Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dating Guys vs. Dating Gals

Men and women view the maelstrom of dating through different eyes, I believe. Having spent years observing the reactions of both sexes, I can say they do approach the whole sensitive topic from different perspectives. 
So claims Daniel Jones, longtime editor of the "Modern Love" column ("How We Write About Love"). When one has read multitudes of submissions, one can get a jist.  
Women and men may feel love similarly, but they write about it differently.
A lot of men’s stories seem tinged by regret and nostalgia. They wish previous relationships hadn’t ended or romantic opportunities hadn’t slipped away. They lament not having been more emotionally open with lovers, wives, parents and children.
Women are more inclined to write with restlessness. They want to figure love out. Many keep mental lists of their expectations, detailing the characteristics of their hoped-for partner with alarming specificity and then evaluating how a new romantic interest does or doesn’t match that type.
They write something like, “I always pictured myself with someone taller, a guy with cropped brown hair and wire-rim glasses who wears khakis or jeans, the kind of person who would bring me tea in bed and read the Sunday paper with me on the couch.”
Men almost never describe the characteristics of their ideal partner in this way. Even if they have a specific picture in mind, few will put that vision to paper. I wonder if they’re embarrassed to.
. . . A woman is more likely to believe her romantic ideal awaits somewhere in the future, where her long-held fantasy becomes a flesh-and-blood reality.
A man’s romantic ideal typically exists somewhere in the past in the form of an actual person he loved but let go of, or who got away. And he keeps going back to her in his mind, and probably also on Facebook and Instagram, thinking, “What if?”
So women tend to be optimistic dreamers, looking forward as they mentally construct the perfect man, while men—with a distinct lack of imagination—opine over a known lost love. 

Females, obviously, do not end up with the fantasy male, lovingly constructed to specification. In my case, although, I seem to be mooning over the options of years past, perhaps because the current crop is so very unpromising. Ha, I'm thinking like a man. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

I Understand

There is something wrong with me, I realized. 

I was reading David Mitchell's Ghostwritten (not really crazy about it, absorbing but not enjoyable), which opens with the narrative (spoiler alert!) of a cult-follower planning terrorism. He is looking into the faces of his victims and feels only exultation, not contrition. 

But I let it go. 

Why? Well, there is a back story. Unhappy kid, bullied, no one understands him, then a larger-than-life figure gives him all the attention and respect he has been craving his entire existence, and he imprints. 

It's understandable how he became a monster. His family, his classmates, the world, failed him. 
"To understand everything is to forgive everything," Frederick Forsyth wrote in The Phantom of Manhattan. Books and movies—good ones, at least—delve into the story of a character, through and through. People have reasons for what they do. While the action may be horrible, the perpetrator's motivations came from somewhere, however misguided and warped he may be. 

When I comprehended this, I knew now how to achieve actual dan l'kaf zechus: Pretend the other is a book character. Consider the back story. Low self-esteem? Lack of childhood socialization? Currently dealing with a soul-crushing situation? 
It doesn't excuse what she said or did to me, but it does humanize her, as opposed to she-devil-who-made-me-feel-like-crap.      

Friday, July 24, 2015

Erev Tisha B'Av

The curse of God is our selfishness. Every Jew is only out for himself. "I, I, I." We won't return home, the Diaspora will not end until we accept that we are a people, and act upon it. Star of Peace, Jan de Hartog  


Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Deed

You know when a friend is really a friend? 

When you really, really need help, and they appear, ready for action. 
"How to Be a Friend in Deed" by Bruce Feiler peels away the cop-outs that many (including me) avail of when it comes to potentially uncomfortable situations where friends are floundering. 

Tweeting "The sun will come out tomorrow" is not exactly useful. Texting "Hugs!" is bare comfort. Leaving messages "Tell me if you need anything" puts the onus on the receiver as opposed to the giver. 

