Monday, January 20, 2020

Learning Kindness

I'm wondering when I'll finally get over having been an "older single." I still identify as such, even though I officially left the moniker behind more than two years ago. 

I have recently been filled with feelings of . . . well, I'm not sure how to put it. 

I was single. I was dating for over a decade. Han showed up when he was supposed to show up. 

So, I could have spent those years feeling the way I wanted to feel, that Hashem has my man tucked away somewhere and when the time is right He'll produce him. In the meantime, therefore, I should simply be.  

But that wasn't allowed. Because whenever I tried to invoke Him, I was told, "No, you have to do your hishtadlus." Yet, what is hishtadlus? It means different things to different people. 

1. It means cold-calling "shadchanim." 
2. It means going out with every guy who's suggested. 
3. It means going to singles events. 
4. It means tackling every male within site and demanding marriage or else they will never draw breath again. 

When I executed as much "hishtadlus" that I felt comfortable with, and was still single, we moved on to other territory: What I must be doing wrong.  

I wish I could say I was confident enough to ignore the naysayers, but I wasn't. I would blog about it, listing proofs as to my normalcy, pleading with my audience to concur that I wasn't a freak, right?  

Either way, finding a spouse was on me: I wasn't doing enough hishtadlus and/or I was a nutter who cleaned her toes during a lobby date. 

I could have been more chillaxed in that time, instead of battling breathing-into-a-paper-bag anxiety. I could have seen my life as more than "pathetically single" and, perhaps, have utilized my time differently. Maybe I would have gotten into sourdough earlier. 

I'm doing that annoying 20/20 hindsight thing. Based on parental hopes alone, I would have still been a nervous wreck. But did others have to rub it in? To make me feel like you-know-what? 

Sigh. 

I suppose one thing I have certainly learned is that whenever that judgy inner voice starts piping that it's "their fault," I shut it down. Or try to, at least, which is more than I used to do before. I think I have become a kinder person after being subjected to wagging fingers for a decade. Everyone has their own burdens. Whether it's their fault or not is besides the point. 

So let's be kind.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Lessons from the Ancient

I have had a recent epiphany. 

I'm old. 

OK, not old old. Not ancient. Not quite the crypt keeper. 

But I'm certainly older than I used to be. 

I like dark chocolate. The type that's 72% cacao? That nasty stuff. Milk chocolate, the joy of my girlhood, is too sweet.

My lower back is something to be coddled and exercised. I wear a posture corrector so it doesn't go to pot while hauling a rather zaftig infant on my hip. 

My kinfauna are dating. (Do they seek my insights after my many, many years in the field? Of course not.) 

Despite my rigorous creaming program, smile lines are fighting back. 

I'm going to be 35 this year. I shouldn't be so surprised. 

I'm not upset by my revelation. It has made be contemplative. 

Should I be having a mini-mid-life crisis? Frankly, I'm too tired. Ben doesn't quite sleep through the night, and I'm too busy gazing at him in a I-can't-believe-this-squishy-baby-is-mine haze to care that my "best" years may be behind me. 

What was so "best" about them, anyway? 

I spent my 20s thrashing about the dating quagmire, and in the process found myself. I think I was on a bit of a time delay, and during those years I had the self-discovery and whatnot that established my identity. I like that. 

I like being sure of myself. Surer. Knowing what I am and what I need and who I want to be. 

So here's to my dark chocolate, creaky bones, and determined wrinkles. It's time to start aging with grace, with the self-assurance I finally found. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

There Goes That Fantasy

When I entered my teens, Ma introduced me to the next level of "literature": Regency romances. 

The authors were typically Joan Smith, Carola Dunn, Fiona Hill. Georgette Heyer here and there, but she used a lot of annoying exclamation points and was rather antisemitic.  The books were usually about a mousey girl who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis (he always had a title, rarely a mere Mr.), or about a spirited young woman of striking beauty but was too anticonvention for her own good who for some unknown reason catches the fancy of a strapping, handsome marquis. 

I gobbled them up like tater tots. They were my main form of entertainment for years, until I branched out into medieval romances as well. Cough. 

In the last decade or so, I've left them behind, preferring historical novels of other topics. But I still watch the Austen adaptations with glee. 

My sister-in-law and I swap books, and she excitedly handed me "A Murder in Time" by Julie McElwain. It's about a female FBI agent who gets sucked into a vortex and ends up in Regency England. 

