Shula and I met on JDate.
After a few messages back and forth, it was time to take things to the next step, so I called her.
"Dave, you talk, look like, and act just like all the Americanzas on this site. If you didn't include in your profile that picture of you serving in the IDF, I don't think we would have met. Thank God you posted it."
She had a wonderful sense of humor. I sensed that she had been through a lot in her life, and that her experiences had made her a better person. There was something special about her. We agreed to go out for dinner.
After 10 grueling years in the singles scene, I had been through everything. Things never seemed to work out. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to invest the time and energy to go to dinner. A cup of coffee would give my date and I enough time to see if there was something worth pursuing. So in this case, dinner on the first date was a big step. There was something very special about her. Despite my excitement, I approached this date with cautious enthusiasm.
At first I saw JDate as a great way to find my wife. Then it became a sport.
As nervous as I was, I had the skill and confidence of an experienced JDater. I knew all the stories of a bad JDater and I learned from them. I knew not to blurt out that I worked at a nice Wall Street job, or that I volunteered to serve in an IDF Combat Unit. I had to subtly work this information into the conversation, so as not to come off as bragging.
I learned these lessons over years of fooling myself. At first I saw JDate as a great way to find my wife. It didn't work out that way. After a while when I didn't get what I was looking for, JDate became a sport. A successful date wasn't one where I met someone I could see myself growing old with. It was one where I could turn the evening into an ego boost. And the more I focused on that goal, the better at it I became.
It was all about projecting myself, touching an emotional button inside the other person and sparking a chemical reaction. It was, bottom line, a game of conquest.
Shula took me to a Buharian kosher restaurant and we feasted on cooked potatoes and shish kebab. The meal was almost as amazing as the company. Instead of talking about stocks, careers, and the IDF, Shula directed the conversation elsewhere. This was the first date I had ever been on where the topic of discussion was God, Torah, and Jewish history. For the first time, by the end of the date I felt like my soul was elevated, not the other way around.
Over that unforgettable autumn, we saw a lot of each other. Her strength of character, the candor in every word she spoke, the warmth of her soul all overwhelmed me. Most of all, she loved being a Jew. She loved prayer, Torah study, and the Jewish people.
After a blissful two months together we got engaged. I was so excited. I get to spend the rest of my life with her.
Now I don't ever have to be a player again. I don't have to contend with the nonsense of padding my ego by flirting with JDates. The days of my personal depravity are finally over!
Or so I thought.
That's when the dread began.
I was deathly afraid that I couldn't handle being married. I got so accustomed to a life of going out with one woman, and then another. All those years of "not committing" finally caught up with me. A voice started whispering in my head.
"Dave, you got her. It's been a couple of months and your ego has been satisfied. Who's next?"
Whenever my inner demon spoke, I wanted to throw up. No person on Earth is more perfect for me than Shula. So what lunatic would be so stupid to listen to the notion that I'd be better off going after another ego trip?
Unfortunately, I have the answer. A lunatic obsessed with those fleeting, temporary, phony joys that in the end leave us more empty-hearted and cynical.
A lunatic like myself.
This was the biggest conflict I ever faced in my life and I had no answers to resolve it. I was mortified. I begged God for help.
The situation was dire. If I couldn't resist the urge for egotistical boosts today by remaining focused on my fiance, how could I remain loyal to her for the rest of my life?
I was reading the news and noticed an article about the spiritual dangers of pornography on the Internet. This article seemed tangentially related to what I was going through, so I clicked it on.
Then, a miracle happened.
It was an article by Rabbi Tzvi Fishman about Jewish sexual values. I read it and was mesmerized. I never heard any of this before.
For every act we do, there is spiritual energy.
I'd always thought that sexual morality was about all the things you couldn't do. I found out that the opposite is true. I learned that for every act we do, there is spiritual energy. Some acts, like male-female interaction, hold tremendous amounts of spiritual energy. When you direct this energy in an inappropriate way, this potential is wasted. It drains the body of energy and the mind of focus. You become depressed, lethargic, and emotionally distant.
Over all this time, I was polluting my soul and never even knew it. These maladies afflicted me for so long and I never once assumed that they were spiritual afflictions. I always thought a pint of Ben & Jerry's would get me out of the funk.
The solution was to change my focus. Instead of dissipating the energy outward, I now channel it towards my wife. Exclusively. At every moment, I have the choice of becoming either further connected to my wife, or further distanced.
This was a paradigm shift. A whole new way of looking at women. I'm not talking about adultery. This is far more subtle. It includes flirting, a friendly hug, and lots of social conventions that we take for granted.
This is no small challenge, with the sexually-charged messages that appear everywhere in our society.
But we have the power of free will to choose.
Now, every time I focus my eyes or my mind from something inappropriate, God grants me the spiritual energy that I was wasting. And that energy becomes reserved totally for my wife.
I discovered that as I started to improve my behavior, some very incredible changes began taking place.
Ever since I started working, my alarm clock was set 30 minutes before I had to be at my desk. And since I'd always press the snooze button five times, I was always late. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't get myself out of bed to get to work on time. Being late was a terrible way to start the day. My career advancement and salary suffered because of this pathetic habit.
But then, within days of taking on a bit of this mitzvah, I started waking up a lot earlier. Without making any changes in my daily diet or exercise routine, I started getting up at 5 a.m. Now I have an entire morning's worth of free time -- to study, pray better, and spend time with my wife.
And my mind is clearer and sharper than ever before. I grasp concepts quicker, and I am even beginning to pick up on those Russian words my wife calls me when I forget to wash the dishes. I am much more focused, not only at work, but most importantly in my marriage.
All those years I was focused on the conquest. But then I broke the cycle. I realized that the true triumph is conquest of self.