Your Undivided Attention, Please

By Hannah Dreyfus
On March 6, 2012

Getting to know someone in a crowd is difficult. Getting to know someone with the prospect of marriage hanging over your head like a hovercraft is supremely more difficult.

It is sstuds and ystuds such as these that especially offend the sensibilities: SHIDDUCH AND SHOW, the title reads. Subtle. Go on. "Yes, it's true! Boy are totally allowed to come to Stern to see a SPECTACULAR performance AND shmooze with some fantastic women…perhaps even meet your bashret?" My stomach churns. Reader, I do not know what expression was on your face after reading that e-mail. I was cringing.

What attending a play has to do with marriage, I do not know. Yes, this email was most likely just a ploy for attention, a helpful PR tactic. And perhaps it worked. But the message is no less potent, no less affecting. And – dare I say it – no less true.

Extracurricular clubs, events, and teams within this University are drenched in expectations. No, not every date ends in marriage. But, as your tenth grade Rabbi was bound to warn, finger wagging unctuously, every marriage starts with a date, or something like a date. It is the "something like a date" category that becomes rather problematic when attending a Modern-Orthodox university seemingly bent, simultaneously, on ‘re-imagination' (whatever that means) and procreation. Yes, Modern Orthodoxy is a difficult line to walk. And who will walk that line in the future if not the offspring of the current, dedicated Torah U'Madda patriots?

To this end, every club, team, or co-educational event seems to straddle a not-so-subtle alter-agenda: making couples happen. "Something like a date" has expanded its definition to include every co-educational club, team, and event on campus, to exhausting effects.

The reality is not only painfully obvious to insiders. Outsiders sense it as well. I need only reference the New York Timesarticle written about the Seforim Sale last year. The title: benign – "Yeshiva Fair Is a Bastion for Jewish Books of the Printed Variety." Most of the article is light, informative, harmless. The last sentence: loaded. "At last year's fair, Shira Sragow, 22, who is from Teaneck and a Stern graduate, met Ari Lewis, 23, of Virginia, a Yeshiva graduate, while stacking and setting up books. Last month, they were engaged."

Is it possible to have a book-sale that is about – selling books?

Case studies abound: The shuttle is no longer merely a utilitarian mode of transportation, gaining, rather, the colloquial title "the Shidduch Shuttle." The Chesed club has done a rather spotty job maintaining an altruistic front (see sstud/ystud, sent 9/6/11: "Guys, looking to meet girls? Girls, looking to meet guys? Then apply to join the YU Chesed Club Board!" The statement was oddly juxtaposed with conclusive expletive, "Tizku L'mitzvos!" Which mitzvah – chesed or peru u'revu?(Just a little humor in honor of the Adar issue.) Shabbaton posters foreshadow: "You know what they say about the Kol HaMevaser Shabbaton…" No! I do not know, nor do I want to know! Please, just allow me to enjoy my Shabbos in ignorant, single bliss.

At the Honors Program welcoming dinner at the start of the fall semester, one invited speaker, after extolling Yeshiva University's many wonderful qualities and irreplaceable opportunities, informed the fresh-off-the-plane-from-Israel Honors students, "Look around you carefully, guys. Because, believe it or not, I actually met my wife for the first time at an Honors Dinner just like this one." The atmosphere changed. Suddenly, students starting eyeing each other suspiciously, wondering which unsuspecting stranger, hitherto cloaked in anonymity, was bound to become his/her one-day spouse. After that, conversation became rather stilted. 

Disclaimer: I don't espouse celibacy. Boys and girls meeting – two thumbs up. Necessary. Beautiful. Exciting. I'll circle dance to prove it. 

But what are the cons of referencing marriage, implicitly or explicitly, at every co-ed event? 

It is difficult to gain the most from an experience when distracted by another agenda. Focus is a commodity; it does not function as efficiently when split. Attempting to accomplish two important tasks simultaneously usually results in neither task getting done to full satisfaction. As agendas go, marriage/dating is about as distracting as they come. Impressing someone of the opposite gender can amount to a rather time-consuming, energy-sapping task, stealing focus from the highly valuable task at hand. 

Aside from redirecting focus, extracurricular activities are an investment in yourself. Experiences should be selected and enjoyed because they bolster who you are, not because they afford you the opportunity to meet someone else. Reframing events in relation to another not only detracts from our ability to benefit from the experience – it mitigates the value of the experience itself. 

The true irony of this unhealthy tendency is that it inhibits you from being who you really are. People change in pressurized situations. With the added ‘I-could-marry-you' mantra marching incessantly across your mind like a broken record, it becomes increasingly more difficult to just be yourself in co-ed situations. Additional pressure proves counterproductive, making any and all clandestine ends more difficult to achieve. 

It will forever be a debate between realists and hormonal teenagers: do platonic relationships exist (the latter, amidst a torrent of giggles, arguing persistently that they do. Right). Like with most frustratingly evasive questions, the question becomes a game of semantics and noncommittal definitions. The bottom line: platonic relationships are difficult to achieve, more difficult to maintain, and nearly impossible when set against a backdrop of marriage proposals in the Brookdale front lounge. Whether or not the thing truly exists, any chance for a functional platonic relationship is mitigated by the constant undertone of wedding-bells that surreptitiously seems to creep its way into the playlist of every coed YU event. 

What to do about it? The battle to de-sexualize, if you will, everything and anything co-ed on this campus seems to be futile. And, many will no-doubt argue, it is a battle not meant to be fought. Jewish boys and Jewish girls of marriageable age should be doing just that – getting married. They need a forum to meet, do they not? So, what's the problem? 

Yes, singles do need a forum to meet and get to know one another. But if the agenda is getting to know someone of the opposite gender, how about a bona fide date? Far be it from me to propose such a radical idea. Rather than chesed, kiruv, politics, or fundraising, let's make dating about dating. Two people, a table, and undivided focus. 

A losing battle? Let's not underestimate the profound impact we have on our environment. We are all contributors to the reality we inhabit. Our comments, our mass emails, our offhand remarks and careless humor all have impact. We're in a highly pressurized system as it is – we are doing ourselves no favors by continuing to feed the system.


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