Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Renaissance Man

I am not special. But I am a member of such a small club that's it's ridiculous. I'm not just talking about the Jewish people. This group is much more minute - the very fortunate group of knowledgeable, practicing, striving Jews. That's a tiny fraction of the world, and the Jewish people. And that's sad.

But sometimes we spend so much time analyzing this miniscule piece of humanity under a microscope that we lose an appreciation of how small the tip of the pyramid really is.

I look around at the friends I've gone to school with, and even among those, I'd still rank in the top percent. Again, I'm not inflating my own self worth. I merely look around in wonderment at where the people around me have ended up. Of my high school class, I'd say that less than half still keep Shabbos. I would be surprised if more than 20% of the guys I went to college with still daven with a minyan 3 times a day. Of the guys I learned in Israel, I'd say only 5% continue to learn at least an hour a day.

I hear that there aren't enough "frum" guys out there to support the frum female population. Is that the case? Based on what I've said above, that could be a true assertion. But what drives this phenomenon, this imbalance in the male/female frumkeit ratio? Why is it so skewed? I propose that this, not any social norm, is the real root of the "Shidduch Crisis."

How do we define "frum?" (And I'm not talking about superficial definitions.)

What is a "frum" guy? Not only must he look Jewish, with a Kippa and Tzitzis, which isn't easy in the working world, he must wake up early to pray, set aside time from work to pray, and push off exhaustion at the end of the day to pray. And he must shlep, if at all possible, to a Minyan. And whenever he is not working, or assisting with family duties, he must be studying Torah, with a chavrusa, a Rabbi, whomever. Even if we allow him the benefit of some personal time, he is expected to only value his Torah time. In addition to having enough knowledge to serve as a home-based halachic authority, these are the minimum requirements just to be considered frum, before even discussing other Mitzvos and the harder to measure things like Hashkafa, Bitachon, and Middos.

What is a frum girl? She should crack open a siddur at some point in the day, and should look good in a skirt. And be a good cook.

Now, I realize I'm being unfair. And am making generalizations. But how far off am I? I'm not saying that girls aren't frum or don't expend a lot of energy on their Avodas Hashem. I'm just pointing out that the measurements and expectations aren't as demanding.

What do girls want in a guy? They want either a guy who will learn all day, or a guy who will work and learn the rest of the day. In my mind, unfortunately, girls don't really understand what it means to be financially independent. They want a guy to learn full time, but they think that means they can keep up an ostentatious lifestyle. Or they assume that because their guy works, that Pesach in Miami grows on trees. The seminaries don’t help, telling you to look for something in a boy as if you can just pick one off the rack and head to the checkout. Yeah, it's good to want a frum guy to be a good influence in your home. But don't be fooled into thinking that just because you were told that a black hat and a certain Yeshiva were things to look for, that your world will be complete when you find that simple solution. Not that you don't deserve it, but there numerically aren’t that many of “those” guys out there, and “those” intense guys expect more for their money.

What do guys want? Even the "best" guys want surprising things. I can't tell you how many great learning and/or earning guys simply want a girl who is frum and "with it." They don't ask about her Middos, her Avodas Hashem. They want a girl who is pretty and funny. I'll admit, the desire to have an attractive girl is a blinding influence when you're dating, one I fear myself. But how many guys are looking for, and live up to the level of the Frum girls? Guys can't keep up with all the expectations that have been burdened on them by their schools, girls can. Then the girls come looking, and we're gone. Some girls drop down to the guys' level, whether out of despair or opportunity. The rest? Girls can only date older, so their choices are limited.

And this is where we have to look at the opening assumptions we bring into dating in order to address the "crisis." Frum people are looking for superficial things. As much as we bash the secular world, they tend to be far less superficial when choosing a spouse (yes, I'm not naive as to why). Not that we need emulate them, but we can learn from the basics. It shouldn't sound novel, but they marry because of love, common values, and personalities that "click." How often are these simple connections ignored in our community, even when we're not superficial? Sometimes we are so practical, so check list oriented on objective criteria, on whether it's "shayich," that we never give it a shot.

