Dating in different cultures – a sociological study?

I never liked doing research for papers in school. I didn’t like the tediousness of looking things up in the library and certainly didn’t want to go around interviewing people. I took plenty of sociology classes in college, but was never tempted to do the additional work of a thesis knowing that it would mean likely talking to live sources. I like writing, but when it’s conversational instead of academic and when it’s something I know and/or something I made up. In high school we had an assignment to interview a holocaust survivor and then do an oral report…I made up my survivor and her story and got an A.

All of this as a long way to get to the fact that while in Israel, I was really tempted to actually conduct a sociological study except for the small truth that I’d hate it. So perhaps someone else can do it for me or point me towards a study already done.

You all know that I’ve been on my share of blind dates (I’ve actually been tempted to write a book about those adventures), so I feel like I’m an expert even if only in my own date stories. What I was caught off guard with in the hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was the amount of Orthodox couples that I saw having “dates” in the open lounges. Typically well dressed, seated just enough apart, and with full glasses of juice or soda on the table as they talked. My uncle was the first to point it out to me one day as we sat there having an afternoon snack and coffee. My initial response to him was that this didn’t seem that different from me meeting a blind date at the local coffee shop.

As the week went by, I couldn’t help but notice the numerous couples I saw in these types of encounters and it got me thinking about how alike or different I was from them and which method actually works better. That’s the study I’d love to see done.

Contrary to what many believe these aren’t arranged marriages. The way I understand it (without research) is that there are women in the community, like matchmakers, that are there to set your children up as they reach the right age. You let them know whether you’re looking for someone Sephardic or Ashkenazi and probably some other family criteria. Then my guess is that this same woman arranges the place and time for you to meet. I don’t know if phone numbers are exchanged, but my guess is that all initial interactions between the first few dates are done through the matchmaker. After a few encounters you get engaged, which is pretty quickly followed by the wedding. You do not co-habitate, not even in the sense of hanging out with him on your couch and you don’t even hold his hand.

My experience when someone sets me up or I set myself up via the internet, is that we have some initial phone conversation or sometimes even email conversation to see if it’s worth meeting in person. It’s an awkward, interview-like conversation that then leads to where we want to meet. The actual first date usually goes like I pictured all these Orthodox dates taking place. Substitute coffee for juice and we’re all probably having similar conversations about our families, where we came from, what we like to do, etc.

That’s probably where the similarities end. While they continue to meet in hotel lobbies or potentially in their parents’ living rooms with their parents present, we go out for dinner and drinks, watch movies on the couch, hold hands and even kiss out in public as we walk down the street, etc. There is plenty of time alone as well as with family and friends before a possible engagement is even on the horizon. And really who is to say which method is better?

I know that I’m just talking at the surface level here. There’s a lot more we can get into in terms of similarities and differences, which is why the subject piqued my interest so much. I know that there’s pros and cons to both dating scenarios, but I take some comfort in our initial blind dates being pretty similar.

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