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Channah Cohen: The Crisis of Experience

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SUMMARY

This episode is sponsored by Anonymous who is fond of Shalom Task Force & 18Forty. 

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we speak with Channah Cohen, a researcher of the OU’s study on the “Shidduch Crisis.” Channah helps us unpack the two sides to this crisis—“Crisis of Process” and “Crisis of Experience”—and considers some potential solutions to the frequent cruelty of the current culture. 

Also in this edition, we hear the first-hand perspectives of a series of single Orthodox men and women. 

In this episode we discuss: 

  • What really is the Shidduch Crisis?
  • How can we improve the experience of looking for love in the Orthodox world? 
  • What do we make of our messy, non-linear life stories while we’re still living them?  

Tune in to hear a conversation about the highs and lows of being single in Orthodox Judaism today—and what we can do to treat unmarried community members with friendship and humanity. 

Interview starts at: 9:49

Channah Cohen has held several positions in the OU, including an Applied Researcher for the Center for Communal Research, a Project Manager for the Department of Community Projects and Partnerships, and a Torah Educator for the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus. Channah majored in Psychology at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, and was chosen for the Murray Adler Leadership and Vision Award. She completed a master’s degree in Adult Learning & Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University, and is studying coaching at the School of Positive Transformation. Channah is interested in the intersection of religious education and psychology, and strives to learn and teach means of spiritual living that are resonant with the human experience.  She lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband and three children.

 

References:

A Polite Request for Basic Sensitivity” by Dovid Bashevkin

We Are Not a ‘Crisis’: Changing the Singlehood Narrative” by Anonymous

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky

The Lion Tracker’s Guide To Life by Boyd Varty

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring dating, commitment, romance, all the good stuff. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org where you could also find videos, articles, and recommended readings.

When I was single, I remember I used to write a lot, and this was before Twitter or really social media was really, really big. I think my Twitter account started in 2014, maybe 2011. I don’t know the exact year. This is probably somewhere around 2010, 2009, and I would write articles about what I was going through. But what I would do is that I would not publish them under my own name. I felt like this sense of either embarrassment or there was also this sense of people would read it and look at me as either like oy vey, nebach like it’s worse than we thought.

There was another sense of people using my own frustration as a point of judgment of saying like, “Oh, he’s jaded. He’s cynical already. He doesn’t want to get married,” et cetera, et cetera. And there is one article that I published that actually circulated quite a bit, and I eventually published it, I think, on the OU website, but I published it under a pen name. I think the pen name I used was Mordechai Leiner, which is the name of the Rebbe of Izhbitz, but I used his pen name. Always looking for good pen names, and it happens to be … I’m not going to point fingers … our last name, Bashevkin, is used as a pen name by a very notable rabbi in the community.

If you’ve ever seen any of the books Bashevkin published by Chaim Bashevkin, that is a pen name, and he’s not subtle about it. The covers have huge words, Bashevkin. It’s a big orange book. I know the actual author as I’m sure some of our listeners do, but that is a pen name. I guess it’s flattering to have your last name used as a pen name Chaim Bashevkin, but when choosing a pen name, you should always choose a name that’s a little bit more common than Bashevkin. I think we basically know every living Bashevkin in the United States of America, so when Chaim popped up writing for the Yated Neeman and publishing books, we were like, “Who exactly is this?” because most of our relatives and the wider Bashevkin family are definitely not publishing in the Yated Neeman.

But be that as it may, this article I published originally under a pen name, Mordechai Leiner, and then I republished it in Jewish Action under the title, A Polite Request for Basic Sensitivity. And this is what I wrote. “I dated for close to a decade. During that time I got all sorts of questions, speculations, and unsolicited advice related to marriage. I wrote this piece about eight years ago in response to what I felt was communal insensitivity in how I was being treated. Thankfully I’ve since married, but the message I believe is still relevant. “Think about how and where you talk about dating and romance to those who are not married. Hopefully, together we can build a more empathetic community.”

And this is how the article starts. “Rebecca is carefully perusing the cereal shelves in her local supermarket, bran flakes versus Life cereal. These little routines help her take her mind off the difficult period she and her husband are going through. They’ve been trying to have children for three years, but unfortunately, God has not yet blessed them with a child. It’s especially hard for Rebecca, living in a community with so many young couples who already have several children.”

“While examining the nutritional facts on the cereal box, she has granted momentary respite from her otherwise anxiety-ridden concerns, until she’s interrupted, ‘Rebecca, hi, how are you?’ The voice is out of a friend from college. Though, in recent years, the two have drifted apart. ‘So, how’s life?’ Rebecca smiles. ‘It’s great. Thank God. I’m finishing up school at Hunter, and my husband’s been working at KPMG.’ Rebecca knows this is not the answer her friend is looking for. ‘But how’s everything else?’”

“It is becoming more and more difficult for Rebecca to continue smiling. ‘Good, good, really good.’ ‘I know that you and Josh have been having trouble having kids.’ Rebecca’s smile knots up. She knew the conversation was going there. She’s unsure what bothers her more, the distant friend asking a too personal question or the indiscrete location for a conversation that warrants the intimacy of a living room rather than a supermarket aisle. As her friend continues, Rebecca struggles to hold on to her smile and nods through the barrage of questions and unsolicited attempts at consolation.”

“‘It must be so hard. Are you really trying? Do you and your husband have issues? I know a Rabbi.’ Rebecca turns to her friend who’s eagerly awaiting response to the sage advice that she’s just dispensed and mumbles, ‘Thanks so much.’”

“Another story, Baruch is a father of four with a wonderful wife. Life has always gone well for him, but nearly a year ago he was laid off, and he now has mounting debt. The longer he remains unemployed, the more hopeless he becomes of ever finding a decent job. Simcha, a close friend of his just made partner at a top-10 firm. Baruch is genuinely happy for his close friend, but the prominence of Simcha’s promotion makes his unemployment all the more glaring. Simcha’s planning a small kiddush in shul this coming shabbos to celebrate his promotion. Although Baruch’s nervous about it, he’s determined to attend the kiddush to celebrate with his close friend.”

“At the kiddush, Baruch has an unsettling feeling that people are thinking, ‘Oh, wow. I can’t believe he came. This must be so hard for him.’ The truth is, they are right. It is hard. After giving Simcha a hug and a mazel tov, Baruch turns around to leave. Hoping to make a quiet exit and return to his family, he is stopped by several people. ‘Im yirtzeh Hashem by you. Im yirtzeh Hashem by you.’ He feels as though a consolation firing squad has selected him for execution.”

“An older friend then takes him aside. Baruch, you should know your situation you’re really in is a really a berachah. Frustrated by his friend’s insensitivity and unable to think of a coherent response, Baruch mutters, ‘Im yirtzeh Hashem by you.’”

“I know what you’re thinking. These scenarios are not applicable to singles. Frankly, I agree with you. Singles have a very different struggle than couples trying to have children. And the struggle to have children is surely quite different than the challenge of finding employment. The point of this essay is not to illustrate an equivalency between life’s vast array of obstacles, but rather to encourage similar thought and sensitivity when approaching anybody having difficulties in life. The moment we begin engaging in the game of who has it worse, we have abandoned our responsibility to view each individual’s problem as deeply unique and personal.”

“Leave it to God to award the prize for who has it worse. In the meantime, we can try to make it better. Everyone has setbacks in life. Different people have different starts and different journeys during their otherwise productive and successful lives. Some get laid off. Some struggle with having children. Others take longer to get married. Each deserves sensitivity, privacy, and dignity. This can be achieved with a healthy dose of common sense and a brief period of thought before speaking.”

“Don’t be so quick to assume that it’s a single person’s fault for his or her predicament. Just as some people try unsuccessfully to have children, others try but are unable to find a suitable partner. Trust me. Some people happily marry later in life, and the only thing that stopped them from finding a partner sooner was mazel, not a personality, commitment, or pathological disorder. Make sure your words of encouragement were solicited explicitly or implicitly, and when having a conversation, try not to keep gravitating to the setback your friend, acquaintance, or person you met in the supermarket is experiencing.”

“Despite what you may think, she or he doesn’t necessarily want to talk about it. Don’t refer to something as a berachah unless you’d really wish it upon yourself. When you’re a good friend to others, they’ll be there in your times of difficulty. Im yirtzeh Hashem by you oif simchos. More happiness.”

I look back at this, and I think in many ways this article continues to ruminate in my own life because at every stage in life you have different struggles, whether it’s that professional success you’re looking for, familial success that you’re looking for. You want to be wealthier. You want to be promoted. There are different struggles that we have in life, but for some reason, the struggle, particularly around dating, opens you up to a type of communal inquisitiveness that can feel so degrading. It reminds me of something that Rabbi Frand, I think, beautifully said about the basic sensitivity needed for when we talk to people who are still dating.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand:

When you see an older single, don’t say nu. If you don’t think that happens, you’re mistaken. A woman wrote me a letter. She’s an older woman, an older lady. Please, talk about the insensitivity that people have to people that are single through no fault of their own.

David Bashevkin:

That is why I think this final conversation in this series is so important. I have a conversation with somebody named Channah Cohen, who I’ve known for many years. We worked beside each other at the OU. She no longer works at the OU, but she did a great deal of research into the experience of people who are single. Not only that, I think her own life, which we get to at the very end, I think, highlights the struggle of finding commitment, finding a path, making a decision, which is really the larger topic of this entire month and how isolating, lonely, insecure, inadequate that journey can sometimes make us feel.

As a part of this conversation, I also invited in the middle of our conversation to hear directly from people who are single to talk out their experience because it shouldn’t just be two married people. Thank God, myself and Channah are both married separately. My wife is Tova, just to be clear, but two people who have experienced that, although we are interested in it from different vantage points. I thought it was also really important to hear directly from people who are single, and that is why I am so excited for our conversation with Channah Cohen.

Channah, I am so excited about this, and I wanted to begin with the language that you gave me to understanding what so many people talk about and that is the shidduch crisis. The word shidduch obviously, is Yiddish. We talk about leshadech, maybe Hebrew. I always get in trouble for mixing those up. It’s not English, but it’s how we date. We oftentimes talk about the shidduch crisis that people are not getting married. And you gave me incredible language to understand what are we talking about when we use the term shidduch crisis?

Channah Cohen:

Okay, David, I love that you just jumped right into it. I’ll have to give credit where it’s due. The person who helped me realize this was Rabbi Shlomo Goldberger of the Shidduch Center of Baltimore. He had been doing this study with the OU. I was the qualitative researcher and the applied researcher on the team. I was working with the quantitative team very closely. We’re doing this massive scale study, and we did a survey of over 2,300 people. We interviewed close to 100 people, single people, single men, single women, shadchanim, and community leaders.

David Bashevkin:

What were you trying to figure out in the studies?

Channah Cohen:

We were really trying to figure out the experience of single people. We weren’t doing a mass demographic study. We weren’t going to be able to tell what percentage of people do or don’t get married, but just what does it look like for the people who are single, and what are the different systemic issues? What do single people feel, and how do they feel treated by shadchanim and community leaders and their communities and vice versa? And what’s everyone’s opinion about everything?

So, we had this massive morass of data as you could hear, just me talking about it. And Shlomo really helped me weed through it. I remember in one of the conversations he said, “Listen. When people talk about the shidduch crisis, there are actually two completely different crises that they’re talking about at any given point. One of them is the crisis of process, which is all the systemic issues that we talk about all the time. Is there an age gap issue? Are certain people doomed to be single? Do shadchanim work, and do websites work? Is there a better way that we could be doing it? How could technology help us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?

That is extremely volatile. Every time you touch it explodes. Everybody has super different opinions about it. Everyone is extremely opinionated about it. Who’s blaming who? Are the single people blaming the men? Are the men blaming the women? Are the community leaders blaming the single people for being too picky, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?

David Bashevkin:

And what’s the best system? Do the Yeshivish have it better than Modern Orthodox? Should we all just be dating Chassidish? Is Chassidish too oppressive? Should we all just get on Jdate? Those are all questions that relate to the crisis of process.

