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Dating Maze #325: Spiritually In Sync
Dating Advice 325

Dating Maze #325: Spiritually In Sync

She finally connected with a guy, but do they share basic life goals?

by

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am 39 and I really want to get married and have my own family. I'm intelligent, looking to grow and learn, and consider myself a good person. I receive a number of suggestions about dates, but I have a problem in that I rarely connect with people. I am shy and quiet, and while I will spend time chilling with a friend, I soon need to retreat to my own space again. I've had a hard time connecting to the men I've dated.

I recently I met a man through work whom I really like. He is intelligent and sweet, and we seem to speak the same language, both philosophically and analytically. However, there are two problems. He is more than 10 years younger that I. Also when it comes to spiritual issues – particularly Jewish observance – although he says he understands it philosophically, intuitively his heart has trouble connecting.

I’m confused about whether or not I should be dating a man who is religiously observant because I’m still discovering how I want to incorporate Jewish observance into my life. No one in my family is religious, so I don’t have any models to follow. And even though I've spent a number of years trying to discover the spiritual direction I'd like my life to take, I am still internalizing the meaning and significance of many of the practices I've chosen to follow.

So on one hand, I'm concerned about dating a man who isn't observant, only to discover a few months down the line that we have a problem. On the other hand, it seems more simple to date a man who is not observant. So I'm not sure what to do. Can you help?

Anita

Dear Anita,

Thank you for writing to us. You are describing a fairly a common experience for someone who is in the early stages of becoming more Jewishly observant.

Even though you want to get married and feel this is a critical time for pursuing that goal, it's scary to imagine settling down with someone when you can't be sure that your lifestyles coincide. And while you feel more comfortable dating someone who isn't as religiously committed as you are, you wonder whether you'll have a conflict about religious observance if your relationship becomes more serious. We understand these concerns.

The answer to resolving your dilemma is that you need to acquire more clarity about where you are currently holding in terms of your Jewish observance, and the direction in which you'd like to grow over the next few years. It's not easy to attain this clarity on your own, because each time you modify an aspect of your religious commitment, there's new information to learn, questions to be answered, and perspectives to understand and internalize. From the tone of your letter, we surmise that you're doing a lot of this process on your own and don't have a strong educational or support system. And it's a lot to process by yourself.

Find a mentor who can give you a model to emulate.

Most people find that having a mentor can provide much-needed support, guidance, and understanding to help feel more grounded and focused. Our advice to you is to find a rabbi or Jewish educator who is familiar with outreach work and can give you guidance and a model to emulate. They'll be able to help you pace yourself so you don't rush into new things too fast and later feel overwhelmed.

Another crucial element for people who are becoming more observant is one or two surrogate families who can host you for Shabbat every few weeks and for Jewish holidays. This is how you see Judaism in practice – how a family makes Shabbat special, how the husband and wife interact with each other and with their children, the way they keep their home kosher, their involvement with the Jewish community, and how they incorporate Torah values while busily supporting a family, running a home, and raising children.

Gradually, you can begin to visualize the way you want your own life and home to be, and this clarity will form the basis of your search for a life partner.

We often remind out readers that common values and compatible goals are the cornerstones of enduring relationships. If a couple doesn't have this common ground, they are likely to find themselves in an ongoing struggle about what each wants from the marriage. Once you are on firmer ground yourself, you can decide if you can be comfortable with someone whose level of Jewish observance is different than yours and add this consideration to the other personal qualities you are looking for in a potential marriage partner.

Sense of Connection

We'd like to bring up a delicate point at this juncture, an "elephant in the room" that we'd been remiss if we didn't address. Because you're 39 and want to get married and have a family, there is a sense of urgency. This means that you don't have the luxury of taking several years to find the clarity we've spoken about.

Which brings us to the subject of the man you met through work, who is 10 years younger than you. We have a few concerns about whether the two of you have enough common ground to begin dating and developing a lasting relationship. You feel that the two of you can relate on different levels. However, there are some basic issues that you need to address. First, is each of you comfortable with your age difference? If may not be a big concern if you are dating and just getting to know each other, but it may play a major role in your decisions about marriage, and you need to be honest with each other when you talk about this.

Beyond this, you want to get married and start a family, but does he? Many men in their late 20's don't feel that they're at that stage in life. Have you spoken with him about your respective timetables for marriage? If you're dating for marriage and he isn't, from our point of view you shouldn't even consider dating him.

In addition, how much do you know about each other's life goals and values, other than his belief that philosophically he understands the value of Jewish observance?

Think about how you felt when your friendship began.

You mention that you have had a difficult time connected with most of the men you’ve dated. Even though this man from work might not be the right person for you to date, there is something very positive in the fact that you feel comfortable with him and a sense of connection. It means that you actually can connect to with a man other than one of your close friends. And even though he may not be right for you, it's very likely that there are other men who are more suitable for you, whom you can also connect to.

