By Mordechai Schmutter
I was never really good at meeting new people. In fact, there are guys in my shul that I don’t know, because the first few weeks I figured they were guests, and after that, I figured it was too late to say hello. And for all I knew, they were guests who liked it so much that they decided to live here. I don’t want to do anything to wreck that.
But when it comes to new family members, you kind of have to meet them. And there’s also a time limit. I mention this because there are actually two new people in my family that I have to meet.
The first is my sister-in-law’s chassan, whom I haven’t met yet.
“Well, isn’t your sister-in-law’s chassan your brother?”
There’s always someone who asks that question. It’s either that, or, “If she’s your sister-in-law, doesn’t that mean she’s already married?”
No. I am.
The other new person I have yet to meet is literally a new person, in the sense that she was born pretty recently. My cousin Alter just had his first baby, right before Pesach, and we haven’t come over to see her yet.
As far as the baby, we’re not really “meeting” her. It’s not like if we introduce ourselves, she’ll remember us later. Her eyes aren’t even fully developed yet. And just like the chassan, she’s being introduced to a million different people, most of whom don’t even bother giving her their names. So it’s not really “meeting the baby,” it’s more like affirming that they had a baby.
Like we don’t believe them, so we’re going to come over and check.
“Oh yeah, that is a baby. You’re right.”
And if you want to get technical, most people don’t really “meet” the chassan either. Sure, we can see him at the vort, but you can’t really get to know someone at a vort. A vort is designed so you can get in about ten words in (two of which have to be “mazel tov”), and then he has to move on to the next person he’s not going to remember tomorrow. The poor guy is meeting so many new people that night and trying to commit them all to memory and not being sure which of these people he actually has to remember for later, such as his new brother-in-law, and which people he really doesn’t but are introducing themselves anyway just to clutter up his mind with new names, such as his future in-laws’ best friends who used to daven in the same shul until they moved away. So it’s important that we get a separate meeting with this guy.
But I’m a little nervous. Even when I do meet him, what do I talk to him about? I can stand there and ask him the same ten questions that absolutely everyone else is going to be asking him, but if there’s one thing that I’ve learned as a teacher (and there probably is), it’s that I don’t want to be asked the same questions a thousand times.
“Why weren’t you listening when I answered that guy? Go ask him.”
Maybe the chassan should just hold a press conference and answer all the questions at once.
It’s weird to meet the chassan anyway, because it’s not like our opinion really matters. My sister-in-law approved of him, and my in-laws approved of him, and if I come over to her and say, “Look, I’m very sorry, but my conversations with him are kind of awkward,” she’s not going to say, “Oh. Well, do you know anyone else I can marry? Someone you get along with, preferably? Because it’s very important to me that you have someone to speak to at simchas and on every other yom tov.”
It’s like seeing a new baby. The parents don’t want your honest opinion; they just want compliments. And unlike with, say, a new car, saying, “Hey, I see you got a new baby!” isn’t really considered a compliment. So what do we say? I’ve seen a lot of babies in my time, and none of them are incredibly different than the others. They’re just a cute but more annoying version of the parents. All those weird features that a lot of people have are way less pronounced on babies. It also happens to be that just about everything small is cute. There’s nothing cute about shoes, for example, but tiny shoes are adorable. Likewise bottles of liquor.
That’s why, after your first baby, people stop making a big deal about seeing your babies. They’ve seen one already, and they figure the rest will look basically like that. Because for the most part, most babies look pretty much the same. If there’s something different enough about the baby for me to notice, it’s probably not something I would want to point out. “Ooh, one long eyebrow! She looks upset.”
And if it’s actually not a cute baby, we’re not going to say so. We’re going to say something like, “Oh, she looks just like you!” which is something that a lot of people say.
Is that a compliment or an insult?
I don’t know. Have you seen you?
And coming from me, that’s probably insincere anyway, because I have no idea who any given baby looks like. It turns out there’s a right and wrong answer, and I always get it wrong.
And likewise with the chassan. If it turns out we don’t like him, she doesn’t want to hear it. So we’d have to say something like, “Oh, he seems perfect for you!”
You know, because we don’t like you either! He’s so boring. But so are you, so it works!
Nevertheless, we did try to call my cousin and schedule a viewing. We called him on Pesach, when we were going to be in his neck of the woods anyway for a chol ha’moed trip, but he said that he’d be at work, but his wife would be home, and we could still feel free to visit, although we should just know that his wife sleeps whenever the baby sleeps. So we should call before we come. And wake her up, apparently.
Now to be honest, we’re not really that close to his wife yet. They’re a new couple, and we didn’t really have that meeting, other than a couple of words (“Mazel tov!”) at her vort. So we didn’t feel comfortable waking her up to ask her if she was awake and if we could traipse in with our load of kids to breathe all over her baby.
And maybe that’s another reason to visit a first baby—to expose it to different things and build its immune system. First-time parents don’t let anything into the kid’s immune system. With later babies, they don’t need to schedule viewings, because the kid’s siblings are already kissing him and tasting his pacifiers and feeling for teeth every five minutes.
And so too our chassan. You want to expose him to all the weirdness of your family as fast as you can. Because what a lot of people forget, when meeting, say, a chassan, is that it’s not just me meeting him, he’s also meeting me. So if I ask too many questions in a row, for example, I might get a lot of information, but in his mind, he’ll remember me as the guy who wouldn’t stop asking questions. Maybe he should just hand me his shidduch résumé and be done with it.
But as of now, we haven’t met anyone. We’re still trying to schedule a visit with my cousin, although we’ve pretty much stopped trying, because when is it too late to see a new baby? At some point, it’s just a family visit, right? And when is it too late to see a new chassan? Is after marriage okay? v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.