Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 34-year-old woman who converted to Judaism two years ago. I didn't date during the period of my conversion process, because I knew that it wasn't appropriate until my conversion was complete. Now I am eager to marry and start a family. I am looking for a man who has kindness, patience, warmth, and an integrated life of Judaism and career. I also prefer a man who has not married previously and does not have children.

Unfortunately, I am finding the dating scene to be a puzzling roller coaster ride. People tell me that there is no one "normal" in my age range. The dates I’ve had are simply not suitable – either they haven't "found" themselves yet in terms of life direction, or are not yet established in a career, or simply are not functioning well overall.

Because I am having so much trouble meeting a man who is even close to what I am looking for, I sometimes feel it is hopeless, and wonder if I should change my standards. Should I be willing to date someone who doesn’t have all the qualities I am looking for? Should I hang on to my ideal checklist? Or should I take a bit of a break to sort things out? (Though at my age I dread putting the dating process on hold!)

It is increasingly lonely without my family, who live in a foreign country and are not very supportive of my choice to become Jewish. It is also becoming more difficult to be proud of my choices and long journey, with nothing much to show for it in terms of family goals. I hate the negative thinking that pops up – so your advice would be immensely appreciated!

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

Thank you for writing and giving us an opportunity to address questions that are often raised by those who are new converts to Judaism or have recently become more Jewishly observant. They wonder when to start dating for marriage, what qualities to look for in a spouse, and how to meet suitable people to date.

We usually advise people in such situations to wait a while before starting to date. That's because they're only at the beginning of an amazing journey and are still acquiring basic Jewish knowledge, developing a worldview, and discovering the direction in which they'd like to grow spiritually. They need to know themselves a bit better before they can decide exactly what they're looking for in a marriage partner.

There's no hard and fast rule as to the time-frame, but you should have a good idea of the direction in which you see yourself growing – both spiritually and materially – over the next several years, as well as the path you plan to take to get there. This process of introspection may take a few months, or even a few years. It is good to have a mentor to help you in this (as well as to guide you while dating).

The first step in this process is to spend time clarifying your own qualities, values, and short- and long-term goals. Spend a few hours writing down your ideas about such topics as: the religious lifestyle you want to lead, how you'd like to see Shabbat and holidays celebrated in your home, the kind of education you want for your children, and the kind of community you'd like to live in. It’s also important to figure out how you would like to see husband and wife contributing to the marriage's economic well-being, child-rearing, and religious and community involvement.

You should also be honest about the economic level you expect and what career effort will be needed to sustain it. People sometimes downplay this because they feel it's "wrong" to focus on material concerns, but in reality they are as much a part of married life as spiritual ones.

It seems that you started dating before having clear answers to some of these questions. We imagine that since you’re in your 30s and want to start a family, you were encouraged to date as soon after your conversion as possible. Perhaps one of the reasons you're feeling frustrated and burned out is that this was too early for you. You needed to build a firmer Jewish foundation and clarify some of the questions you're starting to ask now. But you shouldn’t feel that any time has been wasted – the Almighty has His reasons for everything, and may have wanted to protect you from getting married before you had the right amount of clarity about yourself and your goals for the future.

Take a Break

You asked if you should take a break to recover from your negative feelings about dating. We think this is an excellent idea. When you're burned out, you can't think positively even if you meet Mr. Right, and you project a negative attitude that will put a damper on all your dates.

So take a dating vacation – perhaps six or eight weeks long. Fill the time you ordinarily would spend on dating and being proactive with treats for yourself. Tap into your creativity, and take a class or start a project. Get involved in an activity you've been interested in for a while but haven't made the time for. Read, sing, dance. Offer to take some neighborhood children to the zoo or the botanical garden. Get regular exercise, and help out with a community service project.

During this time, if you receive dating suggestions, thank the people who make them and explain that you're taking a short break. Ask them to keep you in mind when you start dating again at the end of the break. Right before you're ready to return to dating, spend a few hours writing down your ideas about the topics we described. Also, write down a description of your strengths and personal qualities, and those qualities that you'll value in the man you hope to marry.

It's important to remember that sometimes, a person who is new to observant Judaism may be unsure of themselves and will listen to what other people tell them they should be looking for, rather than what's in their own heart. If you feel conflicted between what you want, and what others say you "should" want, your mentor should be able to help you figure out what's really right for you.

Be Proud

You mentioned the possibility of relaxing your "standards" in order to find a man who meets some of the criteria. We don't believe in "settling," because someone who feels they have done so often carries around a certain amount of resentment. However, we do believe in clarifying priorities and looking at prospective dates with a different perspective. You wrote that what's most important to you is having a husband who is kind, patient, and warm. You want him to spend time studying Torah and to also have a career to support his family. Since these qualities are so important to you, we don't think you can be happy with a man who lacks even one of them. So don’t compromise.

There are, however, areas in which you can, and should, be more flexible. For example, your preference to marry someone who's never been married before. While there are some very good men in their late 30s and early 40s who were never married and have the qualities you want in a husband, unfortunately many others haven't gotten to that point yet. In contrast, a high percentage of divorced and widowed men are very fine people who have what you want in a husband. Instead of anticipating problems you might have, try to get to know him first. You may find that what you're worried about isn't an issue.

While we hope that it won't be long before you meet a man who is right for you, we'd like you to do something else that will help you to feel a little less lonely during the wait. Try to develop a network of friendships among women your own age – both married and single. It will be a healthy social diversion, and is also a good way to expand the network of people who are trying to help you find Mr. Right.

Finally, we want to address the issue of your self-esteem. As a new convert, you are fully part of the Jewish people, but may still feel a bit like an outsider. This is not uncommon. Some of the community customs, which have nothing to do with Judaism per se – for example, a style of cooking, or an approach to problem-solving – may not match your personal style. So here you will want to strike a balance: Don’t be an oddball, but at the same time be true to yourself.

Being true to yourself is crucial for two reasons: First, that is your unique personality and you don’t ever want to squelch that.

Second, that special perspective you have represents the unique contribution that you can make as part of the Jewish people. Many converts (and newly-observant Jews) have accomplished great things in the Jewish world that “veteran Jews” may never have attained, simply because they bring a unique perspective and life experience to the table. In fact, the kabbalists speak of conversion as a way to “gather the sparks” of holiness that have been scattered throughout the world.

So be proud of your choice to become Jewish. You did it for the right reasons, and you are now in position to make the most of this special opportunity. So stick by your guns. There may be a period of acceptance, but the community will come to appreciate what you have to offer – as will your future husband.

Welcome to the Jewish people, and we wish you success in the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry