Settle down


When it comes to dating, even Tobey Maguire is interested in the concept of settling.

Now, I have no idea about Spidey’s love life — last I heard he was with Lois Lane, wait, no, that’s Superman, not Spider-Man, and this just in — the real Maguire is married and expecting his second child.

But I don’t want to talk about his personal life, I want to talk about his professional one.

Maguire has just signed on to develop a feature film from essayist and occasional Jewish Journal columnist Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.”

In a 5,500-word piece published in March in the Atlantic Monthly, Gottlieb, a 40-year-old single mother who chose to have a baby on her own asked a poignant question: “Is it better to be alone, or to settle?”

I’m not giving anything away by saying that Gottlieb quickly answers her own question:

“My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

Gottlieb’s stance caused quite a brouhaha on the blogosphere (read: rantosphere), where people called her everything from “immature” to “desperate” to “tragic” to “crazy,” labeling her a narcissist, anti-feminist, crackpot journalist. She has also been told “she needs a shrink, pronto.”

Gottlieb tells me she was a bit taken aback by the harsh reaction, but said that in addition to the 700 letters of support she also received, a number of rabbis have used her piece in their sermons. (She even spoke last month at Sinai Temple.)

I’m not surprised by the rabbis’ support. Gottlieb’s message is something I’ve heard many, many times before. Since the beginning of my illustrious dating career at age 19 (for marriage purposes!), rabbis, educators, teachers and other religious married people have been telling me the same thing: Find someone with shared values, someone you respect, someone you can build a life with. A good husband, a good father, a good partner.

Nothing new here.

In traditional Jewish communities, the notion of “Hollywood Love,” of “Love at First Sight,” of a “Love of Everlasting Passion,” has long been viewed as a myth. The problem in those communities is not whether or not to believe Hollywood love myth, it’s whether to believe love and attraction should play any part at all in the choice of a mate.

That was the message I got, anyway.

When I was in my early 20s, I went to dozens of weddings (to this day, the words “bridal shower” make me break out in hives). The ceremonies were solemn and the parties leibadik (festive), and the “salmon-chicken-or-prime rib” menus were delectable, if indiscernible, but to me it seemed like something essential was lacking: love. Back then, in my world, it seemed people settled too easily. They married — young — to have a partner, to not be alone, to fit into the community, to have kids, to be part of what Gottlieb calls “a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane and often boring nonprofit business.”

If one could chart my own “why isn’t she married?” trajectory (and believe me, there are many who do) it might be the result of this kind of advice: I’ve seen too many loveless marriages hastily entered into for anything but love.

Now, of course, Gottlieb isn’t advocating marrying a man who repulses you or puts you to sleep every time he answers the question, “How was your day, dear?”

But it would seem that once you enter the slippery slope of settling, it would be hard to know when to stop. What exactly is the right thing to compromise on? If he is a nice guy, but he goes on and on at dinner parties until you hope someone will drop a plate of hot soup on his lap, is that settling?

See, the other side of the “too picky” see-saw is the “not selective enough” category. Most (married) people who watch their friends/children/congregants date are not familiar with this second category until it’s too late. For example, if a single person regales a married person about her date, saying, “he made me pick up the tab and then just hopped in a cab home!” the married friend will reply, “Well, maybe he’s just low on cash this week and got an emergency call, and you should really give him another chance.”

No, the message to Jewish singles is and always has been Gottlieb’s message: Why can’t you all just settle down?

Now that I’m in my 30s, I wonder if there is something in between musical chairs (grabbing the last man standing) and “The Notebook” (holding out for perfection).

And I suppose that is the beauty of a different kind of Judaism, one that mingles with the mainstream world — even Hollywood, believe it or not. Yes, there should be sparks and chemistry and love and happiness and laughter — together with shared values, common goals and mutual interests.

Because if I’ve learned anything from 15 years (!!!) of dating, it’s that whether you run into a marriage with someone you don’t love, or you hold out for a hero who never comes, either way, you’ll end up all alone.

The Connector


I love my neighbor. Not, as it says in the Torah, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But literally, I love him. It’s not only because he helps me with manly activities, like moving furniture, killing cockroaches and opening jars (how do single women do these things alone?) but because Eric is a real man of character.

Here’s the thing about being neighbors in a claptrap house, where the walls are as thin as silk: I can hear everything that’s going on. Like when his young son visits for a month, and he is staying up in the middle of the night with him because he has a bad dream. Eric is a real mensch.

