Author Archive

If and When (Can Change)

by Haley Plotnik under Israel,Judaism,News

One of the many reasons I often feel like I’m not “Jewish enough” is that I haven’t been to Israel before. I was thinking about going some time in the next year if the opportunity presented itself. It likely would, but I don’t trust my luck. I have always had a sinking feeling that I would be in the one group where things go massively awry.

Right now, a lot of us have friends and loved ones in Israel. Most of the time, I do not really worry about their safety or well-being. So many American college students have an overwhelmingly positive experience in Israel, and many people in Israel probably live in safer conditions than parts the US.

Right now, however, I feel a bit uneasy. I know I would not feel comfortable going to Israel at present. But I feel as though I might be giving up an opportunity that I can’t get back. If I say “not this year” for too many more years, the programs won’t be available to me anymore.

I have to remind myself continually that stepping onto Israel’s soil doesn’t make me a Jew. I am a Jew regardless. Perhaps I feel that missing out on Israel is like missing out on Jewish sleep away camps all over again.


150 Seder Tables Ago

by Haley Plotnik under Judaism,Single Life

On Sunday, I went to my first event for Jewish young professionals. It was through a program in the Chicago area, and we went to the Oriental Institute at UChicago. I highly recommend seeing it if you like art history or archaeology. During the tour, something that came up struck a chord with me.

The tour guide referred back to an event that happened about 3,000 years ago.  “That was 120-150 Seder tables ago,” she said. It made me realize that all of the rich Jewish history that has been passed down for generations hangs gently in the balance. My grandparents and parents wouldn’t have dreamed of marrying outside the faith. But nowadays, a lot of people I know don’t really care whether they preserve the Jewish culture or religion.

Do we owe it to our father’s mother’s father’s father’s father’s mother to keep the tradition alive? I feel like I do. Family is about more than the individual, and Judaism is too. During my formative years, I was heavily immersed in Judaism. I started my education at a Jewish pre-school. Before I could read, I could recite the five books of Moses.

I recently went on a few dates with a guy who was very Jew-friendly, but not Jewish. He said he wanted to raise children without any religion. The museum and discontinuing dating this guy made me realize that I feel compelled to pass on the tradition. I can’t see raising kids without a Seder table. Being Jewish not only enriched me, but it gave me strength as a child and continues to do so in my adulthood. I think I owe it to my ancestors, and my children, to pass it on.


Take a Chance, Open Up!

by Haley Plotnik under JDate,Online Dating

I have a close friend who recently moved to a new city for graduate school. She’s looking to meet a Jewish guy, but isn’t sure how to navigate the Internet dating scene. I am usually shy about advertising that I date online. It’s not something I feel most people need to know about me, and I feel nervous about being judged as “desperate” or “weird.” However, online dating has fundamentally changed how I approach men (in a good way).

When I finally admitted to my friend that I’ve online dated, she replied, “Oh my gosh. Once I move to graduate school, I totally want to try!” I had been so worried about her judging me that I forgot how many of us out are curious about the online dating world. She wanted to pick my brain about it before choosing to ultimately join in on the online dating rollercoaster. It’s something that has now bonded us. My friend asks my advice about messaging guys, if she should reply, etc. And in a way, it’s strengthened our friendship. So, while I don’t wear a sign around my neck that says, “I Love JDate,” I’m more open to telling close friends about dating on the web!


Living in the Minority

by Haley Plotnik under Judaism

The other day, I met someone who had never met a Jew before. I would have been happy to tell them more about Judaism, but I didn’t get the sense that they were interested. Finally, they said, “You know what would make this night even more fun? If every time you said something obnoxiously Jewish, I took a shot.”

I thought about speaking with Yiddish accent words all night, but then I figured it wouldn’t be of any help. Sometimes people are ignorant. I know that this is not the first or last time I will be targeted for being “obnoxiously Jewish.” I didn’t even think I used that many Jew-isms looking back on it. I maybe said an “oy vey” or the like.

I go to a college that is very Jew-friendly. We are one of the largest minority groups on campus. I sometimes forget that when I leave the safe haven of my college that it may be in my best interests to tone it down. I spent my entire childhood toning it down though. I would like to live in a world where I won’t be called out for an “oy” here or a “gevalt” there.


Leading with Looks

by Haley Plotnik under Online Dating,Relationships,Single Life

I get far too many messages about the way I look. The same way that getting a “Hey, what’s up?” message can be frustrating in that the conversation fire hasn’t been lit, it’s hard to continue a conversation when someone messages, “You are so pretty!” Once you acknowledge the compliment (or not), you still have to make a fast u-turn to get into good conversational territory.

Let’s look at some ways to respond to a looks-based message:

1) The good old fashioned thank you

Initial message: “You are gorgeous, wow!”

Response: “Thank you very much!”

Where did that really get you? Maybe you brightened up the recipient’s day, but now you have to start a conversation from scratch.

2) The thank you/ u-turn

Initial message: “You look like a real life Disney princess!”

Response: “Thanks. I love Disney movies. My favorite is _______. How about you?”

