Tu B’Av: Marry With Your Eyes Wide Open

“Love is blind,” goes the idiom coined by Shakespeare, and we human beings do seem to be wired that way. One study done by University College London researchers in 2004 suggests that feelings of both romantic love and maternal love hamper critical thinking in the brain.

It would seem, however, that G-d wired human beings that way to give us an advantage AFTER we’ve committed to a relationship. After we have thought about what we’re getting into, after we have used our G-d-given critical thinking processes to decide whether the person in question is the right spouse for us – that’s when the feelings of love are supposed to help us gloss over the imperfections in our spouse.

But during the decision process, Tu B’Av tells us, have your eyes open and critical thinking on, for two reasons:

1) So you don’t make a mistake in who you pick

2) So you don’t have a claim that you made a mistake in who you picked

Huh? Where does Tu B’Av tell us that? Isn’t it all about the maidens of Jerusalem going and dancing in the vineyards in borrowed white dresses[1]?

Well, yes. But let’s listen to what those maidens are singing as they dance…

“Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you are choosing for yourself!

“Don’t look at beauty; look at family! For it says, ‘Grace is falsehood and beauty is vanity; a woman who fears Hashem – she shall be praised.’”[2]

The Gemara tells us that this statement of the Mishnah is the refrain that was sung by only some of the maidens who were dancing. But there were others, depending on who the woman was and what her virtues were:

“The beautiful ones would say, ‘Look at beauty, for a wife is for beauty!’

The pedigreed ones would say, ‘Look at family, for a wife is for children!’

The ugly ones would say, ‘Take your taking for the sake of Heaven, as long as you crown us with gold.’”[3]

To go into detail about each category and the message behind what they were saying is beyond the scope of this post. But within the context of our discussion: the maidens were telling the young men (whether they were actually singing in front of them, or whether their songs were addressing an anonymous male archetype[4]):

“Lift up your eyes!” Don’t go through this process with your eyes closed. Don’t let love – or laziness, or anything else – blind you.

“See what you are choosing for yourself!” You’re making a choice. Some of us have the virtue of beauty. Some of us have the virtue of a family of high social stature. Some of us have traits that will bring you spiritual gain. They’re all virtues. They all have value. But you’re not going to find someone with all of them.

Realize that, young man. Realize that your wife will have virtues – and that there will be virtues out there that she is lacking. Make a critical thinking decision now about what is really important to YOU. Realize that you are making a choice.

That way, when a few weeks, or months, or years into marriage, you are reminded about a virtue that your wife doesn’t have… you can remind yourself that you made a choice. That you lifted up your eyes, you knew you couldn’t have everything, and you chose for yourself.

And THEN you can work on letting love blind you.

 

 

Note: this is as applicable to females as it is to males.


[1] Taanis 4:7

[2] Ibid.

[3] Taanis 31a

[4] Etz Yosef on Taanis 26b

Adjectives to NEVER Use With a Shadchan

Are you spiritual? Are you open-minded? Are you deep?

If you think you are, whatever you do, don’t tell the shadchan that!

Why? What’s the problem? What’s wrong with being spiritual?

Well, nothing. And there’s nothing wrong with saying it either. If the shadchan is a qualified telepath.

The issue is that with the above terms (and if you think of others, please do share them with us in the comments below), there are too many different ways of defining them. When you say, “I’m looking for someone deep,” your shadchan (or acquaintance, or friend’s mother) will have her own picture of what “deep” means, which may or may not match yours.

For example, for you “deep” means someone who you can share your emotions with, and they will understand you and share themselves as well. Your shadchan, however, thinks that “deep” means “philosophical,” and you can’t understand why she keeps setting you up with boys who are very brainy but have no emotional awareness.

“Spiritual” can mean everything from “takes her davening seriously” to “spends every Thursday evening from 9PM to 1AM playing drums and chanting words of Tehillim with a group of friends.”

“Open-minded” is one of the worst. I stopped using the term with shadchanim a year or two into my own dating process when I realized how misunderstood it could be. “Open-minded” can mean anything from “actually thinks about why they do what they do” to “doesn’t bash people from other sectors of Judaism” to “likes learning about the world” to “watches movies.”

So what do you do if openmindedness – YOUR version of openmindedness – is critical to you?

Spell it out.

For any adjective that you use to describe yourself or the person you’re looking for, write out in a sentence what that means to you. Use the above examples as a jumping-off point.

Bonus points if you write out why that trait is important to you in a spouse. How do you see it impacting your future relationship and family? (Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on that subject.)