Channah Cohen:

Exactly. And the other piece of it is the crisis of experience, which is just how single people feel being single and how they feel like they are treated as single people as parts of our community while they’re single. Once Shlomo said that, it really blew open my mind of seeing two completely different things that we as a community and that we as single men and women talk about when we’re talking about the shidduch crisis.

I think the biggest phenomenon that you see is that people try to solve one crisis with the other crisis. Often, if people are introducing a shidduch initiative, they’ll say, “I have a 25, 28, 35, 38-year-old single sister, single sibling, single blah blah blah, and they’re having such a hard time. So, let’s start this initiative where we set up a WhatsApp group and try to set people up.” So, that’s talking about the crisis of experience and trying to solve it in the crisis of process.

David Bashevkin:

It’s absolutely brilliant, meaning they’re obviously related to one another, but you can’t always solve the crisis of experience just with the crisis of process. And you can’t solve the crisis of process with the crisis of experience where sometimes it goes in reverse. You’ll talk about different systems and what’s working, what’s not. Somebody will get up and be like, “I was in that system, and it worked wonderfully for me.” And you’re like, “Okay, that’s the experience. We’re talking about systems and the real process of how it works.”

We’ll come back to this over and over again because the theme of this entire series is that dating, shidduchim, is about so much more than dating and shidduchim. It’s about life. It’s how we form our very humanity. I think at the heart of the human experience is the crisis of process and the crisis of experience. I really think that’s so, so crucial and important, and not mistaking those are not solving the crisis of process with experiential, the crisis of experience and not addressing the crisis of experience solely with just the crisis of process.

Channah Cohen:

I totally agree with you, and I think the chiddush, the part that was the enlightening piece of it for me was naming the crisis of experience because otherwise, when we talk about the shidduch crisis, we’re always trying to figure out what can we do about the process and all the pieces that are wrong, and are they wrong or are they not. Who’s going to be offended if we say that they’re wrong, and who’s not going to be offended?

We get so mired in that, and it’s a totally different piece of our brain if we’re thinking about how do we solve the crisis of experience, leaving aside the systemic issues and the crisis of process which we’re going to have to deal with at some point. Independently of that, how can we affect change in the crisis of experience of single men and women while they’re single? And isn’t that A, easier, and B, more about responsibility than only trying to solve the crisis of process?

David Bashevkin:

I can’t agree with you enough, and it’s so important. Part of the irony of us having this conversation is that we are both, thank God, married. We’re in relationships, and there’s a discomfort that you expressed even when we were going into this about you and I sitting in a chair. You’re a researcher. I’m sitting here podcasting and us trying to commiserate and provide comfort, but we’re not really in that experience right now. And there is a danger … And I’ve heard this over and over again. I’m sure you have as well … of the experience of people who are single, single people who are struggling, they feel like nobody is listening to me and my voice.

Part of what I wanted to do in our conversation … I told you this in advance … is I wanted to take a break and really listen to people almost all who are anonymous for a host of reasons why they chose to be anonymous, really listen directly from people who are dating and their experience about what that is like, what their struggle is, and their own suggestions of how to address, how to make this experience better. So, before we continue our conversation … Because I do want to hear more from you. You haven’t lost your credibility, but I think it’s absolutely important if we are going to have this conversation and we are taking it seriously, we have to hear directly from people who are single.

It’s me again, and here is where I wanted to kind of introduce some of those larger conversations from people who are dating about what it’s like being single, what advice they would give, what tips they would have. It’s so interesting because I reached out to a whole lot of people to share, and something I heard over and over again … and I asked somebody to write this up, but they weren’t able to do it … was that although they appreciated a platform highlighting their voice and their individual experience, they were scared. They were scared to share and didn’t feel comfortable sharing because they knew if they shared immediately, if somebody recognized them, they would immediately come off as being jaded or cynical.

The frustrations in this area sometimes reflect back on the personality and say, “Uh, this person, they’re not able to get married. They’re too frustrated. They’re too bitter.” That’s a word that is used very often, and I think that’s such a shame because then the fear of sharing at any point can then be bottled up and ends up kind of leading and compounding on itself to even more frustration, and God forbid, real bitterness, like there could be real frustration with the community. And that’s why, at the very least, even if we weren’t able to share everybody’s experience in their own voice, I thought it was so important to take a moment to hear directly from people who were in fact on this journey.

If you have a moment, you should look online. We have a fantastic essay that was written anonymously by somebody I know about the experience of being single. So, you should definitely check out 18forty.org where you can find the article, We Are Not a Crisis: Changing the Singlehood Narrative. This was written anonymously, but I think it’s a very raw and honest appraisal of this experience of somebody who I know has been dating for a long time and writes, I think, in very concrete ways, advice to the community, to shadchanim, to educators and yeshivas in seminaries, to parents, and then finally, of course, to people who are single.

This is how it ends. “Don’t be afraid to be alone. Always be yourself, embrace your friendships, and explore new hobbies, places, and experiences. Take opportunities. Know that marriage is a wonderful experience, but if you waste all of your single years being sad that you’re not married, you’ll have wasted what could have been a wonderful experience as well. Don’t sit around waiting for your other half. You are whole just as you are. Embrace life, be happy for others, and be happy for yourself. Have dreams, goals, and life ambitions outside of marriage. Life is not a race. You are not in a competition with anyone.”

“Hashem has created this path for you and you only. He loves you and has your best interest at heart. Take advantage of the time how Hashem has given you to work on you so that one day, you can show him the incredible version of yourself that he knew you would become. You are not a crisis, and in time, it will happen for you. You can do this. We are all rooting for you.”

I think that’s such moving chizzuk, and I hope that you take a moment to read that essay online, share it with people who you think would benefit, and please, don’t just share it with your single friends. It’s an article that is written from someone who is single, but it’s really addressed to the entire community.

When speaking to people about their dating experience, I basically included five prompts that they weigh on, and here they are. What system did you begin dating in, and what system are you dating in now? Why did you switch communities that you were dating in assuming that you did?

Single Man:

I started dating about five years ago, a couple months after I moved to Israel, and I took the standard yeshiva approach. At the time I was learning in yeshiva. The way that it started was I spoke to my rebbe. He gave me the number of a shadchan from his neighborhood, and it went from there. The shadchan would send me resumes, and then I would do very minimal reference checking. The girl or the girl’s parents would do substantially more reference checking, and then the process of the dating itself would generally be managed by the shadchan from start to finish, at least for the first few dates.

Over time in Israel, I branched out a little bit. I got set up by friends, I would get set up potentially by other shadchanim, and I’ve expanded that over the years, I guess, to I’m on a local … It’s an Israeli app called Shlish Gan Eden. I have a WhatsApp bot that sometimes sends me suggestions, which is kind of cool. But my general approach is to take suggestions seriously from wherever they come. I try to make sure that I’m going out with people who I think would actually be a good fit for me or at least potentially so.

So, lately, it’s been kind of a mix. I went out with a girl, I want to say, a month or two ago who I was set up with by the same shadchan who had sent me up on my first date in Israel five years ago. I would say that I much prefer getting set up by friends as opposed to by shadchanim just because that way we can generally skip the reference stage. My friends don’t mind. My rabbi doesn’t mind, but every time they call me to tell me that somebody was looking into me and they talked to them on the phone, I feel the need to profusely apologize just because somebody signed up to be your reference.

These people care about me. They’re my close friends. They’re people that I can talk to about mostly anything, but it’s a lot. It’s a lot to have to talk to somebody on the phone that you don’t know that is asking personal questions, and when the same conversation can happen again and again, it’s something that I really appreciate them doing for me, but that I would like to avoid as much as possible.

Single Man 2:

I began dating in the shidduch system. I was 23, and I was in yeshiva at the time. Me and all my friends started dating together, and there was a shadchan, like the yeshiva shadchan who people would meet. I actually met a whole bunch of other shadchanim too. Now, I am no longer in the shidduch system. I don’t meet shadchanim, and they don’t set me up. I basically get set up by friends and family. I live on the Upper West Side. There’s a lot of singles here, so I meet people.

Why did I switch? I didn’t consciously switch from the shidduch system to whatever I’m in now. It was more just that I left that whole world. I left the yeshiva world, the more yeshivish world. It just made more sense to get set up by friends and family, especially because the shadchanim were setting me up with people who were less and less on target because they were people who were still in that system, and I just feel like they were either more religious or whatever the demographic is I was just no longer in that demographic. As a result, I stopped going out with their suggestions, and then they stopped suggesting.

Single Woman:

I was living in New York for a year, and I was post-divorce-minded and just meeting people. I found that people didn’t have a lot of depth or quality, and everyone was just more bitter. It was a lot of divorce people, but just general, it wasn’t the kind of setting of people who are marriage-minded and are looking to have a healthy marriage. This was my experience. Obviously, not everybody’s like that, but I just found it to be like, okay, so you could meet people and hang out but nobody was working on themselves or trying to make themselves figure out why they got to this position or where they are.

As people grew, it was the same. No one changed. I’m a very much a change-oriented person. I’m always learning, growing, trying to take something new, and I just felt like it was very stale and it wasn’t conducive to actually building a healthy marriage. Yeah, if you want friends, it’s fine, but I didn’t see it as a sustainable, healthy aspect of achieving what I wanted.

I also wasn’t sure what I … I was constantly shifting my religious beliefs and how I want my life to look, so it wasn’t working for me. It was just also on an insecure level I didn’t look like a lot of the girls. I don’t get dressed up. I don’t put on a show of being so feminine. I’m very blunt and real, and I don’t come in with gorgeous makeup and hair and heels. I just, it’s not my thing.

Already the world of looks I find from life now to be very much about looks and very much that the guys want supermodels, so anybody who’s average looking, which I think I’m beautiful and my friend, but were brunette. I don’t put contacts in. You’re already in a different category where the guys won’t even say yes to you. I always shifted my perspective on how to navigate, and I was like, “I’m not changing who I am to date or get married.” It was like I got that same messaging from the casual world and from the shadchanim say that, so you don’t even get in the door because you don’t look a certain way.

Single Man 3:

It’s funny because I think that even when I was starting dating probably seven years ago, I don’t think I was necessarily in one system because I definitely did more, we’ll call it, “right-wing” straight set up through shadchanim, not have the girl’s number, sit down with the whole fake candy platter with the parents thing. But I also, very often, got set up by friends and did the more relaxed, we’ll call it YU centrist-right dating. I also was involved in camps and NCSY and definitely had the opportunity to meet girls in, we’ll say, a more casual, relaxed setting.

I think what changed more over time is really the balance of those things. Even today, once in a while I’ll still, I guess, have a conversation with a shadchan. It’s just not necessarily my usual. I think the balance has shifted, and I’ll more frequently either be at a shabbos meal or even at shul and meet someone and, again, have it happen more naturally.

David Bashevkin:

What do you find most difficult about the experience of dating?

Single Man:

I think the most difficult part about dating has been, for me, the progression of a relationship when one person is more interested or more excited than the other person. And I’ve had this where I’m the less interested one, and I’ve had this when I’m the more interested one. In both cases, the person who is more interested might show it and might feel like we’ve been dating for such and such amount of time and we should be at such and such point, and has a lot to do with expectations and feeling out the other person.

But you have this kind of thought in your head about how things are supposed to go and how long they’re supposed to take, and then all of a sudden, the other person who’s not quite so interested but is interested and wants to let things proceed is sort of pushing back. And you get to this kind of self-sabotage situation where pushing back to give it more time can really just damage the whole flow and the whole development of the relationship because you build the sense of frustration for the other person.

Especially when in these development stages where you’re really just getting to know each other, it’s very difficult to figure out, let alone talk about, what exactly is going on. That would be the hardest thing, I think, in terms of managing and actually being in a relationship and dating someone in particular.

