Dear Rosie & Sherry,
About two months ago, I started dating a guy I have been friends with for five years. I always had a great time with him as a friend, but never thought about dating him because either one of us was dating someone else, or we weren't interested in each other at the same time.
More than a year ago, he told me he wanted to be more than friends and go on a date without our whole group of friends. I was a bit afraid at first. I did not want to ruin our friendship and I was unsure if my feelings for him were strong enough to enter a courtship. We went on a date, and two days later I called him to say I thought we would be better off as friends.
The reason why I didn't go on a second date or give him a real chance is because I was afraid of repeating a mistake I made with two different men I dated in the past. Each time, I was unsure of my feelings, but kept on dating because he liked me a lot very quickly. Months went by until I would eventually push the guy away so he'd break up with me. But I didn't want that to happen with this friend.
Even after I told my friend that I didn't want to date him, we kept seeing each other throughout the year. We have similar goals and come from a similar religious background. It was apparent to me that I liked him, and when he asked me out again recently, I pushed through my uncertainty. Since then, we have been dating exclusively and my feelings have grown a lot stronger.
His voice seems to bother me and I don't know why.
But my uncertainty is still there. For some reason when we talk on the phone I get anxious and doubtful it will work out. His voice seems to bother me and I don't know why (I really don't think someone's voice should be a deal breaker).
My question is: How do I pull through this uncertainty? I want to be excited, worry free, and not feel doubts. I feel that maybe there is someone else out there that I can date and be head over hills for him from the beginning and not have and uncertainty in the relationship. Is it a sign that he is not for me, and that I am trying to make something work that's not meant to be?
You have asked a question that we receive from many daters. You're trying to make a decision about continuing a courtship based primarily on the emotions you're feeling, rather than on the overall quality of the relationship between you and this man. While emotions certainly play a role in dating, there are many other considerations to decide if this man is right for you. And we'll go one step further: Instantly falling head over heels with someone may actually hinder your chance of getting to the chuppah.
Without the right foundation, important emotional energy is diverted.
First, let's talk about why a good relationship that leads to a lasting marriage is defined by a lot more than how two people feel about each other. Marriage means building a life together, and that requires a sturdy foundation. Emotions are only one part of that foundation. Another vital ingredient is that two people have compatible values, goals, and life expectations. Without this, the couple's life together will continually face significant challenges that will divert the emotional energy they could be using to enhance their lives.
In addition, each person has to feel that the other is capable of being a good marriage partner -- someone with whom they can build a stable, harmonious life. No matter how much two people care for each other, a good marriage candidate cannot be emotionally unstable, have violent tendencies, be very controlling, struggle with an addiction, unable to handle responsibility, refuse to compromise, be selfish and ungenerous, etc.
Your letter doesn't say very much about the elements we've just described. That could be because you haven't fully considered these factors.
One way to do this is to take some time to think about who you really are:
- What are your personal strengths and talents?
- What are your tastes, likes, and dislikes?
- What values are important to you?
- How do you approach life, and how does spirituality fit into your worldview?
- How do you express your thoughts and feelings?
- How do you display your creative side?
- How do you define your character -- are you independent full of energy, flexible, stubborn, growing, loyal…?
It's a good idea to take an evening off to think about these questions and write down your ideas and feelings. Wait a few days to read what's written, and then try to formulate even clearer answers to these questions.
It's also important to have a sense of the general direction you want your life to take:
- Where are you headed religiously and spiritually?
- What are your education and career goals?
- Where do you see your life in one year… in five years?
- What would you like your marriage to be like -- how you and your husband will interact, divide responsibilities, raise your children?
- What kind of lifestyle and economic situation do you expect?
We also suggest that you write down your answers to these questions, and come back to them several days later to sort them through.
Don't worry that the ideas you have today may change over time; that's part of the human growth process. And if you need more than a few days to gain enough clarity to do this exercise, take however much time you need. However, if you can't clearly answer most of these questions about yourself, you're probably not yet ready for marriage. It might be a good idea to take several months or longer to explore your world and learn more about yourself.
Even in our instant society, building a relationship takes time.
While it's important for daters to know themselves well, it's also important to know the process of relationship-building. The key word here is "process." Building a relationship, and knowing if someone is right for you, takes time. But because we live in an instant society, it can be difficult to appreciate this. We get instant messaged, are given work assignments that are due "yesterday," hear "I want it now" on TV, and see people instantly fall in love in movies. So, when it comes to our own dating, we want to instantly fall in love, be happy, and "worry free."
The truth is that being swept off your feet only works short-term. Relationships that lead to good marriages take time and patience to build -- and this is true whether two people fall "head over heels" at the beginning, or whether their feelings develop gradually. We use an acronym -- P.A.I.R. -- to help remember the vital components that must develop for two people to be able to build a good foundation together:
- Physical attraction -- which may be instant, or can take a few dates to develop.
- Admiration, acceptance, and affection -- admiring some of the other person's qualities, knowing they're not perfect and accepting them for who they are, and liking them a great deal.
- Intimacy -- the emotional intimacy that defines a close, trusting friendship.
- Respect for each other.
In your specific case, it seems that you are focusing too much on your emotions, and missing the bigger picture. We encourage you to think about whether you and this man are developing the foundation of a lasting relationship -- compatible values and goals, belief that the other can be a good marriage partner, and the elements referred to by the acronym P.A.I.R.. Remember: Building this foundation is a process, and it doesn't happen overnight.
Which brings us to another point you raised that we'd like to discuss: What if you accept the premise that liking -- or loving -- someone enough to want to marry them takes time... but the person you're dating needs more or less time than you to reach that point?
Some people start to become anxious, just as you are doing. (Your suddenly not liking his voice -- something that probably did not bother you when you were just friends -- is most likely a focal point of that anxiety.) You think there is something wrong because you assume that people who are meant to be together should feel the same way about each other at the same time. But that's not true. Each of us is unique, and we process emotions, lifetime experiences, thoughts, and information at different speeds. It's very common for one partner to decide it's the "right one" weeks, sometimes months, before the other comes to the same conclusion. As long as the courtship is moving forward, the length of time this process takes for each partner is not particularly important.
We hope these ideas will help you take some pressure off yourself when it comes to what you "should" be feeling right now. In addition, we suggest that you examine the elements we've discussed that form the foundation of a relationship. If they've begun to develop, try to spend the next month or so enjoying each other's company and exploring more about how each of you sees life and what you want out of it.
We suggest dating not more than twice a week. You may not be aware how emotionally intense this stage of dating can be, and giving yourselves a few days in between dates enables each of you to better process your experiences and feelings. Finally, it's not a good idea to continually analyze your feelings -- it keeps you from seeing the forest for the trees, and you may never be able to come to a decision.
In time, you'll be more ready to think about your feelings and to determine if the other elements of P.A.I.R. are present. In the meantime, try to be "worry free" by giving yourself the time to enjoy being together and learning about each other. We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,
Rosie & Sherry