However, she is not familiar with Austen's work, and finds the restrictions on women to be simply ridiculous.  Seeing the era through her eyes, you do realize that she's right. The romance is gone. So while all the language of those books I once enjoyed are there, the limitations women faced, the hardscrabble existence of the other 99% of humanity that wasn't landed gentry, the misconceptions on science and medicine, has sort of removed the glow from those tales. 

It's like when I read "Longbourn" by Jo Baker, and however considerate Lizzy is depicted in "Pride and Prejudice," maids were not granted that consideration. While most women believe they would have been Emma in another life, chances are they would have had the job of scrubbing her boots for a pittance. 

When I was a teenager, "Ever After" was one of my favorite movies. Spirited girl wins heart of prince! Yay! Then I began to read Sharon Kay Penman's novels about the British monarchy, and it became quite clear that princes did not marry for love. They married for political reasons, and had mistresses for love. I think I read somewhere once that character of Danielle was actually based on a mistress of a royal Henri. Being a royal mistress was actually  a great position so had Danielle been offered that, she would have been thrilled. All those scenes of Marguerite angling to become princess is all the more laughable because she would have known that's never. Ever. Gonna. Happen. 

I can't rewatch "Ever After" again knowing that. 

There are times in life when fantasies are fun and helpful. But then you grow out of them, finding you don't need them anymore. 

But I still anthropomorphize toys. Hmm.

Monday, December 2, 2019

I Finally Read Gluckel

Gluckel of Hameln is supposedly required reading, the memoirs of Jewish woman from the end of the 1600s. Every time I tried to take it out there was always a hitch, but I finally got my hands on it and read it through, much to Ben's annoyance ("Hey Ma! What's so interesting?")

What is surprising to me is how money is most of the conversation.  This person is worth this much; that person has that much; this person had this much but lost it. "Thalers," the currency of the time and place, is probably the most repetitive word in the book.

Gluckel had 13 children to marry off, so that was the other theme. Girls of 12 were promised to boys from other cities that they would not see until the "betrothal feast," at which point everything was agreed on. No child said, "Mother dear, not for me." Gluckel herself wed at the age of 14, and was widowed at 44, after 30 years of marriage. 

One passage in particular I found entertaining was when she recounts a visit to her in-laws. While her husband's father was worth a staggering amount,  he gave them a  gift worth a paltry sum. However, she proclaims, we treasured that present, unlike other ungrateful children who suck their parents dry. I can't tell if she's being serious or sarcastic, if she's pointedly chewing out one of her kids.

It's also a reminder of how precarious life was for Jews in the past. The rabble could be roused, the leader could banish. Life was cheap and murders were often unavenged. Never mind illness; Gluckel lost a little girl and many other relatives to diseases that probably do not plague us any longer. 

While reading of all the arranged marriages, I snarked to myself,  "Hey, solution for shidduch 'crisis' right here! Let's bring back betrothing tweens to unseen grooms!"

My neighbor has a great-granddaughter born the same time as Ben. I hear she's quite the cutie. Crisis averted. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Forgive Me

To be fair, I really did think I could post with regularity after having Ben. But I kinda forgot (remarkable, considering all the kinfauna) how much WORK babies are. Like, full time! Grabbing a few minutes to link an article and my thoughts on it? He’s gonna wake up soon (his naps aren’t long) and there are necessary things to take care of while my hands are free. 

So I’m definitely not posting as often as I thought I would. I’m sorry for it. I still enjoy blogging. But Ben doesn’t really let.

While I may no longer have rants about singlehood to share, I can reassure the single public that comments do not stop when you marry. My shoemaker just gave me a long speech (with Ben slumbering in the stroller) how getting married so late was my fault.  Marry young! Grow together! So simple!

I feebly insisted that there was only Han for me. That was met with a scoff. 

Ah well. He does fix shoes beautifully. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Idle Hands

Grief is . . . interesting. 

I thought I had simply handled Ma's death "well," but then the mack truck tootled along and flattened me. I had believed I was on the lofty madreiga of bypassing the boo-hoo-ness, but haha, haha, hahahaha. Joke's on me, sweet pea. 

One Friday, I awoke with the physical symptoms of grief as well as the emotional ones. I could barely move. My face felt numb. But it was Friday. Friday does not allow for barely moving or numb faces. 

Ma always said, "Keep on truckin'." 

So I kept on truckin'. 

At some point amongst the chicken trimming, vegetable slicing, kugel baking, baby feeding, baby napping, baby laundry, kitchen cleaning, plant watering, and various other tasks, movement became easy and feeling was restored to my face. I felt practically cheerful.  

