Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Maybe I Could Do Better

Many years ago, a friend of mine went to discuss a shidduch with his Rosh Yeshiva. He had already met the young woman in question a number of times, and he answered positively in response to all the Rosh Yeshiva’s questions about her. Yet when he was done describing how things were going, he added, “Still, maybe I could do better.”
Jonathan Rosenblum has a fantastic piece on Cross-Currents that recently appeared in Mishpacha magazine on the topic of shidduchim. In his article, he touches on some of the issues so many of us have noticed at an ever increasing rate:
  • The way one views the person they are dating - not if they are good for the person, but if they are "good enough" relative to what the person thinks they can "get".
  • The wish to be "swept off one's feet" - and a failure in that regard means a quick 'No'.
  • A focus on the negative rather than the positive points of the other person.
  • A desire for a perfect composite of wonderful traits seen across a spectrum of people - all in one person.
  • The qualities of a good date (particularly the first couple of dates) have little in common with the qualities of a good spouse - good looks and personality vs. ... everything else.
Much of the piece is a strong Mussar shmuess to young men who are in the dating realm, and from our experiences in setting people up and simply listening to people discuss dating, every one of his points is all too accurate - predominantly on the male side of the coin, but increasingly on the female side as well.

When people used to ask for advice on dating, we would typically offer two simple nuggets of advice:
  1. Be yourself.
  2. Have fun.
In recent years, partly due to the reasons cited above, we've felt it necessary to add to the list:
  1. Approach every date as if there is at least one date after it.
  2. If something bothers you somewhat, keep going out and don't give it much attention.
Each of these ideas addresses some of the issues mentioned above. When a person views each date as a do-or-die situation, stress levels are high, each person feels obliged to show all their best qualities as quickly as possible, and every move - both good and bad - is magnified tremendously. This is unnatural and unhealthy to the development of a relationship. With the knowledge that there is another date after the one the person is on, a person can relax and show what they're about - piece by piece, as they would in a normal situation. It reduces the unconcious nervous tics of each that get overly focused on, the abrupt responses to fill silences or to get out a point, and the expectation of being swept off one's feet by allowing a person to build an understanding of their date.

Similarly, how many things can you name that bother you about a friend? A family member? How hard would it be for one of your parents to list 10 things about the other that bother them? The question is not if something about a person bothers you, but whether what bothers you matters. This is different for each person, and should be approached accordingly. If you notice something that bothers you on a date, does that mean the person's other traits are just ignored? Assuming that there are other positive traits to the date, continue going out and see if the issue continues to bother you; if it fades, it's probably not all that important. If it's still nagging you, analyze if it matters, discuss it with the person or with people who can give you an insight into it, and determine what to do from there.

A woman whose family I'm extremely close with told me something really interesting shortly after we were married. She was expressing her frustration with guys who refused a second date with her daughter for the simple reason that they were not swept off their feet, and said "You know, the first time I dated my husband, I not only didn't like him, I actually disliked him. The second date, I disliked him. The third date, I just didn't like him. By the fourth date, I actually started to like him." They've been married about 25 years, and two of their (eight) kids are now happily married themselves.

Are there times where a person "knows" it's not for them? Sure. But it is unlikely that such a large percentage of the Orthodox Jewish dating world is made up of experts who can so readily discern that a person has no chance of being right for them. Patience and avoiding a rush to judgment are key factors in marriage and raising children; it would behoove a person who is dating to demonstrate those traits while trying to find a mate with which to raise children of their own.