When it comes to the dating process, otherwise, the dating process itself, one of the more difficult things that I’ve been really trying to get better at is to roll with the punches a little bit better in terms of not letting a bad date ruin my day or get me into these thought patterns or trying-

Single Man:

… get me into these thought patterns or trying to figure out what is my issue and trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, because I have a whole story. It has to do with where I come from and my upbringing, and where I am now, and how this and that, and experience and whatever. The bottom line of this story is that there’s nothing to do. It hasn’t been working out, because it isn’t going to work out. If you explain too much why it hasn’t worked out in the past, the obvious conclusion is that it probably won’t work out in the future either, but you can’t tell yourself stories like that. If you do tell yourself stories like that, like I do, you can’t believe them, right? That’s my general MO, that I have this whole story, a theory really, and I choose not to pay attention to it anymore.

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:26:04]

Single Man 2:

What I’ve found most difficult about dating has changed over the years. Initially when I was still in Yeshiva, still using shadchanim, what was difficult was going on many dates with many different people and just basically just meeting so many people and having what seemed like meaningless relationships with pretty much strangers all the time. Then there was this middle period that was very difficult where all my friends got married and I realized that as a single person in the Jewish community, your value goes down until the point where you’re no longer in the community at all. So that was probably the most difficult, I would say, realizing that I am no longer a valuable member of the community. That was alleviated when I decided to move to the west side where everyone is single and there’s somewhat of a community here, so your value goes back up. Now you’re a member of the community, but now there’s regular dating problems where you date someone for a while and it doesn’t work out and it’s painful just because it’s a painful breakup.

Single Woman:

There’s no quality men. There’s a lot of quality women who are educated put together know how to have a conversation. They maybe own their own place or rent and they’re volunteering. I went back to school when I was 30. I run a volunteer organization. Most of my friends I met through volunteering, and you meet the guys and we joke about it. If they don’t own a table, that’s my new criteria. They’re waiting for a woman to let mother them and create jobs for them or a home and they have not changed anything. And you’re 40 and you’re dating for 20 years and you don’t own a table that says, “I have no permanence.” They didn’t go back for a degree, they didn’t go back.

They don’t have communication skills. So at this point, I’m really not dating and I’m not actively searching because it’s so frustrating and dumbing down and constantly being told what you need to change. But I’m like, for what? If there were fantastic guys and there were so many and I wasn’t working on it. I’m like, “There’s no options.” So that to me is the main issue. And I would say the second issue is the system is broken, as you probably know, and that we have shadchanim running the system who are antiquated and they treat the women terribly. So I think that this is a systemic issue that we could have better men, we could have a better system, but nobody wants to work on it.

Single Man 3:

When I think about things that were specifically frustrating and/or difficult in my ongoing dating experience, and I want to preface this with the fact that the shidduchim and I’ve worked with in the past seven years, I have the absolute utmost respect and hakaras hatov for. I think they get a bad rap within our community, a very undeserved, bad rap. I think there’s a lot of negative ambiguous shouting at every Shabbos table in the New York area towards a system in the ether, which doesn’t exist. I hear people talking about the system, the system. The system has to change, these resumes. This is bad. That’s bad. And I think generally we as a whole are yelling at ourselves because we are the system. We live in a system that we created.

When I hear people all upset that I can’t believe girls and boys have to be reduced to pieces of paper, you can’t know someone like that, I just remind myself and I try to remind those around me that this wasn’t something that someone stood up one day and decided that everyone has to have a shared resume. All these things evolved out of needs. All these things evolved out of the way our society and all of us forced them to evolve. But having given that long introduction, I would say the thing that comes most to mind about being frustrating for me personally, and I don’t even think that there is a solution, I don’t think there should be a solution. I think this is part and parcel with what we try to accomplish within the Orthodox community is the binariness and the absoluteness of dating, and that there’s only one of two ways this can go is entering into any date, entering into any quote-unquote “relationship.” And that creates an extremely frustrating, to say the least, and what could become a very anxiety filled and just depressed lifestyle of constantly dating.

Because if every person that does not become your wife just becomes a failure in your mind, and more than that, you don’t really have the opportunity to engage in meaningful relationships unless you are getting married. Because the second you realize even the smallest thing that indicates to you, “This person isn’t my wife,” so the proper menschlichthing to do, the right thing to do is obviously to end that relationship. And again, I think it’s necessary because this is what being an Orthodox Jew is about. We don’t engage in relationships that are not for the purpose of marriage. And I think that’s an incredible key to success within our community. But it is important to recognize the struggle that creates for singles, especially since we do create a society where life starts quote-unquote at marriage and that we are very professionally focused, but for good reason.

The goals that we put at the forefront are creating meaningful relationships, creating families. But again, that is very difficult for someone who’s not finding that person rather quickly because we’re constantly going on this never ending hamster wheel of the dating process of getting excited about someone going out and not working out. And just the way the human brain works, the more often you do the same thing and it has a negative result or not the effect that you’re intending it to have, so our brain tells us that we no longer enjoy that.

Speaker 1:

What could the community do to make it better?

Speaker 2:

I actually don’t really have any suggestions because I’m just very fortunate to live in a place where I feel very comfortable and I have a couple roommates and there are a bunch of other young people, single, married, married with children in the neighborhood. We see each other at Shul, we see each other around. I definitely do not feel out-casted at all. There’s places to meet people either by getting set up because friends of friends are just going to different Shabbos meals in the area or different events during the week or on Shabbos. The community is very nice. I think it’s very special and I think that that’s part of the reason that I’m here. I have quite a commute when it comes to getting to work, but it’s very worth it to me to live in such a supporting environment, especially when my family is very far away.

I think that communities that are just singles communities are a little bit more tricky because there’s more of a feeling of being stuck where people just, they’re looking and they’re living somewhere because they want to be in a place where they can meet people. And I’m speaking from experience because I’ve lived in other neighborhoods, and in other places. Living in a place where you just want to get the job done and move out is unpleasant while you’re there and it might be worth it, and for very many people it very much is worth it. But I feel very fortunate to have a community and to have a place where I live where I would like to get married and stick around with my same friends and my same shul and that’s about it.

Single Man 2:

I think it really depends on which community. I think there’s the shadchan community, which personally I think the shadchan system is very outdated or the opposite of outdated. I think most of our parents didn’t even use it. It’s a new system that all of a sudden we decided to go back to Europe times for no reason. I don’t know why that is. My parents, my aunts, my uncles, nobody has met through the shadchan system and all of a sudden there are so many people doing it. I don’t really understand that.

But if you’re not in that system and you’re just meeting people through more natural situations, I think every person needs to take it upon themselves to actually set up people. It’s not really a community thing, it’s more of you know friends and family and you know single people and you should put in an effort to set them up. I think that that’s where the best suggestions come from anyways, is friends and family. So everyone has busy lives and they have their own problems, but take out a small part of your day or month or whatever to set people up. I think that would be the most beneficial.

Single Woman:

There’s a few layers to it. I think A, it starts with how we’re educating boys and girls throughout their schooling and it’s not a Shidduch crisis. It’s how we’re focusing our time, the energy and the girls are getting home-ec, and doing class ed, and learning life skills, emotional skills. We’re sent to college, we’re taught how to have a career, we’re taught how to use English language. And a lot of the boys, and again, I can’t speak for Modern Orthodox, I didn’t really grow up in that kind of environment. I’m more like Yeshivas light where most of the boys don’t know English really and can’t really sustain a job without it being in a frum employer who helps pump them along. And they haven’t been home since they’re 13. When they do come home, they didn’t have to help.

They need someone to make them supper and they could be a good husband, but it has to be created for them. They’re not going to put in that much work. That’s one thing is I think starting from how we’re raising such a gap. The other thing with the community is we have a lot of singles, older singles, divorced, widow, widower, and it’s like ostracized and people are treated second class. So to me, part of changing the system is starting to be respectful to all people. Say hello to people. It’s our main law and people who are treated the worst.

So to me, it’s not about marriage, it’s about core values of how we treat people in Shul, in the supermarket. Thinking someone’s a professional, but because I’m not wearing a sheitel, I’m treated differently. It’s like marriage trumps … All of a sudden you become more of an adult. So a 20-year-old girl is more mature than me because she’s married. I would say those are the two things that I think that we could do as communities and has nothing to do with marriage or dating, but I think that’s after. We have to first restructure how we’re living and then we could tackle shidduch issues or dating because I can’t create men who are decent. My goal is to change the system for the next generation so that we don’t have to deal with this for our kids.

Single Man 3:

One thing I do think the community could do, and when I say community, I just mean people. I remember I used to sit around all these Shabbos tables and non-Shabbos tables, I just use the term Shabbos table for Jewish conversations. But there’s a vastly prominent idea that I think is unhealthy for everyone that if you’re a guy, the world is your oyster and you will not have any problems in shidduch, you’re just going to start and you’re going to pick out whichever Barbie doll you want and have a beautiful life, and really there only exist problems for girls.

I’m not at all trying to compare the two things. I think Shidduchim is hard for everyone. There’s definitely a component to dating for girls that I think I will never experience, and I get that. My point is just that when we promote this attitude, it totally warps the sensibilities and it totally just misrepresents what’s actually going to happen for a guy entering shidduchim. And I saw it with myself, I saw with my friends lead to absolute, depression’s a strong word, I would say momentary depression for guys that were either getting a lot of nos or having a tough time getting on any dates, just thinking horribly about themselves because the community as a whole is promoting this idea that it’s very easy for guys.

And you think if it’s not easy for me, then it must be that I’m just a big loser. And that’s just not the case. I think every guy I’ve ever known, and I’ve known the top guys in every yeshiva institution, whatever community you want to say, everyone got a nice amount of rejections. Everyone went out with girls that weren’t interested in them and vice versa. And I just think that we have to tailor our expectations and be cognizant of that when we’re having these conversations in front of single people especially. Not only that, but I’ve also just been around some very offensive conversations. I hear the term all the time, there’s no good guys out there, there’s no good guys out there. That’s a very acceptable thing to be able to say. And honestly, if you’re a guy and you’re single and you’re hearing that for obvious reasons, that’s a very hurtful thing to hear.

Speaker 3:

One thing that I don’t have this problem because I have really amazing friends in my life, friends of all ages that have families of their own, many of them, so I don’t feel this as much, but I think there is misconception that the only way that we can help single people is really to just alleviate their single is by setting them up and getting them married. While it’s nice, but the truth is that while they’re journeying through this somewhat lonely period and they don’t have a place in the community, there’s a way to be there for them that’s not necessarily quote-unquote “fixing” their singleness, just including them in the say your family, not just on Shabbos, but during the week and recognizing that they’re in this Twilight Zone of the Jewish community and trying to service them and improve their lives and enrich their lives outside of quote-unquote “fixing” their singlehood.

David Bashevkin:

What advice would you give to others dating?

Single Man:

I think a lot of the things that I’ve learned and that I would maybe advise other people about in terms of dating have to do just in general with growing up and how I was just feeling down about myself. Between living in a place that I didn’t really want to live and feeling like my social options were limited because I’m single, I spent maybe two years just feeling down about my whole life situation. And I think I was on the train to work and I’m very friendly on the train. There’s a minyan on the Yerushalayim train in the morning and I daven on the train and I chat with the other guys after and we’re friends. I like them. I’ve gone to them for Shabbos dinner and some of them have set me up on dates funny enough. But in any case, it’s a pleasure in the morning to see people that I like and to chat with them.

And in general, work was going well and I have nice friends and I finally moved into a neighborhood that I’d like and I’m sitting there one morning, miserable and I realized I was only miserable about dating and everything else that I could think of was meeting expectations, if not exceeding expectations. So I think that experience is what made me decide that I am not about to let this one thing, granted, it’s the biggest thing, but I’m not going to let one thing color my perception of everything else. I think you play the hand that you’re dealt, these are the cards that you have in your hand. And whatever, it’s not what you wanted. This isn’t what you want, but you don’t have to look at it as something that’s terrible. Every challenge is an opportunity and it really has been. I’ve just grown up a lot.

