It begins typically. I am sitting at the bar with some friends drinking a beer out of the bottle. I peel the soggy label off with my freshly painted nails; an odd ritual I took up back in college that has infuriated bartenders all over the world. I scope the scene out of mascaraed eyes — looking for a cute boy to flirt with. That one is too short, his friend is too stalky; the guys to their left are too young, the ones near the door are clearly focused on the silicone blonde types. I go back to my work of peeling off the label from the beer bottle and giggling with my friends.
I reach into my purse to get some lip-gloss and as I look up, I catch the glance of a man with a sweet face standing at the other end of the room. I hold the gaze for a second, offer a smile and look away. I continue to talk with the girls, and then a few minutes later, I look up again to see if he is still on my radar; he is. Another smile. He smiles back. Nice teeth, I think. Nice eyes. Definitely attractive. I look away.
This goes on for about 15 minutes. I find myself playing with my hair; a dead giveaway that I am engaged in the mating dance. I sit up straight. I check that my new shirt from Barney’s is sitting properly and that my jeans are holding my thighs in their most flattering position. I begin to wonder if he has any semblance of a brain under his well-styled hair. I start to hope that he is funny in an ironic sort of way; that he comes from a good family, that he went to a good school, that he has a stellar career. I worry that he might be narcissistic, damaged from a bad relationship, immature, or (please God, no!) cheap.
Our eyes are locking for longer periods now. The smiles are becoming more intimate. I order another beer. He starts to make his way over to me. I feel my heart beating a little faster. I try to act casual. And then he is standing in front of me. And he introduces himself and extends a soft but manly hand and I take it and we begin to converse.
It begins typically, like I said. But now things are about to get interesting. We go through the routine introductions: names, a joke or two … where we grew up, where we live now; and that’s when I know its coming: the dreaded question is well on its way. I may as well ask first. Buy myself some time. Try to figure out how I will choose to answer when it’s my turn.
“What do you do?” I ask. He’s in computer programming. Wonderful. Can’t make too much conversation out of that answer. I try my best. It lasts all of two minutes. And then it happens: he asks the same of me.
I think fast. This guy is really cute, and thus far seemingly perfect. I will take the “ease in slowly” tactic (versus the blunt and shocking method reserved for less promising suitors). The objective here is to offer ambiguous responses upon which I will only elaborate if further questioned; in this way I not only learn how interested he is, but I also give him some time to prepare for the final answer at the end of the series of queries.
“What do you do?” he asks.
I just finished grad school in New York, I say.
“In what?” he asks.
“A sort of theology program,” I say.
“Were you at NYU?”
“It’s connected with NYU,” I say.
“So, is it, like, a master’s degree?”
“Um, I got my masters a few years ago and then got another degree…. No, it’s not a Ph.D. Actually, it was kind of a program in Jewish theology.”
The questions are getting harder to dodge now.
“So, what do you do with that sort of degree?” he asks.
“I do a lot of teaching,” I say.
“Yeah … and adults. And I write a lot. And I do a fair bit of counseling.”
I try to change the subject. No luck.
“Where do you work?” he asks.
This is it. I have to lay it on him now. I try to look pretty and enhance my appearance of normalcy; I look into his lovely green eyes, take a deep breath, and give it to him straight.
“I am a rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge,” I say.
And then I wait.
First there is the look of shock, but he quickly recovers. He takes a half-step back. I watch the neurons firing in his brain. “She’s a … rabbi,” he’s thinking. I can predict the conversation from this point on; please let him avoid the stupid joke at the beginning. No such luck.
“You must have shaved your beard today,” he says.
Idiot. I force up a chuckle. Here we go.
“So, you’re a rabbi? I didn’t know women could be….”
“Well, they can. … Clearly, I am a liberal Jew. … Yes, actually half of my graduating class was female.”
“So, can you get married?”
“What you mean is, can I have sex?”
He blushes. Poor guy. He’s confused. He doesn’t know where to look. It is suddenly inappropriate that he is checking out my low neckline. It is instantly incongruous that he likes my snug Diesel jeans. He tries, God bless him, to segue back into casual discussion; it lasts for seven minutes. He excuses himself, mutters something about a call he has to make and staggers away in shock.
I go back to peeling the labels off the Heineken. I take another sip of beer and turn back to my friends.
“What are you writing your sermon about for Friday?” one of them asks.
“Well,” I say, and my typical evening becomes filled with words of Torah and the faint hope that someone out there will know how to flirt with a beer-drinking, jeans-wearing, nice Jewish girl who also happens to be a rabbi.
Karen Dieth is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.