Monday, August 04, 2008

The Date That Will Never Be (Thank God)

To wrap up our discussion about the man in question, in the end I wrote him an email saying that

a) I can tell from the way he worded his questions that he really wants a wife who will stay home full-time and take care of the house. And I am pretty much 100 percent sure that I, personally, will need a few hours a day to work on my writing (and I am ALSO 100 percent sure that I'll be at least as nurturing and attentive and "good" of a mom as anyone else). Also, I pointed him to the fact that I state pretty explicitly in my online dating website profile (through which he contacted me) that I'm not particularly good at housewifery. (Yes, there is a difference between mothering and housewifery!) (This is not a secret about me, and I do not consider it a moral failing.)

b) his reasons for not staying in Jerusalem hotels "enter into a level of prejudice which makes me uncomfortable."

c) let's "call a spade a spade" and acknowledge that this won't go anywhere.

I won't burden you with the contents of his response, except to say that in trying to tell me how much I misunderstood his questions, he demonstrated that I'd been exactly right to nip this one in the bud.

A couple of points before we move on:

1 - The Importance of Context: I'm of two minds about the fact that he asked interview-like questions before we even spoke on the phone. On one hand, I don't like this business-like dating approach in the Orthodox community. On the other hand, if these are really make-or-break issues for him, then hey, we both just saved ourselves a lot of headache. Good deal for me, not getting emotionally involved with someone and then finding out that he's a male chauvinist bigot!

The problem is that many issues become less make-or-break when put into the context of a person's history and personality. For example, racism in my dates bothers me so much that until I overhauled my profile recently, I listed it as a disqualification in my profile. And as you can see, in the absence of any other information about this man, the fact that he showed himself to be that prejudiced was enough for me to end the deal, because anything I might learn about him afterward would be in the context of his being racist.

But let's say the issue hadn't come up, and we'd spoken, and met, and really hit it off. Let's say that we'd become really close, and that many weeks after meeting, in the course of an intimate conversation, it was revealed that he's petrified of Arabs and really can't stand them.

It would still bother me. But I'd have a chance to find out whether there were mitigating factors. For example, I'd be more understanding and forgiving if it turned out that he or someone he loved had been injured in a terrorist attack. I'd also be more forgiving if he knew that his view was black-and-white, and treated Arabs civilly even though it was hard for him. And even without any of the mitigating factors, if we'd been dating for a long time and I really cared about him, then maybe -- perhaps -- I'd be willing to accept his being racist as a flaw I could live with (I have a hard time picturing it, but never say never). Because his bigotry would be in the context of his being an otherwise good man whom I care about, and who cares about me.

That's the danger of bringing up some of these make-or-break things so early, before knowing someone. In relationships, context is everything.

2- The Value of "No" - Not long ago, I would have continued communicating with this person, because in a world where people give up on good guys (and good women) over stupid, picky little complaints that have nothing to do with having a good marriage, I'd been taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, allow myself to learn the "context" described above, and really give everyone a chance.

This is good advice up to a point. In some ways it becomes even better advice as one gets older, more jaded, and more bitter. It is so easy to say "no. Not this one. Next!"

But it is also important to remember that one reason older daters are often bitter is that we've been pressured to give chances to people who were wrong for us. How often have I been told "it's just one date" or "it's just dinner. How can it hurt?"

The truth is, spending dinner after dinner after dinner with the wrong people hurts a lot.

I'm not talking about dates with generally reasonable men who, for one reason or another, are not "for me" (or do not think I am for them). If the dating trail involved only good people who weren't an exact fit, but were an "almost," it would be a lot less painful. I've always appreciated meeting such people, and have remained on friendly terms with many of them.

I'm talking about excruciatingly wrong dates. Like, dates with men who make it very clear by the first date that they can't even imagine why a woman would prefer to spend time, any time, doing anything other than raising her children (which this guy communicated in a later email). I'm talking about the dates after which I come home and flop onto my bed and groan and wonder what I did to deserve this.

There comes a point after which a woman who says "no, I do not want this" is not being picky, or stubborn, or close-minded. She's just valuing her time and her emotional energy. There comes a point after which telling someone "it's just one date, how can it hurt" is cruel and unusual punishment.

When it comes to dating, yes, beggars can be choosers.

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