| Family Tempo |


This is a little… immature, but maybe it’s because he’s my age, and he hasn’t been dating as long as I have

The magic words? “I’m 25.” They turn a smile to a sympathetic frown, induce sighs in strangers, prompt prying questions. What am I looking for? What do I have to offer?

And the unspoken, What’s wrong with you?

I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with me. I’m average, not too pretty or too skinny or too outgoing. My glaring flaw is that I’m not married, not for lack of trying. My mother is a shadchan — professional, the kind who gets results — and she’s handpicked the bevy of boys I’ve dated. But my dates have gone nowhere. He ends it after two dates. I end it after three. It’s just never been right, never a connection that isn’t supremely superficial.

Does it eat away at me? Sometimes. But it makes me better at my job. Girls are more willing to speak to me because I get them. “Shidduch counselor?” they repeat to Ima, and she nods enthusiastically.

“Miriam does the handholding,” she says. “Sometimes you want to talk with someone who isn’t invested, you know? She’s there, pre-date and post-date, for all your needs.”

Which means I’m at my office all morning, deconstructing dates with anxious girls, and on my phone all night, waiting for frantic mid-date calls from the bathroom. “He still hasn’t taken off his jacket,” Shaindy Gottesmann whispers into the phone one Wednesday night. “That’s weird, right?”

“Not necessarily,” I say. “Aren’t you outside? It’s winter.”

“I know,” Shaindy says miserably. “I’m so cold!”

Once I talk Shaindy into putting on her own coat, I meet with Mrs. Kassover, who has specifically demanded my services and is only available in the evenings (except when she, abruptly and inconveniently, suddenly requires a daytime appointment). I don’t usually talk to the mothers, but Ima’s reached her limit with Mrs. Kassover, an old acquaintance who’s become a full-time job now that her son is in shidduchim. Ima’s suggested that Mrs. Kassover use other shadchanim, but out of some masochistic desire to win this one, I’ve agreed to work with Mrs. Kassover instead. She strides into my office, a whirl of designer clothing and forbidding eyes, and sits imperiously. “This girl has curly hair,” she intones.

I twist my orange-red curls between my fingers. Mrs. Kassover is a pro at making anyone feel inadequate. “Sima’s amazing. She works with kids with special needs and has a degree and could easily support your son’s kollel lifestyle—”

“Eli won’t date a curly-haired girl. Imagine the children.” Mrs. Kassover shudders. “You have more résumés for me.” More résumés. Her son hasn’t dated anyone we’ve suggested, but she’s back weekly, dismissing each girl. Ima considers her meetings a waste of time, but I still want to beat this one.

On résumés, at least, I can be firm. “You know our policy. One résumé at a time. These are girls, not goldfish.”

“Goldfish,” Mrs. Kassover repeats, befuddled.

I leaf through the pile I’ve put aside specifically for Mrs. Kassover. Sarah Teitelbaum. Beautiful, smart, the usual. Mrs. Kassover will find some tragic fault — does she wear too much color? Are her siblings rowdy? Does she sleep in on Shabbos? — and then she’ll schedule another meeting for another résumé that falls short.

It’s exhausting, talking to mothers, and I’m glad I don’t do it often. It’s a reminder of how difficult it is to get a date in the first place. Ima vets every résumé for me, making me the envy of my dwindling group of single friends, but it hasn’t gotten me married, has it? Sometimes I wonder if mothers only agree to the shidduch for my shadchan mother.

I can’t begrudge their cynicism. It’s a rough dating world out there.

“I’ve checked him out,” Ima promises as she passes me a new résumé. “Shua Klein. He’s your age. Learning here but his family is from out of town. Popular and a decent learner, though he isn’t a top guy.” I peruse the résumé. Shua Klein looks fine on paper, and I’m past the age when I’d want to feel that tingle of excitement, that certainty that this is a crossroads. I used to imagine making that pronouncement at sheva brachos; now, it’s only a piece of paper, a faint possibility.

I agree to Shua Klein. Two days later, he agrees to me, and one of Ima’s friends arranges the date.

Shua seems promising enough. He comes on time and chats with my father. We drive to a standard hotel lobby and make appropriately awkward small talk. “It’s cold out,” I comment scintillatingly.

“Warmer than yesterday,” Shua offers. “Tomorrow is supposed to be warm, too.” He drives faster than I like, and I feel nausea bubbling up.

I breathe through my mouth. “I see you’re on top of the weather.”

