The Danger of Paper

September 19, 2012 1:52 am 0 comments

Heart in hand. Photo: Louise Docker.

When I began dating a cute guy with an incredible education and job, I felt like I had found the kind of man that only exists in Nora Ephron movies. My friends were anything from impressed to jealous before they even met him and we lived happily ever after for about eight minutes. I still don’t know if I fell for him or for who I thought he was. (Then there was the time I dreamed of a young pediatrician just because his name was pronounced “Alone.” I’m clearly all the wiser for it.) We often don’t know who someone is unless we give him or her a chance and a little bit of time, and yet…

Jews, perhaps as a result of our accomplishments, fall prey to what looks good on paper—literally and metaphorically: Orthodox Jews may refer to shidduch resumes which are emailed and faxed to families in the pursuit of romantic matches. Secular Jews often assess education, job title, and residence to determine whether a date should even happen. It’s like our CliffsNotes for getting to know people. I’m not suggesting anyone take a moonlit stroll on the beach with her local sex offender (though one can access their photos and contact information without paying a comparable dating site fee!), but do bullet points on a resume help us to find real menschs?

The dearth of etymological information about the expression “Good on paper,” might suggest that its origins are not important enough to write down. (As a writer, I certainly take offense at this. As a Jew, I’ll admit we got screwed over with the White Paper of 1939.) Whatever the case, the saying reaffirms a basic concept—like not judging a book by its cover, things aren’t always what they seem, and a host of other clichés that you’ll never read here again—but it’s still easy to be fooled. For instance, some people eat mediocre meals cooked under the auspices of celebrity chefs, some buy designer shoes that give them the same blisters as the cheap ones, and in matters of the heart, some would rather brag about their amazing significant other than spend actual time together.

If you look solely at someone’s credentials, you deny the essence of the person—the part that can’t be captured by a degree or pedigree. It puts rigid boundaries on what love and happiness are even though they can mean different things at different points in your life. It can keep you in an unfulfilling relationship or stop you from embarking on a great one. It can also lead to a censorship of genuine emotion—at its worst, affecting a multiple personality disorder like “honorary Jew” Edward Norton in that non-Nora Ephron film (he ended up in a mental hospital).

Why do we try to break down love like it’s a compound in chemistry class? Does it provide us comfort or give us a sense of control? Is it that we feel how short life truly is and want an efficient way to find a partner for life? If you can freeze your eggs or take Viagra®, perhaps the investment of time doesn’t have to be so daunting. Avoid the paper trail shortcut and take time to understand a person’s substance.

Sasha Ingber is a freelance writer whose work focuses on relationships, travel and dance. She is currently a graduate student in Johns Hopkins University’s writing program.

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