At least the compliment helped a little in this instance. Sometimes it’s more like this:

“You’re cute. I’m _________. I look forward to hearing back.”

“Hey, thanks! What do you like to do for fun, _________?

3) The bratty response

Initial message: “You are stunning. I would love to get coffee.”

Response: “Yeah. You and every other Jew in New York.”

_________________________________________________

Not only do I have trouble responding to these looks-based messages, but I also feel like my better personal qualities aren’t being valued. For me, one-line, looks-based messages don’t stand out among the pack. I don’t typically reply, even if I am interested in the guy, because I am looking for someone who appreciates more than being easy on the eyes.

Next time, try a messaging someone with NO looks-based compliments. See where it gets you. Here’s a start:

“Hey. I noticed you like _________. I’ve wanted to try _________ and was wondering how you got into it…”

This is not the most creative. Some people are super creative and comic. If that’s not your thing, don’t try to be something you’re not. Be yourself, but don’t be obsequious. Leading with looks makes me wary that the sender may be a panting puppy when it comes to approaching a potential date. Coming on strong is called coming on strong for a reason. It’s too strong for many people. If you come on too strong, someone may be offended. I’ve yet to be offended by someone not hitting on me enough. Maybe you’re not exactly mysterious or aloof. I’m not either, but it’s typically better to tread lightly. Once you’re in back-pedaling territory, you’ve likely lost the battle.


The Power of Patience

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Relationships,Single Life

When you start dating someone who seems like a total catch, it is easy to want to know everything about them as soon as you can. It’s easy to build someone up to be something they’re not since it takes time to get a clear, accurate picture of who someone really is. However, discussion alone may not get you the answers you’re looking for, and prying too much too soon can prove disastrous.

Behavior is a great way to gauge how someone behaves in most situations (and for me it’s often a lot more indicative than their words). Maybe they think they’re a great dancer, but have no rhythm. Maybe you like that they’re really smart, but soon discover they don’t have a lot of common sense or tact. They can’t tell you those things. Or maybe you think they’re conscientious about how they treat others, but they don’t respect your opinion in making decisions. You just have to see those things for yourself.

If they aren’t as great as you built them up to be early on in the relationship, you are likely to be disappointed. Try to take what you see and hear at face value (or less). It’s easy when we’re excited to let our minds fill in unknown information, or to pry for lots of details to help fill our knowledge gaps about the person.

This is why we date: to figure out who someone is.

It’s hard to wait sometimes, but try not to rush getting to know someone. If you’re right for each other, waiting three months to discover he or she is a clean freak probably won’t make a huge difference in the long run. Also, part of the fun of dating is getting to know someone better, and hopefully enjoying his or her company more and appreciating each other’s quirks more as time progresses. Sometimes you build someone up and on the third date you realize you don’t think he or she has the good character traits you were envisioning. Recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by learning more and more about a guy I’m seeing. I didn’t gather that he was very cultured from first meeting him, but when we went out and I learned how knowledgeable he was about many things I wouldn’t have expected, I was impressed. Instead of building him up and being let down by elevated notions of him, I went with the flow (for once), let him reveal himself over time, and was excited when he exceeded my expectations.

In summary:

  1. Don’t have sky-high expectations. They lead to a lot of unnecessary disappointments.
  2. Don’t rush getting to know someone because you’re worried they might not measure up. If they don’t measure up, you will certainly figure it out in time.
  3. Don’t build them up to be someone they’re not. They can’t live up to the fake version of themselves in your head.

What You Do on a First Date is as Important as Who It’s With

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Single Life

Recently, I went on a very formal first date. I was flabbergasted when he showed up with a giant bouquet of flowers. I’m rarely speechless, but I think the flowers overwhelmed me from the start. While I appreciated them, I had no idea how to interpret the gesture, and was a bit freaked out. They’re still brightening up my apartment though, and now I can breathe easier knowing that they aren’t a declaration of love by someone who I’ve known for less than two months.

We went to a symphony and dinner, ate dessert, and sipped wine. I felt a bit out of my element; I’m more accustomed to starting out with a low-key first date. Being wined and dined isn’t something I expect on a first date. I just like to talk, laugh, and get to know each other in a casual setting. I decided, after a lot of confusion and conflicted feelings, to give this guy a second shot to wow me… in a way I am used to and comfortable with. So we went to a casual dinner, walked around a park, and had ice cream.

After the formal date:

  1. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back out with him and felt bad about myself
  2. I was exhausted trying to interpret what had happened on our date
  3. I didn’t think he was able to read my signals and vice versa

After a candid discussion and a good dose of humor, he asked if he could try again in my style. No red carpets, no flowers.

 After the casual date:

  1. I felt at ease and able to talk more freely
  2. I thought we had much more in common and walked away feeling good about myself
  3. I had no problem sending or receiving his signals

When planning a date, make sure to think about who you’re dealing with. Not everyone likes the same kind of first date. Starting out with daytime coffee is a great go-to if you’ve never met. If it goes well, you can extend the date. If not, you only waste 45 minutes to two hours of your life. It’s not super creative, but it’s tried and true. If you have met before, try to match the date to their preferences. Some people might love skydiving as a first date, while others might have a panic attack. I am in the latter camp. I would avoid trying to sweep someone off their feet on a first date. There’s plenty of time for that later on in the relationship, and you may end up accidentally sweeping them out of your life.