The same way parenting can't be executed through a screen, so to with active friendship; proximity is required, hands at the ready.
If there is a common theme, it’s that while technology does offer support, many still crave the real thing. Crisis is a test of friendship, and success, in this case, is measured in intimacy.
Sometimes the needy friend just wants to escape reality with a night out talking about shoes. And whatever you do, don't Pollyanna them. That's not fair. You can Pollyanna yourself as much as you like, but barfing all those rays of light on someone else is the easy way out. 
“A friend of mine did the best thing,” he said. “Rather than say everything would be O.K., he said quite simply: ‘I will like you if I’m the last person to do so. There’s nothing you can do to put me off you. You’re stuck with me for life. You may hate yourself, and the world may, too; but I won’t follow suit.’ ”
Mr. de Botton said he found the gesture comforting: “Friends should entertain the darkest scenarios and show you that these would, nevertheless, be survivable.” Instead of placating with false optimism, he said, “I need grim, grim realism, combined with stoic fortitude — colored by a touch of gallows humor.”
Sharing knowledge of the darkness is way more comforting, as well as stories of one's own struggles. 
“When someone is vulnerable with you, it seems only polite to be at least a little bit vulnerable back,” she said. “If someone says, ‘Sometimes I regret every one of my life choices,’ don’t just stand there nodding smugly. Volunteer your own regrets. Everyone has them. And if you don’t, I’d say it’s a wonder you have any friends.”  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Now, Voyager"

The sage advice of Philip Galanes, as a seeker of his advice concludes the request with: 
Obviously, I want nothing more to do with him, but I absolutely need to let him know that his behavior was despicable. What would be the best way to do this?
. . . what good can possibly come from further engagement with this fool, other than giving him the pleasure of knowing that he got under your skin? You are not his teacher. (Or at least I hope you aren’t. That would open a different can of worms.) Do not write to him again, and do not reply to future texts. Only rarely is it worthwhile to circle back to crime scenes (other than for Mark Harmon on “NCIS”) or soured romances. Keep bad boyfriends in your rearview mirror.
Do dates of the past have such a grip upon the ruminations of all, or is it just me? I wonder at times if the ponderings of both the pleasant and unpleasant experiences of my dating decade are similarly harmful. 

It has certainly been an education. My innocent, wide-eyed, gee-whiz view of the world has certainly morphed, thanks to dating. There have been outings which left me energized, others traumatized. There were conversations where I was the epitome of wit and a master of the riposte, while others I was the essence of verbal clumsiness. Looking back, there were many interactions over which I alternatively crow and cringe.
But I don't want to bring a Millenium Falcon's load in baggage with each new opportunity. After all, this new someone can't help it if there was a Boba Fett or Greedo that got to my spleen before he did. I would hope he doesn't hold his dating past against me. 

The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.
                                 —Walt Whitman
So I should look forward . . . after judiciously selecting top moments from the last ten years on how to keep conversation light and pleasant. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Vengeance is His!

Established: I am a chicken. I hate fights. I hate scenes. I hate blubbering "You really hurt me!" 

But I am a chicken with a flourishing fantasy life. Often when I brush my teeth I narrow my eyes at the mirror and mentally tell off my nemesis with the coolest of remarks, the sharpest of ripostes, whilst maintaining my dignity and emotions. 

Yeah, right. 

"Oh, let it go," I have been told, and I tell myself. Yes, that would be the best way. But a quick question: You have no grudges? None? Against no one? In the entirety of your life? And you have siblings?
Vengeance is a tricky business. It's best served cold since hot emotions tends to blunder the planning process, but serving it at all rarely leads to further satisfaction. 

So Kate Murphy reports in "The Futility of Vengeance."  Most like to think they are above such petty and primordial urges . . .  
“What’s interesting is when we ask people to tell us about a time they got revenge, they can’t recall” — they say “they’d never do that,” said Thomas M. Tripp, a professor of management at Washington State University, Vancouver, who studies revenge in the workplace. “But then you ask them to tell about a time they got even and they have no problem gleefully telling you about the guy who got his just deserts.”
Once, by a Shabbos meal, one of the guests launched into a long story about how she had been wronged and shamed before an audience by a callous woman. "But," she concluded with relish, "her daughter's marriage fell apart soon after. She got it back!" 

Needless to say, the rest of the table was squirming. My family was shocked on another level, because this supposed "victim" did the same thing to my mother as her wrong-doer did to her. Luckily, Ma didn't contemplate such a gruesome punishment as she did.