And this is my personal solution to the "Shidduch Crisis." There may be an imbalance between the frum guys and frum girls. But that doesn't mean, C"VSH, that you have to alternatively despair or "drop down a notch." You just have to look around and find that there are more frum people out there, if only you look at them differently. They may not meet the definitions you were taught, but they are ready to struggle. They just need your help, your dedication, your frumkeit, to push them the next step.

I'm going to take the first comment to A) apologize for the length of the post. I just had a lot to say, so hopefully you'll have the time and patience to read through it. And B) apologize for the many generalization, unrefined points, and unpursued tangents. I wanted to get my points up for discussion, not leave them indefinitely in editing mode. So hopefully you'll be able to get past the details and catch the larger message.
It's a great post with a great message. Don't worry about the generalizations, I get your gist. This is why women aren't obligated to do time-bound mitzvot. It would be impossible with the tasks in the home-especially once children come. It's *so* hard to be a religious Jewish man. Sometimes I look at them and think....."HA HA!! SUCKERS!" (I'm *totally* kidding). I understood that the whole shadchan thing was about letting someone else determine whether or not your backgrounds and values are similar enough to maybe be able to make a successful life together. Make sure that all the background stuff is in order and love will come later. Yehuda Amichai said that you should marry someone who comes from the same place you do--where the stones have been baked under the same sun or something like that. Meaning you need to have the same subtext. And why can't older women date and marry younger men--I think this can be beneficial to both parties. Obviously there is an expiration date on a woman's eggs so this can't be taken too far, but a woman who is up to five years older shouldn't be ruled out. That's just my opinion.
don't worry, shosh, i hear josh is actually very much into older women...

and josh- wtf??? (had to use it...) from what i've seen, girls will date pretty much any guy who can read hebrew- or is trying to learn. i have heard that girls are now desperate enough to actually travel to the guy for a date.... seriously, though, from what i've seen guys want a "good" girl, super shtark, but super with it and worldly (which don't usually go hand in hand). she has to be pretty, put together, and don't forget a size 2, but not superficial or materialistic. she should inspire him to learn, daven, and do the right thing, but also be willing to go to the movies with him. she has to be flirty enough to picque his interest, but not "out there" enough that she seems to have a checkered past. most guys seem not willing to compromise on a few extra pounds or some buck teeth, whereas girls will date less frum, more frum, taller, shorter, white shirt, colored shirt, good yeshiva, bad yeshiva, good job, lame job, no job- with full knowledge that she will be expected to "bring him up" when they get married. if anything, i think guys have it MUCH easier in the yeshivish world. throw on some dark trousers and a white shirt and you're good to go. any girl in the dating parsha gets critiqued on every inch of hemline, every button of shirt, every strand of hair, and every inkling of yiras shomayim and coolness.

and you think that secular people marry out of love, common values, and clicking personalities? how about because of sex, unrealistic expectations, and just plain no idea of what is involved to make a real marraige work? i think most of them marry out of a narcissistic desire to get what makes them feel good, and not because of what they can build or what they can give to the other person (which in the secular world is often called co-dependent...).

man, you have been dating the wrooooooooooooooooooooooooong people (or sitting nest to them on planes). it's time for you to meet a better shadchan ;)

please send chocolate. love, BB
Josh - I think you make some very good points. Dating in today's frum world is very complicated. It always will be when you have other people working on your behalf to find you the right woman or man.

I think it is harder to be frum and stay frum for a working guy in today's society. With all the competition for career advancment, company lunches, dinners, parties, saturday meetings, single non jewish/non religous girls with the sun dresses in the summer...the list of challenges is endless.

To find a "frum" working guy who is still able to make it to minyan, learn, go to work, and help with the dishes/laundry/feeding time with the kids is not an easy task.

I think that "frum" girls looking for working guys may be begining to reallize that a guy may not be able to make it to minyan 3 times a day but that may not make him any less frum. is this what you are defining as dropping down a notch?

In seminary today I am told that the policy is to say "if you dont marry a guy who wants to learn in kollel for at least 5 years after marriage you are evil (and so is he).
If this is true - this could be a part of the root cause of our problem. Creating unrealistic expectations in our marriage pool leaves girls beliving that as they couldn't find the learning boy they have to "drop down a notch" and "settle" for the working boy.

