Sunday, May 21, 2006
"Living the List"
Living the List NY Jewish Week, May 19, 2006 I only deserve the best,” a friend recently told me. “I’m not just taking the first guy who really likes me because I’m sick and tired of waiting. People who do that are making the biggest mistakes,” she said, noting three such couples in her life, who “got married, not sure that the love was there,” and are now divorcing. “If I have to wait longer, I will.” For those concerned with Jewish demography, women (and men) like my friend are dooming the Jewish people to slow, steady destruction. They’re marrying later, decreasing the number of children each couple is likely to have. And by the time we reach a certain age, even if wanting children is in the plan, we’ve been so single, for so long, that doing our national duty is less important than finding a soul mate, someone who has most of the qualities on their lists. Everyone has his or her deal breakers. But many have cited the mere literal or figurative existence of such lists as illustrations of the “pickiness” and “inflexibility” of singles. If reasonable, the list can function as an independent auditor, which theoretically helps singles to make smarter choices. If adhered to inflexibly, the list can be a single person’s undoing. At the recent “Michael Steinhardt Presents...” series at Manhattan Jewish Experience — named for the philanthropist/event emcee — dating coach Robin Gorman Newman suggested that singles “actually write down” their lists and, after looking inward to determine what they themselves have to offer, to assess whether they were really giving people a chance and “throw half of it out the window.” “Making the effort isn’t enough; the right attitude has to be there first,” the “How to Marry a Mensch” author told the audience of singles ranging in age from 20s to mid-40s. “Everyone wants to be ‘on Cloud 9,’ but Cloud 8 isn’t anything to sneeze at.” Co-panelist and Manhattan Jewish Experience Rabbi Mark Wildes noted that the list “sometimes grows as time goes on,” and suggested reducing the list to one item: “I believe we are incomplete without a partner, someone who understands you. Reduce the list to that one person who understands you.” But therein lies the problem, especially in high-density areas like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, where every night presents a crop of fresh new faces to assess for compatibility: Sometimes choice itself is the problem. Confronted with a veritable buffet of tasty options, even if they find an 80 percent match — by all accounts, a pretty good fit — singles experience the nagging feeling that there still might be someone out there who’s better. Still, singles complain that there’s “no one out there.” What they mean is that they had a certain set of expectations when it comes to dating, and that when those expectations were not met, they were disappointed. The fact that there may be hundreds or thousands of other compatible singles out there might as well not be true, because it feels hopelessly false. While most of the singles in the room at MJE or at Makor or the JCC or any other Jewish meeting place on any given night are looking for love — or answers — with the hope of a committed Jewish relationship, few of us are looking for “baby daddies.” Yes, even without reminders from doctors or demographers, we’re all aware of the biological challenges that face us as we (especially women) age. But we want partners. And we’ve waited this long — we’re willing to delay the procreative process until our lists have more checks than exes on them. My friend deserves happiness, to love and be loved in equal measure. She says she’s not willing to settle. But I like to think that she — and singles like her — are not married to their lists. They’re still open-minded enough to give the decent ones a chance; they’re willing to look at the big picture rather than judging on a sacrosanct list of must-haves and must-not-haves. They’re the ones who refused to date Republicans, until they met one they liked, who refused to date men their height or women they claimed were “not their type,” until they did and found they were. Although they often help us, our lists are not divine, nor even divinely inspired. They’re human, and superficial, and inherently flawed. Just like the singles who made them.