I see myself a lot differently. I’m more confident in who I am now. I hope I’ve more or less figured out or gotten the taste of how to deal with disappointment. This certainly won’t be the last one. And I think it’s just part of growing up is figuring out how to deal when things don’t really go the way that you want and making the best out of it. And so I feel great now and I still hate dating and it still sucks, but that’s how it is. I think sometimes the best advice is the most obvious advice. Do your best with what you have and just focus on the future and making the best of it.

Single Man 2:

My advice for people who are dating is I think people need to take steps to make dating more pleasant or at least try to eliminate the bad as best you can. I found that in the early days when I was using a shadchan, that meant not following all the rules that people told me about. People would tell me, “Oh, your date needs to be three hours or it’s insulting,” or, “You have to give a second date because it’s insulting.” There’s many rules. People make up rules all the time, but it’s more just that make it more pleasant for you. You don’t need to go on extra dates when it’s not going to go anywhere.

That’s going to make your life a lot more unpleasant. Later in life, what that meant for me was try to have a semblance of a community. Don’t force yourself to live in a yeshivish community where you have very little value and you’ll never get an aliyah in in shul and things like that. Instead, maybe move to the west side where you have peers and people going through the same thing that you’re going through. You don’t need to resign yourself to your fate of singledom. You can fight back in whatever ways that you can and try to make it as pleasant as can be. Don’t wallow and being single. You could do your best to make it more pleasant.

Single Woman:

So my advice for everybody and anybody, Hey, I’m a therapist so I have to say this just because it’s my job, but also because I believe it as a person is go to therapy figure, figure out who you are or go to dating coach, figure out what your challenges are. Forget marriage, do it for yourself. Become that whole person. Find hobbies, live a life of full capacity now, not when I get married. Then I will have a Shabbos table, then I’ll own a table. Now, I’m going to live now and if I get married in six months, I’ll either have a table, I’ll sell it or I get rid of it. But create the opportunities you want now as a full functioning part of the Jewish people, even though the messaging is different from outside world. So I want to say I live fully this year and I wasn’t waiting to get married because I’m not.

If marriage comes and I do, my Shabbos fine, or our Shabbos fine, but I’m going to be like, “Yeah, I traveled, I met these kind of people, I started an organization, I got a degree,” for me. And if marriage aligns with that, it will. But this waiting people staying at their parents’ house till they’re 40, they’re waiting, waiting. That’s not a way to live and that’s going to feed into depression and feeling like what’s my life worth? And yeah, it’s challenging, but there’s communities of people that you can connect with and keep working on finding a way to fit in and make Yiddish part of us and not just I’ll only fit in when I’m married. So that’s my advice, is to figure out who you are and be that whole person and throw out the phrasing of we’re two halves of a whole. No, you should be two whole people coming together to make a union, not this, “I’m incomplete,” business. So that’s my therapy plug.

Single Man 3:

In terms of advice for anyone dating, I think I’m the last person to be giving anyone dating advice being that I’ve done it very consistently, unsuccessfully for so long. I think this is the definition of what we’d called the blind leading the blind. But having said that, I think it’s very important to always have other meaningful things in your lives. You live in a community where life starts at marriage and for good reason because all good things come from stable healthy relationships and homes. But given the fact that there are going to be a lot of people that it just doesn’t work out for right away and that’s fine, you always have to have healthy ambitions and healthy other things to focus on outside of one’s dating life.

Another thing I would say sounds very specific, but it’s indicative of a much greater thing to be aware of is Modern and yeshivish are cultures not levels of religiosity. This took me a little bit to realize and then in general all adjectives are inherently meaningless. And it’s very hard when we describe ourselves and when we listen to descriptions of other people that are almost entirely adjectives and meaningless relative terms like modern, yeshivish, cool, balabatish, these are all terms that mean something very different to everybody and it’s extremely unhelpful when we overuse them, when we are trying to describe certain people.

Something like cool, where to someone meant that a girl is very outdoorsy and hikes Kilimanjaro and to me means that she wears Montclair vests. They’re just two totally different girls, but also two very fair, accurate descriptions of the word cool, just meaning very different things. And then you take a term like Modern and you’re super lost because half the time people say Modern, they just mean less religious, they just don’t feel comfortable saying the words less religious. But they’re throwing someone like me off, because to me Modern doesn’t mean less religious, it just means that they don’t need herring, they have milchigs for Shabbos day.

David Bashevkin:

It’s really remarkable hearing from people about what the experience is. I began this entire series with my own voice when I was single and it was jarring to hear the pain of that. My own pain, even though I’ve been through it, I still have scars myself. There are wounds even where it is a formative part of your life, the way that you navigate this massive decision. I think it’s something that people experience in their professional lives or people that experience in their communal lives finding the right community, crisis of process, crisis of experience. But underlying all of it, the biggest decision is your family life. I think undoubtedly. I’m curious from you, you researched this, how long did you spend researching this subject?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, it’s a good question. I’m sitting here nodding, which nobody could see if they’re hearing it. But everything that you’re saying is completely resonating with me. We spent probably on a year and a half collecting the data and going through it and analyzing it and putting it together into some cohesive themes and lessons. And then again, the applied piece of it. Now what? What does this mean for us as communities? What does this mean for us in terms of people who care and who either are ourselves single or were single or have someone who we care about who’s single, which I think includes everybody, right? Once you’re in that category, that’s everybody. And I’m with you David. I was the qualitative researcher. I listened to the stories of real people saying what they experienced and how they felt about it and being extremely real and raw.

And it changed me. I had gone into this because I had worked on campus and I had dated myself in our system and thank God had gotten married and I had a bunch of students on campus who at first were talking about all sorts of things in their career choices and like you’re saying, other process and experiential things that they were dealing with in their lives. And as time went on, they started speaking to me more and more in their one-on-ones about the troubles they were having in our systems of dating. Again, both the process issues and the experience issues. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, we have to do something about this. We actually have to do something about this. And that’s when I shifted out of campus work and into this department at the OU that was studying the Shidduch crisis specifically.

David Bashevkin:

You had a student reach out to you. Now obviously this is anonymous, you have many, many students I’ve been teaching for many, many years. But I wanted to frame it because so much of your research is responding to something, an issue that you personally was involved in with students, with people real life issues. So I’m wondering if you could almost before we get into the takeaways from your research, which I think was so important, maybe you can begin by reading this text message that a student reached out that I think is it’s representative in a way of maybe the bewilderment, the difficulty, dare I say, the pain and suffering that people go through and try to find their way through this decision.

Channah Cohen:

This was basically a representation of why I had done this research and why I’m still passionate about getting it out there as much as possible. It was cute. It was a student who I was in touch with am in touch with sporadically over time and she sent me a message that was like, “Hi, how are you and your family doing?” So I’m like, “You don’t want to know about how me and my family are doing, this is a bridge for you opening something up.” So I’m like, “Hey, how are you doing? Thank God. Well how are you?”

And she wrote me this beautiful, beautiful one line message which reads exactly this, “From your OU research project, I was wondering if you found anything helpful to me for shidduchim.” She was like, “What did you learn? What did you learn that could help?” And I think that-

David Bashevkin:

Tell me something.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. That’s the biggest question that I’m encountered with from people who heard about the research project. They’re like, “What did you learn that’s useful for people and that’s useful for me dating or that’s useful for me as a community member caring about people who are dating?” And that’s really the crux of the question.

David Bashevkin:

So maybe you could take me through the key points that emerge from your research that community members, people who are married, people who are living in communities, have families, what they can do to address specifically the crisis of experience.

Channah Cohen:

That I think is the main question that we need to be asking ourselves. And I think that everyone does ask it to themselves. I speak mostly at Shabbos tables with people who are married and have daughters or friends or siblings or whatever who are still dating, but they themselves are the ones who are not necessarily in that stage. And I find that there’s such this intrinsic drive in the Orthodox community to do something differently or to help. And as long as it’s all of us sitting in our own little chairs and our own little world, we feel very, our hands are tied. We’re like, “What can I really do against this entire system that I know doesn’t work? Because I experienced it myself or I like viscerally experienced it through somebody else, but what can I do to help?”

And I think that answering that question is so powerful and the part that surprised me is that the answer is much less in the crisis of process and much more in the crisis of experience because every one of us in our Shabbos tables and in our houses could do so much to affect the crisis of experience that single men and women are experiencing on a daily basis than we can to shift these massive systems that, again, I’m not saying that they’re working well and I’m not saying they don’t need to be shifted, they do, but that’s a longer process. It’s a much more volatile process. It’s a much more involved process and it’s much less the responsibility of every single person to do that.

David Bashevkin:

Before we get into ways that we can address the crisis of experience. I do want to push back on you. I’m curious, do you think it is necessary to change and address the crisis of process? Not every individual has the ability to do that. I’m not entirely certain that the system is not working because I think there’s a lot of mobility in the system. There are people who start dating maybe in the yeshivish community and then they move and there may be more on why YUConnects or dating and just more getting set up by friends.

And if that doesn’t work then they might try JSwipe. There’s mobility and movement. I don’t look at the landscape as we don’t have the right processes. I think we have people who either because their stage in life or their personality, they haven’t matched up their needs with the right system and they might feel trapped or they might feel stuck that at a certain point, “I don’t want to date in the, I don’t know, JSwipe is too wild. I want to go to maybe YUConnects or just get up set up by friends,” and learning how to find the right system that aligns with your needs. I’m actually not certain that the system is not working.

Channah Cohen:

I would maybe be able to buy into that more if I heard from people more often that they’ve found a system that resonates with them. I find much more that people are mobile between systems and they’re just like, “I don’t like any of this.” I hate going to shadchanim and I hate going to websites and nothing gives me good options. And then when I’m really sick of everything, I go back on JSwipe and then I get people who are not [Yiddish 00:50:29] and I know it and at least I have more control, but I’m not getting better dates.

I think that from what I hear, almost every part of the process piece contributes to the crisis of experience. Almost every piece of the process is not just working and not working and sometimes works and doesn’t work, but it actively makes people feel worse during this stage of life. And I just feel like we can’t be okay with that as an Orthodox community. We can’t keep having this system that everybody knows is not working. I didn’t call it a crisis, that wasn’t my term. It’s already vernacularly, colloquially called it crisis because we all experience it like that in some way. And so I just think that our process pieces are contributing to our experience pieces and let’s shift.

David Bashevkin:

They are, but I am still not convinced that we have a crisis of process. I think we have multiple processes. I think we have people who are not aligned with the right process. I think people as they maybe grow up mature, their religious life shifts, their need shift. It may be time to enter a different process or play in multiple processes simultaneously, which I know a lot of people do. You don’t have to declare it to the public. Right now I’m only accepting dates through Hasidic shadchan the that I met over at a shabbaton.

You don’t have to declare that way. And I do think that there is mobility and I don’t think we’ll ever get it fully solved because we’re dealing with systems. I would compare it to finding a job. Nobody likes finding a job. Nobody’s like, “This is fantastic. I wish I could spend more time on LinkedIn reaching out to people and trying to request meetings.” Nobody likes the process. But the question is you have multiple ways of doing it. You have a little tips of how you network and keep me in mind and all of that stuff. It doesn’t full.

David Bashevkin:

How you network and keep me in mind and all of that stuff. It doesn’t fully address the crisis of experience, but I am not entirely convinced that the processes that we have in place are not the exact right ones that we should.

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:52:04]

Channah Cohen:

Okay, well, we’ll agree to disagree. I think that there’s ways that it could be done better. I think there are so many ways that it could be done better and more effectively.

David Bashevkin:

Do you have any concrete suggestions or almost like pain points in the process that need addressing?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, I think that there are five larger systemic issues that need to be changed for the crisis of process systemically to shift-

David Bashevkin:

Like what?

Channah Cohen:

I don’t know if I’m going to go into all of them, but here’s an example. Even just talking about what you were speaking about. It seems to be again from the data that we already have extent of the demographic data that’s available that men seem to be shifting left at a faster pace than women. So men and women who start dating, the men start shifting left, and the women stay stable.