Shua laughs. “I don’t have a car — this is my roommate’s — so I’ve got to know in advance if I’ll walk to yeshivah or schnorr a ride.” We’re off, a mild flow of conversation that carries us to the lobby. It’s not interesting, but it’s fine. I tell my clients this all the time. You don’t instantly hit it off with a stranger.

In the lobby, Shua perks up. “Oh, hang on,” he says. “Berger’s here.”

“Burger?” I repeat, bewildered. I’ve never gotten food at a lobby before.

Shua gestures at a boy sitting with a girl who looks much younger and more comfortable. “One sec,” he says, and he takes off, leaving me alone at the hotel entrance.

If I were one of my clients, I’d be frantically calling me right around now. Instead, I stand in place, bemused and uncomfortable, and I counsel myself. This is a little… immature, but maybe it’s because he’s my age, and he hasn’t been dating as long as I have. This doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.

I don’t relax until Shua finally returns to lead me to a table. “Sorry about that,” he says. I’m relieved that he apologized. “I haven’t seen Berger in ages.”

The date is fine after that, and I dismiss my early discomfort.  “No red flags,” I report to Ima, agreeing to a second date, but not allowing myself to contemplate anything beyond that.

Shua says yes, too, the shadchan reports. I don’t let myself think about it much. I’m busy with other people’s dating lives.

There’s Ahuva Weinberg, who’s head-over-heels for a boy who’d said no. “I’m going to be alone forever,” she wails. “I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong?”

“Nothing,” I assure her. “He wasn’t right for you.”

“He was it,” Ahuva says tearfully. “It was him or nobody. This was my last shot!”

I call up Ahuva’s résumé on my computer. She is, just as I thought, 19 years old. “Ahuva,” I say carefully, “has one of your friends gotten engaged recently?”

“My best friend,” Ahuva says miserably. “How’d you know?”

“Just a hunch.” I hang up just in time for the next meeting.

Mrs. Kassover strides in, clutching a résumé. “This girl,” she says, all drama and verve, “dresses schlumpy.” She says it as though Miri Rackowski — Sarah Teitelbaum was too focused on school — has been found guilty of murder. “She wears older styles!”

“Your son cares about which styles girls wear?” I ask, fiddling uncomfortably with my sweatshirt.

Mrs. Kassover looks at me as though I’ve lost my mind. “It’s what it means,” she informs me. “This is someone who isn’t with it. Who doesn’t care about appearances.”

“Plenty of girls are put together without being fashionable,” I point out, but there’s no fighting Mrs. Kassover. I pick up the next résumé. “Reena Friedman. I went to high school with her. Very stylish.”

“That’s her best quality?” Mrs. Kassover demands, appalled. I pass her the résumé under Reena’s instead. It doesn’t matter who she gets. She’ll be back soon.

When she leaves, I glance over Eli Kassover’s résumé. There’s nothing that stands out about him, nothing that makes him shine brighter than the girls his mother keeps rejecting. He’s unremarkable, and I wonder what makes his mother so sure no one is good enough.

“IT isn’t your problem, Miriam,” Ima reminds me a few days later. We’re in the cozy spot outside our offices that leads outside. I’d been out with Shua until late, and I’d returned to a voicemail from Mrs. Kassover, horrified that the girl I’d suggested hadn’t gone to seminary in Israel. “Forget Mrs. Kassover. Some people would rather sabotage themselves.” She brightens. “How was Shua?”

“Good. I think.”  He’d told me a winding story about a yeshivah caper in the car. It was complicated and hilarious, and I’d retorted with a few of my favorite high-school Purim schticks. He’d laughed, and then we’d gone to a ceramic place, where I’d painted a little Havdalah plate, nothing impressive. Shua’s sister is an artist. A Dadaist. I’m still not entirely sure what that means, to Shua’s disbelief. “What’s Dadaism?”

Ima fiddles with her watch as she thinks. “Sounds familiar,” she says. “A religion? No, that’s Daoism.”

“It’s some kind of art.” You’ve never heard of Dadaism? Shua had asked, sounding incredulous. Like, for real? At all? I’d felt like an idiot, but I’m reassured at how bewildered Ima looks. At least I’m not the only ignorant one here. “Shua’s sister is into it.”

“That’s nice,” Ima says absently.

I nod quickly. It’s silly to linger on that moment, when Shua had talked to me like I was stupid, instead of on the rest of the date, which had been fun. I say yes.

