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  Head to Heart

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE DATING AND MARRIAGE

GILA MANOLSON

 

TARGUM/FELDHEIM

 

This book is one of a special

collection of books dedicated

to the memory of

MR. & MRS. LOUIS A. SIEGEL

Two people, whose quiet but firm

lifelong sacrifice to the ideals of

Yiddishkeit, live on through the

thoughts, words and deeds of their

children and grandchildren. May it be

the will of  Hashem that this book help to

transmit these Torah-true ideals to the

reader, and in so doing be an everlasting zchus for their neshomos.

 

ISBN: 1-56871-997-3
Copyright 2002 by Gila Manolson
174 pages

TARGUM PRESS, INC.
Email: targum@netvision.net.il
www.targum.com

distributed by:
FELDHEIM PUBLISHERS
www.feldheim.com

 

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.

Sincerely,

Tziporah Heller

 

About the Author

Gila Manolson (nee Marilyn Fisch) grew up in the northeastern United States and graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a degree in music. She later studied at Neve Yerushalayim College for Women. For five years, she was resident supervisor of the women's branch of Heritage House, a Jewish youth hostel in Jerusalem's Old City. She has taught in numerous programs and is a popular lecturer in Israel and abroad. She is also the author of The Magic Touch: A Jewish Approach to Relationships and Outside/Inside: A Fresh Look at Tzniut. She and her husband live in Jerusalem with their seven children.

CONTENTS

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part I: Setting the Stage               

1. RE-APPROACHING DATING                               

Challenging the Experience Principle       

Staying Intact                                     

Dating for Real                                     

Part II: Being Ready                   

Growing Yourself

Working on the Inside

The Foundation of Closeness

Know Yourself

3. Behind the "Click"

Being Human

The Unconscious Connection

Wake-Up

Time

Becoming Aware

Part III: Being Wise

4. Love and marriage

The Gift of Love

The Road to Oneness

5. Affirming Womanhood

Tradition

Change

Bringing It Home

Part IV: Being Practical

6. Leading with Your Head

"We Can Work It Out"?

Intelligent Dating

Doing It Right

A Match Made in Heaven

7. Steering Clear of Abuse

Red Lights Checking Yourself

Part V: Being Informed

8. Dollars and Sense

Making "50-50" a Reality

From Parent to Child

9. An Ounce of Prevention

Ideal and Reality

Restoring Protection

A Final Word

Preface

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

Acknowledgments

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, shlita, 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 soulmate, for everything.

 

Introduction

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.

Part 1

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.

Chapter One

Reapproaching 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:

"Fun."

"Attraction."

"Hormones."

"Everyone's doing it."

"So you don't have to be alone."

When I ask them why they think others date, they suggest:

"Social status."

"Security."

"Ego."

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?

Challenging the Experience Principle

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,*(""Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, 1995," available from the Institute for American Values, 1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York, NY 10023.) 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 redefined masculinity, femininity, and relationships, put marriage on hold, and celebrated their new sexual freedom. In ten short years, the status quo was blown apart. When my friends and I came of age, society was still shaking from the aftershocks and people felt that everything about men and women had changed, including love. Our parents had plenty of advice about colleges and careers, but not about relationships. The message many of us got was: "Look, we know what makes our marriage work. But the world's a different place now. So go get experience. Figure things out. And good luck to you."

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 fiance 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 self-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."

Staying Intact

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 naivete, 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 1 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.

 

 

 

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