Sunday, May 17, 2009

Romantic Sparks

(Hat tip: RK) There is a very interesting piece in The Jewish Star this week titled Romantic Sparks, and it is written by Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D.*

Some excerpts:
...Some have suggested that, in the Orthodox world, we simply do not believe in romance, as real love supposedly happens only after marriage. While in many ways this is true, we are often left without defining just what that means. [...] Unfortunately, there have been some changes to the system in recent years that have led to rising stress in a process that should contain both fun and excitement despite the seriousness of the goal.

Increasingly, in virtually all shades of orthodoxy, both men and women are segregated from one another even when it is unwarranted. This separation has led to a fear of socializing, a form of stage fright or anticipatory anxiety that causes young daters to not know how to act in a socially acceptable fashion with one another. I hear them talking about the “magic” of the opposite sex as if it were a truism, a fact that in order to understand how to even talk with one another they must unravel a secret magical code. While there should be magic, it is not of this type.

Even after marriage there is often a dearth of appropriate communication between the spouses. [...] more and more young marrieds are divorcing with the primary complaint that they simply did not know each other at the time of marriage and do not understand one another once married. [...]

When we add to this mix the volatility that comes from being overindulged and overprotected well into the late teens and early twenties, we are left with young men and women who feel no need to even try to get to know anyone else. Many of our young men and women have placed themselves on a pedestal and want to marry someone who can keep them there, even in financially troubling times. The goal then is not a warm, affectionate, supportive relationship but a selfish, egocentric one. Who needs a romantic relationship with a spouse or even friendship with a spouse, as long as you get what you want?

There actually is somewhat of a scientific formula for the magic that causes the spark of romance. [...]

He then goes on to talk about just how it all works, and emphasizes that The natural process of romance develops in stages beginning with learning how to socialize and proceeding from there. Let us allow young adults to find one another so they might develop the friendship so necessary to a successful marriage.

When I was in WITS, during one of our STAMPs (Senior Torah And Mussar Perspectives) where we discuss issues that can come up in life, I recall the primary drawback of a non-coeducational school system being almost exactly this. The Rosh Yeshiva who was giving the STAMP emphasized strongly that this is not something to be underestimated: A complete lack of interaction with the opposite sex can lead to serious problems down the road.

What seemed especially interesting was that near the end of the piece, Dr. Salamon specifically states that "young adults" should be the ones finding one another to develop the friendships necessary to a successful marriage. While I've yet to see much that shows a significant academic advantage to a co-educational school growing up (in fact some public schools are switching to a separate education), and I question why frum people would send their teenagers to coed sleepaway camps, somehow this extreme "separate" mindset continues on even into adulthood.

I don't understand the extreme measures young adults sometimes take to avoid talking to the opposite sex, from not wishing to have meals with them (ever) or similar practices simply because they view it as improper in some way. One would think that by the time people are looking to get married, they would be mature enough to have meals with and converse with the opposite sex and gain from those experiences, which will only help them later on (if not offering them the chance to meet someone who may be good for them), rather than view them as unapproachable, incomprehensible, and "wrong" to talk to.

At the same time, I don't understand why people take this to the opposite extreme either, constantly trying to force people into coed situations. Yes, sometimes people could use a little encouragement, but there is no need for every meal to have numerous members of each sex, nor for someone to spend every available moment of free time with a crowd of each.

What's so hard about balance, anyway?

* According to the
Star, Dr. Salamon, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center in Hewlett, NY. He is the author of numerous articles and several psychological tests. His most recent book, “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” is published by Urim Publications.