Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am in college and am starting to think about dating for marriage. I grew up connected to Judaism, and have become more observant in the past couple years.
The problem is that the type of guy that I am attracted to is of a very high religious level. I am not desperate to get married, but I am starting to worry that because my past includes some ‘wild and crazy' activities, a man of the level of religiosity that I am interested in would not be interested in me.
Of course, other newly-religious people would understand my situation better, but I want to marry someone who has a strong Jewish background to help lead the way. Can you give me some ideas about what I can do?
We are glad that you wrote to us, and we hope to clarify the questions you've asked about dating, and at the same time help you become more self-assured about your "return" to Jewish observance.
It is very common for those who are new to a Torah-observant lifestyle to feel they have a great deal to learn about basic rituals, prayers, and theology -- that people who have been observant all their lives sometimes take for granted. And while you enjoy the company of loved ones, there may be friction because we are now following different standards of kashrut, Shabbat, and Jewish law than our family's long-term practice.
Those who have traveled the same journey can assure you that as you become more accustomed to an observant lifestyle, and when you marry and build a family, you will develop your own traditions that, hopefully, will continue on for generations.
There are two important things that you can do right now to help ease the discomfort you feel, and to prepare yourself for the time that you begin to date with the goal of finding the man with whom you will develop those traditions.
The first is to continue, if not expand, your Jewish learning in a program designed for people who are newly observant. If there is an Aish center near your home, or another outreach organization, meet with one of the educational coordinators and decide what you can study to become more familiar with the basics, and then build on that knowledge. If you are able to consider spending a summer or semester studying in Israel, look into several programs designed for young women like you. Sometimes, financial assistance is available for these programs. It is very important for you to choose a rabbi or teacher to whom you relate well, and use him or her as your mentor, who can answer your questions and provide you with reassurance.
Our second suggestion is to find other people who are newly observant who can be a support group for you along your journey. Although each of you will be learning and adapting to an observant lifestyle at her own pace, you'll be able to identify with each other's experiences.
Even though spiritual growth is a life-long process, we believe that you should acquire more knowledge and gain some clarity about the general direction in which you would like to grow before you start to date. We can't tell you how long it will be for you to feel that you have enough clarity about yourself to be ready -- it could be a number of months, or a few years. Each person is different. We suggest you read Gila Manolson's Head To Heart, which can help you get ready. When you feel that you are ready to start dating, our own book, Talking Tachlis, will help you gain clarity about what you want out of life and what you are seeking in a marriage partner.
In your letter, you explained why you would prefer to date someone with a stronger background than yours, even though you realize that you would probably relate better to someone who is also relatively new to Jewish observance.
It is true that some people who have always been observant may not be looking to marry someone who has been raised very differently, but it isn't necessarily for the reason you have described. They may not want to take on the role of teacher or mentor, which often happens in such a relationship, or they are uncomfortable with their date's underlying feelings of uneasiness about their background.
It could be that the man who is right for you will also be relatively new to Jewish observance. If that is the case, then the two of you will continue to grow in knowledge and observance as you build your lives together, just as thousands of similar couples have done.
Your family and friends may not be able to network on your behalf, but they can still be helpful to you. It's always a good idea to talk to your parents about the way you would like your married life to be and the type of man you are looking for. They may not fully identify with all of your values and goals, but they will probably want to understand them and give you emotional support, and they may be able to help you gain clarity about some issues you may want to sort through.
It's also a good idea to speak to a few relatives and long-time friends about the personal growth you have experienced, the direction your life is heading, and what you are looking for in a marriage partner. You can explain that because the focus of your dating will be to find the right person to marry, most people "check out" a suggested dating partner to them to see if they have many of the qualities they are looking for. The "research" involves people who know you as a motivated, sincere, young woman, as well as someone who has watched you grow up, or has been a long-term friend.
Friends often make the best "matchmakers," because they know much about you and what you are looking for. They will also be good references for you, because you will have spoken to them about who you are, where you are heading, and the challenges you have overcome to get there.
You may want to check out www.sawyouatsinai.com, a network of professional matchmakers who specialize in helping find dating partners for newly observant people.
We know that the idea of dating for marriage will seem a little daunting for you for a while, but if you follow our suggestions about learning more, finding a support group, becoming more comfortable with Jewish observance, and having a mentor, you'll be more confident about the process.
Rosie & Sherry