It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shabbat in the Swamp

I'm not actually familiar with the history of the moniker swamp (Hebrew:  bitza), used to describe those Jerusalem neighborhoods -- Rehavia, Katamon, and Baka among them -- populated by serious numbers of religious singles, many of whom are pushing 30,  and then 40.  Upon finishing up this post, I have waiting  my neighbor's CD containing ten episodes of Srugim, some of which I have willingly spoiled for myself, either by reading Jameel and others (Jameel, I blame only myself) or by seeing the website previews.  I have promised That Guy I Married that I will not watch all the episodes at once.

Instead of a swamp, I might have chosen to call it a forest (as in, getting lost in, or perhaps missing it for the trees), but I can understand the implications associated with getting stuck in a swamp.  On Friday evening, walking back from Congregation Shira Hadasha (where, with all the women's involvement in public tefila [prayer], the fictitious but utterly believable Na'ama would probably feel extremely comfortable), I found myself stuck between the conversation of Abstract Potential, and that of Concrete Potential.  Translation:  the engaged thirty-somethinger in front of me was deep in wedding-and-marriage conversation with a female friend, while the pair of unattached single women behind me were engaging in a mutual status update regarding a guy they knew who had just broken up with his girlfriend that morning... from all appearances, they reported, he was ready to move on, igniting the question of whether one of them could make second-party inquiries at this early stage.

I felt left out, but not in a bad way. 

Later at supper, a healthy mix of singles, marrieds, and almost-marrieds (including the above-mentioned single women and engaged couple), I sat next to the (married) hostess.  We caught up on jobs and kids and learning and other stuff.  We discussed life in the swamp from the standpoint of those no longer experiencing its singlehood swampiness.  We agreed that were we to date now, after having been married for so long, we would be much better at it.  After all, now we know what it means to have a long-term relationship, and we no longer care as much what guys think of us.  In other worlds, we would finally feel free to be ourselves.

(Perhaps her husband could attest to this in both our cases, since a mutual friend set up the two of us on a date over a dozen years ago, after which, it was reported to me, he came home to his roommate and said, I don't know why I'm going out with your bashert!*  His roommate?  That Guy I Married, of course).

He and I (That Guy I Married, not the other one) still do make time to go on dates, though not as often as we'd like, which at least is a good sign.   Being human, I sometimes wonder (don't we all?) what it would be like to be single again, going on all those dates, with all that unbridled potential.  Thing is, I know it wouldn't be fun, at least, not at my age.  The date itself, after all, is just a means to an end, and so packs with it that horribly heavy burden of expectations, unresolved hopes, and extreme pressure.  For my married friend and me, talking about dating was easy... but we just as easily acknowledged that we're extremely relieved and thankful not to have to be doing it, and we don't envy our friends who do.  She and her husband make it a point to invite singles of each sex to their Shabbat table on a regular basis... I'm not aware of whether these events have led to any long-term matches, but at least we know her husband has already earned a point.

(As for me, I'm happy to return to a certain youthful state via other means... later this Fall I'll be joining a new program of study at the university, in a field closely related to one I dreamt of as a child.  I'm really excited.  I can't wait to be myself... again).

Keep the balance,



* Bashert:  Yiddish for preordained, "meant to be," usually used in reference to a spouse, but not necessarily.  


DYS said...

I think it's a shame that so many singles spend so much time of their singlehood being worried about being single and focusing on dating. I was lucky, while I was single, to find a chevra on the Upper West Side (the other "swamp") where more of us were focused on living our lives. When my wife & I met, we both found each other to be interesting people and had stuff to talk about with one another, since we'd been living our lives and doing interesting things, not just being in a holding pattern for marriage.

A Living Nadneyda said...

DYS - I certainly did not mean to imply that religious singles are not "living their lives" or limiting their pursuits to dating alone. I would say the opposite holds -- most of the singles I know in the "swamp" are living extremely fulfilling lives which include work, studies, learning, and developing hobbies and talents. (The engaged woman I mentioned has such a full, well-rounded schedule, I'm not really sure when she sleeps).

I'm talking about a certain pressure they feel to find a spouse, and I think women in their late 30s feel this pressure in a way you, as a man, might not be able to imagine. A few years ago, a religious friend in her mid-30s turned to me at a "swamp" Shabbat table and asked, If you were my age and unmarried, would you try to have a kid anyway?

At first I hesitated, then honesty prevailed. If I were you, I told her, I would set a date a few years from now, and if I weren't married by that date then yes, I would try to have a kid alone.

I'm very thankful I didn't have to go about it that way, but I understand the women who do. It's hard enough not having a spouse... they shouldn't have to give up on having a child as well, especially since the latter is completely time-bound; the former, not.

DYS said...

Unfortunately, I do know a large # of religious singles who only focus on dating and marriage and don't develop any other hobbies or interests over the course of years. I was thinking more of them in my comment, not assuming that all of the singles you were referring to were like that.

A Living Nadneyda said...

Ahhh, but the question is, when they get married, do they suddenly develop a bunch of hobbies? I suspect the same people who don't pursue a lot of activities and interests, don't do it much anyway, regardless of their marital status.

Still, there's something to be said for the higher level of confidence many people develop after getting married, which may encourage them to branch out.

Lady-Light said...

That is amazing. How did the guy know that he was going out with your future husband's basherte? He just saw that your (the two of your) personalities matched?
And, I am getting soooo interested in seeing all the episodes of Srugim--how do I get it in the States-any idea?
(I was never one for "Friends" or "Sex in the City." Didn't have my values.)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Tonight's episode're missing 2 :)

My wife is very good -- she can watch one episode in a sitting. When it comes to TV series, I just binge and watch 2-4 at a time.

(How can anyone watch just one episode of "24" or "Prison Break" when you have them all...)

A Living Nadneyda said...

LL - You would have to find out how people download it (may I refer you to Jameel...). Note that the only subtitles I have seen are in Hebrew.

Jameel - I would think there'd be an inherent discomfort associated with watching all the episodes of "24" in one go -- when would you get up for the popcorn (and whatever else...)? Tempting as it may be, one must come up for air.

I did do that seven-episode "BaTipul" binge last month... see my comment on this post. That was fun, actually, but only because I was trapped on a plane and had to miss the NBN conference (a completely different form of tipul, no?)

A Living Nadneyda said...

BTW - Actually, the CD I have has 11 episodes, not 10, so there, Jameel. Download #12 for me and I won't have to miss it!

muse said...

It would be interesting to compare the German Colony crowd with the Nachlaot one. My trekker son lives in Nachlaot.

ps never saw the show

A Living Nadneyda said...

Muse - Wouldn't ya know... our conversation did, in fact, include a rather detailed comparison of the various stereotypes associated with which "types" tend to populate each of the neighborhoods.

Regarding Srugim, the male half of the engaged couple made an interesting point: He feels that the show more accurately reflects the swamp of a decade ago, back when the show's creators lived in the Swamp, and so isn't completely up-to-date. Opinions?