He’s also not Jewish. So I decided to do what any nice Jewish girl would do: I set him up with my friend, Genevieve. She’s also not Jewish, so they should be perfect together. Ha! If only matchmaking were so simple. Yes, the truth is, their non-Jewishness is not enough to make them a match (see: my single status), but they’re both smart, attractive, earthy, intellectual and worldly.

Besides, at synagogue on the High Holy Days I discovered a couple I’d set up. I’d gone out with David, thought he was great but not for me — so I’d introduced him to Risa.

“I hope I get credit for this,” I tell them after shul.

But they can’t give me credit — only God can. It says if you make three successful shidduchim, three matches, you automatically go to heaven. And this High Holy Day season I was thinking that I’d really like an automatic pass. (“Go directly to heaven. Do not pass hell; do not collect $200.)

Three should be easy enough. I meet so many guys who just because they aren’t for me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be good for someone. What if this is my purpose in life? What if the point of my meeting so many people is to serve as what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “The Tipping Point,” calls “The connector?” I feel heady with possibilities.

I decide to connect my ex, Ben, with my friend’s friend, Deb. Deb’s a smart, sassy lawyer whose really into good wine and food; Ben’s also a lawyer who likes the good life and always says he needs a woman who will not put up with his … with the behavior he pulled on me, and I put up with.

Then I visit friends in D.C., and I run into Sara, a woman who just moved there from Los Angeles. She’s into Jewish education and is really tall and slim. She’d be perfect for Marc, this guy I meet in synagogue who works in aerospace and is … really tall. OK, so I don’t know either of them so well (at all), but isn’t it better to be introduced to someone through a friend than through a profile that may or may not resemble their actual brick and mortar selves?

I guess not. Sara wants to see a picture of Marc before she commits to anything — even though she’s new to town, and Marc figured the least he could do was introduce her around.

Ben, my ex, did see a photo of Deb on her law firm’s Web site and is not sure he wants to take her out — this is after I’ve given him her number and told her he’d call.

“Is she a good listener?” he wants to know. “Are you?” I want to reply, but I know he isn’t.

“I don’t want a loudmouthed woman who is going to always be telling me what to do,” he says explaining a Jewish stereotype without actually using the actual word.

“I thought you didn’t want a shrinking violet, a woman who wasn’t going to let you push her around,” I say. He couldn’t explain it.

But Genevieve could. She thinks my neighbor is nice, but she doesn’t want someone like her ex-boyfriend; she doesn’t want to like anyone too much because she acts silly. She doesn’t want someone to like her too much, because it makes her nervous; she wants to be friends first with everyone because…

OMG! People are crazy! Is this how insane I sound when talking about my dates? As I watch these dramas unfold around me, I am yet again amazed by the complex nature of human beings; is it a complexity we bring on ourselves?

For example: Eric and Genevieve. After every date, I get the story from both of them — believe me when I say I ask neither. One night, at midnight, there’s a knock on my door. They come in, we hang out, they leave. Ten minutes later, another knock. It’s Eric. He wants to talk. But the phone rings. It’s Genevieve. Eric leaves. I talk to Genevieve. I go to Eric’s after.

“What should I do?” he asks me.

I don’t know what to tell him. Or Genevieve, who is freaked out because he likes her. Or my ex, Ben, who has now put me in the awkward position of not wanting to take my setup. Or the couple in D.C., who are interrogating me like I’m applying for a job with the CIA.

Why am I doing this again? What was the reason I yetna-ed my way into these people’s lives? I am beginning to think they are all single — we are all single — for a very good reason. And I’m not sure I’m up for dealing with other people’s mishegoss (on which the Jews have no monopoly.)

So I give the D.C. couple each other’s online profile numbers; I tell Ben to do what he likes with Deb; but I also tell her to not expect his call; and I tell Eric and Genevieve they’re on their own.

I don’t have time to worry about them anymore. I’ve got to find someone for myself.

Sexual Taboos Split Persian Generations


 

Like many single Jews, Sharona Saghian met her husband on JDate, the Internet dating service aimed at Jewish singles. Although by doing so, the 28-year-old broke her community’s old, venerated matchmaking traditions.

Saghian is Persian and in her community most parents prefer to know the background of their child’s prospective mate when dating begins.

“Meeting someone through the Internet is very difficult, and most Persian families wouldn’t approve of it because it breaks with tradition,” Saghian said. “I met my husband through the Internet because I wanted to try something different.”