Yellow flags. That’s what we call them in my business. There’s nothing concrete that’s wrong, but enough to give you pause. A yellow flag isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s something that can be addressed, I tell my clients. Shidduchim take work, no one knows that better than I. And Shua and I can have a good time together. If he’s a little condescending, it’s something I can deal with.

Yellow flags are easy sometimes, like when Ahuva Weinberg is back on the phone with a new crisis. “I went out again,” she says morosely, because her heartbreak only lasted until the next top boy was suggested. “It was… really great. But there’s one thing—” Her voice is small. “He didn’t open the car door for me. That’s bad, right?”

“I’ll contact his mother,” I promise, and I stand at Ima’s office door to fill her in.

Halevai we should have such problems,” Ima says, mirroring my thoughts. “But she liked the boy?”

I nod. Ima writes it into her notebook. “So next time he’ll open the door for her. It’s Aharon Greenberg. A good boy, but that was his first date,” Ima points out. “Have you heard from Tzippy—”

She’s cut off by a sharp knock on the outside door. “It’s open,” she calls, and I half-expect Tzippy Mermelstein, who is 28 and due to get engaged tonight, to come in.

But it’s a bochur I’ve never seen before. He stands in the doorway and blinks. “Can we help you?” Ima says.

The boy nods uncertainly. “I’m looking for Miriam Gordon.” Ima jerks her thumb wordlessly toward me, and I tense, expecting the worst. My reservations about Shua bubble up, and I’m sure this is a friend. We’ve had it happen, a quiet word about a boy or a girl from someone who’d known more than the references on a résumé. If this is a warning….

I’m adrift in a wave of simultaneous foreboding and relief, when the boy says, “I’m Eli Kassover.”

I nearly laugh aloud.

You’re Eli Kassover?” I eye him critically. He looks like a typical yeshivah bochur, but for the way he stands straight and clasps his hands together.

He nods. “I appreciate how supportive you’ve been of my mother,” he says carefully, as though he knows exactly what that entails. Ima smothers a smile. I wince. “But I’d really appreciate if you’d stop enabling her.”

Enabling her?” I repeat, gaping at him. As though I’m stopping Mrs. Kassover! “Trust me, she doesn’t need enabling. Sometimes she won’t even keep a résumé  long enough to make it out the door.”

“I believe it,” Eli says ruefully, and I relax a little. “Look, I’m 24, and I’ve barely dated. I have friends who are already married. One has a kid. And I’m the picky guy who turns down every girl, apparently.”

I can relate to the bemusement on his face, to that strange dynamic that’s churned up when our friends soar into the next stage of life and we’re stuck in quicksand miles back. “I’ve been trying,” I assure him. “I have—” I hesitate, suddenly aware I might be getting myself in trouble.

Ima says, “She has a Mrs. Kassover stack,” straight-faced. “For all your perfect shidduchim.”

I shiver from the wind blowing into the room, and Eli looks chagrined. “Sorry,” he says, glancing outside. He clears his throat and turns to me. “Thank you. Really. But my mother—” He swallows. “I don’t think you understand how much she respects your opinion,” he says. “She’ll listen only to you. Please help.” And then he laughs. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m wasting your time—”

“Not at all,” I rush to say. I’ve had a very low opinion of picky Eli Kassover, apple of his mother’s eye, but I’m impressed despite myself. He’s agitated, but he’s also polite and determined, and I can see why Mrs. Kassover is so sure he deserves the best. “Maybe I can talk her into a leap of faith.”

Eli smiles at Ima and me, his relief palpable, and he says, “Thank you.”

“He’s nice,” Ima comments after he shuts the door. “Nothing like his mother.”

“Mrs. Kassover is nice,” I protest weakly. But it’s good to know we’re setting girls up with someone respectful and considerate, at least. If I can talk Mrs. Kassover into a date.

She calls, inevitably, when I’m preparing for another date with Shua the next day. I answer distractedly, applying makeup as we talk. We schedule a meeting for Tuesday afternoon, and I go back to my date. I’m looking forward to tonight, the tingle of maybe in my mind.

Shua greets me with a smile. We’re more comfortable with each other now, and I tell him about Eli Kassover, careful not to include identifying details. He guffaws. “This is why I do my own checking out,” he says. “My parents aren’t here to breathe down my neck. They do that with my sister’s shidduchim.” He regales me with stories about his younger sister’s bad dates as we drive to the restaurant. He’s so good at telling stories. I can tell why he’s so popular with his friends. There is a charisma to Shua, the way you have to smile when he’s laughing. This is going well, I think.