My aunt, a mental health professional, once observed that there are no words in Yiddish for the psychological maladies our generation suffers from; her opinion is that no one had time for it way back when. 

In Europe, Babi didn't have to just trim the fat off chicken thighs; Babi had to select a chicken, take it to the shoichet, bring home the carcass, pluck the feathers, salt it, rinse it, salt it again (at least, I think two saltings are needed, right? I don't know), rinse it some more, and eventually be allowed to cook the bird. 

After all that, who had time for depression? 

I am definitely not saying I would prefer to be living a century ago in Hungary. I prefer indoor plumbing, thank you very much. But it reminds me that there is always a trade off. An unoccupied mind can be our own worst enemy. 

Well, there's always Netflix. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Sympathy vs. Destructive Advice

Facebook groups have their pros and cons, as does many things in life. For nearly every niche that exists, one can find a group or page that speaks to their giste. Some have said these groups were lifesavers as they attempted to seek support for a special needs child. Or more mildly, if one is on the search for a tried-and-true poached pear recipe. 

One negative, however, that I have noted: A woman will post a vent session on the group, even though her name is visible to other members. She’ll complain, perhaps, about her husband, something along the lines of an insensitive comment. 

A commenter posted: “Well, you are in an abusive situation, and you should leave him.” 

The venter posted a snippet of her life. A snippet. She didn’t post the good moments with her husband, because when she’s in a good place she doesn’t need to inform anyone. (To quote “Fiddler”: “If he was doing badly, he would write.”) 

Many of us have different ways of coping, but it usually involves a sympathetic ear. Perhaps this gal has nowhere safe in real life to vent, and turns to Facebook not for solutions, but for sympathetic noises. She was not asking for her issue to be fixed, certainly not in the form of “Upend your life, your children’s lives, and your extended family’s lives because as a random stranger, I saw all I needed to see from your 259 word post and I think that’s a good idea.” 

Marriage, like any other relationship, is unique to each couple. If she says, “My husband socked me in the jaw last night,” recommendations to seek help would definitely be warranted. But to push for divorce because he’s having difficulty seeing things his wife’s way? đŸ˜³

Type carefully. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Online Dating, Revisited

I am not one to speak of online dating, as my experience was rather small in that area. I joined SYAS for a day, then cancelled my membership. 

There is a difference, however, between SYAS and standard dating websites (which I did not join, either, not having the strength for it). SYAS operates on shadchanim setting up dates; standard dating sites have you do the searching for yourselves. 

I read two articles recently on the topic, in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. The online WSJ doesn't allow any access to content without a subscription, so I'll sum up "Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger." 

The premise is that since one can list exactly what one is looking for, being quite explicit about needs, wants, values, expectations, they are more likely to find someone who is in line with those criteria. When one reads an online profile, one can then choose whether a date makes sense before proceeding. When dating in real life, however, one may compromise or overlook after meeting the person in question. 

One man, who was quoted, went for looks first and foremost, believing everything else could be overcome. When he began to date online, he was forced to sit down and consider what was really important in a relationship. 

"In Praise of Online Dating" has a different message. The author has used dating apps for the past three years and has gone on nearly 90 first dates. 

Yes, online dating can be deeply demoralizing, a parade of indignities that throws into relief not just our self-absorption and banality, but our nihilism too. If I stumble upon one more man who seeks a “partner in crime,” one more “sapiosexual” or “entrepreneur,” I fear I will stomp on my phone. Worse still are the car selfies and nephew pics; the weird proliferation of taco and pizza emojis; the men who take it upon themselves to tell you who you are — “a girl who takes care of herself,” naturally, which always reads to me like a thinly-veiled threat. And above all the ghosting. 

However, she found these dates to have infused an extra zest to her life. 

How narrow was my own existence, I thought then, and how it continued to narrow by the day. But to go on dates with 86 different men is to gain as many windows on the world; it is to see one’s vast city and one’s vast self, if only for a few hours, through the eyes of a stranger one would never otherwise have met.

Additionally, she realized that in her now-dead marriage, she had lost herself; while many dates were soul-crushing, her self reemerged and hardened. 

I can echo the same sentiments. I would march home from a date and be able to voice my values, when before they could have been rather ethereal. I could say, "This isn't going to work for me. I need that."

So often, when dating, we are told to be something we are not. But we are what we are, there is no escaping it, nor is that anything to be corrected or altered. I could meet someone, respect his point of view, but know such an outlook would not work for me in terms of marriage yet still enjoy his book recommendation.