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|Head to Heart
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE DATING AND MARRIAGE
This book is one of a special
MR. & MRS. LOUIS A. SEGEL A"H
Two people, whose quiet but firm
To my husband, Avraham,
for making our marriage the blessing it is.
I often look back and realize the invaluable guidance my mentors have given me at critical times. Yet mentors are few and far between today, leaving us with little access to the education we need to prepare for marriage. As a result, divorce has skyrocketed, and with it tragedy of unprecedented scope.
In this light, Head to Heart: What to Know Before Dating and Marriage is a tremendous service. Gila Manolson articulates time-tested wisdom regarding relationships and offers contemporary insights into this complex and challenging area of life. A highly readable and informative work, Head to Heart will leave an indelible impression on thousands of lives.
People often ask me, "What drives you to write?" The answer is simple: frustration. When I have something to say that might help people get more out of life, I become frustrated that I can't tell everyone, so I write a book.
Head to Heart offers practical and philosophical advice about preparing for dating and marriage. It is not a comprehensive guide. Other excellent books on this topic already exist, and I urge you to read them. (Check your local Jewish bookstore, or ask someone you respect for recommendations.) The purpose of this book is to add to the discussion by filling in some important missing pieces.
Head to Heart is similar in significant ways to my previous books. Like The Magic Touch and Outside/ Inside, it is intended to speak to you whether you were raised in an observant home, are newly religious, or are exploring Judaism for the first time and in addressing a very real part of life, it takes a down-to-earth, common-sense approach. While some of what I'll be saying is specifically Jewish, a great deal of it such as practical wisdom and accepted principles in psychology is not. At the same time, all the material presented is consonant with Torah philosophy.
This book also differs from my others. First, while The Magic Touch and Outside/Inside each had a single theme (refraining from physical relationships before marriage, and defining yourself by who you are inside), Head to Heart addresses a variety of interrelated topics. Part I examines the purpose of dating; Part II focuses on personal growth; Part III presents insights into love, marriage, and Jewish womanhood; Part IV discusses practical matters of dating; and Part V raises halachic (Jewish legal) issues relevant to married life. While some chapters may speak to you more than others, I believe they're all essential. Second, in addition to ideas, I'll be presenting hard facts culled from counselors, rabbis, hotline workers, educators, matchmakers, therapists, and those who work in rabbinical courts. Chapters with halachic content were also reviewed by two poskim (Jewish legal authorities), whose letters of approbation appear at the beginning of this book.
My purpose, however, is the same it's always been: to give you more Jewish wisdom for living. No matter who you are or what your background, I hope this book will help you enter a rewarding, lifelong relationship, by telling you what to know before dating and marriage.
G. M. Jerusalem
Hashem has once again blessed me with the opportunity to write a book, and I'm indebted to all the outstanding individuals who helped it come to fruition:
First and foremost, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz, shli-ta, whose sensitive and wise halachic and hashkafic guidance inspired this project;
Rabbi Zev Leff, shlita, for his ongoing moral and practical support;
Batya Friedman, a devoted friend and brilliant critic, without whose constant support, encouragement, depth and fine-tuned perception I can't imagine writing a book;
Debra Kershner, M.A., a highly caring professional and person, for her wise insights and generous assistance;
Marina Goodman (author of the forthcoming Why Should I Stand behind the Mechitza When I Could Be a Prayer Leader? Traditional Judaism for the Modern Woman), an unexpected gold mine of astute observations and on-the-mark suggestions;
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, author of More Precious than Pearls: Selected Insights into the Qualities of the Ideal Woman, for so much of what I appreciate about Jewish womanhood, and for her perceptive review of the manuscript;
Another exceptional teacher, for what I understand about why women are changing;
All the others who graciously contributed their expertise, including Miriam Adahan, Ph.D. and author of Living with Difficult People (Including Yourself); Jeff Auerbach, Psy.D. and author of How to Irritate the Ones You Love: A Concise, Practical Guide to the True Nature of Relationships; Rabbi Michael Broyde, dayan in the Beit Din of America and law professor at Emory University; matchmaker Heather Cirota; Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and coauthor of Talking Tachlis: A Singles' Strategy for Marriage; Rebbetzin Lea Feldman; Lynn Finson, M.S.; Rachel Frumin, M.S.; Debby Gross, director of the Crisis Center for Religious Women in Jerusalem; Rachel Levmore, rabbinical court advocate; Shaya Ostrov, C.S.W. and author of The Inner Circle: Seven Gates to Marriage; Miriam Reinfeld, Ph.D.; Sarah Schneider, author of Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine; Phyllis Strauss, Ph.D.; Deborah Tobin, Ph.D.; and two women from the Educational Prevention Program of the Shalom Task Force in New York;
Two wonderful educators for whose input I am grateful: Rabbi Dr. Natan T. Lopes Cardozo; and Dr. Michael Kaufman, author of Love, Marriage, and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition;
All the other special individuals who offered help and /or feedback, including Shaina Buchwald, Miriam Ciner, Israel Ellen, Elana Epstein (our incomparable bat bayit), Dena Estrin, Leat Galimidi, Marina Gelfand, Chana Levitan, Tova Saul, Leah Schachter, David Teten, and Moshe Zeldman; and with particular thanks to Tamar Bezalely, Stuart Green, Leon Aaron Kenin, and Brett Weil;
The many authors (in addition to those cited in the text) whose books have influenced my thinking, including Reuven P. Bulka, author of Jewish Marriage: A Halakhic Ethic; Aharon Feldman, author of The River, the Kettle and the Bird: A Torah Guide to Successful Marriage; Manis Friedman, author of Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore? Reclaiming Intimacy, Modesty and Sexuality; Lawrence Kelemen, author of To Kindle a Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers; Maurice Lamm, author of The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage; and Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue (from whose review my manuscript also benefited);
My loving and deeply beloved children, Chananya, Elyashiv, Yair, Temima, Emuna, Ayelet, and Yisrael, for good-naturedly tolerating the time I've dedicated to writing;
And finally, Avraham, my soul mate, for everything.