As a side note I belive that the pool of learning guys is getting smaller because as bochurim slowly begin to realize that money doesn't fly out from the gemara, that the father in law may not have a business for him to go into, or either parents dont have an extra 2K a month to support you, you actually have to do a little hishtadlus and find a job to support your family.

With that said - I think that as frum people like you begin to recognize this "crisis", everyones expectations are changing. I think you are right to say that "you just have to look at the person differently."

There is hope out there and I believe that everyone has a beshert - even if they happen to be working in finance in kraft foods!

Blog Brit

P.S. The secular dating scene is (from what I see and hear about from my non jewish friends at work) is much worse that the shidduch scene. It is filled with heartache, wasted time, deflated egos (and heavily inflated ones) and leaves a lot more broken hearts than it creates good marriages. It is very rare to find a couple marrying out of true love.
josh - what about renaissance women? so many women nowadays are expected to: get their masters, get good jobs, raise a family, cook gourmet meals for shabbos and invite guests, get involved in some sort of chesed - all this while looking great, being perfectly groomed and slim. i know people like this. many are supporting their families while their husbands learn or bringing in a second income. i think that's a tall order. and they don't just break out a sidur - they really daven with kavannah - every day - shacharis and some daven mincha as well.
Interesting take on a very large problem.

Obviously (and this is probably tru-er about younger people looking to get married) people are too much into what yeshivah, what color shirt, what color tablecloth, etc etc yada yada yada - to actually make informed decisions about individuals. And this kills shidduchim.

And yes, this is one of the many reasons I find fault with people who get married too young - and who are marrying an "ideal" instead of a human.
Well, I think this is a bigger issue that none of us are talking about; how about the fact that men and women need a decoding dictionary to speak and understand each other. Josh, I think you are somewhat mistaken on your take in women, and think we women are somewhat mistaken on our take in men.
It does seem to me that women are more committed to the thought of commitment than men are. I can not tell you how many times I have dated someone who is really not interested in marriage as so wastes my time and theirs. We women are held to a higher standard than you are allowing for. We have more responsibilities than I think even we are aware of sometimes.
We do "bend" on our shopping lists or throw them out altogether very often. Perhaps you could talk to the men and I could talk to the women and some sort of meeting in the middle will occur, ahh the life of an idealist!
I just want to say that I like the new picture josh, love the beard for sure.

I think there are way too many generalizations going on. i don't think that girls bend or compromise on their lists more than men do. Yes, physically men have a ton more leeway, pun intended josh, but have you ladies any idea what it is like if you are a guy struggling with parnassa for example? Or if you haven't gone ot the right yeshiva or can't learn a certain amount.

The fact is, dating is very superficial in the shidduch world, at least according to my experiences. There seems to me to be a lack of realism for lack of a better word. There is so much research, conference calls, people's people talking to other people's people...the negotiating that goes on before two people even agree to meet is astounding. I don't know if it is because people are too jaded, too guarded or too whatever to try and make a real connection to someone out there.

Whenever I talk to married people who have been married for a while, about their dating experience it seems like an entire light age ago. Whether it is men or women, it is hard for everyone. It is a good system it could just use some tweaking.
having trouble myself in this area, i won't submit my own personal input, but i'll tell you something i learned recently about shidduchim from my chavrusa, which is buried deep somewhere in the maze of gemara: apparently it says somewhere that when a man is looking to make a shidduch, he should lower himself down a bit to find the perfect girl, which is not to say that he should go find himself a balegolah, but rather he should take himself off the pedestal he puts himself on, stop thinking he's soooo great,and then proceed to find the lady who is on the same level as he is on.
and personally, if i were a guy, i'd think i'd love a woman like the lady in ushpizin, michal bat sheva rand.
Josh, I completely agree with you. For me it's SO hard to be positive knowing that you're doing all the right things and you just can't seem to find the right boy. I hate that all the hypocrits get what they want and then me, who tries to be fair is still single. As you have told me many a time, keep your eye on the ball and you'll get there....It's REALLY hard.... when everyone around you is engaged/married/having children and you're still single. I know you say to make your life complete -- much easier said than done. I try to fulfill my life daily with all sorts of wonderful things. You just want that special someone to share it with.

