Book Review: Book guides traditional Jews through dating hazards

"The Survival Guide to Shidduchim" attempts to demystify the dating scene for traditional Jews. As author Shani Stein says in her introduction, "There was no `Dating for Dummies,' `Matchmaking for Morons,' or even `Shidduchim for Shlamazals.' How was I ever going to learn what to say during the phone conversation, or how to handle the two-month dry spells with no date in sight? How would I learn the signs that a guy was interested in me?"

Stein addresses all these issues in her book. In the chapter on "Dating Tips for Guys," she lists possible topics of conversation for the first phone call. Along with standard openers, like "How was your day? How is your job?" she suggests a d'var Torah, a discussion of a biblical passage.

This list of opening topics is noticeably absent from the chapter, "Dating Tips for Girls," where she concentrates on phone etiquette instead.

In the chapter "When Desperation Sets In," she deals with those frustrating lulls between dates. Here, she gives some sound advice for anyone.

"Be very careful when dating someone shortly after you've been rejected. Maintain a list of things you will not compromise on when finding a spouse." Also, "Do not go out with someone out of pity."

She also gives some more puzzling general advice: "Aim for someone who is on a higher spiritual plane than you and someone you can grow with."

She doesn't tell us how we know when someone is on a higher spiritual plane than us and what to do if he's also looking for someone on a higher plane.

She gives some good common-sense ideas on what to do during the down times — be with friends, sing, chat, do chesed (acts of loving kindness), learn something, eat chocolate.

That's fine, but then she advises, "Even if it means putting on a false mask to the world and pretending to be happy when you are not, do it."

I don't know about you, but pasting a phony smile on my face generally drives me into a deeper funk.

In the chapter on "Reading the Signs," she attempts to decode the signals that tell if your date is interested. Some are painfully obvious. "S/he tells you s/he had a good time after the date." Others may sound obvious but are sometimes forgotten when we are enamored of someone. "You aren't interrupted when you begin talking, and your date is attentive."

Stein's advice isn't always consistent. In her introduction, she says, "You are doing yourself a tremendous disfavor by trying to be someone else on a date."

But later, in "Dating Tips for Guys," she says, "Don't take her up on it if she offers to drive; she may find it hard to view you in a masculine light if you do."

Some of Stein's soundest advice is in answer to the question, "How do I know if my date is a ba'al middos?" (a refined personality).

"Someone who is not a truly considerate person won't necessarily be kind to people who are not important to him." In other words, observe how he treats the taxi driver and the cleaning lady.

I agree. Judging your dates by how they treat you is not always a great test of character, since your date often wants something from you (like a second date).

I'll admit here that I'm not a "traditionalist" when it comes to dating. In Stein's survey, "How Traditional a `Dater' are You?" I scored 21, 50 being the highest. With that score, the book says, "You're about as traditional as a Mexican hula dancer."

I'll also admit that I don't have any magic answers, so if using shadchans (matchmakers) and having strictly delineated roles works for some, I'm all for it. Still, some of Stein's assumptions rankle, like her perspective on a yeshiva education for women, important ultimately because it makes women more "marketable."

In one of the more interesting chapters, Stein interviews Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, who explains the beshert concept — the match that is meant to be.

"When a neshama is created, it is both a male and female," Goldwasser says in the book. "When it comes into this world from Shamayim, the male part goes into a little baby boy, and the female part goes into the baby girl…The search is on to meet each other and to once again unite the neshamos to make a complete unit."

The more I read Stein's book, the more it struck me that dating is mysterious to us precisely because it can't be reduced to lists of easy do's and don'ts.