I am happy to report that my childhood bully doesn't dwell in my thoughts—much. 
Moreover, anything that shatters one’s sense of reality and safety tends to produce a powerful reaction. This is why so many like Mr. Kurzweil have not forgotten childhood bullies who most likely personify their introduction to cruelty.
I did manage to deliver, once, the perfect rejoinder. She had been mocking me for taking up a volunteer class project (which was ultimately never completed) and I managed to stay calm while my mind churned for the best reaction. Then, it came to me. I casually asked her why does she care what I do in my spare time. She quietly went away. That memory of banishing my tormentor with a few carefully chosen words buoys me still as the day I freed myself from her hold.  
But the thing is, when people take it upon themselves to exact revenge, not only does it fail to prevent future harm but it also ultimately doesn’t make the avenger feel any better. While they may experience an initial intoxicating rush, research indicates that upon reflection, people feel far less satisfied after they take revenge than they imagined.
Rather than inflicting suffering, it turns out that what victims really want is remorse from the person who wronged them, along with a heartfelt apology, which includes a promise to reform and rectify the situation as much as possible. Ironically, such reconciliation is far less likely after a vengeful act. If anything, vengeance escalates the conflict, leading to an increasingly malicious game of tit for tat.
Personally, I avoid apologies. I don't want remorse. I just wanted to be left alone.

As the second paragraph points out, once vengeance has been enacted, it never ends. We go from "He stole my pen" to "He stole my house" to both sides being dead. Ever seen the movie Big Country? (Spoilers!) Two men, sworn enemies, drag their own families into their feud until their sons stand up to them and tell them to end it, betwixt them two alone. They shoot each other. Kinda pointless.
Interestingly, people who are the least likely to seek vengeance tend to believe those who wronged them will ultimately get their comeuppance — in this or the afterlife. They let some higher power or fate be the final arbiter or avenger, as it were.  
I learned in school that in the times of the Bais HaMikdosh, if someone was accused of a crime, then he is released if there is insufficient evidence. But if new evidence comes to light, however, he would not be taken back into custody, because Hashem will take care of him. Sweet vindication! Hey, He'll mete justice upon the evildoer! I'll go make a cake instead.
In the 9 Days, I'll try more than ever to let things go. Since vengeance is futile anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Are You Listening?

I've been watching Arranged, a reality show about three arranged-marriage couples: Roma (the only really legit pair), Southern Christians, and Indian. 

The Indian duet, Ragini and Veeral, are not quite typical for their background—they lived together before marrying. I don't know if it's how they spliced the drama for maximum effect, but as soon as they officially wed, they start fighting. (I would think they would have worked out those issues by now, don't you?) 
Ragini, definitely a Type-A personality, suggests they see a therapist; the laid-back Veeral is at first horrified, but then agrees. 

In their first session, the therapist suggests an exercise where one speaks, and the other repeats back exactly what the other says. "When you ________, it makes me feel ________," for example. 

Ragini goes first, and Veeral successfully echoes her statements and sentiments. But when Ragini is supposed to be repeating Veeral's words, the therapist interjects, "That's not what he said." 


The therapist interprets Ragini's inability to simply repeat after Veeral that her anxiety and need to control stems from her "wounded inner child"; when young, her emotional needs weren't met, which can manifest in a more self-centered adult who is focused on their own wants and desires. When Veeral speaks, she projects what she thinks he is saying and means, not even contemplating his actual feelings. It's all about her viewpoint. 

I thought this was awesome, firstly because Ragini was so sure she was right about everything. Secondly, because that is just so so so true. How often do we do that in our own relationships? Family, spouses, friends?

Although, how long does "wounded inner child" fly as an excuse? 

I have read the letters some gals write in to "Dear Abby": We've been dating for a while, but he says that he doesn't think it's a good fit and doesn't want to marry me. What can I do to get him over his commitment problems? 

It's up to the professional to inform her: Sweetie, did you even hear him? He's just not that into you. Move on. 

We often don't want to hear what clashes with our desires. But then we complain backward about how we were taken in. Stop banging on the closed door. Find another one. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

No Money Tree, Kids

Once upon a time, money was not spoken about. It was considered crass, impolite, indiscreet. But then again, many topics were considered verboten, which have all since been busted wide in this secret-free and loud era. 

As for myself, in my childhood, money was really not spoken about. I was thrifty by nature; Babi would send me a check on my birthday, which was immediately deposited into the bank account Ta created at my birth, where it earned interest at a rate that no longer exists. If I wanted anything, I would bring my petition to the high potentate (Ma), where my request would be accepted or denied. Life was pleasantly simple. 

Today, with so many once-untouchable matters being openly discussed, that would make the kinfauna's approach to cash quite different from my kiddie view. Shopping with my 13-year-old niece, I bought her a pair of shoes for her birthday. She fretted that they cost too much (they didn't), not realizing that she doesn't give a second thought to other, more costly expenses. 

When times are good, then the after-effects of money is not a conversation. When times are bad, such as a Recession, then there comes a need to address the sensitive subject of spoiled children.