Balancing Torah and Secular life is a difficult task but if a girl is able to balance it herself -- she deserves no less.

Anyway, I commented (finally)!
Well I'm new to the yeshivish world, know nothing about the "shidduch scene", and am far from "ideal" (by the classic shidduch standards). However, having considerable experience in dating in the secular world, I think the frum community is much better. While you do get the opportunity to date without the pretentiousness, and you are more comfortable interacting with the opposite sex, and marriages based on love that has grown - you also have a lot more people who are single. A lot. The "Hollywood Love Story" occurs like 1 in every 100 cases it seems. More often then not you get a married couple who isn't committed, are looking to "discover themselves" (independant of their current spouse mind you), and just want to play the field forever. Divorce is "no biggie" and the feeling of "what can this person do for me?" prevails.

The only thing that scares me about the frum dating world is that too many singles want someone just like their mother/father, or just like their chaver's spouse, or just like their Rav's wife, etc. If someone is a little "out of the norm" it's seen as a defect. In the secular world, it's actually a huge assest, but they realize different doesn't mean bad. For example, when I worked in the aviation industry as a woman, men in the secular world thought that was the coolest thing. In the frum world, you may as well paint "Old Maid" on your forehead, because no one will ever date you with a job like that - even if you did pick you own hours, worked in a situation that was perfectly tznius and you had your time off (a lot of work on my old job was done on a bench in a workshop somewhere), and everything was fine from a halachaic standpoint; how many frum guys could even bring themselves to say the statement, "Oh my wife is an aviation technician." Why? So what if you have to do a little explaining? The fear that many (not all) frum men have of being different is quite distressing to me.

As far as what women look for? I dunno - I didn't grow up frum. I don't expect a man to be a "Super Yid" and learn in kollel, look like George Clooney, and brings home $125,000 a year. I want him to just take being a Jew seriously. To abide by the home halachot of taharas hamispacha, kasrus, and Shabbos. And also to look to enhance Yiddishkeit and not look for loopholes and excuses on observance. Everything else is between him and Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That I'm perfectly cool with.
Shosh - I guess nobody can be expected to do everything. That must be why the Torah had different expectations of each sex. And I agree with you that having a Shadchan is a great way to make sure that people are in the same ballpark. Unfortunately, people take this too far, and expect every checklist item to be reviewed beforehand. And I guess older woman are ok. But they definitely have a stigma of "if they're not married, there must be something wrong with them" in the frum community. I'll admit, I've gone out with older girls before, but had this idea in the back of my head. That being said, you're only five years older than me...

BB - You can have your turn too. But I think we agree. My post says guys have it hard when it comes to Frumkeit, not dating. Because it is so hard for guys to be frum, there aren't many out there, so girls have a tough time finding one. That is the cause of the phenomenon that you point out - girls compromising, while the guys nitpick on everything. If we can find a way to make more frum guys, then the playing field will be more level, and the dating scene will not be as sick. As far as non-Jewish marriages, this would be one of the generalizations that I apologized for. My intention wasn't to say that non-Jewish marriages are purer than ours. I was merely trying to point out one way that they are more open minded than us - two people are more likely to meet in college, and get together out of shared interests, whereas in our world they will only agree to meet after thorough screening. Sure, they have divorce and selfishness in their world. I'm not advocating we be jealous of them. I'm just saying we can learn from some of the normal, non-competitive nature of the mating process outside of the Shidduch world. I think it says something when a girl can't talk to me on a plane, either because it might "hurt" her reputation, or because she has already ruled me out based on never having talked to me, or that she is emotionally incapable of viewing the opposite sex outside of a marry/don't marry viewpoint. Not everyone has a Shadchan as hot as you.

