By Liat Clark
Last year, I wrote a piece discussing my own perspective (no pun intended but greatly appreciated) on the dating culture in Stern. In light of a number of pieces (published and unpublished) recently written by women in Yeshiva University expressing their frustrations with the dating culture and shidduch system in our university and broader community, I’d like to follow up with some observations, comfort, and encouragement for everyone who finds themselves anywhere in the world of relationships.
As you know, we’re in college! Finally, we’ve reached this stage in our educational experience, and it may or may not be everything we thought it would be. All of a sudden, there is no defined path that will follow this stage. Maybe you’re thinking of going to graduate school. Maybe you’ll jump right into a job. Maybe you’ll take a gap year to buy more time to figure it out. Where are you gonna live, and who’s gonna be paying the bills? Will you live by yourself, with roommates, with a significant other? Maybe you have the answers to all of these questions, and maybe you have the answers to none.
But what not enough people are telling us (IMHO) is that it’s OKAY to not have all the answers! That’s not to say you can’t think about the answers, that you shouldn’t be looking for the answers, but it’s okay that you don’t have them yet. Dare I say, it’s NORMAL to not know. A lot can happen in a year. We begin the year with lofty ideas and great expectations, but often are unprepared to confront the uncertainty that arises over the year. Some people may try to pressure us into having answers, may expect us to have answers. It’s hard to admit to others and to ourselves, “I don’t know.” But there is strength and maturity in admitting that you don’t know, and are comfortable with uncertainty, even while you’re working towards figuring it out.
This is true in all areas of life, and it is no less true in relationships and dating. So many times I have heard that people wouldn’t date someone who doesn’t know what they want to do in life or have a plan of action towards future financial stability. I understand the need for security that drives those statements. And if you’re in a situation where you’re planning to get married tomorrow, it might be prudent to have a conversation about how you’ll pay the bills. But it’s also okay to not know what occupation will bring you fulfillment and to therefore not know what you’re going to do. That shouldn’t invalidate someone’s desire or ability to be in a relationship. We’ve only lived about 21 years, and God-willing we have 99 years left that we want to fill with meaning, so it’s understandable to not be sure what’s gonna provide that. But do you *have* to be alone while you figure it out? Do you *have* to have everything figured out in order to invest in other person and open yourself up to them?
On the flip side, it’s okay to not be ready to date and not have a “good” reason to say no to an idea. This is true for men and women! For whatever reason, our system generally seems to expect that women are ready to date when they start college, while men have more time to “stay in the freezer” — but if it’s the second semester of junior year, it’s time to start looking. Should the same timeline be expected of and imposed on everyone, across the genders or within each? That is, should we be comparing men to other men, women to other women or men to women — taking into account anything other than our own feelings on the subject? Should it matter that your roommate is dating, your mom is waiting to be a grandmother or your Instagram is flooded with Only Simchas and Simcha Spot posts? If you’re not ready just because you’re not and you don’t want to date just because you don’t — who has the right to tell you that that is wrong?
And if you ARE ready to date, that’s great! Go get ’em! Ah, but you’ll say, “There is no one to date now that you’ve gone and said it’s okay to say no to dating!” Well. It may very well feel that way sometimes. From my conversations with other women, there’s a feeling that there’s no one to date. The system is such that women feel they have to wait around for a suggestion, a setup, or a guy to make the first move, and that leaves them feeling frustrated, lonely, and powerless. And those feelings are understandable and valid! There is also a strong feeling that the people who say they’re open to dating aren’t actually ready to date. So perhaps you start something, and then you’re left hurt and frustrated that your expectations, needs, and goals didn’t line up even though you thought they did at the outset.
Just as it’s okay for you or someone else to be ready to date, it’s equally okay for you or someone else to not be ready, and no one should blame you or make you feel wrong for wherever you are on your timeline. Being angry and subsequently lashing out at those who don’t match up to your timeline isn’t going to get you on the same page and provide you with what you’re looking for. It is definitely painful to be in a relationship when you have different goals or emotional availability — that perhaps can be solved by better communication, not by playing the blame game. But better communication is a tall order. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were expert communicators and possessed an abundance of emotional maturity and self-awareness?
Likely though, we aren’t and we don’t. We’re around 21 years old, and we all are just now learning about ourselves, exploring the world, and finding where we fit into it and what we want out of it. We’re still exploring the big questions, even though we may think we’re supposed to have found the answers already. Maybe we’re afraid to communicate that we don’t know, or maybe we don’t even know how to communicate anything at all yet. We’re all more immature than we like to think. And that’s okay.
So keep on feeling intensely. Keep experiencing and investing and dreaming. Most importantly, be more forgiving, more understanding, more patient–to others, and to yourself.
To a better and brighter you,