We’re seated quickly, and I glance over the menu as though I hadn’t already decided what to get. A salad — of course, because I’m still on my best behavior, and I’ll get a drink for nourishment. Shua chooses a creamy fettuccine alfredo, no mushrooms.

“Drinks?” the waiter asks, and I wait for Shua to turn to me.

He doesn’t. “We’re fine,” Shua says, waving him away. Then he picks up his story. “So my sister has flown in for this date, and the guy shows up on a city bike! He says we can just wander the airport, doesn’t offer her food or anything—”

“Wow,” I say dully. I wonder if I’m overreacting. It’s not like Shua hadn’t let me order food. I’d have liked a drink, but I could have answered the waiter myself.

I’m 25. I can’t afford to be picky. Picky isn’t doing Eli Kassover any good. It’ll do even less for a girl.

The rest of the date is smooth, though I can’t find the same flow in conversation. Shua doesn’t seem to notice, but he does do most of the talking. Quiet comes naturally when I’m with Shua. He’s an entertainer, and I’m his willing audience.

I say yes the next morning, and Ima’s eyes light up. “I like him,” she says. “I think he’d fit with our family.” I imagine Shua in the dining room, laughing with my brothers. Shua with little cherubic-faced toddlers who scamper around the house. Shua and I, under the chuppah. It doesn’t make my heart go pitter-patter, but I’m past those magical, hopeful days.

I’m content as I open the door for Mrs. Kassover, who immediately informs me, “Her mother only wears a sheitel on Shabbos.”

“She doesn’t cover her hair?” That hadn’t been my impression.

Mrs. Kassover scowls. “Well. She wears a tichel, but doesn’t that seem like a mismatch?” I stare at her and wonder how many shidduchim I’ve lost because my mother wears a tichel all week. I’d always assumed the answer is none, but I’ve underestimated the Mrs. Kassovers of the world.

Eli Kassover’s pleading face drifts through my mind, and I say, “I don’t think so. Not every girl is her mother.” Mrs. Kassover looks stubbornly unconvinced. “Mrs. Kassover,” I say tentatively. “You were once in shidduchim. You know how rough it is. Can’t you give her a chance?”

Mrs. Kassover considers me, fingers drumming against her crossed knee. “I had a difficult time in shidduchim,” she concedes. “And it was nothing like today.” She shakes her head. “But this is my son, Miriam. This is the rest of his life. How can I settle for less than perfect?”

There’s a sincerity devoid of snappishness when she talks about Eli, a deep affection that makes me reconsider her. “I understand,” I murmur. “But I do think only Eli will know what perfect is. And if he can’t date any of these girls, he’ll never know.”

And maybe Eli is right about his mother, because she seems to contemplate my words and then — incredibly — listens. “I will look into this girl more,” she says at last. “But if nothing comes of it—”

“If nothing comes of it, you can come back for another suggestion,” I promise, and she stumbles a little as she leaves, dazed at her concession.

I smile to myself. It’s beginning to feel like a very good week. Shua and I are scheduled for another date on Thursday night. Tomorrow, I’ll research the next girl on my Mrs. Kassover pile to be sure she’s amazing. I do believe Eli Kassover is a catch, but he’ll need someone to impress his mother.

I am close to settling on someone when my phone lights up with a call from Ahuva Weinberg, who should be finishing up her second date. “Did he open the car door for you?” I ask as my greeting.

“He did,” she says, and she sounds strained, ready for another breakdown. She bursts out, “And then he slammed it shut. On my hand. I’m at the ER—”

What?” I’m already grabbing my bag and racing outside without a word of explanation to my mother. Of all the absurd things….

When I get to the emergency room, Ahuva is cradling her hand in the waiting room, her face streaked with tears. Her date — Aharon something — is talking in a low voice. He must be trying to distract her, because she smiles tremulously and leans her head back against the wall, breathing hard.

Aharon gets up as I approach. “I’m going to talk to them again,” he says, squeezing his hands into fists. “It’s been such a long wait, and you’re in pain.” He starts toward the front desk, awash with determination.

“He’s been so sweet,” Ahuva tells me, her eyes glued to him. “He apologized a billion times and then refused to leave me. Is it crazy that I’m in this much pain but I’m still having a good date?”

“Not crazy at all.” I watch them, the way he turns to check on Ahuva, and how she meets his gaze with that adoring smile. I’ll stick around — they’re both very young, and Ahuva’s parents haven’t arrived yet — but I get the sense I won’t be getting more calls from Ahuva.

