seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
As happens in the periods when I am not persistently a reclusive shut in, I am cycling between exhaustingly overscheduled and returning to being a reclusive shut in.

Three weeks ago I had plans every night of the week- D&D Monday, Puzzled Pint Tuesday, writing with a friend on Wednesday, Peter Frampton & Steve Miller concert Thursday with my family, local Shabbaton for young professionals Friday into Saturday. So I took the next week off from social interaction- the only time I went out was to go out for dinner with my dad and brother. Instead I read a lot and vidded a lot. Last week I was back to busy- D&D Monday, writing with a friend Wednesday, adventures in the City on Thursday, a few long phone calls with friends. This week's the 4th of July, messing with the flow of the week. I'll probably go see my parents tomorrow.

For a bit, I was talking to someone a friend set me up with. She's a grad student in Boston, seems interesting, and weirdly it turned out that her father has been a customer of ours for the past several months. We spoke on the phone a few times, mostly about books. Which I was just fine with, I like talking about books and can pretty much do it indefinitely. There have definitely been people I've gone on dates with for whom their inability to talk critically about books was a turn-off (An English major who said her favorite book was David Copperfield but couldn't explain what she liked about it.), so I was having fun talking books with her. Then she told me she wasn't interested, so oh well, that's how it goes. Maybe I should have talked less about books. More likely one of my other social flaws ruined it.

She recommended Walter Isaacson's The Innovators, and while Isaacson's not the sort of writer I normally love, she made it sound interesting enough to try. It's a history of digital computing technology starting with Ada Lovelace and going to the present day of web technology (as of five years ago, so already way out of date. ;) ). Thematically, it's theoretically about emphasizing the idea of innovators, plural, how computer technology has long resisted the lone inventor no matter how much people try to impose the narrator. Unfortunately, Isaacson doesn't quite manage to resist the narrative himself. In a discussion of the Harvard Mark I, he discusses the divergent creation myths crafted by Grace Hopper, who attributes the Mark I to its heroic lone founder Howard Aiken, and IBM, which attributes it to myriad small innovations from 'faceless IBM engineers.' But though Isaacson admits that the IBM version has merit, he doesn't go through the effort of giving names and faces to the 'faceless IBM engineers'. As a faceless semiconductor engineer myself, this rankled. If your point is that the teams matter, talk about the teams! In the end, The Innovators is a fun, breezy hagiography of the famous inventors of the computer age that gestures toward a broader vision it's unwilling to take to time to draw out in full detail. I enjoyed it, but I mostly enjoyed it as a pointer to a long reading list of books I'd rather be reading that do the details. I also appreciated that it was a book where the female innovators weren't buried or written out of the history quite as much, though at times it came off a bit patronizing when Isaacson described people as 'woman engineers'.

Because I'm me, I noticed when putting the book on hold at the library that the system also listed a book called Fashion Innovators and I got curious because I know so little about fashion. I was hoping it was basically The Innovators for fashion, a survey level tracing of the history of modern fashion, with an emphasis on innovation both stylistic and technological. It's not. It's just 2-4 page capsule biographies of 20th and 21st century fashion personalities, rarely reaching any kind of interesting depth, but it has its moments. The two page capsule biography of Lauren Conrad asserts already a broader definition of who is a fashion innovator than I had expected, and the more extended biography of Liz Claiborne paints a fascinating portrait of her both as a businessperson and as someone with a clear sense of style that considers both the practical and the visual element. I would like to read the book I'd imagined it to be, if I can find it. And I should hunt down a full biography of Liz Claiborne, too.

I've also read the first two books of Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker series, which was love at first sight. <3 Murder mysteries featuring an ambivalently Jewish detective raised by Baptists and the Orthodox Jewish widow he falls in love with. They get the details of life in Orthodoxy so perfectly right, and also the feel of wrestling with God, the doubt and uncertainty of living a Jewish life in a world that does not feel tailored for it. There's a lot of books in the series and I'm sure the sharpness will wear off, but I'm looking forward to the ride as long as it lasts.


