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Should We Ditch Small Talk on Dates?

Should We Ditch Small Talk on Dates?

Why serious conversations can help speed up the dating process.

by

When I was single, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. Yeah, I knew it was a totally made-up holiday, a sort of extortion for men to ante up with jewelry, chocolates, and cards – or else. But if you were relationship-less on February 14, it was hard not to feel left out of all the giddy romance seemingly swirling around you.

When I met my husband, I saw almost immediately that he could be that special man who would never let me feel lonely on Valentine’s Day, or any day, again. We talked easily about so many things, and had a similar sense of humor. Yet after only a few weeks of dating, when I thought everything was going well, he started making me jittery by tossing out the Big Religious Questions of Life: How often did I think about God? Did I consider whether the Torah was true? Did I think that Jewish law should change according to the times, or did I think it made sense to design my life to align with traditional Jewish values, even if it would put me a bit out of step with the prevailing culture?

No one had ever asked me questions like this, let alone on a date, and I was way out of my comfort zone.

No one had ever asked me questions like this, let alone on a date, and I was way out of my comfort zone. I thought I was intelligent (hey, I had a degree from U.C. Berkeley!). In fact, I was a bit of an intellectual snob, no doubt overestimating my own cerebral capabilities. Jeff’s first exploration of traditional Jewish philosophy at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem only a few months before we met had sparked his desire to meet the challenge that Rav Noah Weinberg, ob”m, had presented to him: What are you living for? Figure it out!

I had only dated Jews and considered myself “very Jewish,” but was more comfortable talking about politics, movies, even the latest antics of celebrities in the news. But God? Torah? How I planned to integrate mitzvot into my life? I thought only rabbis talked about that.

I realized instantly that my lack of curiosity about these Big Questions didn’t reflect well on me. And I had no intention of bailing and telling Jeff, “Nice knowing you, but we don’t seem to be on the same page here,” even if it meant another upcoming Valentine’s Day watching a movie alone and eating too much Ben & Jerry’s. In fact, I really did want Jewish values to inform my life. Jeff’s questions startled me into realizing I needed to give them more focus.

I was reminded of all this when I read the recent “Modern Love” column in the New York Times. The author, Tim Boomer, was still recovering from a break up of a five-year relationship when he overheard a mundane conversation in a bar between another couple about the weather and commutes to work. Boomer decided that when he began dating again, he would have no patience for small talk. “If being single meant having to partake in this kind of conversation, I’d rather pass,” he wrote. “How could I go from the deep connection I had with Alejandra to discussing bus schedules and weather patterns?”

His experiment worked. Instead of asking a woman what countries she had traveled to, which can lead to reciting a boastful list, he asked, “What place most inspired you and why?” Adapting typical first date questions, even when they sounded like college essay questions, led him more directly into conversations of consequence, leapfrogging past basic facts and exploring deeper thoughts and feelings. He even used it to good effect on a business trip with a colleague: instead of asking the colleague how long he had been married, he asked him what had made him fall in love with his wife in the first place.

Jeff and I grew up more or less secular, so these Big Questions were new to both of us. While we had great personal chemistry, we also needed to learn whether we had a shared spiritual vision for the future. Our children have taken this more “interview-style” dating to the next level. Having grown up in observant homes, “fun” during dating was a secondary goal to finding out as quickly as possible: Do I want to marry this person? In their circles, it is expected to get past idle chit chat quickly and talk about such issues as their levels of observance, how much involvement they want to have with the secular world, and of course, goals and roles they foresee in their professions, in their marriages and as parents.

I have counseled my kids during dating not to simply go by a script, asking a predetermined list of questions. And small talk is absolutely fine and natural as a way to ease into a conversation. One of my sons was given very wise advice from one of his teachers, which was that on dates it is his job to make the young lady feel as comfortable as possible. This requires sensitivity, awareness, an ability to observe and intuit. In other words, it requires emotional intelligence.

Jewish dating does tend to fast-track the conversation into the Big Topics, it’s true. It’s not to avoid romance altogether; it’s actually a way to speed up the point where romance is possible. We don’t want to wait one or two or five years into a relationship to discover we don’t share the same religious values. We want to keep the dating train moving without too many lurches or sudden stops, get to the chuppah and start building a life of deepening love and beautiful conversations.

February 6, 2016

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Visitor Comments: 7

(5) Anonymous, November 23, 2017 11:41 PM

Making big talk

This topic also reminds me of Kalina Silverman who developed 90 questions to make big talk and to ditch the small talk completely. Although hers is to avoid all the small talk that we make at the bank and at the supermarket, etc, my husband and I also use her questions one our date nights. See www.MakeBigTalk.com Meaningful conversations is something that we all can benefit from and to learn to ask meaningful questions is such an advantage in life.

(4) Scott, February 16, 2016 9:57 AM

Either you're dating for marriage or not.

I dated a lot before meeting my wife. Learned a lot about dating. Mostly that most people werent ready to date other adults. One the first date my wife and I made small talk and determined that there was an attraction. On the second we settled the big questions about religion, family, work and lifestyle. Not definitive conversations but more than enough to see that we were on the same page there. Then we went back to "dating" but with a purpose and were engaged in two months. The small talk after the big talk was actually meaningful in filling in the fine points as opposed to being how we played guessing games waiting for the "talk" and then playing more guessing games. Most people seem to use dating as a game. They leave dates wondering "what did he mean by that". I despise those people as a waste of time. If you are dating and you can't ask someone what they mean you're either not grown up enough to date or have the wrong person. Either you're dating for marriage or you're not.

(3) Rachel, February 12, 2016 6:00 AM

V-day

It isn't Jewish, but Valentines Day has had historical and religious meaning to Christians. I generally liked this piece a lot but it suffers from the tendency on Aish to disparage anything non-Jewish. Surely we can celebrate our faith without trying to show that we're better than everyone else.... We have our faith, others have theirs, and if they don't try to convert or harm us, let's respect their right to believe and practice as they see fit.

(2) Dr. harry, February 11, 2016 4:41 PM

Dating?

I met my wife through introduction. Dating without introductions first by familiy, friends, or your Rabbi; will more often than not fail. The people that know you best, with be the best guides as to who might be a good spouse. Want a date.....call a Jewish matchmaker, NOT match.com!

Rachel, February 12, 2016 5:53 AM

Dating!

I met my husband in college and we are going on 34 years of marriage. My parents were colleagues, their marriage ended after 50 years with my father's death. My in-laws were introduced and had a terrible marriage that ended in divorce. Finding one's beshert is ultimately in Hashem's hands, not anything with the word match!

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