Marriage always entails surprises. Some may be delightful; others less so. This book was written to help you experience more delight and fewer rude awakenings. More directly, it's intended to help you get into a marriage with the best chance of meeting your hopes and expectations, bringing you the most happiness possible.
Living in the early 21st century, you have a lot to contend with. Increasingly, relationships aren't working out the way they should. Many people "fall in love" and marry with no real idea of what love and marriage are. Others are led heart-first into difficult relationships, sometimes with abusive partners, by forces they're not even conscious of. In the end, more couples divorce than stay together. When I encountered Judaism and became observant at age 22, I felt I'd been rescued from a sea of craziness and set down on an island of sanity. In time, however, I realized that the problems plaguing society at large also affect the Jewish world, which is grappling with its own issues, such as difficulties in the divorce process and the question of feminism.
Fortunately, you can avoid most of these troubles if you approach dating and marriage as you would any other major undertaking. You don't get into a top university, score high on your graduate-school entrance exams, or ace a job interview without investing considerable time and effort. Dating and marriage success in which will contribute more to your happiness than nearly anything else also require preparation. The time to start is not three months before the wedding (or after), but now. Singlehood is not a way-station to be passed through as mindlessly as possible on the road to couplehood. It is meant to be used, and used intelligently for thinking, learning, and most of all growing. If you choose to acquire the wisdom and do the work, you can experience a deeply rewarding, lifelong relationship.
This book will help you get there.
Note: All the stories I'll be sharing are either true or based on real people and incidents. Names have been changed.
Setting the Stage
"Going out" means different things to different people.
Chapter 1, "Re-approaching Dating," tackles the issue that precedes all others: the purpose of dating.
Dating is the emotional hub of most unmarried people's lives. If you're seeing someone (or hope to be), you may still think about school or work, but you're probably thinking more about your next date. I want you to look at dating from a new angle, and as honestly as you can, because I want to question some of the conventional wisdom surrounding it.
People date for many reasons. When I ask teenagers or other not yet marriage-minded singles why they go out, they usually answer:
"Everyone's doing it."
"So you don't have to be alone."
When I ask them why they think others date, they suggest:
And when I ask more sensitive individuals why they date, they respond: "To have someone to share with and feel close to."
I could say a lot about these answers, but in my opinion, none of them is a good reason for dating. When you date, you allow someone to develop strong feelings for you, and that isn't fair to the other person if you're primarily interested in something other than a sincere relationship. And while dating may make you feel warm and wanted, it won't cure you of loneliness or insecurity in the long run. Nor will it satisfy your longing (conscious or unconscious) for genuine, soul-to-soul closeness.
Yet there's a more compelling argument for dating: "Dating many people enhances your personal development. It teaches you relationship skills, helps you understand the opposite sex, and reveals your needs. It's the most effective way to learn how to choose the right person and make marriage work." In other words, dating prepares you for the real thing. Parents who subscribe to this idea often dissuade their teens from long-term relationships for fear of stunting their emotional growth, and worry if their kids marry their first boyfriend or girlfriend. Without a lot of dating experience, how could they possibly be ready?
Dating, then, is Preparation for Marriage. Of all the reasons for becoming involved in relationships, this one sounds the most intelligent. But is it?
Does more dating experience lead to better marriages?
Let's look at our world. Most people are chalking up an impressive amount of relationship experience, starting younger and younger and involving numerous partners and considerable physical contact. Accordingly, we should be extremely wise, personally developed, and basking in marital bliss. Yet according to a 1995 report of the Council on Families in America,* the probability of a newlywed couple ending up divorced or permanently separated was a staggering 60%. Add those who stay together despite their unhappiness, and modern marriage emerges an overwhelming failure. All this dating experience is apparently not paying off.
Some argue, of course, that marriage has always been bankrupt. While serving a societal purpose, perhaps it simply cannot deliver lasting love and happiness, and is disintegrating now only because divorce has become more acceptable (and for women, economically feasible). "Don't even think about forever," I've heard people say. "Take a relationship for whatever it is, and move on when it's over." In other words, we should stop fantasizing and be realistic.
Yet we Jews believe in marriage. We know that with enough work, two people can enjoy a deeply satisfying, lifelong love. We also suspect that, in their heart of hearts, even the most disillusioned cynics haven't despaired of such a relationship. But we don't believe experience is the way to get there.
So how did "experiential dating" become so popular?
From the beginning of modern history until the middle of the last century, the practical aspects of marriage underwent no major upheavals from generation to generation. Social and sexual mores, gender roles, and marital expectations shifted only gradually, if at all. But then came the '60s. Overnight, young adults
'"Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, 1995," available from the Institute for American Values, 1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York, NY 10023.
So my generation went out and got Experience with catastrophic results. And most young people today are still doing the same.
