Friday, December 14, 2007

The Good Old Days

Usually when someone starts reminiscing about the good old days people's eyes begin to roll backwards and there are audible groans. And then someone will point out that those good old days may be old but they weren't all that good. Usually what is pointed to are the advances in medicine and the advances in social equalization resulting in opportunities for women and minorities that were not available in those good old days.

Just lately I have begun yearning for those good old days. And yes, they were not only good, they were great. And far from being a "backwards" time of life, there were "advances" then that have totally disappeared in today's time. Nowhere is this more obvious then when it comes to dating.

Dating, no matter in what century it took or takes place, has always been fraught with a bit of tension. But in the "good old days" we actually looked forward to going out. A date was fun, or at least had the potential to be. We got excited about a date, not filled with tension and stress. Yes, you might be meeting a stranger, but think of the possibilities! At the very least you'd get to see someplace you hadn't seen before.

There were virtually none of the rules in place that exist today. [Note: I am not including chasidim in this discussion. They have always been rule-bound.] There were no time limits set up in advance for how long a date should last. There were no rules about where you could go on a first date. There were no rules about what was or wasn't "required" to be spoken about on a first date or any subsequent date. There was no dating uniform--you wore what you wanted or what was required for the type of date you were going on--no suits if you were going rowboating in Central Park. In fact, I'm hard put to remember any date I went on where I wore a suit. We wore dresses or skirts and tops. The fancier the venue of the date, the fancier the outfit.

Yup, girls wore makeup. And ironing your hair is not a new invention--we were doing it back in the good old days. And guys actually showered and shaved and got dressed in fresh clothes, not something found on the floor or thrown on the back of a chair. And there were always a few girls who couldn't get ready in under two hours, and the rest of us thought they were the ones out of step with reality.

In the good old days parents were not required to be quasi-CIA agents. Dates were not job interviews. No one had to fill out and submit a resume beforehand. There were no references required. And no, there weren't any "salary" requirements given out either. No one, but no one asked dumb questions like "If she/he would be an animal, which one would he/she be?" My Bais Yaakov and Esther Shoenfeld cousins may have been dating boys sometimes who were more to the right then what I wanted, but their parents weren't treating the dating process differently then my parents did. The big question in the good old days was "Is the family heimish?" We knew name, age, height and present educational and/or work status. Sometimes the person fixing you up might even know what the parents did, and they might remember to tell you. And nobody cared much. The dating process was not a morass of tangled rules and regulations better suited to a government bureaucracy.

In the good old days it was expected that a boy and a girl on a date would find out the information they found to be necessary. It was on the date that you learned about siblings and high schools and hobbies. Dating was supposed to be more spontaneous rather than planned out to the last degree. In the good old days parents were far more trusting that their children of marriageable age were mature enough to figure out for themselves what they wanted out of a marriage partner and to ask the right questions. Yes, parents worried--it's the nature of parents to do so--but they were far less involved in the second-to-second moments of a date.

In the good old days a first date was no big deal. No one expected us to make life decisions on the basis of one date of a few hours. The rule of thumb then was "if you can't point to a real chisoron then you go on another date." It took 3 or 4 or 5 dates before someone might say "I don't see this going anywhere." For some people it took even longer than that. There was no 6-8 dates and you're finished or your engaged type of shtus.

In the good old days shidduchim were not "state secrets." Everyone assumed that everyone else was going out. And frequently girls talked to other girls about their dates, and guys talked to other guys about their dates, and girls sometimes talked to guys about their dates. And we passed along the names of those who might not have been for us but were still a "good catch."

In the good old days dating people had a sense of humor. We all knew about Murphy's Law: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Mostly we laughed off the strange moments and added them to our store of stories to share with friends. And we learned just as much from the strange dates as from the highly pleasurable ones--we learned how to deal with anything that life handed us.

In the good old days no one considered a girl or boy in their twenties to be "older singles," with the negative connotation that has today. In the good old days the ability to make parnoseh on the part of a boy was a given. In the good old days yeshivishe leit "starved for Torah" and then the boys got up and worked. And there were far fewer of this type then there is today.

Ask those who lived in the good old days how many boys got to sit and learn for the first five years of their marriage. Ask if they even got to sit full time in the first year of their marriage.

In the good old days PTA meetings and functions were all held during the daytime. This was because, with few exceptions, women with young children were at home with their kids. And no, women were not repressed in my good old days. We went to college and we worked. But when we had little ones we cut back or cut out.

Klal Yisroel was smaller in number in the good old days. Sure, there were some differences of opinion between the various groups--there always have been. Yup, "sinah" existed in the good old days too. But neighbors on the same block talked to each other, regardless of hashkafah. Their kids all played together.

Yes, the 60s and the 70s were a very laid back time period. The motto was "Make love, not war." Today the motto is "Make War." Aggression is the keyword today, in every type of endeavor. Governments foster aggression, schools foster aggression, the work place fosters aggression and dating fosters aggression. Aggression is the foe of unity. In the good old days we sang "WE shall overcome." Today it is "I shall overcome." Everything is a competition, a race to the finish. Today the question is "What's in in for me?" In the good old days the question was "What's in it for everyone?"

The good old days had their share of problems--no time period is perfect. But when I see today what a mess we have made of dating, of making shidduchim, of preparing people for marriage, I am thankful for having done that in the good old days.


Anonymous said...

What is scary is that some day I will look back at when I was young and that will be my good old days. Given that dating was not all that good, just how good will those days really seem.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the rules today are impossible but we did have some back in the good old days. They just seemed to make more sense then those today do. And you are right, there were no scripts to follow for what to say and do on a date.

Anonymous said...

Yeah your old days sound a lot better then the ones I have had lately. I just don't see how we are going to go back to those good times. The rules today are what they are and we have to learn to live with them even if we don't like them. You can't turn a clock backwards.

Anonymous said...

Terrific post - because its all so true. However it is also the case that the modern orthodox Jewish world still more-or-less works on your 'good old days' basis. Ultimately, it will be the couple who have to deal with each other's issues, so surely it is best for them to have the responsibility of getting the right partner for life.