People who are shy and introverted often have trouble relating to someone they don't know well and opening up to them. The pressure of being on a date often makes it even harder for someone who is reserved to start to connect to another person. You may have been more relaxed with this person because you didn't initially think of him as dating material, and your conversations evolved from being work-related to more personal. We'd like you to think about how you felt when your friendship began – you may be able to recall this experience to help you when you are on a date with someone new.

In addition, we'd suggest that you find a good friend or a coach (who specializes in helping shy people) to help you learn and practice conversation techniques that can help you feel more comfortable when you are with someone you don't know well. Many people who describe themselves as shy or introverted feel they will never be able to form a connection with a date. This simply isn't true. They can connect, and the fact that they have a few close friends proves this. They simply have to strengthen their style of communicating and adapt it to dating so that they can gradually be more open with their dating partner and form a connection. Our recent Aish.com article about “Dating for Introverts” offers some suggestions you might find helpful.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry

Published: January 8, 2011


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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anita, February 24, 2011 9:14 AM

This is my letter :)

Dear Rosie and Sherry, Thank you v much for answering my email. You are of course right about all the points you raised. The younger man and I still work together and we still have an attraction but after a number of serious conversations we concluded that he is not ready for marriage yet and so we agreed to just be friends. I am also making more effort to spend shabbos with families as you suggested in order to get more clarity. I think the process of just meeting people at all different levels of observance has helped me tremendously to settle in myself and not feel so rushed or guilty about not being perfect in observance. I have in the interim met 2 men who have potential. One is religious and we seem to connect, it is still early days. The other man is learning and would like a kosher home but is not as observant as I am. I feel comfortable exploring both scenarios and discovering what deeper connections exist.

(5) Anonymous, January 21, 2011 4:12 PM

Dating vs dating for marriage. You don't know if you click with someone until you date them. Dating for marriage comes after you have found the one you click with, then you date HIM preparing for marriage with HIM.

(4) Anonymous, January 19, 2011 9:16 PM

No One Can Understand Your Lonliness But Other Singles in their 30s and 40s

I am also 39 years old, and I have been Torah observant for almost 8 years. Defining my observance has NOT led me closer to my Zivug. It does not get easier as you further define the life you want to live with your future spouse and family. It gets more difficult. It is very easy for a married woman to recommend that you wait, that you continue on your path to finding an observant partner, but after that recommendation, she goes home to her husband and her children, while you return home alone - again. For years I have been Shidduch dating, dating for marriage. It is not easy to find someone with whom you can be yourself, all parts of yourself. And while you are dating, you continue to go home alone, spend Shabbat with other women's families, and watch your friends have children. I have spoken to my mentors and they all tell me to hold out for an observant man, but when I speak to the Shaddchanim I am told I am at a precarious age, and that most men that WILL agree to date me are older and ready to be empty-nesters, not men with whom I can start a family - something I desperately want. Its a difficult thing to come to terms with -- wait for an observant man who may or may not come, or explore and enjoy the companionship you have and hope it will grow. I agree with the comments that observance can grow and that Middot are the most important. If this man you are dating is dating for marriage and wants to explore that with you, including coming to various compromises regarding observance that you are both comfortable with, you should explore it! Who knows what you both will find, including a loving and Torah observant home.

(3) Pauline, January 12, 2011 8:59 PM

To Commentor #1 below:

My grandfather, widowed after 50 years of marriage, married a woman 20 years younger than him. To everyones' surprise, he was widowed again after about 25 years of marriage to his second wife. A while later, when he was 97, he married a third time to another lovely woman, in her late 80's. My grandfather use to say that only a stone should be alone. People need people. It should never be too late to love and be loved.

(2) Anon, January 11, 2011 7:00 PM

Whilst you are exploring your Judaism, PLEASE explore the relationship with this man. Intro or extrovert it is so hard to find someone to connect to. You can also ask Hashem to open his heart to Torah. (This is a prayer that I found in a book of Jewish women's prayers through the ages. You can do this regardless of your relationship status with him. It is a chesed that every spiritually aware Jew should be doing for other Jews). The Rebbe from Lubavitch said that the two most important things in a shidduch are middot (character traits) and yirat shamaim (fear for heaven), and of the two middot are the most important. Why? Because a person can acquire yirat shamaim in an instant, but to change just one character trait can take a lifetime. As for the age difference, if it doesn't bother him, and he is serious, why should it bother you. Some gossips will find it an issue, but then the same people will also find something to pick on. He sounds like a really nice guy. Go for it and see what happens. B"H Hashem will help you. Good luck.

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