Don't get me wrong. You'll certainly learn from dating, but not necessarily how to succeed in marriage. Following a break-up, you may learn where you need to grow, or only where your ex does. You may learn why you keep attracting the wrong people, or why the opposite sex can't be trusted. You may learn how to achieve love, or that it's an impossible dream.
Some years ago, I spoke with a single professional hardened by years of failed relationships. "Experience has taught me to stop hoping," she informed me flatly. "I've learned to become so independent that I don't even care if there's a man in my life." Yet what she'd "learned" would only make her less likely to ever get the love that, beneath her pain and denial, she still longed for. Dating may be educational, but education isn't always wisdom.
At the same time, any wisdom you do gain will prove largely irrelevant once you marry. Marriage is entirely different from even the most long-term, committed relationship. (It's also totally unlike living together, which for most people is merely "playing house.") In forcing two "I"s into a non-negotiable "we," marriage requires tremendous self-transformation. Furthermore, before things are signed and sealed, you're each partly on your best behavior, even if subconsciously. Once your relationship is "for keeps," the real you comes out.
I know a couple who dated a long time before marrying. One Sunday morning shortly after their wedding, the husband announced he was going into the office.
"Since when do you work on Sundays?" his wife asked in surprise.
"I haven't till now, but I'm starting."
"But what about our Sunday brunch?"
"I know, honey, but it's time I got a promotion, and this is the way to do it."
"But you've always seemed relaxed about your job and about money."
"Well, if I'm going to get ahead, that'll have to change."
As this little episode illustrates, unpredictable things come up in marriage. An independent-minded single woman may, as a wife, now want lots of together time with her spouse. A doting fiancÙ may, as a husband, suddenly need to "do his own thing." Workaholics come out of the closet. And often, marriage exposes more traditional role expectations than may have surfaced during dating. All this means that, while an unmarried couple may know the "rules" of their relationship, marriage is a whole new ballgame. And here's where premarital experience can actually backfire. For while learning a new sport can be difficult, it's doubly frustrating when you thought you already knew how to play. The resulting disappointment and discouragement can even ruin the marriage. (It's no surprise, then, that according to studies cited by Dr. David Myers in The Pursuit of Happiness, couples who live together before marriage are far more likely to divorce than those who don't.)
In short, dating may teach you how to date, but won't teach you how to be married, and the illusion that it does can be harmful. Marriage should be approached with an open mind and as few preconceptions as possible. It's a new experience.
So how can you amass the wisdom and growth necessary for a successful marriage? The answer is simple. While many practical aspects of marriage (such as who's the cook and who's the breadwinner) may have changed over the years, what makes love last has not. Each generation need not reinvent the wheel through hard-earned experience. The learning opportunities we need have always been there, and still are, without having to date.
Let's briefly look at what a good marriage requires. To begin with, each partner must possess a reasonably healthy, adult personality. This asset includes maturity, autonomy, self-esteem, trust, the capacity for emotional intimacy, and self-knowledge (all of which will be discussed in Chapter 2). These traits needn't be acquired in dating they should be acquired in life. Dating only distracts us from giving them attention. Questions such as "Do I look my best?" "Am I making
a good impression?" "Will she want to go out again?" "Is this going where I hope it will?" and "Will he want to stay with me?" don't leave much time and energy to ponder if you're developing the qualities necessary for a successful marriage. Consequently, there's no reason to believe you'll gain the maturity or self-knowledge you'll need. You're even less likely to become capable of genuine intimacy, as intimacy depends largely on trust, and breakups (an inevitable part of dating) erode it. The emotional dependency dating often fosters won't help you achieve autonomy. And self-esteem, the key to everything (including true intimacy), is more apt to suffer than thrive in transient relationships, where we're seldom appreciated for who we really are.
I recall how many of my school classmates transformed once they began going out. Despite all they had going for themselves, their popularity suddenly hinged on attracting the opposite sex. The greater their success, the greater their loss of self. And once you're hooked on approval (particularly this kind), it can be hard to wean yourself. Yet a mature, satisfying relationship demands se//-esteem, based on who you are not on the outside but on the inside, and coming not from others but from yourself.
Partners in a good marriage must also understand what love and marriage are (to be discussed in Chapter 4). Despite the changes brought by the women's movement and the sexual revolution, love and marriage haven't become something entirely new. Their essence is eternal, which means they needn't be figured out the hard way. Judaism is the best teacher; relationships are among the worst. Dating rarely involves true love (no matter what we may think at the time) and is therefore far better at teaching us what love isn't than what it is. And as we've seen, a grasp of marriage is unlikely to materialize from a relationship other than marriage.
A successful marriage also requires an understanding of gender differences. People often assume they'll acquire this insight too by going out. Yet dating veterans who later married will tell you how wrong this supposition is.
Joel and Liz became religious in their mid-twenties and married a few years later. I saw Liz two months after the wedding. "I figured that having had a couple of long-term girlfriends would have taught Joel something about women," she told me frankly. "But the guy knows nothing. Several times a day I have to explain, 'Honey, I'm a woman, and women feel...,' or 'That might work for you, because you're male, but I need....' He's clueless."
"But, of course, you completely understand your husband?" I asked with a grin.
She smiled ruefully. "If you want to know the truth, despite my own past relationships, I'm equally in the dark about men."
If dating so enlightens us about the opposite sex, millions of adult couples wouldn't be devouring John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Rather than dating, books are probably the best way to get this gender education, both before and during marriage. And get it you must, for one purpose of marriage is that you learn to live with, give to, and love someone fundamentally different from you, thereby coming to appreciate the world through another's eyes.