David Bashevkin:

Can we use the term they start getting maybe less religious?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, they start. Okay.

David Bashevkin:

Totally agreed by the way, I mean case in point, I tell people the way you measure the life of a radioactive particles like a half-life, how quickly it decays, and the half-life of men is faster than we decay faster.

Channah Cohen:

That’s so true. It’s incredible. I always say I want to write an article called In Defense of Men. I think that men get generally a bad rap and not there-

David Bashevkin:

I appreciate that.

Channah Cohen:

It’s fascinating. More of that on that later.

David Bashevkin:

That’s a very real issue that I agree with. The only thing, and I hate doing this, I can’t say this on the record, but here we are. I have told women who I’m talking to, I’m giving advice to, I said part of the difficulty is that the religious level that you are looking for at this age has become exceedingly rare the male equivalent. You don’t want to be the guide or advisor. The one giving advice be like the way for you to get married is to become less religious. You don’t want to be the one to use those words out of your mouth. So I’ll use euphemisms for it. Culturally, guys are at a different point, sometimes they might be looking for something else at this point. Talking about usually maybe past age of 27, 28, religiously they’re in a different place than they were when they were 22. But women might still be looking for that 22-year-old excitement and you’re 29, you’re 31, you’re working, you’re at a different place in your life. How do you think the process could address that?

Channah Cohen:

So that’s interesting. I think part of it is just knowing the facts on the ground. All right. I have a close friend who at some point was dating a guy who said that they went on one date, and it was super fun, and they really enjoyed each other’s company, but he was hashkafacally more left leaning than her and she very stably wanted to marry somebody who was aligned with her or more from than her.

David Bashevkin:

This is a tangent within a tangent, I’m pushing back at the notion of left and right.

Channah Cohen:

Okay, sorry.

David Bashevkin:

Because no-

Channah Cohen:

Tell me what language you me to do.

David Bashevkin:

Here is so tricky because I feel like it’s not just about left and right, which I think is much more cultural how you present. I think it’s you get sociologically, your religious signals decay, the classic ways that we signal our religiosity decay, you start dressing a little differently. Let me just be clear. We could use left and right. I have no problem with that. We could use more religious, less religious. Whenever I use these terms, I’m not talking about one’s relationship with God after 120 years. People are like, “What do you mean by less religious?” I’m like, “Whatever it means to you in your eyes. You could make it up. People get very touchy and intense.” But I am curious, your research showed that men, I’m going to use the word decay religiously faster than women.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. Yes. They both seem to be actually the process which again, we didn’t do a demographic longitudinal studies, so we can’t actually show that they over time became less religious. For that you need a massive demographic and longitudinal study. But we did find that men, when we spoke to them, seemed to articulate that process more. We found that both in terms of the cultural social pieces of Judaism and in terms of the actual belief systems of Judaism, men and women who let’s say both say that they’re yeshivish women care more and men and women who both say that they’re non-orthodox care more about everything about the social markers and about the religious markers, even if they’re saying they’re the same hashkafa.

David Bashevkin:

Fascinating.

Channah Cohen:

It is fascinating. So part of me is if I’m wearing my researcher hat, I want to say to that friend, you are totally allowed to make that decision, but you have to know what decision you’re making.

You have to know that when you break up with a guy, because he’s mostly in the same hashkafic bracket as you but isn’t as-

David Bashevkin:

Committed.

Channah Cohen:

… whatever you want to say in that bracket as you, that there’s almost nobody anywhere in the same of men and women who say that they’re the same thing. There are much fewer men who are going to be at a higher level than women in that bracket than women are going to be the high level in the men. And this is also demographically true across America in general in terms of religion. It’s everywhere.

David Bashevkin:

And before you end it, you could make that choice, but just know-

Channah Cohen:

Know what choice you’re making.

David Bashevkin:

That what you may be noticing is not a bug of the boy you’re dating. It’d be a feature of the gender differences and are the differences the way genders relate to religiosity.

Channah Cohen:

And also, the implications of that is also therefore when we’re giving women hype pep talks about who they’re looking for when they get married. If I’m a seminary teacher and I know that demographically what this looks like, maybe I’m less likely to try to tell my girls that if they think that they’re so frum, they have to make sure to date guys who are more from than them, then I’m dooming a certain percentage of them to stay single. Just like knowing this gives different data points. If for some reason after guys get back from yeshiva or start a job, they start veering whatever you want to say left, they start veering away from those things that they once cared about.

David Bashevkin:

The original signals that they once had.

Channah Cohen:

Then how can we give them support at that time if that is part of what’s causing women to feel like there’s no good men out there, which is what they all say. How can we give support to men in that age and stage so that they could continue to get what they need to be able to feel fulfilled religiously so that they start matching more. So there’s so many practical implications of it, but you have to start with knowing what’s going on.

David Bashevkin:

I am meeting constantly with couples who are grappling with this. It happens right away when they come back from seminar. There’s a lot of… I don’t mean to incriminate or indict the seminaries is it’s a hot take. I’m not yet ready to get that controversial or the yeshivas, but there’s a lot of uninformed advice floating around in this, and which is really why I am so committed to the fact that when it comes to religious compatibility, it’s all about negative theology. It’s all about avoiding irreconcilable differences and not finding perfect alignment.

Channah Cohen:

So I love that it’s so practical.

David Bashevkin:

There’s never a perfect alignment.

Channah Cohen:

What a practical piece of advice to give to people who are dating. That’s a total shift. It’s a total shift. It’s not like if I’m stable and if I’m a good person and if I’m a good religious person on the inside, I’m going to have to marry somebody who’s at XYZ religious level. It’s a totally different way of thinking about our own internal religiosity and how we’re making choices based on that.

David Bashevkin:

So long as we’re talking about the crisis of process, are there any other highlights that you would pull up before we move to the crisis of experience?

Channah Cohen:

One of the things that I got most from the people that I spoke to in the qualitative rate, the interview, the qualitative interviews that I did were people really calling for an overhaul of the reliance on intermediaries. They felt this reliance on these third parties who often or sometimes they had to pay to just meet with them and then there was no accountability of them setting them up and they kept saying, “Is there a way that we could do this that would work better, that wouldn’t make us rely on third parties?” A woman that I interviewed said, “It’s kind of feels like Rapunzel and I’m just sitting in my tower waiting for someone else to send the prince along.” And she feels like, “I can’t get out of the tower, and I can’t go find the prince. I can’t just go for a walk and try to find him. I have to wait in this tower for someone else to send him along.”

So those kinds of things, I think that there’s a lot of reliance on experts, whoever they are, to be able to find us our own matches without allowing people better access to matches themselves, which is I think every single person will agree to the statement, I would like to have better and more direct access to shy of people myself.

David Bashevkin:

Relevant people, yeah.

Channah Cohen:

I don’t think anyone’s going to disagree with that statement.

David Bashevkin:

Any single people will disagree with that and that’s a tricky question because it really butts heads with a lot of the modesty norms and concerns that I think regulate. It’s not coming from a critical point, but that is one of the big pressure points in the Jewish community about modesty and how to do that. It is mediated to avoid a lot. It’s not the only reason why they’re mediated, I think would mediate for a lot of good reasons, but to lower the mediation, to give a little bit more control, a little bit more choice and power into the hands of the people who are dating, which may evolve as you grow up, you want a little bit more of your own.

Channah Cohen:

So finding ways to do that, whether or not that’s like a website without intermediaries, whether that’s more singles events and different ways that people could organically naturally meet each other in a nice modest, appropriate environment. People want that. That’s what they want. So again, trying to figure out ways that we could do that as a society on a broader level, how to make dating events something that is fun and interesting and engaging, and you get to meet new people and it’s a nice stage of your life in which you’re discovering yourself-

David Bashevkin:

Dating as a full rebrand.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, as opposed to horrible and destroying of your own sense of self and just completely dismantling that you have to take a break from life for a week and a half after going to anywhere.

David Bashevkin:

I went on one dating shabbaton. It was held in a nearby community. I remember the rabbi got up and made an announcement, we want to welcome all the singles. I felt like I was in the Bronx Zoo being wheeled out in an exhibit. He could have followed. Please do not feed the singles, do not stick your hands into the cages. It was so mortifying, and I showed up to the Friday night dinner, it wasn’t the right group and I remember I literally fell into a depression, and I slept the next morning. I woke up at 3:00 in the afternoon in a basement. My dear friend Josh G will probably remember I was staying at his house, and I passed out of that basement so that it was really, really challenging. But that gets back to the point that I mentioned-

Channah Cohen:

Yes, it does.

David Bashevkin:

… which is that the crisis of process may be, not that we need new systems, but aligning yourself and your needs to the right system that may already exist.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, I was thinking of it as a great example of how trying to solve a crisis of process exacerbates the crisis of experience. This rabbi in the shul were out of the goodness of their hearts trying to create more opportunities for single people to be able to meet each other naturally because that’s part of the process issue that we have. But by doing that, they accidentally tread on the experience of all the actual human beings who are in the room by calling them, right. I was talking to somebody who their community was thinking about starting on adopt a single initiative and they were like, “We’re not puppies. We don’t want you to spend a dollar to adopt.”

David Bashevkin:

Adopt a single.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. They’re like, “That doesn’t feel good for us. We know that you’re trying to solve something. But that’s why knowing and having the language for the crisis of experience peace and for knowing that that’s our primary responsibility towards each other as a community.” I think is mind blowing.

David Bashevkin:

And there’s a lot more that we can do. So let’s actually get into it. You have a few clear points and takeaways from your research in how the community can address the crisis of experience. What are the main takeaways that you discover?

Channah Cohen:

Okay, awesome. Thank you for asking. The general framework here of how to think about it is that you have the community, and you have the single men and women, and community is often focused on and trying to get the single men and women married and that creates more of the exacerbation of the crisis of experience. And the single men and women are often focused on how the community is mistreating them.

So you have the community focused on the singles and getting them married, and the single people focused on the community and how they’re not being treated and everyone’s crossing paths and no one’s taking care of what feels good for them and is their primary. Again, basic work in life at that stage. It is the single men and women’s responsibility to get themselves married and like you said, they will do that as best as they can and all they deserve from us is support and whatever they ask us for to be able to provide that for them, the resources and support that they need at that time. And it’s the community’s responsibility to be nice to everybody, including obviously single men and women no matter what. Even if you think that they’re whatever choices that they’re making, it doesn’t matter. That’s just not our responsibility. Our responsibility as a community is to know that it is on our shoulders to make sure that we alleviate whatever is exacerbated in their crisis of experience at any given time.

David Bashevkin:

I want you to get more specific.

Channah Cohen:

I’m going to get more specific. That was my-

David Bashevkin:

I want you to get more specific. It was a great introduction.

Channah Cohen:

Think of it.

David Bashevkin:

But we need more than be nice.

Channah Cohen:

No, it’s more than be nice. Okay, so the first thing you’re going to be like, “Ah, I can’t believe you’re saying this again.” Everyone always says that, but it’s also absolutely true, which is that you can’t call people boys and girls when as soon as they start dating and as soon as they’re adults, you look like you have to say something.

David Bashevkin:

No, I try to avoid this. I am much better at avoiding girls than avoiding boys. I almost always use the term I teach in a women’s college. So I have really worked on not using the term girls. I think it is infantilizing, it’s not the right word. For some reason it’s a little bit more accepted to use the term boys, especially when you’re speaking with women, they’re like boys and I kind of get it. It’s like endearing and I still feel there’s a part of me. There’s more like an adjective than a noun. It’s like boys. It’s when I’m doing something dumb boys will be boys. I’m more sensitive to using women rather than girls. I hate the term bachur. Bachur is the Hebrew term that sometimes you get called up to the Torah for aliyah. And this part of my issue in showing up to shul, aside from the fact that I didn’t wear a tallis and would announce to the whole world, and I would show up at a point, I was still wearing a black hat on Shabbos.

