Dear Emuna,

My boyfriend is an outdoorsy kind of guy. He likes hiking and camping and kayaking and fishing and...you get my drift. I am somewhat the opposite. While I can appreciate the beauty of nature, I much prefer the life of cities – culture, action, history, and yes, even shopping. We have many other things in common but a lot of our friends are discouraging us from getting married. They say that these differences are too great to be overcome. I really like him and don't want to lose him. What do you think?

Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

It would be easier to answer your question if you revealed more about what the two of you share and didn't just tell me what you don't. In general, I don't believe that hobbies or leisure-time preferences should determine the future of a relationship.

For one, let's face it. How much time do any of us have for leisure activities anyway? If you take a vacation once or twice a year, couldn't you compromise – a little of each or one time for one of you and the next for the other? You may both even discover that you are not as opposed to those activities as you thought you were.

The real question is what do you have in common. Although you mention that you like him, you don't really reveal why. Is it because of his looks, his money or his character? (I'm only half joking!) If you respect his character, if you share the same values, if you have similar goals, then even if you thinking camping means eating on the patio at the Waldorf, it doesn't matter.

And if you either don't respect him, don't share the same values or have widely divergent goals, then even if you both like the outdoors or adore cities, it's irrelevant. Focus on what's important, not on the relatively trivial.

Finally, although all your friends mean well, unless they have noticed something negative about his character that you missed, their advice is meaningless. You are the one who has to live with – or without – him. So you're the one who needs to choose. Just make sure you base your choice on the things that really count.

Can’t Stop Sharing Gossip

Dear Emuna,

I try really hard to be a good person and live by Jewish values but I keep tripping up, especially when it comes to speaking gossip. I know it's not a good thing to speak ill of others and of course I don't want others speaking ill of me, but sometimes I just can't stop myself. Can you give my any helpful advice? I’m really tormenting myself over this.

Blabbermouth

Dear Blabbermouth,

As you probably already know, there is no point in tormenting yourself. It doesn't change anything. It certainly doesn't stop you from gossiping. I think the first step is to stop being so hard on yourself. The reason we have a prohibition is because it is such a grave temptation for everyone. If we weren't all tempted, we wouldn't need such a large body of Jewish law to help us deal with this issue. And if we weren't all tempted, the standard advice wouldn't be what it is – pick one hour a day to not speak it. And perhaps do it in the honor of someone who needs a healing or a mate.

We need both the motivation and the limitation. If we succeed at one hour, then we add another one. This is a useful strategy for working on many of our negative character traits, but perhaps most so with refraining from speaking lashon hara (derogatory speech) because it is both so difficult and so ubiquitous. Whether it's the workplace, at lunch with our friends, or at a family dinner, not only is the temptation there but the conversation almost always turns to gossip. We constantly need to be on our guard.

There are many books on this topic. This is a difficult challenge for each and every one of us. And your self-awareness is a good start. Recognize that you are not alone. Join a group of like-minded people who are committed to not speaking lashon hara an hour a day. Purchase one of the Chofetz Chaim Lesson a Day books and spend 10 to 15 minutes a day refamiliarizing yourself with the laws and the philosophy behind it.

And, as with all goals and particularly character change which is so difficult, ask the Almighty to help you. I respect your honesty and your determination and desire to do better. He will also.