Post-29 confidence

January 20, 2008

The major gift of being over 29 is confidence.  The day after spending a couple hours moping about the cute guy who seemed really into me until he discovered a 5 year age gap, I sent him a 3 sentence email saying it was nice to meet him, and that I would like to be friends despite the age gap.  It’s great to realize that the wording doesn’t matter either way:  if he likes me, he’ll answer, and if he doesn’t like me, I couldn’t change his mind.
I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll end up at least with a friend. And if not, for some reason I don’t care such a great deal about it.

Update:  the guy wrote me exactly one sentence back.  “It was also a pleasure for me to meet an interesting and intelligent person such as yourself!”  Ouch!  Way to avoid the topic!  He doesn’t even want to be friends with me if I’m 5 years older!  


Hashgacha pratit and back again

January 19, 2008
This week was my favorite conference, only held every 2 years and very important for my work.  I had 3 choices:  miss one of the two days, miss half a day and risk my plane arriving on the wrong side of sunset, screw shabbat, and stay an extra 2 nights in the city to leave Sunday morning.  That’s 4 choices, but right now I don’t feel like screwing shabbat is something that I want to do in public.  I had originally chosen the risky plane, but decided to leave early Friday morning while it was still dark to get an earlier flight, so I got back with plenty of time to spare.  I felt wiped out from all the travel, but pushed myself out to a large shabbat dinner.  

Within five minutes of my arrival, an attractive guy attached himself to me.  He turned out to be smart, thoughtful, traditional, adventurous, and religiously-inclined, and we spoke for the rest of the evening, oblivious to others.  By dessert, he asked me what I thought of love at first sight, and we spoke about dating-stam versus dating-for-marriage, and we agreed.  He was in his mid-20’s, 5 years younger than I, but I answered his questions about my life chronology imprecisely and he didn’t push.  He changed his plans to walk me home, and I had him up for a cup of tea since it was a cold night.  We spoke about Judaism, learning, observance, and shared our phases of religiosity:  he was Russian, and had been scooped up by a Charedi school soon after arrival, and it took him a while to come back to a normal relationship with Judaism.  We parted on warm terms, anticipating the next day.

For 12 hours, I was on a high:  I had sacrificed something important for my work, done the right thing, and not expected anything other than the reward of knowing that I had done the right thing, and yet had the magical experience of connection with an apparently wonderful person.  This next morning I had such kavannah while saying the modim, but then after davening, we exchanged brief greetings, and he didn’t give me a second look.  Synagogues breed gossip and ayin hara, and sometimes my inclination is to avoid spending too much time with any one person to avoid that.  For a moment, I wondered if perhaps he had that concern, but then remembered that hadn’t been a problem for him the previous night at a huge gathering.  

He doesn’t keep shabbat, and I guess that he googled me, found out my college graduation date, and lost interest. 

I feel completely devastated to have gone from being the object of someone’s rapt attention for 5 hours to being ignored completely.

This happened to me once before:  on Purim, a guy 7 years younger chatted me up, and attached himself to me.  I didn’t like him so much, but figured I would give him a chance, and we spoke for 10 minutes until he found out my age.  He flinched, spent 5 minutes in awkward conversation as if to prove that he wasn’t running away from my age, and then ran away.  

This time was far worse:  from the 4+ hours of conversation, it was clear that we liked each other well enough for several dates, if not a relationship or more, and I lost this for my age, and for no other reason.


January 13, 2008

Several years ago, the Orthodox Forum had an online discussion about the “singles crisis.”  (I can’t find the link, unfortunately.)  I don’t think they reached a conclusion, but one quote stuck with me.  A woman in her early 30’s wrote that she had been shomer shabbat her entire life, but sometimes found herself turning on the television on shabbat in order to keep herself company.  When I read that quote, I thought how ridiculous it seemed.  How could being single by itself cause this woman to start breaking shabbat?  There must be something wrong with her emunah or dedication.  A few years later, I find myself in the same position.

Staying frum is a challenge for many; we’re all aware that many jobs require a dedication which challenges shabbat and kashrut observance.  Since few rabbis have had jobs outside of the Jewish community, they aren’t aware of what it feels like (for instance) to be at a job interview when they take you out to lunch, so much of the advice seems irrelevant.

Staying frum while single is even more of a challenge, in my experience, and it gets exponentially harder with each year that goes by.  Since most rabbis married young, and many of our parents and even friends were married by the time they were our age, it’s hard to find people who really understand why it’s difficult to be single and frum.  This blog is about that struggle.  

