or filled with accomplishment as something that’s a little less so. So being available at every moment–or to quote Ms. Roberts-as-celluloid-hooker, “a beck-and-call girl”–might not be the best idea either. Not always being available when he calls also helps to avoid becoming his melancholy booty call baby or his inadvertent friend-with-not-all-the-
benefits-you-were-looking-for, and might help weed out people who don’t have a serious interest.
But once you’re playing the game, there are risks. Not being available can also be interpreted as lack of interest. (Not disinterest, which is something different: see William Safire in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine.) Plus, in the digital age, people are a lot more accessible than they used to be. Back in the day, if you left your house or your office, you couldn’t be reached by telephone. You were off the grid. But today, people can always get a hold of you, via phone, cell, email, pager, Sidekick, texting or whatever. “Hard to get” isn’t the problem.
So my response is this: one should not “play” anything. But constant availability, to the detriment of your own emotional well-being, is also not good. It’s about knowing your balance and what you want out of a relationship. If you want long-term serious, don’t settle for being an FWB. If what you want is an FWB, then don’t get involved with someone who wants a long-term relationship. If you tend to get sucked into long IM conversations with “potentials” who never make a move beyond the message window, just say no. If you tend to respond too eagerly when a potential calls, screen your incoming calls…you can always call them right back if it’s urgent, and if it isn’t, it can wait, and probably should.
So in short, gameplaying, bad. Knowing what you need, good.
But that’s just one person’s opinion. Now’s the part when you tell me that I’m wrong, or that I’m “right, but…”
High School Revisited
by Esther D. Kustanowitz
October 27, 2006
Back in high school, popularity was a cliche. There were varsity jackets, and even though there were no cheerleaders in yeshiva high schools, there were popular girls who would have seized a set of pompoms were they to be given rabbinic authorization to do so. Academic achievement was a given, but the varsity Jews were our physical elite, admired for rising above the cerebral success so long associated with our people, ascending to a place of physical strength. Even in a school that assigned points for Jewish values, high scores on the court sometimes meant more. Even in yeshiva, the social order followed secular norms: jocks at the top, nerds at the bottom.
In those days, one of the worst things you could call someone was “nerd.” Or “geek.” Or “four-eyes.”Â Being smart was nerdy enough; knowing how a computer worked was like the social kiss of death. You could use a computer for video games, but with Atari and Nintendo, you had self-contained gaming units; to master Pac-Man or Donkey Kong it was no computer required. And you’d certainly never mention having seen Star WarsÂ 47 times.
Toting hardware used to be a bad thing. (Pocket protector, anyone?) But in 2006, being smart or involved in technology isn’t necessarily unpopular. Sure, high school is probably still a challenge. But today, geeks are role models. They created Windows, revolutionizing the way computers are used. They took “Al Gore’s Internet”Â and developed a tool that people can’t imagine living without. People live online: instant messaging, e-mailing, downloading, gaming, buying more stuff than anyone could conceivably need at Amazon.com and eBay. Without world nerd-dom, we wouldn’t have file-sharing or iPods.
Today’s pocket protectors are a business must-have–they’re called BlackBerrys. Today, everyone is a nerd at heart. Kids today own their nerdiness in an inspiring and holistic manner. Even cool kids are tech geeks, with their Sidekicks and plasma screens. Bloggers are arguably the most vocal kind of neo-nerd, but they–OK, we– wear the badge proudly, as it conveys a literate, passionate force of the opinionated, the vox populi given a platform. In high school, we might have suffered in silence. But time is the great equalizer. Nowadays, either literally or figuratively, we all wear glasses.
Because things have changed, we should face facts and readjust our expectations. Today, there are many more nerds than jocks, many more geeks than cheerleaders. These facts should provide us with a comfort zone of the cerebral. But anecdotally, experientially and in conversations overheard (OK, eavesdropped on) at Starbucks, our dating expectations are still totally out of whack. Women claim to want smart Jewish guys, but also want them to be strong, tall and non-nerdy. And men, literally sitting at the same table, say “I’ll go out with anyone, as long as she’s hot.”
As adults, we’ve recontextualized our nerdiness as normal. But inside, we’re still the faded remnants of whoever we were in high school, still playing by junior varsity rules. We believe we’re open-minded. But we’re probably not–maybe because we’re socially conditioned to believe that aligning with geeks will drag us back down, while “dating up”Â grants an all-access pass to communal acceptance. And the message of such an upward socially mobile alliance is recognition by someone “worthy”Â who sees that we are more than just our labels.
Which, of course, we are. Jewish singles are bodies and brains, hearts and ideas, values, personalities and quirks. Jocks may pick their noses, and cheerleaders may snore unattractively. A guy with a facial scar may not be dangerous, and a woman who’s endlessly peppy may not be happy. Our outsides don’t always match our insides. We’re all walking wounded, containing the shards of our adolescent selves; it’s called baggage because we take it everywhere.
The eternal dating challenge is to seek lasting relationships that elate us but which are still grounded in viable reality. Lowering expectations from “too high”Â to “reasonable”Â is not “settling”–it’s “being realistic.” But here’s the rub: Only by accepting ourselves for who we are can we expect the same of others–whoever they were then, or are now. Whatever our outside appearance, we’ve always been who we are. And even if life has transformed us from pimply teens to confident adults, on the inside, we are still us.
Esther D. Kustanowitz has seen Star Wars about 47 times and often wears her glasses.