So if you're putting a lot of time and energy into dating, chances are you aren't getting as much out of it as you may believe. Rosie Einhorn, a popular premarital counselor (and coauthor of Talking Tachlis), puts it more bluntly: "All this experience is worthless."
Even if experience cost us only time and sense, that would be sad enough. Life is short, and it's a shame to spend it figuring out the basics instead of reaping the rewards of existing knowledge. Yet experience also takes its toll emotionally.
A relationship isn't a game. It means sharing, creating an opening for intimacy, being vulnerable. So, if and when it ends, it hurts. "I feel I left part of myself with my ex-girlfriend," a young man once told me. "And once you give of yourself, you can't just take it back. Now I'm afraid to let that happen again." Even one breakup can leave you too mistrusting to invest in another relationship.
When the secular world weighs emotional intact-ness against experience, the latter is the sure-fire winner. Experience, after all, bestows worldliness and sophistication, supposedly your ticket into adulthood. But emotional intactness? Many people don't even know what it means. If they do, they'll assume you naturally discard it with age, like a lizard sheds its skin. If that's the price of experience well, they'll shrug, it's all part of growing up.
Jewish tradition sees things differently. Worldliness and sophistication may be helpful or harmful; in and; of themselves, they're definitely not values (and they're by no means synonymous with wisdom). But emotional health? A heart in one piece, an ability to trust, to believe things will work out, to feel life is good? These qualities are precious and while they depend initially upon your upbringing, later relationships can make or break them. Given the high cost of experience, there's a lot to be said for innocence. And that doesn't mean naivetÙ, for as I've said, there are other (and far better) ways to learn about life than trial and error.
Even if you knew a breakup would leave you no worse for the wear, you can't predict your ex-partner's reaction. Dating for experience, therefore, isn't very sensitive. It could even be using someone.
You may be startled at such harsh language. But this reality was illustrated for me by Sandra, a world traveler who'd logged many brief relationships in her globetrotting.
"I disagree with your whole argument against experience," she declared. "Without all the experiences I've had, I wouldn't be who I am today. I wouldn't know myself as well as I do, I wouldn't have the understanding of men that I have, I wouldn't have the social self-confidence that I "
'"I, I, I,'" I cut her off. "What about all those guys? Could one of them have felt more for you than either of you intended? Could he even have felt used when you said, 'Nice knowing you. You've been a great learning experience for me'?"
Sandra was taken aback. "That's not fair," she objected. "Every man I met agreed to a short-term relationship because he knew he'd also get something out of it. It wasn't just for me it was for him too."
"Hmm. So you really meant to say, 'If we hadn't had all the experiences we've had, we wouldn't be who we are today.'"
She looked uncomfortable.
"In other words, instead of using him for your own growth, you were using each other. Is that any better?"
Now Sandra really bristled. "What's wrong with it?" she retorted. "We were consenting adults."
Unfortunately for experience-seekers, there's no concept of "consenting adults" in Judaism. That two grown-ups agree to do something together privately that won't hurt anyone else doesn't mean it's okay. They could be hurting themselves. Worse, one of them could be taking advantage of someone who doesn't know better, or who's in denial about the deeper relationship he or she really wants. "Consenting adults" is usually a sophisticated excuse for selfishness. Secular law may have no problem with that, but Jewish law cares about emotional and spiritual well-being, which includes knowing how to love. Two people out for experience and pleasure are looking to get. Love, in contrast, is about looking to give.
Of course, Sandra's example is extreme. Even if you're in the "experience mode," you may seek something more than a two-week fling in a foreign country. But there's still a problem. Whether or not we acknowledge it, every relationship feeds our unconscious hope of attaining intimacy and completion. Yet if it's not commitment-oriented, it's going to end and we know it.
A friend recently reassessed her premarital dating experience: "I was always a good girlfriend nice, sweet, and caring and never intended to cause anyone pain. But each time I realized a relationship couldn't lead anywhere and broke up with a boyfriend, he was badly hurt. His trust was damaged, and I knew he wouldn't give to someone as he'd given to me for a long time. Only in hindsight do I see that the dating system is inherently flawed."
Jenny, too, learned this the hard way. A 24-year-old tourist in Israel, she wasn't looking for a serious relationship when she met Uri, a 22-year-old sabra (native-born Israeli). In no time she found herself romantically involved, and far more than she expected. "Every moment with him is heaven," she told me blissfully. Three months later, she was crying her eyes out. After a minor argument, Uri had inexplicably broken up with her. Upon closer examination, his reason became clear. As their relationship developed, Jenny had realized how much she longed for a husband and children. Uri, however, had recently completed his army service and entered university, and he wasn't ready to settle down. Sensing that Jenny wanted more than he was prepared to give, he used their argument as an excuse to terminate the relationship and Jenny was left with a broken heart.
Few relationships lead to commitment unless each partner initially wants it. No matter how good and kind each is, one or both will get hurt. Even when dating doesn't entail "using" someone, insensitivity is built in. We're playing with some of the deepest parts of ourselves.
So think twice before involving yourself and anyone else in a relationship unlikely to go anywhere (whether because you're not sticking around, he or she isn't what you're looking for, or you're not ready for anything serious). Everyone does it, but that doesn't make it right. Dating while you're still in the "experience" stage means disregarding both the other's feelings and your own.