Ron Lieber wrote The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. He also has article with some of the book's information, "Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make." There is an interview with the author here.
That idea made my breath catch. Tell younglings about their parents' salaries? Unheard of! Absurd! As I continued reading, I managed to grudgingly put aside my biases, finding myself swayed by Lieber's anecdotal arguments. 

While I do think that there are people out there who are stupid about money no matter how much education they receive in that area, most of us are simply tossed into the world of bills and budget without any prep work. Our schools should certainly have required courses in the realities of money before these teenagers make any life-altering decisions.

In my observations, I see that many make the fatal error of thinking that being a "loving parent" means showering offspring with expensive toys, snacks, and clothing. Yet as those children age, they will have been carefully taught that only things have value, as opposed to actual values. 
What rugrats actually crave is quality time with their parents. Give a kid an iPad, and he'll be initially thrilled, but not when his father retreats into his own tablet and shuts him out.

I grew up with toys (I adored Barbies) and I was in no way deprived. Yet each were purchased with tactical care, not mindlessly. There were many "no"s before we got to the "yes"s, and still Babi thought Ma was wasting money. If I make the stupendous mistake of shopping with the youngest of kinfauna, I get many admiring smiles from bystanders as I repeat, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no." But the kiddies aren't resentful. They pout for a few minutes, and most of the time they forget what took their fancy. They do a bigger dance at the idea of me going hoarse reading them books. Like The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


I've posted before about the false allure of "The Story." 

You know, "The Story"—how the happy couple met. Across a crowded room, she left behind a glass slipper, he awoke her from a drugged sleep. He was there, when. She emerged, then.
West Side Story, 1961
I thought I was immune. I thought those sort of tales were sweet, but me, to put any store in such unimportant stupidity? I would never fall into that trap. I would not be seduced by the siren call that is The Story!TM

Until the day I heedlessly tripped, and sailed into the ditch.  I shall explain.

I tend to live my life by a schedule. One day, my schedule was but slightly altered. I bumped into an acquaintance in the drugstore and I chatted for longer than usual; I was held up by a long line in the supermarket; then I picked up books from the library. 

Because of this minute change in timing, my awry path was now crossed to another woman who also lives her life by schedule. We played a successful game of Jewish geography, delighting in our close connection. "You're cousins with my sister-in-law's aunt-by-marriage! We're almost family!"

It was when we wished each other a good evening that she hesitated a moment, then called me back. She knew of a wonderful boy, she said, a close friend of her son's. All of his details sounded quite delightful, and I built an image in my head (based on her description) of a sweet yet serious quasi-nerd, the man of my dreams.

Of course he would be the One! After all, behold The Story!TM Such hashgocha pratis, that she and I should finally be introduced, and she had the presence of mind to suggest my bashert! 

The initial phone call could not have been better. How funny! How pleasant! How cheerful! I walked on air. As the days passed, I became firmer in my resolve: I was done. It was him. Hashem had finally sent me my nerfherder, and I even had The Story!TM
On the evening in question, as my very being thrummed with the thrill of impending destiny, I waited eagerly for the clock to strike 6. 

Then 6:02. 

Then 6:06. 

Then 6:10. 

It was only at 6:15 that I received the apologetic text for "running late." 

Perhaps I should clarify that he lives a mere two minutes away? 

I saw him through the window when he eventually arrived, my intestines twisted with both anger and anticipation, as the television warbled in the background, futilely attempting to distract me. Okay, it's not starting off as well as I would like, I told myself. But he's Han, right? The Story!TM Don't forget The Story!TM

When he bounced through the door, I felt something snap in my brain and churn in my stomach. I was awash in shock, my face frozen. Ever the consummate actress, my years of training failed me as I blankly absorbed not the bashful, considerate bachelor of my shadchan's portrayal and my imagination's invention, but an overcoiffed, overgymed, overtanned, overtoothed dude.
Yet I could not get my expectations to shift. But he's my bashert! my soul continued to stubbornly bleat, while my guts shriveled in horror. Instead of maintaining a cool and calm composure whilst every fiber in my being found his proximity distasteful, I swallowed, instead of lightly challenging, his egregious behavior as the evening continued.

I returned home dazed, confused, and berating myself for not handling this bad date the way I usually would. It was the first time in nearly two years that I actually looked forward to date, and it had exploded like the Death Star (I and II) in my face.
Eibishter, why? I wondered. Why should I enter this grand show of divine timing, to meet specifically this woman, who believed this—this—Gamorrean was a great guy?
Perhaps it was to remind me that I was not invulnerable to the sway of The Story!TM