Part of the reason why I stopped wearing a black hat on Shabbos is I felt like a bar mitzvah bachur. I felt like a bar mitzvah boy. I didn’t feel like a grownup. I’m like, why do I have to be the one person showing up to shul shop this morning wearing this? It felt infantilizing to me. It’s really one of the reasons why I stopped wearing a black hat. Even though my son, my six-year-old son went to my nephew. I have many yeshivish family members, and he went to his bar mitzvah and he got a hat for his bar mitzvah and my son Zevi looked at me, he says, “Daddy, why don’t you have a bar mitzvah hat? Your bar mitzvah hat.” And he said it so innocently and sweetly. I was like, “Okay, I’m getting one.” And I went out and I bought-

Channah Cohen:

No way.

David Bashevkin:

No, I bought a hat. I don’t wear it really all that often on Shabbos, but I was like, you know what I like, and I call it my bar mitzvah hat. But that hurt the feeling, the sense of being stamped with bachur, boy, like that childishness and-

Channah Cohen:

And that as soon as if you have a 19 or 20-year-old young woman who gets married, they become a lady or a woman. And if you have a 38-year-old who’s not married, she’s still a single girl that’s being set up.

David Bashevkin:

This girl, she’s a single girl who needs a shidduch. It’s like the headline girl needs, what’s your bio? Not your job, not your title. Not the work that you’ve done, not your accomplishments, not your personality. Girl needs shidduch.

Channah Cohen:

Exactly.

David Bashevkin:

Boy needs shidduch.

Channah Cohen:

And that’s how they feel like every community member who sees them thinks about them is that’s the next one is that if I show up at shul, a single woman who I interviewed talked about, she went to shul with a friend of hers, a period of hers who had recently gotten married. So she walks in without her hair covered, and the friend walks in with a sheitel of some sort and a woman who’s on the shuls like welcoming committee goes over to her friend and starts telling her about all the programming they have for a woman in the shul. Then the woman looks at the single woman and kind of blinks at her and turns and walks away. And that single woman said to me that when I talk about the shidduch crisis, and again you hear she’s talking about the crisis of experience. When I talk about the shidduch crisis, that’s the problem. She said 10% of my issue with this stage of life is the loneliness that I feel looking for a spouse. But 80 or 90% is when I’m treated like that by my community.

David Bashevkin:

I don’t even exist. You show up to shul and unless it’s a singles shabbaton, we’re not speaking to you, we’re not providing for you. That is really, really painful. I’ve heard it, I’ve probably said it probably guilty that you mentioned somebody who’s not yet married and it’s their name and then somebody in that conversation, there’s a sigh. They really need a shidduch. And I get it. I get the importance that we place on family. I actually, I don’t reject it. It was a very family-oriented community. I don’t think that we need to be afraid that that’s going to be undermined if we treat people who are not yet married and it’s not going to undermine the entire communal structure if you just treat them as human beings decent.

Channah Cohen:

Exactly.

David Bashevkin:

Members of the community.

Channah Cohen:

Exactly. That’s one of the rabbis that we interviewed called it the great debate. He said, that’s the great debate, which is that maybe if we’re too nice to single men and women, then they’ll be happier being single and they won’t get married and start families. And we’re like, that’s just not true.

David Bashevkin:

That’s insane.

Channah Cohen:

It’s insane. No single men or women who wants to get married is going to be like, “Well, now I’m being treated nicely. I guess I’m going to throw that.” That’s part of where their crisis of experience is coming from is that they want to be in a different stage of life often than they are. And it’s just not our responsibility as community members to make people’s lives miserable. So they do what we think that they should be doing. It’s just not the right.

David Bashevkin:

I’ve absolutely heard that. The way I hear it phrase is they’re getting too comfortable. God forbid they should have a career or interest that provide them nourishment and not just sit in fetal position on their beds all day, contemplating their sorry state of affairs because that may distract them from focusing on dating. And I don’t like that. I think people need to nourish their sense of self. It’s something that so many people who are looking, this is the issue that they’re grappling with. And we don’t talk about any other decision struggles in the same way. We don’t look at somebody who does not yet have a job who does not yet have children and say, “Well, let’s make their lives a little miserable so they don’t forget about the work that they need to do to get where they need to be.”

That would be cruel. But I do think in the back of people’s heads we, I’ve heard it, I’ve probably said it at some point, they’re getting too comfortable knowing myself and having been through myself. I was older when I got married. You don’t need any reminders of the benefits or the reasons why you would want to get married. You don’t need people to treat you miserable or cruelly to do that. And when I say miserable and cruelly, I think we’re both, I don’t think people are being malicious about it.

Channah Cohen:

No, they’re being really well intentioned. Really well intentioned. The well meanings I think create most of the angst and that’s what this is about. It’s how to actually be somebody who respects just the process that another person is going through without feeling the responsibility to direct that process. Like my responsibility when I meet any new person ever in shul or anywhere in the street, is to be kind. It doesn’t matter if they’re single or not. Be kind in the same way. Welcome people in the same way that lady who’s on the welcoming committee, welcome this married person and welcome the single person in exactly the same kind of way.

Another person who I was talking to said she’s like, you know what I dream about when I go to the grocery store. I dream about somebody coming up over me and saying, “Hey, how you doing? What are you up to these days?” And I was like, “What?” And she’s like, because instead this is what they do. They tilt their heads and a high pitch voice. They say, “Hey, how are you?” Which actually means-

David Bashevkin:

You’re okay?

Channah Cohen:

… I’m so sorry to see you here without a sheitel on your head. She’s like, I interpret what they’re saying.

David Bashevkin:

Or you’re not yet married. I’m so-

Channah Cohen:

Right.

David Bashevkin:

Okay.

Channah Cohen:

You’re still, okay?

David Bashevkin:

Are you good?

Channah Cohen:

Right. And she’s like, “No, I just want them to be like hey and have a normal conversation with me.” So it’s so simple and it’s so much our responsibility. I’ll give you another example, which is another one of these things about how we as community members could do so much to impact the crisis of experience at the stage of life. And I’ve heard you talk about this before too, which is that again, another well-meaning thing that I think we all do and are all guilty of is that we meet a single person who we really like and then we’re friends with them and we want them to come over and we say to them, call me whenever you need a meal. Whenever you need a meal, you just call me.

And people who are sitting at the head of a boardroom table are like, “Whenever I need a meal, I should call you. Are you inviting your other friends that way?” No, you call them up on Monday or Tuesday and you invite them. Don’t call me on Thursday and say to them, “I’m already having people over. Why don’t you come? We would love to have you.” It sounds like it’s nice, but it’s not a respectful thing to do to another person that you genuinely respect them and what they’re going through and see them as a peer. And it’s just those small things, inviting people for meals and inviting them for meals in a sensitive, respectful way.

David Bashevkin:

Exactly. I know somebody who I admire and respect through the roof who is divorced, so she’s single now. A very notable person. She one time shared that somebody called her on erev Pesach saying, do you need any meals? And in her head, and I think rightfully so, coming from a very kind place, but the gestures, what did you think was happening? Inviting me on erev Pesach, what do you think I’ve been doing the last three weeks to be able to invite with sensitivity is really hard. And you know what? I want to publicly say, I’ve already forgotten this because there are people who I know who are single and one of the difficulties, who am I to say this? But one of the difficulties is that the meal scheduling for single people and married people is very different. Married couples is, I actually hate this about community, married life.

They schedule their meals like six months in advance or four and a half weeks in advance. And people who are single very often I was like this, they’re thinking about Shabbos on Wednesday is early Thursday night, shoot, what am I doing to Shabbos? And I have seen myself that I’ve messed up in this area. I know there are people who have reached out over and over again, “Hey, is this Shabbos good?” Happens to be. I’m away a lot on Shabbos. So if you text me on a Thursday night, I feel terrible. But the reason why I feel like I need to do Chuva for this is that I don’t follow up and offer and say, let’s pick a specific Shabbat and let’s make it happen.

I’m thinking about it a lot during this topic of all people who went through this. I have not risen to the occasion for a lot of close people in my life and I should be providing them specific dates instead of call me at any time or just when they text me on Thursday night being like, so sorry this Shabbos doesn’t work. And you really have to realize that if you want to be helpful and provide for somebody else in your life, it can’t just be on your schedule because that’s not what going out of your comfort zone and helping another in the context of their life is about.

Channah Cohen:

That’s what it is. It’s really empathy more than it’s classed. I wouldn’t want someone to invite me for a meal because they felt like they were doing chessed for me, but I’d want someone to invite me for their meal because they know that I’m out of town this week and my husband’s out of town this week and we’re just kind of stressed out and they’ve been stressed out before too and they get it, right? And I think that that’s also part of it is not doing chessed in kind of a condescending kind of way, but just being empathetic to another person’s experience of their own reality.

David Bashevkin:

Do you think the term chessed is even the wrong term there? I use the term chessed. It’s the wrong, it is just friendship. Yeah, they don’t want, nobody wants to-

Channah Cohen:

Nobody wants that, yeah.

David Bashevkin:

That case. Maybe just my relationship to Shabbat. I feel like anytime I allow somebody else in my home on Shabbos I’m doing this chessed we’re up to me, I would just be under the covers for all 24-hours. But I appreciate that the paradigm is not let me do this nebach person chessed the paradigm is let me have friendships that I nurture that are with people who are married and people who are singled. What other feedback and points would you give? Concrete examples.

Channah Cohen:

There’s two more. One of them. It was a shift that I felt like I experienced just in doing this research. One of my protocol questions in my interview, or I think it was even the introduction before it, I was like, “Oh, we’re interviewing singles and shadchanim and community and one of those single women who I interviewed stop me. She was like, “Can I just stop you before you even start this interview?” And I was like, “Oh, ooh.” And she said to me, “I hate being called a single. Why am I a single? Excuse me. I am a person, I’m a human being. I’m an orthodox Jew. I’m a young woman. Why am I a single? What heck gives you the right to call me singles? Don’t call me singles. Call us single women. Call us single men. Call us single Orthodox Jews. I want you in your mind.” She basically said to me, “To rewire that you’re not thinking about me.”

This is what we said spoke about before, right? You’re not thinking about me in a wholesome way as one slight sliver of an aspect of my experience. I’m a person, I’m a person who happens to be single. And I loved that, and I found that I had to rewrite it in my head. And when I was rewriting how I spoke, it rewrote how I think. So that is to me even more important. If you have a really hard time calling people, men and women instead of boys and girls, instead of being like, it doesn’t matter. It does matter. And we all have to do the work in our own heads of rewriting how we’re speaking about it because that’s rewriting how we think about it.

David Bashevkin:

It’s not the singles. I remember when I shared this in my opening conversation about my own dating experience when I spent a Pesach alone at a Seder by myself. And the moment that moved me most was when I got to the very end that I’m sitting by myself finishing a Seder and I started saying, Chad Gadya like a lone goat. I’m the Chad Gadya you don’t need the reminders. I felt like a single at that moment. And you don’t want to ever be addressed. You’re a demographic, you want to be addressed, you’re a person. And I appreciate that a lot. Give me the final-

Channah Cohen:

And the final thing, very simple, which is that one of the things that single men and women say when you talk to them about this stage of life is they really, really don’t want or deserve unsolicited advice. If we ask you your opinion or if we ask you what you think about XYZ, I would love to hear it, right? We should definitely respond in a helpful way to people who ask us for it. But I feel like so, so often people who have one woman who I interviewed said, just have all the luck of having gotten married. Then feel like it’s their right and possibly their responsibility to tell you all the things that you’re doing wrong. Do you have a dating coach? Maybe you should straighten your hair. Have you tried to dating these kind of guys or this kind of way, whatever. She’s just, don’t just support me. And again, don’t try to get me married, right? Just be that supportive community member that I really, really want and need. And if I ask you, please respond. But if I don’t ask you, please don’t respond.