I also read The Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter, which consists of obsessive close-reading of the first 4 books to try to point out all the clues Rowling embeds, firstly to the storylines of the book, and secondly putatively to the whole septology's myth-arc. Many of the supposed 'septology clues' didn't pan out, but some did, and it's fascinating to look as closely at the text as this book does.

And I read two and a half of Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series, about a family of monster hunters. Action adventure books that I can easily pick up and put down. Enjoyable but not compulsive-reading inducing.


I've also gotten back into the rhythm of biking several times a week. I bike to shul for mincha/maariv, which is a short ride but important for keeping up the habit. And yesterday I rode over to the Raritan River and rode along the river for several miles in the park... total trip about 8 miles. Not all that much compared to my friends who talk about the fifty mile rides they go on, but it's a lot for me, and it was a big deal that my legs don't feel like rubber today after the trip. And it was a pretty ride, and a lot of fun.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
Here, wrestle with a dating etiquette dilemma thing I faced on Thursday.

It was another match from that Jewish dating site designed to mess with my head. I showed up at the restaurant about ten minutes early. While waiting, a guy comes up to me and says that the shul a block away is short for its minyan, and will I join them? In general, I find this a very difficult request to turn down, because it means turning down fellow Jews when they need help trying to fulfill a Mitzvah. On the other hand, the prayer service will be twenty or twenty five minutes long, and I have to figure that making your date wait that long is not exactly the recipe for a good first impression. On the first hand, maybe this will show my commitment to Judaism? Hard to predict.

I called her up and told her that if she didn't mind, I was going to go help these people make a minyan. She said she didn't mind, so I went, and met up with her half an hour later after the service was finished. (The extra ten minutes was because I was actually person number nine, and we had to wait until they tracked down person number ten) Still not sure it was the right choice. I mean, I suppose it was: I would have felt a lot worse if I had turned down the request and they had been unable to make the minyan. But I feel it was a rude thing to do to my date in any case.

Also tied in with my complicated feelings about mechitzas. Obviously I could have invited her to come to the service, too, but she wouldn't have been counted in the minyan and the shul has a crappy white curtain in the corner with enough room for a couple of women to huddle behind in the Beis Medrash where they hold afternoon and evening services, so I really didn't want to suggest it. I hate that just because we don't count women for the minyan, so many shuls make their space so unwelcoming to women who actually do want to pray. But I felt like a sexist going off to pray with the menfolk without at least offering the invitation for her to participate, and probably it was in fact a sexist thing for me to do. *shrugs* I don't know.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
In the Saw You at Sinai FAQ:

What is the difference between Modern Orthodox (liberal) and Modern Orthodox (machmir*)?: Good question! People define these terms in different ways. However, we use these terms because they are currently used and recognized in the Jewish community. Please answer it per your understanding. You can always change it later, if you feel the matches being sent are not exactly for you. Your answers to the religious questions will clarify your interpretation of Machmir or liberal.


I had a conversation with my Rabbi about using the site appropriately and usefully toward my goals, and it was both helpful and frustrating at different moments. But we spoke for several minutes about this question, since I identify on the site as Modern Orthodox (liberal) at the moment and he felt this was maybe not the best identifier about the seriousness of my faith. The crux of the matter, he said, was that I was using liberal to mean broad, open-minded, and expansive, whereas many use liberal to mean relaxed in their practice. [My Rabbi attempted to gauge my commitment by asking how I felt about partnership minyanim. I told him that I'd attended a partnership minyan once or twice, and sometimes felt they were a good approach to bringing more active participation by women, and sometimes felt that they were inappropriate alterations in our tradition. Which raised a tremendous eyebrow. I think he was impressed by the depth of my indecision.]

So far on the site I've been more interested in women identifying as Modern Orthodox (liberal), but not because of religious compatibility, necessarily. It's more a question of background, and what background authorizes us to share comfortably about ourselves. Women who identify as Modern Orthodox (machmir) tend to have had a somewhat narrower upbringing, in my totally amateur and probably incorrect observation. The range of professional outcomes modelled for them is narrower; the range of possible school choices presented to them is narrower; the range of encounters with people outside of their own community is narrower.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE LESS CRITICAL THINKERS OR LESS INTELLIGENT OR LESS INTERESTING TO ME. {THIS IS A THING I HAVE STRONG OPINIONS ABOUT.} But it does mean that they have been trained to hide those qualities a little bit more. So when I see a match offered to me and I can see that the woman followed the narrow path, from girls' yeshiva high school to Stern College at Yeshiva University to a degree in social work or education to one of the expected careers working with children... I have interpretative difficulty. I do not know how to read personality out of this trajectory, and figure out if their personality is one I would like spending time with, sharing the world with. Which would be okay if their profile descriptions included a little more information about how they see the world, but because they have been trained not to really share this, their profiles just don't tell me enough to evaluate.

