Monday, January 14, 2008

Pinning Down the Unpinnable

For what seems like forever I have been trying to develop a questionnaire to be used in making shidduchim that would satisfy me. I am not and have never been the type of shadchan that asks a million questions of the people who come to me looking for shidduchim. All I wanted was to identify the questions that should be asked of everyone.

So basically I now have the same questionnaire that I've used for years with only a few additions. I ask for name, age and birth date, height, parents' names, high school and post high school schools attended, name of college attended, occupation, shul where single davens and "other." It's the "other" that gets me into trouble all the time.

You see, other ought to depend on each person, as an individual. "Other" ought to refer to the things the singles tell me about themselves that differentiate them from all the other "others" out there. "Other" depends on what I hear during a phone conversation. If a single volunteers that sports are an interest, then "other" is going to be "What kind of sports?" or maybe "How did you get interested in sports?" "Other" should give me the pieces of the puzzle so that when I'm finished I have a complete picture.

Unfortunately, included with the "other" questions today are some answers that seem to be answers but tell me nothing. Mostly I don't even have to ask those "other" questions; singles volunteer the answers to the unasked questions. "I'm modern orthodox machmir" they tell me. "I'm litvish" I hear. "I'm a BY girl" is another answer. Inside I'm thinking, "Sure you are. Like there was any one of those." Yup, modern orthodox machmir doesn't exist; neither does litvish, or yeshivish or black hat or heimish or out of town mentality or BY girl or typical Brooklyn boy or any of the hundreds of labels that people throw out at shadchanim--and others--that they think actually mean something.

Go ahead, try and pin down an exact definition for any of those terms, one that will apply the same to every member of the group so constituted, and that will be understood in exactly the same way by every listener. It can't be done. What constitutes "yeshivish" isn't the same even within the four walls of any given yeshiva, never mind as a general term that can correctly and consistently be applied to people across many yeshivot. Aha! Did you catch that? I clearly am not yeshivish--I used the word yeshivot. If I were truly yeshivish I would have said yeshivas. Yeah, right. All that usage goes to show is that I might be fluent in Ivrit--note the non-use of the word Hebrew or ivris or loshon kodesh. Definitely not yeshivish. Sigh.

How one male and one female are going to fit together from a frumkeit perspective is going to take hours and hours of conversation on their part to determine. It sure is not going to happen because someone tells me they are yeshivish.

And what about the ubiquitous "learner/earner" classification? One girl who called me was getting rather testy with me. She wasn't sure if I really understand all the subtleties involved in this classification and was growing more and more muddled as she tried to pin down a definition. I responded this way.

"Okay, you want a boy will be working during the day so that he will be doing the supporting for your family. That means that you want someone who will get up at 6:00 to make the Daf Yomi and davening before running in to the house to eat breakfast and then running out again to get to work. This is New York, so figure he has an hour's commute home and at the earliest he will arrive home around 6:00. He will grab supper so that he can get to his night seder. He should be back around 10:30-11:00 just in time to grab some sleep. Friday night right after supper he will either have a set shiur or he will be learning b'chavrusa. Shabbos morning is davening, followed by lunch, followed by shiur, followed by davening, followed by havdalah, followed by a quickly grabbed supper before heading out to learn. Sunday gives him a chance to learn a whole day uninterrupted. Did I miss anything?"

There was silence on the other end of the line. "Maybe," she began tentatively, " he might be just a little less married to his learning and a lit more married to me." "Oh," I said. "So you don't actually want a learner/earner." "Well yes I do," she answered, "just one who is a little better balanced in the learning area." Uh huh, as I said, terms that are really impossible to pin down.

Why do we even bother to ask those "other" questions that can't possibly have a set answer? Go ahead, I challenge you to go into your memories and take out at least one memory of someone that was red to you with a label attached and who didn't seem to "fulfill" that label very well. I bet you have more than one memory like that. Ever buy something that was labeled "One size fits all?" I'd sure like to meet that person "all" someday, because I have a lot of her clothing here and her clothing sure doesn't fit me. It's tight in some places, and loose in others. It's too short on bottom and too long on top. But that's how labels are--they are an attempt to designate us as "one size fits all."

I've come up with a new label for myself that I'm hoping will forever end anyone's asking me "what" I am. I now refer to myself as left of right. I used it on someone the other day. She looked a bit puzzled and then said "Oh, I see." No she didn't, any more than anyone else can "see" when you throw on the other labels. Aw hell, even I don't know how to define "left of right"--how could you possibly know?!


Anonymous said...

Just don't be surprised if someone takes out a ruler and tries to measure just how many centimeters left of right you are. Then they can call you a 5-centimeterist or whatever the distance.

G said...


Anonymous said...

So you're left of right. Are you close to being a centerist? Or are you left of center also? If so, how much? No? Are you a near-rightist? Are you a moderate left of rightist or a machmir left of rightist? Are you a near centerist with slightly left leanings except where you are traditionally right but not quite machmir? Community will find a way to screw up even "left of right."

Anonymous said...

As long as the frum community sees singles as products instead of people they are going to slap labels on us just like other products get. At least with something you buy in a store, if it's not like the label says it is you can get your money back. Could be an interesting legal reason for a divorce. The person I married was not like the label they wore.