Dating for Real
By now, the point should be clear. "Experience is the best teacher" is rarely true in relationships, and even when it is, it's definitely the harder and less intelligent way to learn. Plugging into pre-existent wisdom and working on yourself is far more effective, more sensitive, and less painful.
In traditional Judaism, therefore, dating isn't for experience. First you grow into someone who can make a relationship work. Then you date because you want to make a lifelong commitment to another person in other words, because you're ready for marriage.
Let me say a few words about marriage, since just mentioning "the 'M' word" makes some people shudder. After all, marriage is scary. It means constantly considering another's needs, desires, and feelings, and never again living only for yourself. And that is exactly its purpose. Marriage asks that we become fully adult. It challenges us to overcome our natural selfishness and make room for someone else at the center of our lives permanently.
I knew someone who, faced with this challenge, literally turned tail and ran. At age 23, Tom left his young wife and daughter, bought a motorcycle, and took off. After traveling the world for 25 years, he landed in Israel, where he settled into a tiny cave on a beach in the Sinai desert. When I met him, in his 60s, he was still living in that cave, enjoying the occasional company of soldiers and tourists, and reveling in his freedom. While he claimed to be happy, looking at him made me terribly sad. In fleeing commitment, he had lost out on love. He was still a child and deeply alone.
Whether your encounters are in the wilderness or on the (equally uncivilized) urban singles' scene, avoiding commitment means not growing up. Anyone can say, "I want to be with you," or even "I want a long-term relationship" (or an "LTR," as it appears in personal ads). But what separates the men from the boys (and the women from the girls) is the ability to say "I want to marry you." Marriage. And that as opposed to experience is what dating should be for.
I once addressed a group of young men from somewhat religious homes on this topic, and as the discussion progressed, they grew less and less happy. By the time I concluded, I beheld a silent room full of extremely glum faces. Finally, a guy in the front row hesitantly raised his hand.
"Mrs. Manolson," he said slowly, "you've said dating should be for marriage. And none of us here is ready to get married. So" he paused, almost afraid to continue "does that mean... are you saying... none of us should be dating?"
No point in beating around the bush. "You got it," I replied.
There was a moment's silence as the terrible truth sank in. Then, looking totally forlorn, he asked, "Well, what are we supposed to be doing?"
A second guy immediately piped up (not sounding any happier than the first), "Learning Torah, right?"
"That's right," I answered. "But 'learning Torah' means more than just working on understanding a piece of Talmud. It means working on yourself. So do it, because someday, a very special woman will be grateful you did and so will you."
To find the right person, you must be the right person, and that comes not from dating, but from real wisdom and focused inner work. So consider reversing the popular approach to dating. First devote yourself to the step most people skip in their headlong rush into relationships, and become somebody who can have one that will last a lifetime. Then date to find the right partner with whom to have it.
Taking a break from dating may not be easy at first. But the benefits will soon become clear. For one, your same-sex friendships are bound to be enriched.
"Since I stopped dating, I've become much closer to my female friends," a young woman named Jamie told me. "Half our conversations used to revolve around guys and male-related problems like two of us being interested in the same guy, or someone feeling like a third wheel when her best friend had a boyfriend and she didn't. Now, instead of competing and sidelining, there's bonding and sharing. We talk about important things, like what we believe in, who we are, and who we want to be. And the more I discover myself, the more I appreciate my friends." Jamie could have added that these friendships also help build the sense of self that allows you to feel good without a boyfriend's or girlfriend's affirmation, which in turn makes you more likely to end up with ; the right person for the right reasons. (More about this in the next chapter.)
But calling a time-out on dating will do even more. For the energy you once expended on the opposite sex will be freed for growth and knowing you're growing feels really good. It may (at least in the short term) even feel better than dating. One thing is for sure: It will prepare you for marriage as nothing else will. Think about it because the best thing you can bring to marriage is a great you.
You wake up one morning. The sun is shining and the world feels full of promise. You think how wonderful it would be to share your life with another person. "You know what?" you say to yourself. "I think I'm ready to get married."
What you really mean is, "I think I want to get married." Wanting it doesn't mean you're ready for it, however. Being ready for marriage means reaching a certain point and it's not the "right age," the "right level" of religious observance, or even feeling incomplete without the "right person." It's attaining a critical amount of wisdom, growth, and self-knowledge and that takes time and work.
So let's get started. Chapter 2, "Growing Yourself," discusses the qualities to develop in order to become a good partner. Chapter 3, "Behind the 'Click,'" illuminates the psychological forces behind attraction.
A couple of my friends once wanted to do something new and exciting. So they went parachuting.
First they completed several hours of training. They listened as the instructor explained how a parachute works. They learned the proper position for the first seconds of free fall, how to steer once the chute pulled open, and how to access the safety chute if it didn't. They were taught how to absorb the shock of landing by bending their knees and rolling. After class, they went outside and practiced on the ground, over and over. Finally, they put on their gear, boarded the plane, and took off. Each executed a perfect jump. And it was exhilarating.
Getting married is far more exciting but, like parachuting, you need a lot of preparation before "taking the leap." You have to learn what a successful marriage takes. Then you have to practice not in dating (for reasons 1 explained in the previous chapter) but everywhere else, because your marriage can be only as good as your other human relationships. Put even more broadly, you will be only as good a spouse as you are a person. The first step in marriage preparation, then, is working on yourself.
Working on the Inside
How does one become a better person?