I was therefore kind of excited to see a match who identifies as Modern Orthodox (machmir) this week that appears to defy those expectations. It almost reads like my own profile, in that it demands someone who is deeply religious but also open-minded and questioning. Of course, I don't know if we are both exaggerating our own capacity for critical thinking, but that's what the dating process is for figuring out.

Then there's the other more prosaic problem with SYAS that I am struggling with. There are more women than men on the site, and the matchmakers tend to send matches to the men first before to the women. This means I'm fairly being inundated with matches, most of which are neither clearly bad nor clearly good matches.

The thing is, if I had infinite time I would probably accept most of the matches I'm getting, since you get a much better sense of a person by talking to them than by reading profiles. But I don't have infinite time, and I certainly don't have infinite energy when I get off work.

The site strongly encourages you to reject a match quickly if you are not interested, but I find that if I do that, then within an hour I am almost invariably sent a new match. I have thus taken to stalling on rejections in order to avoid having to do the same process again so soon. Since this is apparently rude, I've gotten some politely chiding messages from matchmakers asking me to be more prompt in my responses. I haven't yet figured out the correct balance. I think my fear is that after some number of months of being inundated, I will have rejected all of the possible matches, and because of these rejections inspired by nothing more than my time limitations, I'll be unable to revisit these matches later. God willing, I suppose, I'll meet my bashert before that happens.





*Machmir means restrictive, or strict. It really ought to be used as a descriptor for an interpretation of a particular law rather than as a descriptor for a person, but it has reasonable currency as a descriptor of a person who generally speaking tends toward more restrictive interpretations of many laws.
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
[personal profile] cahn asked me to write a little about dating. Here, let me dig up the question.

Question 1: What is dating like for you? (Related question: is there a lot of marriage pressure for Orthodox Jews, or for you in particular?)



The answer is that I basically haven't been on a date in several years, because I am a socially awkward nerd who struggles with things like asking girls out, and because I've been a little isolated in suburbia and haven't met too many girls I've found interesting in a while. Given my proclivities, if I weren't Jewish I suspect I would date fairly exclusively in the nerd community, but I do also want to find someone that I can share a Jewish life with, which narrows the dating pool considerably, but also forces me to consider dating outside the nerd community since otherwise the dating pool is almost impossibly narrow. When I was at Cooper, where there were, you know, fifteen observant Jewish guys and fifteen observant Jewish girls who were all engineers and almost all giant nerds, the odds of finding someone compatible didn't seem as unlikely as it does now, but since leaving school I don't meet as many people in general, and I certainly don't meet a lot of observant Jewish nerd girls.


However, to tie in question B, there is indeed a lot of marriage pressure for Orthodox Jews, which means that as a single late 20-something I am bombarded by people who want to set me up with someone. When I was in my early twenties, I mostly blew them off. At this point, I don't see the harm in meeting someone even if it seems unlikely to click, so I usually do try to follow up as much as my social anxiety will allow. Usually it doesn't go very far: Most of the single Jewish career women my age, it would seem, appear to be in the 'mostly blowing them off' phase still.

The repeated pattern appears to be that the mothers of these women get together and complain about how their daughters aren't getting married, then one of them says "Hey, I know this guy, he's an engineer, very bright, let's see if he's interested." And I say sure, I'll meet her, because I'm saying yes to everything, and then they tell the daughter and the daughter says "HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU I'M NOT INTERESTED IN YOU SETTING ME UP, MOM?" So uh... that keeps happening.