David Bashevkin:

I had a lot of friendships, they weren’t broken up, but there was a lot of pressure on them because of unsolicited advice. It really made it challenging. Because you felt, anytime you reach out or spoke about anything, there was this gravitational force pulling you back to, I was dating going, what’s going on? Are you busy? It just felt like you could never have a conversation or exist outside of that lens. It really takes away your personhood like your agency. It’s the only thing that you were seen as, you were seen as a person with a problem in need of a resolution instead of a human being who is becoming like every other human being.

Channah Cohen:

Awesome.

David Bashevkin:

So I want to shift now and I want to talk about something that full disclosure, we recorded this once before and you had major hesitation for obvious reasons. It’s very sensitive what we’re going to talk about right now, but really for something much broader, not just because it’s a sensitive personal subject, but I think your hesitation has to do with what does this have to do with the subject at hand? And I hope that becomes clear, but one of the things that has always absolutely fascinated me about you and really increased my respect for you exponentially, is that you have dedicated much of your life and the folks of your research on relationships and particularly the crisis of experience in how people find and cultivate relationships. And your personal background on this subject to me really provides a lot of contexts of how I see you speaking. I’m mentioning this for two reasons. Your maiden name is?

Channah Cohen:

Yudkowsky.

David Bashevkin:

Yudkowsky. And many of our listeners, though not all of our listeners will recognize your last name. Your older brother is world famous. It’s fair to say, world famous researcher in artificial intelligence. He runs a blog that I don’t know if they’re still posting on it was called LessWrong. He wrote like a massive gazillion page fan fiction of Harry Potter. Your brother is Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Channah Cohen:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

You shared with me one really beautiful anecdote about Eliezer that I insist on sharing because it’s so sweet. He spoke at your sheva brachos.

Channah Cohen:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

And I would not think it was not think that Eliezer Yudkowsky would be the best sheva brachos speaker, but it was the most lovely thing that he said. What did Eliezer Yudkowsky say at your sheva brachos?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, it’s a great story because it was mind-blowingly surprising at the time. And it is, I think the only thing that anyone said at a sheva brachos that I actually remember, he got up at the first sheva brachos and he said, when you die after 120 years, you’re going to go up to shamayim and Hakadosh Baruch Hu. And again, he used these phrases—

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:18:04]

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. Hakadosh Baruch Hu will stand the man and the woman in front of him and he will go through a whole list of all the arguments you ever had together, and he will tell you who was actually right in each one of those arguments. And at the end he’ll take a tally, and whoever was right more often wins the marriage. And then everyone kind of chuckled and Ellie said, “And if you don’t believe that, then don’t act like it’s true.”

David Bashevkin:

What a profound… If you don’t believe that, then don’t act like it’s true. Don’t spend your entire marriage and relationship hoping that you’re going to win the test to win the marriage. What a brilliant-

Channah Cohen:

What a great piece of advice.

David Bashevkin:

What a brilliant presentation. I never would’ve guessed that Eliezer Yudkowsky would enter into my sheva brachos wedding lineup, but that is quite beautiful and I can’t thank you enough for sharing that.

Channah Cohen:

You’re welcome.

David Bashevkin:

Aside from Eliezer Yudkowsky being your brother, you had another brother who is not as well known. He unfortunately died, he committed suicide, I was in yeshiva with him. His name was Yudy, he was extraordinarily sweet. He had a cape that he would wear sometimes and I borrow… I begged him. And I borrowed his cape on Purim.

Channah Cohen:

That’s so cute.

David Bashevkin:

And Yudy, quite literally, if you’ll allow me to say, he died from heartbreak, there was a relationship that ended and he took his own life. And what has always fascinated me is that Channah Cohen, the person who was dedicated her life to the human experience of dating and relationship, is book ended in your own family by these two, really almost like the inverse stories, somebody who I think died from the crisis of experience. And your oldest brother has dedicated his life to almost solve the crisis of experience, solely with a rationalistic model of process.

Channah Cohen:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

Is that fair to say?

Channah Cohen:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

Tell me why the first time we recorded this, you were very hesitant. You said, “I don’t know that I want to share this.” And your hesitation was not primarily coming from the fact that it was personal, there was something larger about it. What changed?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, it’s been a long month thinking about what irked me or what kind of needled me or felt kind of, I don’t know, off, I would say. Again, no fault of your own from last time. And I think that part of it is because for me it’s not really about the relationship piece, I think that that’s how you see it. To me, having studied shidduchim and relationships and how people form relationships is not really my raison d’etre, is that how you pronounce it? It’s not really the number one piece underneath everything for me, it’s really that crisis of experience in terms of the larger human phenomenon of just existing in the world, and just how we try to make meaning of it and really struggle to make meaning of it much more often than we actually succeed in making meaning of it. And that’s where I think I felt a little bit of pressure when people, you’re the first one who really knows this about me, right without me having…

David Bashevkin:

Very rarely overlap.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

Most people who you’re interacting with in the Jewish world, they’ve not quite-

Channah Cohen:

Don’t know either of those things.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, they don’t know who Eliezer Yudkowsky is, but I’m not underselling. He is world’s famous. He advises Peter Thiel, he’s one of the foremost experts on the potential dangers of AI. You could Google him. He’s got, definitely has his own Wikipedia page. World’s famous. We’ve mentioned him several times on 18Forty. Zohar Atkins, our conversation spoke about even the very title, Less Wrong, but he’s world famous for this question that you just mentioned though. What’s the process through which you should find meaning in your life? He has, to me, almost the inverse approach that you have. How would you compare your approach to Eliezer? Or you don’t even ever think of it in those terms.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, it’s a good question because I don’t really see him as a researcher, I see him primarily as a brother who happens to be a researcher. So my relationship with him is, I think, different than people who have read his works and been influenced one way or another by them. For me, it’s impossible for me to answer that question without getting too embedded in my own story. And I think that’s where this all starts and ends for me.

And I think maybe this is where there’s an overlap with the research that I did on shidduchim in general, is that it’s just the experience of hearing the human stories and hearing the struggle in the human story and, in a certain way, respecting that another human being is struggling with something in the same way that me as a human being, even if it’s a different circumstance, like they’re struggling with being single, I’m married, but it doesn’t really matter. On a human level I could relate to what they’re going through. And that is part of why I did the research and I’m still advocating for speaking about the research and getting it out there and being able to shift what we do as a society to really impact the experience of individual humans.

David Bashevkin:

Because ultimately, if I could jump in, the reason why I felt it was connected is because I think, and I’ve said this 1,001 times, and every time I mention I say again, I’ve mentioned this 1,001 times, the difficulty, the pain, the struggle, the journey of dating and romance and commitment is just a microcosm of the larger macro issue of becoming a human being. It’s a cliche thing to say, but we shouldn’t be called human beings, we should be called human becomings.

Because I think in any area of life, whether it is figuring out what’s the right profession, what’s the right community, what are the hobbies, how I should spend my time, how I should spend my focus, there is always two crises that are hovering on either side of us; the crisis of process and the crisis of experience. And I think the reason why I brought it up, and I’m curious if I convinced you, I thought that your personal embeddedness on this, I didn’t buy the fact that you’re a sober researcher totally detached from this. I thought that there was something very real. I’m not doing a Freudian reading that it’s coming specifically from your relationships with your brothers, but there’s something real in the context of maybe you were brought up or what you’ve been exposed to or what you’re reacting to, that maybe it’s not, dating is not the headline of Channah Cohen, but it is exploring human experience and the crises of human experience which I think, in becoming human beings, there is a crisis of process and there’s a crisis of experience.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. So I’ll tell you, part of that doesn’t resonate with me. And I think that part of when I walked away last time, I felt sort of what was expected of me or what I was supposed to have answered was this nice linear, neat story that showed that what I had gone through had then directed what the choices that I made and the difference that I was trying to make in the world. And that would be really, really beautiful. And it would be this nice little present with a little bow on it and we’d put it on the table between us and discuss it, and then you’d publish the episode. And I’m like, that’s not really how I experience it, that’s just not how I feel about it. I wouldn’t say that I went into studying this because I was trying to explore the human experience because that’s always compelled me because of what I went through, it’s not so linear.

It’s more of, I went into this because I’m trying to make a difference and because this is a systemic issue that I felt like was causing people pain and that I wanted to, in a certain way, I’m going to totally frank here, in a certain way I wanted to be the hero. I have a hero complex, I wanted to save some system because I feel like I need to do something important in the world because otherwise I’m going to die. And that is a very real reality to me. I think that it’s not to a lot of people and I see also maybe had a hero complex or have a hero complex because my brother’s doing all sorts of amazing things that are published on websites and what am I doing? So to me it was less of coming from this beautiful linear place where I’m following my destiny in some way that’s been paved for me by the hardships that I went through.

And it’s more of just, David, I’m a much more of a mess than that. My story is not so linear. My story is not so… It doesn’t make that much sense. And a lot of it is just me struggling with the fact that I’m a human and I can’t always answer these questions in a way that I feel like maybe is expected of me. And sometimes we only get to hear the stories of people who seem to be retrospectively stitching together their lives so that by the time you’re listening to their story, you’re like, “That makes a lot of sense.” And those are the people who are allowed to be humans. Those are the people that we are allowed to listen to their stories.

David Bashevkin:

Where everything connects, everything lines up. You’re only convincing me more of why I brought it up and the positioning because it’s so interesting that you’re kind of, not accusing me, but you felt after our conversation that we were presenting this neat little package, this linear story. And now she had this hyper rationalist brother who’s world famous and had this other brother who really suffered in this crisis of experience, et cetera, et cetera. And now in comes Channah, door number three, and that’s the reason why there’s nothing I identify more with than resisting the notion of a linear narrative. Because I think underneath everything is the messiness of human experience, but I also think that there’s something from where I’m sitting, there’s something very deeply moving about, you’re a contending with your own messiness, your own vulnerability and just understanding of what you’ve been through and how maybe in non-explicit ways or in extraordinarily subtle ways, it doesn’t inform your research but may have aligned your focus on certain types of problems and where you want to make that contribution.

Channah Cohen:

I can agree with that, I could sign on the dotted line there. The thing that’s most interesting to me is probably the thing that’s partially the least interesting to Eliezer, who I call Ellie, right?

David Bashevkin:

Yeah.

Channah Cohen:

I remember one conversation that I had with him where, before he wrote Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, he intended to write a book called The Art of Rationality, which he told me was going to be teaching people how to think rationally. So I said, I was like, I’m his little sister so I’m allowed to play that role. I’m like, “You really think that writing a book called The Art of Rationality is going to teach people to think logically? Come on.” And he was like, “Of course. People are like computers, just way simpler. So all you have to do is program them correctly and they’ll do what you want them to do.” And I remember just feeling like, wow, that is totally not how I look at human beings. We have decades and journals devoted to psychological studies of one individual and we still can’t figure them out. People are just way, way, way more complicated than that worldview. And I think that is both how I look at the world and then certainly what I see reflected in my own self.

David Bashevkin:

And what are the problems that attract you most? Meaning, we’ve been spending time talking about dating, it wasn’t dating per se that excited you about this. When you try to file away what the larger issues that you want to make a contribution to, what are they?

Channah Cohen:

Not to spear you with your own question, but that is my crisis of experience, is having an extremely hard time answering that question. So if there was one thing that I could study and be an applied researcher, studied it and then figure out what could be done about it, I would do that in a second. And my major issue is this continuous flux between being interested in most things and, again, things that are in some way related to the human experience in some way. I’m never really interested in the biological study of mirror neurons, let’s say. But getting my pulse on that, that’s the central piece where I struggle with, is a certain just clarity of what it is that compels me the most and that I want to contribute to while at the same time being neurotically existentially obsessed with contributing something. To be honest.

David Bashevkin:

No, there’s nothing… I identify so much with it because I want you to know something. One of the [foreign language 01:29:00] in my life, and it really came out through certain interviews that I’ve had, was connecting the dots of my areas of interest to my own experiences because I also, I’m going to use the word suffered, from a crisis of experience. I felt this need, I want to make a contribution. I want to be, maybe it was a hero, I want to be known for something. I want to be able to put something out there to the world and I don’t know what it is. And especially during these years when you were dating and you’re single, the ambiguity of your fashioning of self compounds on itself like, didn’t have a family, didn’t have a clear professional trajectory. I felt like a nothing, like a zero non-existence that was desperately yearning for a clear narrative, an arc.