Safety First

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Online Dating,Single Life

I date a lot of guys, and I like to think that I do a pretty good job vetting the guys and assessing their character. However, I’m still pretty wary of first dates. Safety tends to be compromised when people get complacent. If it’s a first date, I meet in daylight and in public. I never let them see where I live: not the neighborhood, street, or building. If I can safely take public transit, I do. If not, I don’t typically go directly home from the date unless it’s more than a 15-minute drive. Call me paranoid, but I know that sexual assault and rape unfortunately happen.

Rewind to last year. I went on a date with a guy who I’ve known since I was 16. I thought him to be an upstanding person. He had just moved into a new house a few hours north of mine. After spending a day together, his mom made us a healthy dinner that we ate with his family. The whole thing seemed very sweet and wholesome. He then took me down a hallway to his new room. I sat on his bed to take off my shoes. My feet were tired and swollen after a long day of walking. Next thing I knew, he had one hand down my pants and the other was reaching into my bra. Since things escalated very quickly, I had to fight him off a bit. He was being very aggressive and his eyes looked mean in a way I’d never seen before. Luckily I nipped things in the bud very quickly, but I was taken aback by what happened. I was heartbroken that someone I had trusted – and someone I had known for years – turned out to be so shady.

My good female friend always says, “If you’re only friends, you have to ask before you stick your hands where the sun doesn’t shine.” Clearly my date didn’t know that. Of the nearly 30 dates I’ve been on, only one has taken a scary turn. However, one is enough. One is too much. And not everyone escapes as lucky as I did. Maybe you spare yourself that one date by being slightly more careful. I think it’s well worth the trouble.

Click here for a full list of safety tips from JDate.


How NOT to Ask a Girl Out

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Single Life

The other day, I got a random text from a guy I’ll call, “Joe.” Joe just graduated from my university, but I don’t know him very well. I would barely even consider him an acquaintance. I never gave Joe my phone number, but he appears to have it and use it liberally from time to time.

Whenever I don’t know someone, or they give me the creeps, I leave their name out of my phone to remind myself to be wary of them. To put things in context, I first met Joe when I was sober and he was very drunk at a college party. The only thing I remember from that encounter was his awful pickup line, “You don’t dress very cute. You should probably just take your clothes off.”

Back to a few nights ago: I got a text from a number saying, “I’m in your area. We’re going out for drinks Friday.” It took me a minute to figure out it was Joe.

A lot of guys think that being ultra-assertive works well for them after the nice guy approach fails. I am going to a charity event Friday night, and I let him know that I was unavailable. He said, “Saturday then.” I told him that I already had a date on Saturday. He said, “Well that guy probably sucks. I’ll show you a real good time.” It was hard to find a place to interject with a firm, “No.”

I found his attitude highly off-putting. Maybe Joe has tried to be nicer and less forceful in his approach in the past and it hasn’t worked. Being a doormat isn’t a great strategy most of the time. Although a lot of guys make the mistake of being an overeager puppy, at least puppies are sort of endearing. Joe didn’t ask me out. He told me he was taking me out. His approach took away my ability to weigh in on whether I want to go out with him. I had to be very direct to shoot him down, and honestly, I’m not sure all girls would feel comfortable being so blunt.

If your strategy for asking someone out isn’t working, trying the exact opposite approach may not be the way to go about it. The other person needs a polite way out if they are uncomfortable or uninterested. You can’t force someone to like you.


New Experiment

by Haley Plotnik under Date Night,Judaism,Relationships

In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about modesty in Orthodox Judaism. While I don’t follow it, I am finding that I like a lot of the principles behind it. About a month ago, I started covering my body more on a first dates.

Why, you ask? Dating is supposed to be fun, maybe a little bit flirty if you feel chemistry. But first dates in the long run are also about looking for a life partner. I evaluate men based on character, manners, values, and other traits that typically require having an engaging conversation.

Looking presentable and being hygienic are important in that they show effort, but they’re not everything. “Presentable” for women, especially in the summer, doesn’t have to mean “mostly naked.” I am generally more comfortable in my skin when it’s not all on display.

With this in mind, I’ve begun a new experiment. I try to look fashionable, but without showing my thighs, knees, shoulders, or any cleavage. Some guys are more receptive to this than others, but I think it’s become an easier way to dodge a bullet. If a guy seems bored or distracted by me, or he checks out scantily clad women while on a date with me, I can cut my losses and move on. I’ve been in situations before where I was keenly aware that a guy was only interested in me in a physical way. While it can be flattering, it’s not good for my self-esteem in the long-term. I like to be appreciated for my internal qualities, which can easily be overlooked on first dates.

I don’t have any data to prove it, but I think I now get more compliments related to qualities other than my looks on dates. I found them to be a rarity prior to my experiment. I’m also finding it easier to connect with people on a more personal level, and I think I’m going to stick to my new plan indefinitely.