Can We Talk? (But That’s All!)

From The Jewish Week

by HEATHER ROBINSON

Are Jewish guys more susceptible to the ‘pen pal complex?’

Every so often Jared, whom I met on a trip for Jewish professionals, calls me to chat.

But he never suggests we meet.

Granted, Jared lives in San Diego. But I wonder why he doesn’t try to take things to the next level, or clearly signal that we’re just friends, which he could easily do by, say, mentioning he’s dating someone. (Judging from Facebook, he’s seeing a brunette named Svetlana. In the seated photos, she’s got her hand in his lap).

But the man keeps calling. He’ll sigh and say, “You’re so lucky to be a writer. Surrounded by all those books.” The other night, we discussed everything from Reza and MJ on Bravo’s “Shahs of Sunset” to David ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin’s roles aboard the Altalena.

Right after we met, I asked Jared if he and Svetlana were dating, and he changed the subject. I’m a little guilty of encouraging him because I haven’t pressed the issue. But he hasn’t pursued me romantically, and we don’t meet in person. We just talk.

As a 30-something man who used to work in investment banking, Jared’s probably seen more G-strings than a lingerie salesman. Sometimes I wonder what would constitute a guilty pleasure for a man who has traveled extensively and been single, successful, and over 21 for the past 15 years.

Good conversation perhaps?

Sometimes I imagine Jared carefully extricating himself from a sleeping Svetlana, tiptoeing past the computer, and sneaking instead to that charming, old-fashioned contraption: the telephone. He lifts it, then sighs and carefully settles back, unable to suppress a tiny smile as he prepares to indulge in the sweet “retro” rapture of a secret, private … intellectual conversation.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me.

That is, it’s not the first time an intellectually inclined Jewish man has pursued me for my conversation — and nothing more. Not long ago I crossed paths with a charming, goateed psychologist with a taste for indie rock and red wine.

After enjoying live music one night on the Lower East Side, we spent the rest of the evening discussing the psychology of serial killers and then, after cuddling a bit, said goodnight, but not before he commented, “This was one of the most passionate evenings of my life.”

We dated for several weeks and even took a cooking class together. In a city where many men expect to “hook up” after a couple dates, I appreciated that he didn’t pressure me sexually. But it seemed like he had gone to the other extreme. All he wanted to do was talk.

One day “Andrew” announced that he planned to go on a meditation retreat in the Poconos where he would enjoy complete solitude — and silence.

“That’s great,” I said. “Will you be reachable by cell?”

“No, Sweetie, I don’t want any phones, no devices, no external stimulation,” he said.

I’m thinking, OK, we’ve spent the past three weeks doing nothing but talking. Now he doesn’t want to talk for a week, even to say hello to the woman he’s seeing. It’s not like we’re having hot (or any) sex, so what does our relationship consist of?

But I set aside my doubts, telling myself, “Andrew is a sensitive soul.”

After Andrew returned, he called me and reported he’d had a unique dream.

“Tell me,” I said, eager to analyze it together.

“I dreamed I was with Liberace,” he said.

“What do you mean, Andrew?”

“Well,” he said. “I dreamed I was with him.”

“You mean, like, playing the piano?”

“Not exactly,” he chuckled. “I dreamed I was with him, with him.”

“Andrew, are you trying to tell me something?”

“Oh, come on, I’m not gay,” he said, adding, “I love you, Heather.”

Shortly afterward I broke up with Andrew. I felt terrible about it, but I just couldn’t make sense of him.

Nor am I the only woman in the city being pursued for her conversation by Jewish men who are vague about their intentions and confused about their feelings.

Recently my friend Amy, a single, 30-something Manhattan marketing executive, had dinner with an old friend from high school.

“He kept ordering drinks and went on and on about how difficult it is to find someone he can relate to, and how he missed me,” she said. “Finally at the end of the evening … he leaned in and hugged me but didn’t make a romantic move, just said goodnight.

“It was just an ambiguous evening. I couldn’t tell if it was a date or what.”

Jewish dating experts point to a trend in which conversation, by phone or online, often takes the place of face-to-face meetings. They also cited a tendency on the part of big-city men to compartmentalize intimacy.

Jennifer Zucher, co-founder of Project Soulmate, a New York-based matchmaking company that specializes in all clients (including Jewish ones), said, “Maybe these guys are not ready to settle down; he wants one girl to hook up with, and enjoys talking to [another] to see if there’s potential down the road.”

Michelle Frankel, dating coach and owner of NYCity Matchmaking, a New York-based matchmaking service that specializes in Jewish clients, spoke about what she’s dubbed the “pen pal complex.”

“Many guys on J-Date, SawYouAtSinai, Match, whatever — they want to e-mail but not actually meet,” says Frankel.

She believes there may be sociological reasons for the phenomenon.

“A lot of my clients and guy friends are conflicted,” she said. “Their families want them to date Jewish women, and Judaism is important to them as well. But they feel that non-Jewish women are more free-spirited, and there’s less pressure with them.”

The intellectual and family-oriented nature of Jewish life could be factors, too, Frankel believes.

“Maybe some Jewish men think things through as much as women do,” said Frankel. “Jewish women tend to be family oriented. In Jewish culture, you grow up, get married, get a good job and have children.

“Some men [Jewish or non-Jewish] will sleep with anyone. But others are like, ‘If I go there, all these expectations are going to be placed on me.’”

I have a certain sympathy for these men who hunger for intimate, emotionally and intellectually rich conversation and friendship with women. In a world where it’s easier than ever to communicate with a dizzying array of people via online dating, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, and texting, it seems that communication is more shallow than ever.

It’s also a world in which every erotic image imaginable is available at a click, and many women are willing to participate in casual hookups.

But if you are a woman with brains and values, can you be a holdout? And if you are, do you risk being pigeonholed as the “go-to” woman for gratifying conversation — and that’s it?

Maybe the next time a man calls me just to hear the sound of my voice, I’ll quote Nora Ephron: “In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind.”

If nothing else, it should make for good conversation.

This entry was written by and posted on March 21, 2013 at 10:57 am and filed under Features.

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