Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have a question that has been tormenting me for the past year or so. I was in Israel last summer and began a courtship with a young man. But because he is in the Israeli army and I live in New York City, we can't be together now. We talk every day on the phone for hours and I truly feel that he is the one for me.

We are both young (20) and my mother is very angry at me that I do not date other men. She feels that I am throwing my life away on an infatuation and that I should go date older men who are already established career-wise.

I do not want to disrespect my mother, but I completely disagree with her. This man plans to study architecture after completing the army in a year.

During our time together in Israel, I saw characteristics in him that I feel I could love and respect forever. Now my mother is hassling me. What do I do?

Tali

Dear Tali,

It seems to us that the dilemma you are dealing with is not just an issue of going against your mother's ambitions for you. It is also tied into the fact that you are a very young adult who still has a great deal of growth ahead of you, and that your attachment is to a man who is thousands of miles away who also has a great deal of personal growth ahead of him.

The solution is to try to find out if you and this young man have a future together. Some of our suggestions should help you deal with the challenges of youth, distance, and parental opposition to your long-distance courtship.

We're sure that you understand that people don't stop developing goals, values, and character traits on their 18th birthdays. Young adults continue to develop intellectually throughout the early 20s, and their values, goals and personality traits are often shaped by their life experiences during this period. Two people who meet at this time and feel strong compatibility may nevertheless grow in different directions over the next few years.

These changes can take place regardless of the geographic distance that separates them, but can happen more easily when the couple is separated by a great distance. Of course, some couples are able to grow in compatible directions, notwithstanding the fact that they communicate primarily through e-mail and phone calls.

So, while it is certainly possible that your long-distance courtship has the potential to become a life-long relationship, we hope you understand that you could grow in different directions. Nevertheless, we certainly will not tell two 20-year-olds who relate to each other so well to stop wasting their time with each other and go out with other people! Instead, we encourage you to keep up your long-distance courtship while you each pursue the individual goals you have been trying to achieve -- his finishing the army and beginning his university studies, you completing your education and beginning your career, and each of you keeping up your friendships and pursuing hobbies and interests.

Key Issues

However there are some key issues that bear discussing now. You need to clarify whether you share the same goal (marriage), can agree upon which of you will ultimately relocate, and develop long and short range plans for accomplishing this goal.

In other words, do you both hope that this relationship will someday lead to marriage? (If only one of you has this goal, continuing this courtship would be ill-advised.) Have you spoken about the lifestyle you would like to live, how you will combine careers and family, how you would like to relate to each other in your marriage, the role Judaism will play in your lives, the way you would like to raise your children, the values you would like to build your marriage upon?

Have you discussed whether will you live in the U.S. or in Israel? Can you agree on a general time frame for reaching your ultimate goal?

We recommend that you also formulate intermediate goals for the duration of your long-distance courtship -- such as how often you will see each other while you are dating, when he will finish the army and apply to architecture school, who will pay for each of your tuitions and living expenses, when you will finish your degree and satisfy the requirements needed to work in your chosen field, if you plan to move to Israel what you will need to do in terms of language and education to be able to work there, and what he will need to do if he moves to the U.S.

This suggestion is very worthwhile, and you'll be encouraged as you each gradually make progress toward achieving your ultimate goal.

Understanding Mom

Of course, even if the details of your long-distance courtship fall into place, your mother's opposition will continue to be a source of frustration because you don't believe she is being open-minded about your situation. We expect that she is concerned about more than the fact that your beau is only 20 and has several years to go before he is self-supporting. She may be worried that you'll move to Israel, may lack assurance about the integrity of someone she has never met, may think she will have to support your financially for the long-term, may believe that you are too young to know who is right for you, may worry that the two of you are making decisions based on infatuation rather than whether your values and goals are compatible, or may believe that you are giving up on a social life prematurely for a young man with whom you ultimately may break up.

We suggest that the two of you to talk about her concerns, and for you to demonstrate that you and this young man have similar value systems and views of married life, that you have formulated a plan to achieve your goal of getting married, and that you are both working on the intermediate steps to accomplish your goal.

You and your mother need this sort of dialogue, so that you can understand her concerns and so that she can see that you aren't blinded to the challenges of a long-distance courtship, but rather are asking (and answering) the questions that couples who are thinking about marriage should address.

If you don't believe that you and your mother can really listen to each other without the discussion deteriorating into a lecture or an argument, we suggest you enlist a third party to facilitate the discussion. This can either be a relative or friend who will not take sides and has the ability to diffuse a situation when emotions run high, or it can be a family therapist who is trained to act in this way.

You and your mother will not be able to resolve everything between you in one conversation. However, we hope that over time, your discussions will be productive and that she will be able to offer the support and guidance you want from her.

Rosie & Sherry