About me, so you know where I’m coming from.  I have a good Jewish education from “centrist Orthodox” institutions, but I have also attended public school; I’m more religious than my parents.  For a long time, I classified myself as “centrist” (aka “Modern Orthodox machmir”), by which I mean having a strong dedication to halacha, really making the effort to have one’s life revolve around serving G-d, doing as much as possible of what you’ve learned either from rabbis or from your own learning, and being positive about increasing women’s learning but not synagogue/ritual participation.  

For a few years I was shomer negiah and was rah rah on the tsniut wagon, getting a warm feeling every time I read Gila Manolson and, if I ran across any particularly cute ones, buying tichels and hats to wear once I was married be”h.  Before I was shomer negiah, I did have a boyfriend, so shmirat negiah was hard to maintain.   I was pretty dedicated to the centrist/halacha-centric view before and spent time with those of the same bent.  

Now I’m in a community where halacha is a habit more than a way of life.  As they say in yeshiva, if you’re not climbing, you’re going down, which sounds pretty pessimistic now that I write it like that; if that’s true, I guess that we are.  For the past few years, I’ve found myself feeling increasingly lonely and alienated from the Jewish community.  I’m making this blog in hopes that writing about the problem will help me find answers, or at least record the struggle so that I can read about it once I’m married to remind myself how hard it can be.

Why dating is a challenge for being frum

January 13, 2008
I’m not entirely sure why dating is a challenge for being frum, but here are some reasons.  It’s definitely not a comprehensive list, though.
  1. As has been well-documented, the lack of affection and suppressed sexuality feels psychologically damaging, and it’s not the same to direct the need for affection towards women.  Infants need to be touched and held, and the need for touch doesn’t disappear when you grow up.  Some people manage to do without, but I felt like a complete human being again once I started hugging men again.   I once saw a tsniut lecture by a Modern Orthodox rabbi who said it was okay to shake hands as a greeting, but emphasized over and over how important it was for singles to avoid doing anything sexual/affectionate before marriage.  “When I married my wife at age 21, I had never had any sexual contact with a woman.  It is hard, but it is not impossible.”  Those of us who are more than a decade older than he was when he got married, and who have no immediate prospects of getting married, raised our eyebrows.  What does he mean by “hard”?  It’s not hard to be shomer negiah for a few years; a few years plus a decade, that’s hard.  And, I would argue, unhealthy for some.  
  2. Hosting shabbat meals can be really satisfying, but in the past couple of years while cleaning up afterwards, I feel even more lonely after the meals than I would have felt if I had never had them. Cleaning up after a large, happy group of people intensifies loneliness.  
  3. Going to shul, I’m reminded that my age peers are mostly married or dating, and many singles are close to a decade younger than me.   Trying to meet new people while feeling lonely is always a bad idea:  you radiate desperation, especially to men.  In the past couple of years, when I went to singles’ events despite feeling lonely, I’ve had a few guys almost literally run away from me; I am guessing it was the apparent desperation because they don’t generally run away from me when I’m not feeling lonely.  
  4. Davening reminds me of shul and the loneliness that I feel there, and also reminds me of how I have been inserting the same words in the davening for nearly 10 years, asking for a shidduch.  Obviously davening doesn’t come with guaranteed results, but it does start to feel a bit futile.  See the next reason as well.
  5. Learning, being careful about mitzvot, or anything else having to do with the mesorah, makes me wonder if I will have anyone to convey the tradition to.  Yes yes, no one should say “I am a dried up tree” (Isaiah) chas v’shalom, and yes, there is a reason to be observant even if one does not have children, but so much is bound up in “you shall tell your child” and being a good Jew for children is such a motivator for so many Jews, frum or not.  Once you have even a small infant, I’m told that you want to keep mitzvot so that they grow up in an environment full of Torah even before they know what it is. 
  6. The only part of my life where my efforts are consistently rewarded is my job; dating fails unpredictably (as I’ve especially been reminded lately), but if I finish a project, the project is mine forever.  Greater involvement in work leads to more close-calls with shabbat, more travel away, and more disconnection from the community.  
  7. Around the time that I turned 29, dating frum guys started to get difficult because 29 is already considered old.   Since non-frum people did not yet consider 29 to be old, I started dating them as well.  I still prefer frum guys, but given a choice is between children and observance, there’s no question:  children win.  Obviously, that’s the wrong halachic decision, and the choice is not that stark, but I would rather have a less religious family than no family at all or even a smaller family.  When I started dating non-frum guys, I had some illusions about whether they would become religious and I also had no clue how secular dating works. Now I have no expectations that they would become religious and I’ve become just as comfortable with secular dates as religious dates.  (For a secular guy to date me takes particular dedication since they assume correctly that I wouldn’t sleep with them, while a secular girl would.)
  8. When you’re dating someone who is a good candidate for marriage, there’s optimism, but after a long period when there are no realistic dates, only crazy or unintelligent ones, or ones 15 years older, it looks like there’s no realistic prospects for marriage.  There are three ways to look at a run of failed relationships:  it’s random, you’re doing something wrong, or there’s something wrong with you.  Random is okay, but the latter two are disturbing.  In theory, you can correct if you realize that you are doing something wrong, but scrutinizing everything is hardly positive.    
  9. While feeling lonely on shabbat, especially while cleaning up from a meal, while everyone has gone to be with their spouses or boyfriends, it really does help to turn on the radio or call a friend in a similar position.  The first time I did this was almost unconscious.  I thought of the Orthodox Forum woman and laughed.  Electricity on shabbat is not the worst issur in the world, and when I’m feeling so lonely it seems worth it.  
  10. Dating is full of rejection, which makes loneliness feel more intense.  Much of the rejection in dating is unfair or embarrassing, which makes it easy to feel bitter and self-absorbed, which makes it harder to be observant.  Sometimes I even regret having done the “right” thing: for instance, if I hesitate at another date, but decide to give them a chance, and then they turn me down in an embarrassing way; the previous relationship where I was apparently too trusting. 
So far, I’ve been able to come up with 10 reasons why being single and over 30 challenges my observance.  I am sure that there are others, but it’s nice to even have this list.  