I was handed the email address of a girl from someone at synagogue this past Sunday. Along with the email address and name there was a single note about her: 5'6". I asked the person handing me the note if she knew what the girl did, where she went to school, what she was like, etc. and she couldn't tell me anything, but for some reason her height was vital information I needed to know. I remain baffled by this. In what strange universe am I going to look at a person's height and say "Oh, that person is not tall enough for me to date?" or "That person is too tall for me to date?"

But that is nowhere near as baffling as the quagmire my mother has guilted me into: the dating website Saw You At Sinai. In which the profile includes such questions as whether I will date someone who wears pants, whether I will date someone who goes to movies, and what style of yarmulke I wear. The second most difficult part of filling out my profile was trying to figure out how to characterize my religious beliefs. The hardest part was picking out my four favorite genres of music, from a list that segmented Jewish music into seven different categories.

SYAS's system involves matchmakers poring through the member rolls to send potential matches, and then sending PM after PM guilting me into looking at the ones they suggested. And if you hit decline, it doesn't let you, but pops up a message saying "Are you sure you've given this enough thought? You can PM the matchmaker for more information. And if you really are sure, before you decline you need to give the matchmaker your reasons." All those social anxieties about dating I wrote about earlier, this site appears tailor-made to exacerbate. Plus my general tendency to overthink everything, about which I don't think we need to say more.

And gah, there's this stream of profiles being sent to me, and I don't really have any reason to exclude any of them out of hand without meeting them, but I'm not going to go on ten dates in the next two weeks, so I have no idea how I'm supposed to respond. And there's a timer that if I don't respond fast enough the matches lapse, and it's all very intimidating, and probably I'm overthinking it, but well, that's me.

But anyway, the reason I finally wrote up this post is because I went on my first SYAS date last night, and it went pretty well, all things considered. We met at a restaurant and talked about work for a bit, and talked about families, and then we started talking about television, which is pretty much what I expected since I accepted the date mainly because her profile mentioned an interest in SF TV. And then the rest of the night was mostly talking about TV shows, with me probing subtly to figure out if it would be appropriate to mention my fic.

And then she mentioned Firefly, and I decided that if I were going to mention fanfiction to an Orthodox Jew who may or may not be totally revolted by the idea, mentioning [personal profile] kass's "Ruth on a Firefly" was a pretty safe bet. It was a well-received suggestion; she was very pleased to learn that there were other fanfiction archives out there besides FF.N.

So yeah, I had dinner with a pretty Jewish girl who likes Firefly and Farscape and sympathized with my rant about Elementary and P=NP and enjoys reading Doctor Who fic. I can't really complain, it was a good night. Except she likes Sherlock over Elementary and is a Loki fangirl, so you know, if I pursue it further I'm going to need coping strategies. :P


But speaking of marriage pressure, this is one of my favorite stories to tell.

When I was in college, I played on our school's ultimate frisbee team. This was a kind of challenging juggle since most intercollegiate frisbee tournaments are all-weekend affairs and I don't roll on Shabbos. What I would typically do is drive up to the tournament on Friday, spend Shabbos at the nearest Jewish community, and then join the team after Shabbos and play the rest of the weekend. Usually, the nearest Jewish community would mean the Hillel of the host school (Dartmouth Hillel, for example, serves as the synagogue for all Jews within five towns in any direction), but at a tournament in Salisbury MD, the Hillel was basically nonexistent and the nearest Jewish community was a Conservative synagogue about a mile and a half from our hotel. So I hiked over there on Friday evening for services and everyone was friendly. And then I hiked over there Saturday morning and everyone was even friendlier, and there was a very pretty girl there. Because, you know, word had gotten out that there was a single, young Jewish man in town, which was a banner headline event, bring out your single daughters! After the service, I chatted with the girl for a while, who was sixteen and a junior in high school and she seemed like a very nice girl, if young. And then I chatted with her mother, who was very eager for me to come to them for Shabbos lunch. And then I talked to her father, who seemed very clearly like he was trying to talk himself into his little girl dating a college boy. "How old are you?" he asked me. "Nineteen," I said, and I could tell in his eyes that he was making a calculation like "Three years. I can live with three years if it means my daughter's dating a Jew." "But I'll be twenty in a week," I said, and his face fell, as all of his justifications collapsed under the strain. And it was kind of funny and sad all at the same time.

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