July 13, 2006
Come All Ye Faithful
"Men in their 30s are like milk," a rabbi recently said to me as I told him some stories about my dating life. "The longer they sit out the more spoiled they get."
For once, someone wasn't telling me, "What's wrong with you?" and was trying to say, "What's wrong with all of them?"
Still, it was disheartening.
I don't like to do disheartened in public. I'm trying to go more for the perky. Like Katie Couric -- look where it got her! So I put on my brightest smile, threw in my wisest glance and said. "Faith, rabbi, you gotta have faith."
I felt silly saying this to a rabbi, of all people, especially in the form of a George Michael song (although if anyone needed faith it might be the former Wham star), but if a rabbi can deliver such a gloomy prognostication, what hope is there left?
Sometimes I think that people in the position of dispensing faith rarely know what it means. Faith means all sorts of things to people, and not much in the cynical world of dating. How can it? It's beaten out of you, by every date that goes by, every year that passes, every mother and yenta and well-meaning friend asking about your love life, leaving you more listless, punctured, unbelieving. It's easy to have faith when things are going your way. It's easy to say how God loves you and will help you when he does. But what is real faith? Faith means believing when all evidence to the contrary suggests otherwise.
It may sound like silly to apply God's powers to dating. Surely He has something better to do. (On the other hand, if God is a She, then that's all she'd be doing.)
But having real faith means going out on a million blind dates and continuing to believe that the next one might be the one. It means getting dressed up for the next one as if it were the first one. It means talking about yourself like you've never talked about yourself before, like you've never loved or lost before, like you hadn't just been in this exact restaurant and ordered the exact entreé with a different person.
Faith means that even when you give someone a chance, someone you don't want to go out with in the first place, and he dumps you -- you! -- you believe it was for the best. You believe that the entire process, actually, is here to make you a better person, here to make you smarter about your life choices, and that it will bring you closer to the person who is right for you. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, you are a bit relieved you didn't marry that boyfriend from five years ago -- yes, the one you loved so dearly. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, you start to believe.
Sometimes you will question your faith. You will wonder what it is that is wrong with you, what it is that is wrong with your choices, what if you were fatally flawed, tragically, irreparably. If you are dating the wrong men, living in the wrong city, state, country, planet, universe. You will wonder if you are even straight. Maybe you are gay or gender-neutral or a hermaphrodite. Maybe you woke up one morning as a bug.
Maybe you want to crawl under the covers with a weekend supply of Cold Stone's Cake Batter Ice Cream and a whole season of Lost. Maybe you want to refuse to go out with any more men until you get more successful/fit/relaxed/... perfect, as if time moved backward, so you could return to the person you once imagined yourself to be.
Of course there will be those moments. Those moments of absolute hatred, like when the sight of a Coffee Bean makes you burst out in tears, or when the glimpse of your first-date shirt makes you break out in a rash. The rash will go away, and you can always (gulp) go to Starbucks. Everyone else does. The point being, there is no alternative.
Date or die. This is your motto. Faith means that you will pull yourself out of bed, throw out the Cold Stone cartons, dust off your killer jeans, and get out there again. And again.
Faith means believing in love; in the connection of two human beings; in the merging of two souls. It's hard to believe, while listening to a thrice-divorced short man discuss his search for a supermodel, that this is the path to love. But the search, you find out, also means closing off paths that don't lead you in the right direction.
In some ways, it's easier to live without faith, without hope, without expectations. There are fewer disappointments this way. But there is also just a little less life.
Faith means you can have expectations, get disappointed, and have hope for another day.
What faith really means, really, really, really means, is that things will work out in your favor. Maybe not today, not tomorrow, but soon. This is what you must believe in. This is what you must not forget.
So, rabbi, it's a leap, this faith thing. But I'm willing to jump.