Western society urges us to stay young. Advertisers idealize good looks, fun, and freedom from responsibility, and the younger you are, the more of these you're likely to enjoy. People often aspire not only to a youthful appearance, but to youthful attitudes and behaviors. (I was recently told that the textbook definition of adolescence now includes adults up to age 25 and I hear that, in some states, it goes up to 40.)
Popular culture, however, has a poor track record in marriage. One reason is that a successful, lifetime relationship requires not youth but maturity. Society,; unfortunately, assumes that even the most childish: adult is mature enough to marry. As Lisa Aiken points out in Beyond Beshert: A Guide to Dating and Marriage Enrichment, you must pass a test to get a driver's license, but not to get a marriage license. Yet emotional maturity, like driving skills, doesn't necessarily correlate with age. I remember how shocked I was when a 17-year-old girl from a very traditional, religious home told me she was engaged until I realized she: was more mature than I'd been when I married at 26. Emotional maturity is a product of upbringing and self-development. And while you can't change the way you were raised, you can make yourself into the person you want to be.
No one of us is fully child or fully adult; we're all somewhere in between, hopefully always moving toward adulthood. If you've never been in a successful marriage, it can be hard to know how much maturity it takes, and whether you have it. One thing you can do is ask someone who has been happily married for many years, knows you well, and will answer honestly. (I did this at age 23, and the rabbi diplomatically replied, "You still have potential to realize as a single.") Getting a clearer picture of where you may need to grow, however, requires a bit more introspection. Ask yourself the following questions or better yet, ask them of a couple of good friends, and assure them you'll still be on speaking terms if they tell you the truth:
Am I honest?
1. Am I open to seeing myself for who I am?
2. Can I accept criticism and admit when I'm wrong?
Am I self-disciplined?
3. Am I patient?
4. Can I exercise self-control?
5. Can I delay gratification?
Do I put things in perspective?
6. Can I distinguish between what's more and less important in life?
7. Can I emphasize satisfactions over frustrations?
8. Do I have a sense of humor?
Am I responsible?
9. Can I persevere in order to achieve?
10. Am I dependable?
Am I realistic?
11. Am I prepared (at least intellectually) to not get everything I want?
Do I want to grow?
12. Am I committed to becoming a better person?
My friend Meredith once shared her perspective on why it pays to start this work before marriage. "I've always been defensive," she told me, "and that's usually why my husband and I argue he says something intended to be helpful, I take it as criticism and get upset, then he gets upset, and it escalates. Had I begun tackling this issue when I was single, I could have avoided the much harder and slower work now." (Over-sensitivity to criticism usually points to a self-esteem issue see ahead.)
You may have noticed a common denominator in the 12 traits listed above: seeing beyond yourself and beyond the present. This ability distinguishes children from adults, and most of us have it to some degree. Yet we all lapse into self-centered thinking and behavior.
"These speed bumps make me crazy," a taxi driver once grumbled as we entered my neighborhood.
"Thousands of children live here," I told him politely, "and there have been several terrible accidents due to speeding."
"All I know is every two seconds I have to slow down. It's ridiculous!" he complained.
"Don't you think protecting kids is more important?" I asked him directly.
"How far do you want to take it?" he retorted. "While we're at it, we might as well go back to the horse and buggy."
That's a grown man displaying the emotional maturity of a 5-year-old. We all regress when grumpy, but we have to fight it. We must constantly strive to view the world through a wider-angle lens.
Along with expanding your perception of life, emotional maturity involves focusing on others' needs, desires, and feelings. Fortunately, God created us in such a way that caring about another feels good.
At the same time, if we give just to feel good, we're missing the boat. Many years ago, inspired by what I thought was altruism, I called a local hospital and volunteered to provide musical entertainment in the children's ward.
"That's a very nice offer," the woman I spoke to told me, "but right now we're short-handed and need more basic help, like wheeling kids around, dressing and feeding them."
I was disappointed. "But I want to sing and play guitar for the children."
The woman gave it to me straight. "Are you looking to do what you want, or what our children need?"
Self-absorption is prevalent in our society, to the point where even giving can be tainted by self-interest. Self-centered giving is certainly better than no giving, but it should be a stepping stone to genuine concern for others. Emotional maturity in relationships means being other-oriented.
So take a good look at how you relate to friends, roommates, coworkers, siblings, and yes, even parents, and ask yourself more questions (or, again, pose them to people close to you):
13. Can I put another's needs and desires before, or at least on a par with, my own?
14. Can I share without "keeping score"?
15. Am I attentive and receptive to others?
16. Do I try to be aware of others' feelings?
17. Can I empathize and identify?
18. Can I nurture, comfort, and support?
19. Can I tolerate differences and appreciate individuality?
20. Can I validate perspectives I disagree with?
21. Can I respect others' boundaries and privacy?
22. Can I share positive feelings?
23. Can I communicate negative feelings withouj attacking?
24. Can I resolve conflicts through discussion anc negotiation?
25. Can I concede?
26. Can I connect to someone even when angry at him or her?
27. Can I emphasize goodness amid faults?
28. Am I willing to stick with a relationship through good times and bad?
As I said, all these traits entail focusing on others. Stop from time to time during your interactions and think, "How much am I thinking about her interests as opposed to mine?" "Can I step out of my shoes and put myself in his?" This simple but eye-opening exercise can propel you toward greater other-orientation.
