I consider myself an expert in a few areas. Taylor Swift lyrics. Gymnastics facts from 2011 forward. The race between the Queen, Donald Trump, and Kris Jenner to populate the Earth with tabloid worthy offspring. But, no matter how many times I go out, I can't seem to achieve expertise in first dates.
If you've been reading you know that I've been on loads and loads of these. In fact, 53 and counting plus the quick hits of speed dating and Zoom dates. I know what I hate about them; the meaningless conversations about favorite colors and how much we like our jobs, the uncertainty about where I will be taken, the disappointment when a guy is so clearly not for me, the boredom and tedium of trying to make conversation together with a person with whom you share no interests.
But the worst part is probably when it goes well.
Going well for me usually means food and being treated with kindness. It can also mean that we forego some of the niceties and dive into real talk. There's nothing I like more than a bit of vulnerability as well as someone who will ignore certain social norms.
But this can also be a trap. Even after 3-4 hours with another person you do not really know them. But you also don't know them well enough for the shine to be off of the rose. So, when I have a first date that goes well, I often find myself giggly and excited and checking off to-dos on my wedding spreadsheet. This is because a lot of guys are perfect after 3 hours. You've confirmed the major things without having to get into actual stuff.
And now you're either humming like Cinderella as you pick up mouse dropping from underneath your radiator (#NYClife) or you're sobbing into the wall of your shower because somehow he didn't realize that you were meant to be after those 3 hours.
Now, let's say you've had that amazing first date and you've gotten the yes for date two. You've hummed like Cinderella as you've dusted the exposed brick (not as cute as it sounds) and you're back. You're on your second date with your husband.
It's gonna suck.
You've transformed this guy into a fantasy, into Ryan Reynolds meets Kit Harrington meets Richard Madden meets the adorable white family man first baseman from my hometown baseball team. Then, you go out with him and remember that he is an actual person and has actual flaws and some of them are going to bug you-especially now since you've spent the last three days making him into Edward Cullen.
Of the 15 second dates I've been on I've done the Cinderella thing 10 times. I would love to tell you that it has decreased over my tenure in shidduchim but that would be a lie and friends don't lie.
I know it's a problem. It's one of the earlier things therapists identify about me along with ok depression, wow she's been in a lot of therapy, oh she diagnoses everyone in her life, WHAT happened to her body?, that's a toxic way of thinking, ok enough about Taylor Swift, she doesn't really think Simone Biles's performance controls her mental health does she? I've been working on it (and all the other things mentioned here) for years. I know why it is unhealthy-no actual person can match with our imaginary people, it takes you out of the moment, it takes you away from really meeting a person.
It also adds so much anxiety. Because now you're ready for your wedding but you don't know the groom. I have this stress dream all of the time, my parents are walking me down an impossibly long aisle (picture Princess Diaries 2:Royal Engagement) and I turn to my mother and ask her "Wait, who is he????" And my mother says he's great and she really likes him. I try to seek out my friends in the crowd and ask them about him. I want to know who he is before I get to that chuppah! Sometimes I get to the chuppah and I'm literally asking the Rabbi about the guy next to me. Obviously I cannot actually see the guy next to me. Sometimes (winter shabbos 15 hour nights) we get through the entire ceremony and are on our way to Yichud and I'm hugging friends and whispering in their ears "Please! Tell me something about him!"
I also have a dream ALL THE DAMN TIME that Marta Karolyi (who is played by different important people in my life) is telling me it's my turn to go on uneven bars for Team USA at the Olympics and I'm trying to explain to her that my body is made out of pasta and she's pushing me to the bars and the world is watching and the hopes of Team USA are on my back and I can't even kip.
Anxiety is built from faulty chemicals and from trying to gain control in a world without control. Part of dating well is letting go between the dates in order to stay present on them.
Easier said than done. Wedding planning is fun. Imagining that I'll finally be in a real relationship is fun. Imagining making those phone calls where I tell all the people in my life that they can at long last stop feeling sorry for me is the funnest.
But I won't get any of those things until I learn to be present.
The structure of Orthodox dating doesn't help either. We aren't dating for physical intimacy or cohabitation or any of those other steps that other people undertake before marriage. We date fast and furiously and our entire relationships, from meeting to chuppah, can last only a few months. As someone who has vacations planned through 2023 the idea that everything can change in a few months inspires panic which I try to mitigate with plans.
None of the ten times I imagined my wedding to a real person panned out. Expectations and other things killed all those relationships.
I haven't stopped wedding planning. But at least I know that when I am on the date I need to manage my expectations and try to let go.
And then wait for the stress dream to roll in.