This change is yet another example of the widening generation gap between older and younger Persian Jews in Southern California. After 25 years of growing up in the United States, Persian Jews in their 20s and early 30s are increasingly questioning their community’s social taboos and expectations, while trying to forge their own identities.

With the majority of older Persian Jews having been raised in Iran’s socially conservative and male-dominated society, their children are now grappling with issues of dating, marriage and sex as Iranian standards come into conflict with American expectations.

“Although we have been in the United States for over 20 years, we still haven’t acclimated into American society,” said Sharon Taftian, 22. “The biggest problem is that our parents do not fully understand the culture their kids are growing up in.”

Taftian was one of about 100 young professional Persian Jews who participated in an open discussion at the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana last month. The event was just one of many recent efforts by a few in the local Persian community to enable young Jews to voice their concerns, frustrations and fears about their social difficulties without being rejected by their elders.

“Our younger generation does not have a venue to talk to each other; they are still unable to talk in public, especially when their parents are present,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK. “We wanted to offer them an opportunity that they are not used to having at home or with older people.”

Many young Persian Jews say premarital sex is one taboo not discussed. A double standard in the community still strongly disapproves of young women having sex before marriage but looks the other way when it comes to young men who do.

“I think our parents came from a different environment, where they were not sexually free, and they have a hard time accepting the way of life here,” said Liane Kattan, 27, of Los Angeles.

Dr. Shawn Omrani, an Iranian Jewish psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, said that young Jewish women in Iran were married in their late teens, so maintaining virginity until marriage didn’t hold the same stigma that it does in today’s American culture.

“In Iran, virginity for a woman was a virtue, and she remained that way for a few years until getting married at a young age,” Omrani said. “Here, the average age of marriage is much higher for a woman, because they want to grow, get an education and experience life. So it may be unrealistic to expect them to remain virgins for many years before getting married.”

Many Persian parents may have difficulty discussing issues of sex with their children, Omrani said, because in the past in Iran, even though some extended families lived together and knew of couples having sex, their society prohibited them from discussing sex openly.

A number of young Persian Jewish women said a few of their Persian female friends who have been sexually active before marriage have chosen to have gynecological surgeries in order to create the effect of them being virgins, because of the pressure their community has placed on them to keep their virginity.

This is not a new trend. Omrani says that in the past, sexually active women had this procedure done before getting married.

Several young Persian Jews said they were frustrated with their relatives getting involved with their decisions to find a spouse and pressuring them to get married at a younger age.

“Whether you like it or not, whatever you do when you’re younger comes back to haunt you, because people in the community remember if you had a boyfriend and bring that up when you’re looking to get married,” Saghian said.

Other young Persian Jews say their friends sometimes have trouble marrying other Persian Jews since individuals in the community have preconceived notions of their family’s background.

“Everyone knows everyone in the community,” said Robert Kavian, 35, of Brentwood. “They base their notions of you on your family’s reputation and name, so it can be beneficial or negative.”

A large number of young Persian Jews contacted for this story declined to give their names or discuss taboo topics. They feared being ostracized or being the subject of rumors by older individuals in the community.

“The biggest problem in the community is that there’s a lot of gossip, with people making up things about you that aren’t true, just because they don’t like the way you are or think,” said Nora Tavili, 24.

Social science experts within the Persian Jewish community said the fear among young Persian Jews to voice their opposition to their community’s taboos is not unique since change is not welcomed in many tight-knit cultures. They say individuals seeking changes are often attacked.

“Not too many people have the guts to stand up and talk about these issues,” Omrani said. “This is something that the younger generation in our community needs to work on. If anyone can change the trend in our community, it’s the younger people, because they can’t depend on their parents to do it since their parents are too set in their ways.”

Omrani says younger Persian Jews can overcome many of their societal difficulties through greater education and communication with their parents about their societal problems.

“I think the younger generation should not dismiss their parents’ experience, because experience itself is very valuable,” he said. “For example, young people should learn that making love is the highest level of emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy, and it has to be shared with someone very special, otherwise sex is just a simple physical release.”

Parents in the Persian Jewish community must also educate themselves about their children, their new society and hold onto their good values, but also have the flexibility to let go of some of their older traditions that are not constructive, Omrani said.

He said many of the taboos young Persian Jews face today may dissipate in the future as the community is more exposed to the American culture and psychology.

 

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