Anon (I cracked up when I saw your post five seconds after your wife's) - I think girls drop down a notch when they get frustrated with the lack of frum guys on the market (and other factors obviously, such as a lack of motivating people in their life to celebrate frumkeit). Instead of understanding that a guy who doesn't go to minyan 3 times a day may still be frum but too busy, they just don't look for a guy who goes to minyan at all. When they see their ideal as non-realistic, they dispose of the whole ideal. So they go with a guy who doesn't daven, even when he could. They go to movies with him, because he doesn't care. All this instead of holding onto their ideal of a frum guy, but realizing that the guy may not meet all the superficial definitions they were told during all the "comparing" sessions with their friends. Maybe he doesn't have a chavrusa, but realizes it's important. Maybe he watches TV, but only because his roommates do. We have to not judge on what we see so quickly, and let people explain what they see as important in life. Nobody needs to drop their standards. We just have to be conscious of what we're asking for. Do you really need a guy who is in the "top" shiur, or is the guy who just appreciates a good dvar torah really less frum? People have to realize you're not marrying credentials- somebody to show off; you're marrying somebody whom you can grow with.

MH - I wouldn't disagree that there are plenty of renaissance women out there. But I wouldn't say that they are expected to be (and some of those are actually looked at unfavorably in some circles). And also, many of these are outside the definition of Mitzvos (ie regardless of whether they are frum, these are things that married women do). So while I think your factors highlight a spectacular woman, I don't think they discourage women from being frum. The guy who finds that girl is very lucky, but chances are he won't be frum enough for her, or he'll be one of those "top" guys who took her for her ability to look good all the time.

Elster - Very well said. People are looking for somebody who fits their criteria, or more specifically, fits the criteria of their school or friends, and don't bother to connect with the soul.

PC - I will agree that there are men/women communication issues - in any community. I don't think either side has it easy. But I do think that there is a real disparity in the committment to frumkeit.

Tailor - I think you actually agree with me. Guys can get discriminated against because they aren't frum enough for the girl, but we may be frum. We just don't meet the definition (hours learning, where we went to yeshiva) that they expect. It is that overkill in the research department that hurts everybody. Not because research is bad, but because it doesn't give us the opportunity to get to know what a person is really about. Something about not judging a book by its cover.

Erica - You win the best comment insight award. I'll repeat it - dropping your expectations down a notch doesn't mean compromising on what you deserve. It means lowering your own ego to see that you aren't perfect and shouldn't expect everything of your spouse already in place. Otherwise what would you accomplish in marriage if there was no room for growth?

IMM - Yay, we finally agree! Hopefully, you'll also agree to my advice here, which has been to realize that a "shtark" guy has no single definition. I know you're very open minded, and sometimes it just takes a while to meet the right one.

Shona - Yeah, I was really only referring to the fact that in the non-Jewish world they are able to go out with people without any pretense. That world may be too open, and really I would say you still need a Shadchan. This prevents going out for purely superficial reasons or for hooking up. But we have a problem in our world where Shadchanus is only increasing the superficial nature of dating. I agree that people who won't go out because they don't know how to explain a woman's job are superficial. This is definitely part of the problem. But of course, if everyone had such an open minded view of what they were looking for as you, with the broad view of common priorities, instead of a narrow list of how we perceive these priorities should be demonstrated, than we'd be much closer to solving the problem.
wow...this post wasn't too long. The things you mentioned can be talked about for hours on end. I think Josh, you're an amazing man. I loved this post. I'm not usually the best commenter, just I wanted to tell you how much I aprreciated it.
Thou givest too much credit -- I think our sages are to blame for such Divine insight. Just promise me, when Hashem provides, that I'll be able to dance at your wedding.
EC - I guess a blog is a place to talk for hours. Thanks, now I just need to be more shmevedik.

E - It's your dang prophecy that puts you right up there. Sometimes we read right past all the advisory sayings of the sages, and just need to hear it from a friend. Am I the only one that dances when nobody is around to warm up for random friends' weddings, regardless of if they are even engaged?
Josh - You are touching on a broader issue. Frum people tend to judge each other based on external minutiae. The dating world is just one expression of that. That is a recurring theme in my own blog and something that I spill a lot of ink about (err, digital ink).

People are mixing up what you are trying to say - you don't mean that being a frum woman is any easier than being a frum man. Rather, you are saying that the criteria through which frum men are judged in the shidduch world is a lot harsher than how frum women are judged in the shidduch world. On that point, I would have to agree with you.
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