They say that with a story like this, the couple has to get married. I say that when they care this much, it might actually happen.

Ahuva is admitted as her father arrives, and I leave to the sounds of Mr. Weinberg — and Aharon — protesting until both are allowed to accompany her. Ahuva, I reflect, will be all right.

It’s strange how melancholy I feel the next day, the way I usually feel when I’m not dating. I have someone, I’m going on a record fourth date, and Shua is fine. Not every relationship will be starry-eyed and perfect, replete with drama and affection. Isn’t it enough that we mostly get along? That I can laugh with him and enjoy what he has to say?

Shua and I drive out to a park, and we wander through crisscrossing paths under the lights. I tell him about Ahuva, and he says, “Oh, I’m never opening a car door for you again.” Never, like the promise of another date, and I don’t know why that makes me feel so strange.

“The problem isn’t opening,” I point out. “It’s closing it.” I remember when I’d had the opposite problem. “The strangest for me was when the guy I dated didn’t drive, and he ran around to the driver’s seat to open my door.”

Shua wrinkles his nose. “You drove him?”

I shrug.

But Shua is gaping at me. “I never realized you were so out of the box.” He says out of the box like an insult, a negative he’d just discovered.

I am abruptly self-conscious. “I’m not,” I protest. “Not really. I felt like it’d be more awkward to have his friend drive us, and it was the second date….” I explain my reasoning stiltedly. Shua listens in silence, and I’m relieved that he’s taking it in, acknowledging that I’m not whatever horror he associates with out of the box.

Then he holds up his hands. “I’m staying pareve for a reason,” he says. I flush crimson at his condescension, which is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, I realize suddenly, that I am still here with this boy I don’t even like much, just because there is nothing dramatically wrong. Just because I am weighing the good moments so much more heavily than the bad. Just because I’m 25, so I’m prepared to settle.

Mrs. Kassover would be so disappointed. I laugh silently at my errant thought and then wonder if Mrs. Kassover is right. Not about the silly things, but about the rest of his life. Can I spend mine with Shua?

I know the answer.

When we park at my house, Shua says casually, “Can I get in touch with you about the next date?” I know what he’s suggesting, what dropping the shadchan means. Onward, forward, until an engagement or a breakup, because there’s no reason to say no.

I choose careful words. “Let me talk to my parents,” I say, and we both know there won’t be another date. Shua doesn’t get angry, doesn’t react at all, and I wonder if he’s relieved, too.

I’m happier over the next few days, though my family tiptoes around me like I should be devastated. “It’s for the best,” I tell Ima, who doesn’t fully understand. “I couldn’t see it going anywhere.”

And there is more good news. Eli Kassover dates the girl I’d suggested, and Ima reports with glee that he’d said yes to a second date. “She didn’t, though. She didn’t think they were aligned.”

So Mrs. Kassover is back, and I find myself telling her about Shua. “I thought you might have a point,” I admit. “Maybe I was settling for easy instead of a real future.”

Mrs. Kassover considers me with sharp eyes. “Let me see your résumé,” she says briskly.

I print out a copy and pass it to her, watching uneasily as she peruses it, her brow creased. Mrs. Kassover is far too picky, but maybe I need picky right now. Maybe she’ll be the one to find that crucial, secret element that’s keeping me from my bashert. “What’s the issue?” I ask with a nervous laugh.

“There is none,” Mrs. Kassover says, and she smiles at me, her eyes unexpectedly warm. “And of course, a résumé isn’t the full picture.”

That makes me feel more fulfilled than I’d ever been dating Shua. “I have another one for you,” I say, reaching for the shelf.

“Oh, I’ve got one,” Mrs. Kassover says, and it takes me a moment to realize what she means, what she’s still holding.

“Mrs. Kassover!” I say, aghast. “You can’t.” I do like what I’ve seen of Eli Kassover, but I know I’m exactly the last person who should date him. “I’m literally — I’m everything you don’t want for him.” I wave at my curly hair, my sweatshirt, my advanced age — as she’d called 24 on another résumé — even the office next door where Ima is certainly wearing a tichel.

Mrs. Kassover grimaces. “Well, it’s different when I know you,” she admits sheepishly, and I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. In the meantime, Mrs. Kassover finds her bearings and rises, my résumé firmly in her grasp. “I will be in touch with your mother,” she says, and strides out of my office.

And for the first time in a long time, I feel traitorous stirrings of hope.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 871)

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