I wanted something linear, I failed and I started writing about that experience itself, which is what drew me to failure, which is ultimately what drew- I started writing on sin and failure and in an institutional sense it became the subject of my PhD and that all drew me to comedy because they’re both contending with dissonance, which is what, 18Forty’s… To me, I don’t know that I’m a neat package, but at a certain point, all of these threads did start to come together and it’s so interesting that your, can I say insecurity?

Channah Cohen:

Sure.

David Bashevkin:

Is figuring out, you are also in a crisis of experience. Just because somebody, whether or not they’re married or single, the notion of contending with a crisis of experience and a crisis of processes is not something that is resolved once in your life. It is ongoing throughout your life, contending with different stages, each of which come with a different crisis of experience and a different crisis of process. What are the systems I need to use to resolve to get there? And what is the subjective experiential world, what it feels like to be in that process?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. And that’s kind of what I was thinking about a lot after the first time we spoke is just that. To me, a much more accurate story that I wish I heard more often is people like you just related, trying to put together the threads of their own story. I think as a human we do that for a lot more intensely and probably a lot more often and a lot more ubiquitously across our lives than we look back at the threads that we already sewn together and we’re like, look at this beautiful tapestry, let me show it to the public now. And I think that that is at a certain way how I relate at the most basic to being human and how it feels the most resonant when I hear other people’s honest relating of themselves being human and it’s very much less frequently this, again, beautiful package that they’ve already done and much more often the real struggle to make out of their lives a story that they’re proud of. That’s what we’re all trying to do.

David Bashevkin:

And you wanted to make sure that I was not misrepresenting you and wheel you out as Channah Cohen, taking these tragic, difficult, very distinct parts of your life and say, and here’s where Channah Cohen came from. She was born from that. That’s where I was feeling the most pushback from you.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. And I think also just, I didn’t want to imply that since I am human and messy and trying to piece together my own story that it meant that all single people are single for that reason. That I was also very sensitive to, is not that.

David Bashevkin:

Yes. Explain that.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. Well we talked about the crisis of experience for single men and women and now Channah also is having a crisis of experience because she just is, again, continuously trying to make her story make any sense. So therefore as soon as single people make their story make sense, that’s when they’ll get married. Somehow that there was a connection there that I just felt like was not as accurate as what we’ve spoken about since then, which is just like you’re saying, all of us experience continuous crisis of processes and crisis of experiences in all sorts of things that our lives ask of us.

David Bashevkin:

At every stage in our lives.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

People come to me, I don’t know why because I’ve had one of the messiest careers on earth, for real, and it’s still like for real a mess. I am always jealous of, I have two brothers-in-law who have very good, clear trajectories and it’s one of my deepest insecurities of, what am I doing here? What do you do? That question gives me ick. So what is it that you do? Podcast. I can’t even get the word out of my mouth. I’ve learned to say it with my… I’m an educator, that’s what I do.

Channah Cohen:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

That’s the common underlying thread.

Channah Cohen:

I love that.

David Bashevkin:

But when people come and talk about professional advice or these things, the analogy, the imagery that I used that I’m realizing after speaking with you really I think connects in many ways to this dichotomy of crisis of process, for this crisis of experience. And that is, I say, very often we come to a door and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right key, how do I open up this door? You know exactly where you want to go, but you need to figure out how to open up that door with the right key. So I want to go to medical school but I need to figure out how do I get the right MCAT score, the right references, the right this, the right that. I want to date a certain kind of person. What are the checklists that I need to do in order to be in that, whatever, category, in that social class? Or whatever it is.

There is another crisis where I have the keys but I have no idea what door it opens. And I think that’s the crisis of experience. I think the first one is a crisis of process. I know exactly what door it is, I need to figure out the right key to open up that door. And to me, the crisis of experience is, I have a lot of keys, I have a lot of talents, I have a lot of interests. I have no idea what door this opens.

Channah Cohen:

I love that, David. I think that that’s exactly it and I think that that’s part of what creates the suffering of the human experience is feeling like, I know that I could contribute, I want to contribute, I want to do something and I feel this calling towards it and I’m not sure what the It is.

David Bashevkin:

What it is, what’s the door.

Channah Cohen:

Right. And it has to resonate. I’m gauging my reality based on something deep inside of me that I’m always measuring something against, which I can’t really define what it is, and until something clicks, it’s just, I feel like something’s off.

David Bashevkin:

Channah, I have no doubt that even this conversation and just your story, even though if you don’t feel it, it is a contribution. And to me speaking with you and the work that you’ve done, because it’s not work in dating, it’s work in how people navigate their ways through life. Sometimes we’re looking for the key, sometimes we’re looking for the door, but finding that alignment in the way that we navigate that crisis of process and crisis of experience at each stage in our lives is something that is so deeply human, so deeply messy. It’s not neat and the fact that you are still navigating it, I think it provides a great deal of comfort to whatever stage or whatever experience or process you are contending with in your life.

Channah Cohen:

I love that, David, thank you so much.

David Bashevkin:

I always end my interviews with more rapid fire questions. Any books that you would recommend either for the micro problem, not because it’s small, but because it’s part of a larger issue. The micro problem of dating, romance or the macro problem of becoming human?

Channah Cohen:

Yes, there are two. One is called The Lion Tamer’s Guide to Life, which is about this guy who works on a safari and his job is to go out and find the lions before the safari guides take out the groups of people to find the lions, which I never thought about, but you need a guy who finds the animals that then the safari guy leads people to. And he talks about tracking, how to do that inner tracking and he has a quote that reminded me of what you just said last, which is, “Often I don’t know where I’m going but I know exactly how to get there.” It’s a beautiful example of just trusting our own internal residents and processes to try to track our way towards where we’re meant to be.

David Bashevkin:

The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life, I just looked it up, by Boyd Varty. I’ve never heard of that book. An excellent suggestion.

Channah Cohen:

The other one I was thinking about is Susan Cain’s book, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. The irony of this is that a teacher of mine read it and wrote to me, “Do you know that your brother is quoted here?” She quotes Eliezer in the book and I read it and I thought it was a beautiful book and extremely ironic that that’s how I got to it. The theme of the book is really the tagline, how sorrow and longing make us whole. And I think that that’s also part of it. Sometimes feeling like we’re missing something is actually how we find our way back towards being our full selves.

David Bashevkin:

That is absolutely beautiful. I’ve reached out to Susan Cain in the past to be on 18Forty.

Channah Cohen:

That’s so cool.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, that would be a real privilege. We weren’t able to make it work the first time, but still keeping my fingers crossed. My next question on this has a unique significance given our conversation. If somebody gave you a great deal of money to go back to school and get a PhD, what do you think the subject and title of that PhD would be?

Channah Cohen:

David.

David Bashevkin:

What are you doing to me? We just spoke, this is the crisis, but I’m going to make you answer it.

Channah Cohen:

David. What?

David Bashevkin:

You do not get out of the rapid fire questions.

Channah Cohen:

No, that is my issue. If I could answer that question, I would totally already be doing it and be like, in my own image of my human self, I would be happy-snappy, finally be happy-snappy if I was doing that.

David Bashevkin:

Happy-snappy.

Channah Cohen:

And instead it’s like, I spend my time being like, what is it that I want to be studying and contributing? My experience of massive internal angst when you ask me that kind of question and feel like I’m put on the spot to answer it, that. That’s what I’m talking about.

David Bashevkin:

You should know, everybody’s different crisis of process and experience. But this feeling, which I think some people have, like, I want to make a contribution, is really challenging and I’m still confident and quite optimistic that that happy, it might not be so snappy, but happy and eventually snappy resolution will present itself. And I really appreciate your honesty in that answer. My final question, what time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Channah Cohen:

I would say it depends. Am I allowed to say that? Again, I’m not sure whether this is interesting for the general masses.

David Bashevkin:

Channah, are you causing trouble with all of my rapid fire questions?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah, I’m so sorry. I must have said, respond to rapid fire? I didn’t know the stakes of the game before I came here. Around let’s say 10:30 and 11:00 and I wake up around 06:00.

David Bashevkin:

That’s a good—

Channah Cohen:

Unless I’m doing something else that’s like…

David Bashevkin:

But you’ve been asleep at 10:30 PM?

Channah Cohen:

Yeah. Yeah. Sleep is good. It’s good.

David Bashevkin:

Sleep is great.

Channah Cohen:

It’s good stuff, you should try it sometime.

David Bashevkin:

It’s great stuff. It’s great stuff. Channah Cohen, I cannot thank you enough for joining us today.

Channah Cohen:

Thanks David.

David Bashevkin:

There is something so moving and almost universal about this notion of a crisis of process verse a crisis of experience. To me, it helps break down the different phenomena of what irks and what ails us in the dating world. But in a much larger sense, I think it really speaks to the difficulty of finding and making decisions and commitment in any aspect of our life. We have a crisis of process and we have a crisis of experience. We have processes, whether it is dating, whether it’s our job, whether it’s raising kids, whether it’s finding a community. There is a crisis of process, of how do we find that alignment. It is different than being a consumer and going onto Amazon, figuring out the best place to live or the best job to have. You can read all the reviews in the world, but as we discussed earlier in an interview with Agnes Callard as part of our Teshuvah series, it can sometimes be really hard to make a decision where you only know what the experience is after you’ve made it.

And that’s the essential difference between making a decision, a commitment that really relates to your very sense of self, verse making a decision in the consumer mindset where you’re buying a car or you are buying a new jacket, a new pair of clothes, which may be nerve-wracking. You may have a hard way finding out what it is, but the object exists even before you buy it. The difficulty of more personal relationships is that that personal relationship does not exist in its full sense until after the commitment is made. And that’s why I found this conversation with Channah to be so enlightening and her willingness to discuss kind of her own journey in this, her own crisis of process, her own crisis of experience, especially through the lens of her family life. I knew one of her brothers quite personally, Yudy, of blessed memory, and her other brother who maybe one day we’ll have on this podcast and we’ve certainly discussed him before, Eliezer Yudkowsky, the world renowned scientist involved in AI, artificial intelligence, and rational thinking.

But the fact that she emerged from that world, to me, in such a radically different way, especially from her older brother, Eliezer Yudkowsky, whose writings are… He has voluminous writings and just beware before you go down that rabbit hole. I’m not recommending that you do, but it is quite the rabbit hole. But that she emerged with such thoughtfulness and sensitivity about the way she approaches the human experience. Because ultimately what underlies her work and what underlies this entire subject is the human experience. It’s the human experience of forging, developing and creating our sense of self through commitment despite, or maybe because of and in confrontation with, those crises of process and those crises of experience. And that even though sometimes we may feel so lonely, we may feel like I did at that Seder, like that lone goat, like the Chad Gadya that you feel alone in this boat.

I still think, to paraphrase Irvin Yalom in his introduction, Love’s Executioner, that we’ve quoted from so many times, he writes, “Even though you’re alone in your boat, it’s always comforting to see the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.” And I think in a series like this, and each of us in our own boat, each of us in our own struggle and our own journey and our own process to finding commitment, to fostering commitment in whatever area it may be in our lives or perhaps in our children’s or friends’ lives, I think there is a comfort in peering out at other people’s and listening to other people’s crises of process and crises of experience, providing comfort to one another and knowing that even though we are ultimately alone, each of us in our respective boats, there is a comfort in seeing the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.

So thank you so much for listening. This episode, like all of our episodes, was edited by our dearest friend Denah Emerson, and we have to give her an extra special shout out for editing this series, which I know has been an absolute nightmare and she’s just been extraordinary. So thank you, Denah. An extra thank you for bearing with me in this series with so many edits and other voices, you’ve just been extraordinary.

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