Some dating challenges

January 13, 2008

Before I discuss my recent dating challenges, I want to say first off that I know that these are good problems to have.  I am healthy, have a graduate degree and a good job, a happy family, and close friends, and that puts me ahead of 99% of the world, so I don’t want to seem to be whining.  Still, I would like to get married and have children, so I need to date, and that’s where the challenges come from.

   Every year or so, I have a small-scale dating crisis where a confluence of events makes me feel much less hopeful about my chances at getting married in the near future.  To get married “in the near future” is perhaps a lot to ask:  while I am pretty certain that I will eventually get married, I would rather do so when I have a better chance of having healthy pregnancies and healthy children, and while men my own age will still agree to date me.  My latest dating crisis was caused by having a boyfriend break up with me and start a serious relationship immediately after, and losing a relationship I might have had, both in the past 2 weeks.   

I recently moved and I had no frum dating possibilities for months.  Then I met a frum guy who was really fantastic and close to his parents, who I trusted.  It looks like he got close to someone else while were were dating and didn’t break up with me until the new relationship was in the bag, so I felt totally duped.  The letdown was even greater because he broke up with me was by saying that I’m everything he ever wanted, but he isn’t ready for a relationship, creating false hope (yes, I’m that gullible), so I was even more shocked to find out about his relationship the very next day, and to discover a week later that it was really a serious relationship.  It’s not just losing the relationship that bothers me, but discovering whole new reasons for cynicism:  I believe in direct communication, and do not look for signs that someone is going to break up with me, but if I had, I might have seen this coming and could have broken off the relationship sooner.  The painful irony being that while dating this guy I had the chance to date three other men, and I turned them all down because I was dating this guy.  

Upon being dumped, I got back in touch with guys that I might have otherwise dated:  1 was married, 1 engaged, and 2 were in relationships.    Only one of these guys’ relationship really bothered me.  

Right before I moved, a frum guy revealed his feelings for me; we did not date because we didn’t want a long-distance relationship, but we became close fairly quickly during my visits back, and we planned to date if I moved back.  He had met a woman and felt that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.  He just started dating her.  Even worse, she’s almost 8 years younger than I, making it clear that I’m reaching an age where men who are my age have this whole new pool of younger women to date, while women don’t, so dating becomes uneven.  (Nothing wrong with older men, but marrying a man 10 years older means that you’ll be a widow 10 years longer than if you married someone your own age.)

Since I’m in a new city, I don’t have much social support.  My roommate was my only friend in town.  I introduced her to a guy and they got along amazingly well from the start, and I think they’ll get engaged within 2 months.  I’m happy and excited for them, but also sad to have my friendship with my only real friend in town change so much; it’s harder to be close friends with a couple than another woman, especially if they act like they pity you slightly because of your recent string of bad dating experiences, which makes it feel worse.

That’s what’s gone wrong in my dating life lately.   Why this makes me feel distant from HKBH, I don’t know, and it’s a good question to explore in another post.

Whine whine whine, I know.