If you answered most of the 28 questions with a fairly honest "yes," you're mature enough to launch a successful relationship. If your responses are less positive, you have some work to do first. Give yourself a huge pat on the back for looking at yourself honestly and wanting to grow. Then get started. Study what the Torah has to say about personal development. Attend classes, listen to tapes, and read books. Even better, spend time with people whose marriages you admire. Ideally, apprentice in some model couple's household. (Many families will welcome you, especially if you're the helpful sort. I don't know if my husband and I qualify as a model couple, but we can always use a hand.) Observe how the husband and wife treat their kids and each other. Etch their behaviors into your being. Most importantly, try out what you learn in your own relationships.
One of the best ways to grow is simply to help people. Marriage runs on chesed (acts of kindness), so start developing your "giving muscles." Volunteer regularly. Look to give in your daily life. To really stretch yourself, occasionally agree to do something you really dislike. (I've learned to say "yes" before I have time to think about it: "Sheila Green is sick and desperately needs several hours of sleep, but her toddler has diarrhea and is constantly kvetching. Do you think you could babysit?" "Yes.") And keep reminding yourself that a special person will love you for all your effort to become the best you possible.
As you can see, I'm talking about real work and it's natural to resist that, especially if you're tired of being single and chafing to "get on with life." A young woman who was far from ready for marriage asked me impatiently, "Plenty of immature people get married and grow up afterward why can't I?" You can. But do you really want to be an immature spouse to someone you love? Furthermore, you'll likely drawn to someone no more mature than yourself (and that maturity may be lower than you think). In other words, what you are is what you'll get. So ask yourself. Am I prepared to marry someone like me? And am I willing to suffer more marital struggles and possibly divorce rather than growing before marriage?
If you answered no to any of the above, overcome the urge to jump into marriage before you're ready. Picture the kind of person you want to marry, and try become the kind of person he or she will want. You needn't reach perfection (or even come close), or you'd have nothing to accomplish after marrying. But you want to be able to create a relationship in which you and your partner can continue growing together, with little pain and as much joy as possible.
The Foundation of Closeness
In addition to maturity, at least four qualities contribute to a successful marriage: autonomy, self-esteem, trust, and capacity for emotional intimacy. It's important to understand these attributes, their source, and why they're essential.
Autonomy means seeing yourself as a self-directed person of independent value. If you're autonomous, you know who you are, stand on your own two feet, and go where you want to go. Unfortunately, many people depend too much on others, even panicking at being alone. I had a high school friend whose parents separated. In despair, her mother committed suicide. That's an extreme lack of autonomy. Less extreme examples are far more widespread.
"But aren't you supposed to feel incomplete before you marry?" you may ask. Yes but feeling incomplete isn't being needy and insecure. Healthy dependency means recognizing your aloneness. Unhealthy dependency means fearing it. For an insecure person, aloneness means having no source of validation or, in more serious cases, identity. Such a person is desperate to be with someone anyone and I don't have to tell you how dangerous that is. Many times I've told a young person, "Before you can have a good relationship, you must learn how to live without one." An autonomous person deeply desires to share his or her life with another, but is solid as an individual.
One way to gauge your autonomy level is to observe your attitude to others. If you're overly dependent, you'll constantly worry, "What do they think of me?" If you're more autonomous, you'll ask, "What do I think of them?"
Self-esteem underlies many of the above-listed elements of emotional maturity and is the single most important ingredient in a successful relationship. Self-esteem is not a pop-psychology buzzword for "feeling good about yourself." It's built on being good, competent, and lovable, and recognizing it. Being a good person requires working on your character; being competent necessitates developing your abilities; and if you're a decent human being, you're already inherently lovable in God's eyes (the only One whose opinion really counts).
How lovable you feel, however, may depend your upbringing. I know a man named Daryl who was shown love only when "performing" academically or athletically, so he can't believe he's lovable unless he excels. Robert's parents, on the other accepted him unconditionally, so he nearly always feels good about himself. If you question your entitlement to love, your childhood may help you understand how your self-image developed and affected you, and how to paint a more reality-based, lovable "self-portrait."
Self-esteem must also combat advertisements, television, and movies, which substitute artificial value (such as looks, money, and glamour) for the corner stones of genuine self-worth. Men's and women| magazines are the worst. Their very purpose is make you feel inadequate (unless you buy their sponsors' products). For a healthy, deeply rooted sense self, ignore the media. And avoid comparisons, whether to magazine models or to your next-door neighbors unless they inspire personal growth. Self-esteem rest not on measuring up to others, but on looking at yourself and liking what you see.
You can probably guess why self-esteem is fundamental to a successful relationship. It lets you know the love you give is meaningful, and the love you receive is deserved. A newly married woman came to me with a classic self-esteem problem. "When my husband tells me he loves me, I can't completely accept it," she confessed. "Part of me thinks, 'Boy, I must have really fooled him about who I am.' I feel like an impostor." After acknowledging her overly critical upbringing, she was able to develop the self-worth to fully receive her husband's love.
Self-esteem also figures prominently in your unconscious choice of a marriage partner and in the success of your marital relationship. Like attracts like, so you'll most likely find yourself with someone whose self-image is as strong or weak (outwardly or inwardly) as yours. If your self-esteem is high, chances are your partner's will be as well, and you'll interact positively. For self-esteem eliminates competition, allowing you to nurture another. It brings down the walls of defensiveness, enabling you and your partner to achieve genuine understanding. It lets you accept criticism without being shattered, because you're open-minded and willing to change.
