Monday, November 28, 2011

Save Yourself from the Singles Swamp

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On a recent trip to Manhattan, I spoke at a synagogue that boasts a majority of singles. One of my talks was on Dating and Marriage, and in the course of the weekend, the subject arose in several private conversations.

Many people feel, and I think that I am becoming one of them, that there is a serious epidemic which has spread amongst single religious guys aged 24 and up. The ailment is known as "fear to commit."

This Jewish single nearly drowned in the swamp
and was resuscitated at last minute by this article

Many girls have dated guys extensively only to have the relationship ended by the guy for what usually seems to be no reason other than he didn't feel they were a match.

In 1983 when I started going out on shidduchim [blind dates pre-arranged by a matchmaker], Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Bet El published a book called Pirkei Ahava on dating and marriage. In the first few pages, he lays down a principle that changed my attitude towards shidduchim to the point that, coincidentally or not, I married the next girl that I dated. For me it worked. My wife and I have been married for 26 years, and the love and commitment has increased with each passing year (Though, I sometimes wonder if my wife feels the same).

Rabbi Aviner opens his book with a young girl and guy who have met extensively and are grappling with the decision to wed because of the real fear that maybe this isn't "the one." Based on reason alone, there is a green light for marriage because the girl has good character traits, her aspirations in life match his, and they get along fine together.

But the heart refuses to comply because his attraction to her is not steady. Sometimes he feels crazy about her, but most of the time he simply enjoys her company, in the same way that he anticipates he would enjoy the company of many girls. Despite some attraction to her and the joy of each meeting, there is no strong sensation that this is the one. To the contrary, there are many others, and maybe one of them is this guy's beshert [heaven-ordained match].

To Wed or Not to Wed? Credit: Srugim TV Series

Lacking a feeling of certainty, the guy cannot commit. He tells her, "You are a nice girl, and thank you, but we are not a match."

The devastated girl goes to weep on her pillow, and the guy tells the matchmaker, "Next, please."
Rav Aviner explains that a person must approach the shidduch with emunah [faith]! He must have faith that if G-d has made this shidduch materialize, and...
  1. the girl is suitable
  2. the girl has positive traits which are congruent with his aspirations and spiritual level
  3. there is some attraction
then he should believe that this is the girl that G-d has designated for him.

Question: Huh? Does Rav Aviner expect me to automatically say "yes" and walk the plank blindfolded?
Answer: No, rather he is saying not to investigate and probe ad infinitum.
Think about it. The alternative is absurd. The only way to really be certain is to meet every single eligible Jewish girl on the planet before making a decision. Until then, you may be haunted with the doubt that there is another girl who is more suitable.

Question: Still, Rav Aviner sounds a bit trigger happy. Am I supposed to jump into a lifelong marriage relationship with a woman for who there is only "some attraction?"
Answer: Rabbi Aviner elaborates:
"The reason is that the core building of a marriage relationship is done through work [after the wedding]. Therefore, there is no need for a gush of attraction and burning love beforehand. If there is burning love, it may not remain. If there isn't, it can appear through [post-marital] work, because the essence of this world is human endeavor and toil… Therefore, a man need only check [before proposing] that a love relationship can develop, or check that there is no repulsion, and then plough ahead."

It is healthy and natural that there be some attraction to the girl. Therefore, if after meeting several times, there is no anticipation for the next meeting and no attraction, then reason dictates that you should end the shidduch.

But if there is some attraction, don't wait for the burning love of the movies or the special feeling that this is the one. That feeling will come as you build your relationship with your beloved partner.
Let's summarize: Rav Aviner is saying that if your date has good character traits, her family is normal, and your aspirations meet, then you must check that there is no blemish that will hamper a love relationship from developing – that is, no physical or character blemish that will stand in the way. If there is no repulsion, and there is some attraction, keep dating, and then - go for it.

Go for it - Dive in!

Question: Do you love your fiancé?
Answer: I like her. She has a lot of great qualities, and I see nothing that will stand in the way of a true and deep love from developing as we build our marriage together.

Question: In other words, you are going under the chuppah [Jewish marriage canopy] with a girl who you don't love?
Answer: I have faith in Hashem that this girl is meant to be my wife, because I love many things about her, and therefore I love her. I cannot say that I have a burning love for her or state with certainty that this is my heaven-ordained match. But, I have faith in Hashem who brought about this shidduch that if I invest much love, patience, and consideration, then a wonderful, robust love relationship will develop. I have faith that my fiancé is meant for me.

If a guy is seeking a level of love and certainty that by definition can only appear after the wedding, he will spend many years as a frustrated bachelor, and be the cause for rivers of tears from many girls, one of which may have been his beshert.

[See also: Sick and Tired of Dating...]

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