How do we know the person we are dating is our bashert, our soul mate?

If we’re asking ourselves this question, we probably know our partner well and have feelings for them. We’re probably attracted to them and also find ourselves in awe of them at certain moments. We probably enjoy being around them even when we don't have a lot to talk about. When we talk about a future together, we probably find that we share certain dreams and goals. And yet, even after we feel that we both share common interests and complement one another, sometimes we still ask ourselves: How do I know that this person is the one?

One criterion to focus on when pondering this question is that of devotion. Devotion has less to do with my partner's specific characteristics and more to do with the dynamic we have created in our relationship. Often devotion to one another grows gradually as a relationship develops. The desire to devote myself to my partner and the feeling that my partner is devoted to me might be one of the most important indicators of finding my bashert. Devotion is expressed through trust and responsibility.

Devotion through Trust

Does my partner trust me and have the courage to rely on me? Do I feel I can trust my partner around matters that are important and sensitive?

To trust our partner is to open our hearts, and when we really rely on our partner, we become vulnerable.

To trust our partner is to open our hearts, and when we really rely on our partner, we become vulnerable. This openness depends on our partner being worthy of our trust. The more we feel our partner has our needs and our best interests in mind, the more we feel we can relinquish control and relax, let go and soften.

Devotion through Responsibility

Is my partner ready to accept responsibility for life's demands? Am I ready to cross the adult-threshold of marriage? Responsibility entails focusing one's energy on meeting the needs of those who depend on me. Marriage invites us to focus our energies in more fruitful and beneficial ways than were previously necessary. Taking responsibility is more similar to the flexing of one’s muscles than it is to the opening of one’s heart. It is an invitation to flex our muscles, not to show off or aggrandize our own egos, but rather in order to nourish and bring stability to our home.

When trust and responsibility are present in a relationship, they complement one another. When we feel our partner is assuming responsibility, we trust them. Likewise, feeling trusted encourages us to act in ways that are indeed responsible and trustworthy.

Who will you be in the future?

Even after knowing in our hearts that my bashert stands before me, sometimes a hesitation arises when we consider taking the plunge into the covenant of marriage. It is at this time that our desire and our ability to devote ourselves fully to one person takes center stage. Deciding to marry our partner is a binding decision. Sometimes, the thought of committing to be with one person for the rest of our lives can feel frightening. Questions and doubts arise in our minds. How can I know that I will love this person forever? I know them today, but maybe in the future they will change. Even if my partner doesn’t change, maybe I will. These doubts can be confusing.

The thought of spending the rest of our lives with one person can feel like an impossible mission, especially considering that the future, including our own identities, is so unpredictable and unknown. When faced with the uncertain nature of life, committing to one person for the rest of our lives can feel daunting.

When Jews are faced with existential questions such as these, traditionally we have turned to the Torah for guidance. In my work with couples around these questions I have offered the following text to open a discussion about their hesitations and fears around true commitment.

The text involves the complexity of the answer God gave to Moses before they embarked on the mission of bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt. At the burning bush, God wanted Moses to commit to the mission and Moses was reluctant to do so. Before taking on this momentous responsibility that seemed to require making a sizeable leap of faith, Moses needed answers to a few questions. One of the questions he asked regarded what God's name was. "If they (the Children of Israel) ask me – What is His name – what should I tell them?"

God's answer to this question is fascinating. God says that His name is "I will be Who I will be." Moses is in search of God’s name, His essence, and God states that He is ever-changing. If this were the only response God gave to Moses, we would be confused.

But if we look more deeply at this story, we will notice that earlier in the conversation God responds to Moses's question in an indirect yet powerful manner.

God promises Moses that whatever he goes through and wherever he ends up, He will be there with him.

Earlier in His conversation with Moses God says to him: "I will be with you." At first glance it is not clear what the context of God's statement is. Rav Shagar (Reim Ahuvim, p. 48) explains that when saying "I will be with you" God is responding to Moses's hesitation and fear. God is recognizing Moses's underlying desire to feel that his relationship with God is clear and secure. When God says "I will be with you" he is addressing Moses’s doubts and giving Moses the only real and truthful answer He can give. God does not respond to Moses’s fears by telling him not to be afraid, trying to erase his doubts or by avoiding his questions. God will not define a specific identity that would quiet Moses’s insecurity. Instead, God states that He will be with Moses. God promises Moses that whatever he goes through and wherever he ends up, He will be there with him. It seems that God knows that telling Moses exactly what the future holds is not what will calm Moses’s fears. What Moses needs to know is that he will not be alone in the unknown.

The truth that is expressed in God's relationship with Moses holds true for many couples who are considering committing themselves to marriage. In the story of the burning bush the Torah is teaching us that there is no definite answer to questions about the future: Who will you be in the future? Who will I be in a decade? What exactly will our future together look like? However there is a response to uncertainty and insecurity. The response is commitment – the promise to be together no matter what.

Commitment entails choosing to be with one another within the unknown.

When deciding to get married two people are not committing to one another based on an expected and predictable future. The say "I will be with you" to one another with the understanding that life is unexpected and surprising and it is because of this that they deeply appreciate the gift of going through life as a team. Marital commitment does not rest upon knowing the future; it rests upon making a decision to go through the future that lays ahead, a future that is open and unknown, with this person at my side. Commitment entails choosing to be with one another within the unknown.

This is what a man and woman say to each other when they decide to get married: “I do not know what life will bring us. I do not even know who you will be or who I will be, but I do know one thing. I know that I want to go through life together with you. I choose to make one commitment: I will be with you. Whatever circumstances life creates and whatever inner changes you or I go through — we will go through them together.” This is the final stage of dating, and the transition into marriage.

Rav Shagar suggests that God’s response to Moses’ question about identity – “I Will Be Who I Will Be” – is profound and relevant for every couple committing themselves to one another. Each individual has a soul that is forever changing and constantly revealing itself in different ways. A man and woman do not fully know one another after dating for a few months or even for a few years. The spiritual truth is that even after getting married they will never completely know or understand or grasp who the other is. This is part of what makes married life so mysterious and engaging.

In this sense, when marriage is seen as the beginning of a never-ending story making this commitment can feel like a mission that is not only possible but also exhilarating.