Someone I know once demonstrated this truth. One day, as I knocked on the Cohen's apartment door, another neighbor opened hers. "Are you looking for Mrs. Cohen?" she inquired.
"Yes," I replied.
Immediately detecting an issue concerning one of Mrs. Cohen's children, she shook her head knowingly. "If you have any trouble, tell me."
Knowing this woman believed in working on herself, I smiled my friendliest, least self-righteous, "we're all in this together" smile and asked, "Could that be lashon hara [derogatory speech]?"
Startled, she became a bit defensive. "I don't think so. I was just trying to be helpful."
"I'm sure you were," I said kindly, "and I appreciate it, but I don't know if that was necessary to say."
A bit flustered, she responded, "Well, I don't know if it was lashon hara," and retreated into her apartment.
Later, she called me. "I apologize," she said. ' were right. I'm really going to watch myself from now on."
I was impressed. When your ego is healthy, you always need to protect it.
Self-esteem attracts someone capable not on' healthy interactions, but of loving you for who are. If you're not sure of yourself inside, you'll look for validation outside, based on how you look, where you've been, or what you can do. And this weak will inevitably leave you, as an old song put it, "looking for love in all the wrong places."
A young woman told me unhappily that she kept on getting involved with the wrong guys. She didn't want to, but some inner void compelled her with each episode she felt emptier. Although I knew that she'd need counseling to work through this issue I decided to take a guess at what might be going on.
"Do you think you got enough love from your parents particularly your father?" I asked her point blank. "Could that be why you're so hungry for attention?"
Something dawned in her eyes. "It could be," she said slowly.
"Do your relationships give you the love you want?"
There was a long silence. "No but for a while, they make me feel good."
"About who you are on the outside, or on the inside?"
There was a very long, painful silence. "Not the inside."
"Well," I said gently, "probably the best way to get the love you're looking for is to learn to love yourself."
A strong self-image protects you from self-destructive entanglements. It gives you the confidence to choose whom to be with, to believe someone worthwhile will choose you, and to settle for no less. Healthy self-esteem is a prerequisite of a healthy relationship. (For more on self-definition and self-esteem, see my book Outside/Inside.)
If self-esteem means believing in yourself, trust means believing in others. Like self-esteem, your ability to trust stems largely from your childhood, as well as from later relationships, which we often interpret in light of our growing-up experiences. If your parents were consistently there for you, you'll find it easier to trust, whereas if they were physically and/or emotionally unavailable, you'll suspect everyone.
Aliza had been waiting 25 minutes when Jason, whom she'd been dating several weeks, finally came running up. "Where were you?" she demanded. "You're late!"
"I'm so sorry," he panted, "but I missed the bus, and the next one took a long time to come, and "
"That's no excuse!" she interrupted, her voice on the rise. "I've been waiting half an hour!"
Jason was upset. "Look, it's the first time this has happened, and I'll do my best not to let it happen again. I apologize."
On the verge of tears, Aliza barely registered his words. "I said I've been waiting half an hour\ How do you think it feels, wondering if you're even coming!"
This young woman's distrust, undoubtedly rooted in her upbringing, will inevitably plague her marriage. Trust can also be damaged by even one traumatic breakup, including your parents' divorce (or worse, your own). If your trust level isn't where it should be, start giving it your attention (perhaps with a counselor). While a committed, loving relationship can build trust, you must have enough of it to get into one in the first place.
Self-esteem and trust lay the foundation for emotional intimacy. Intimacy is often confused with the intensity of a relationship's initial "Velcro" stage. Yet intimacy is not the sudden, illusory closeness that comes from strong chemistry, physical involvement, or the sensation of the walls between you and another tumbling down. Walls can be rebuilt in seconds, physical involvement may be only physical, and chemistry can backfire (see Chapter 3), converting "closeness" into distance. Intimacy is the ability to expose your inner self, be vulnerable, and let your partner do the same.
After two dates with Shari, Oren was enraptured. Shari always focused intently on him, gazing warmly into his eyes and displaying great interest in everything he said. Her voice was soft and gentle, her smile understanding. "I already feel so close to her," he sighed to his friend. "It's as if she knows me." While Shari made Ron feel special, that's not intimacy. Besides trust in another and belief in yourself, intimacy requires really knowing each other and that takes time. There are no shortcuts to intimacy.
As with maturity and self-esteem, you will unconsciously be attracted to someone whose capacity for emotional intimacy matches your own.
Denise sought premarital counseling because she was frustrated that Ron seemed to blocked in developing greater closeness.
"When did you sense this about Ron?" the counselor asked.
"In the beginning of the relationship," she said sadly, "but I thought that with time he'd open up."
The counselor turned to Ron. "Let me ask you: How capable of genuine closeness do you feel Denise is?"
He hesitated. "Well, I've never told her this... but I think she's just as blocked as she says I am."
Denise was shocked. But she eventually realized that, as much as she craved intimacy, she also feared it, and that she'd unconsciously chosen Ron partly because he wouldn't push beyond her limits.
Even if your self-esteem and trust are solid, emotional intimacy may be difficult if your parents repressed their feelings, or if you "learned" not to express your own. While this problem may lack serious consequences until you're married, you may want to start looking at it now. Prying yourself open requires courage, but few kinds of growth are as rewarding, for emotional intimacy is not only the essence of marriage but one of life's most beautiful gifts. Unlocking your heart will feel like emerging from a dark closet into the sunshine, and it's easier to find your soulmate in the light.
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