When you speak to a potential shadchan, don’t use the one-word adjective. Use the phrase or the full sentence. You may think it sounds wordy, but the extra three minutes you’ll need to describe what you’re looking for is well worth the hours of wasted dates.

Have your own “trait that can be totally misunderstood”? Share it with us in the comments below – and give us all the possible meanings! You’ll be helping people realize where they could be giving the wrong impression.

When “Not Being Picky” Can Prevent You From Getting Dates

I spoke to two young men recently and asked them to describe what they were looking for in a wife. Actually, in one case I spoke to the young man himself; in the other case I spoke to his parents. (And no, I’m not a professional shadchan, but if I can keep people in mind, I’m happy to.)

In both cases, the answer was something like, “Reasonably attractive girl with good middos.”

“What type of middos are particularly important to you/him?” I asked.

Silence. “Just… good middos.”

“Well, yes, all-around good middos are important, but everyone is a little different in their focus. Is chesed particularly important to you to see – or honesty, say?”

“We don’t want to be picky. As long as she’s a good girl.”

“You know, it’s sometimes easier for shadchanim to set people up when they have a clearer picture of who you/your son is and what he’s looking for. When it’s very vague, it’s harder to see a match.”

I wasn’t getting through.

 

While I would love to think of a match for these two young men, it’s unlikely I ever will. I know how much I hated getting irrelevant suggestions or dates when I was dating – suggestions that were basically the equivalent of “he’s a nice boy and you’re a nice girl and you seem to be in the same hashkafic range.”

Going out on a date is a time investment and an emotional investment. Why would I put someone through that if I don’t have a really strong feeling that they would go well together?

So I appreciate that you’re trying “not to be picky,” but you’re making it more difficult for most shadchanim (professional or not) who care about making relevant matches to set you up.

 

Picture this conversation: you go and tell a real estate agent, “I want a house.”

“What are you looking for?”

“You know, a basically functional house. Roof shouldn’t leak, plumbing should work – just a nice house.”

“What area? How many bedrooms? What price range? Any other features that are important to you?”

“No… I don’t want to be picky. Just a nice house.”

The real estate agent is either going to give up, because the likelihood of him rationally finding something which you will be satisfied with (despite your lack of “pickiness”) at any point in the near future is small – or he’ll take the chance and suggest you house after house after house, most of which you’ll end up turning down because they won’t fit your unstated but real needs.

I’m not talking about a grocery list of needs and wants and fantasies all jumbled together.  I’m talking about knowing that if you have 10 children, a two-bedroom house just isn’t going to cut it.  And if you need to commute to work and don’t have a car, the house needs to be reasonably close to the right public transportation system.  And if lack of sunlight seriously affects your mood, you need to let the real estate agent know to avoid showing you any houses where you’ll need to turn on artificial lighting even when it’s a bright, sunny day outside.

Don’t be picky – but do be specific. It will likely get you closer to the date who really is the right one for you.

I’m sure with a little bit of thought you can do this on your own, but one book I found useful in outlining a process by which you can come to the details which are specific and relevant is Dating Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Spouse, by Shaindy Marks and Leah Jacobs.

You’re an individual.  Your needs are individual.  Figure out what you really need – and let those who are trying to help you know.

Of Shidduch Reference Calls and Baking Soda Volcanoes

What on earth do they have to do with each other?! you might ask.

To answer that, we’re going to need a little visualization.

In the last post, we mentioned how actually finding out what your date’s potential issues are before you go out (and at least before you get engaged) can give a more informed, smoother entry into marriage. How do you identify those issues?

The first thing it’s important to be aware of is that – by and large – individuals don’t have issues. Relationships do.

Of course, the relationship issues happen because of the individuals involved, but usually it’s due to the combination of how individual A’s personality and individual B’s personality “set each other off”. In one relationship, an aspect of A’s personality might cause tsunami-style waves, and in another, that same aspect would cause barely a ripple.

Let’s get visual!

Check out the following. We’re going to combine baking soda and water.

Imagine that baking soda is our heroine Shira, who is an extremely orderly and organized individual. When she was in seminary, the way cleaning duty worked in her apartment was that Shira cleaned and everyone else said thank you. Water is our hero Daniel, who is also in competition for the “Cleaner of the Year Award” (when he was in yeshiva, no one believed that his apartment was actually inhabited by yeshiva bachurim).

What happens when we combine them?

Nothing. That’s right – in this respect, Shira and Daniel are a great pair. They both love having their home spick-and-span, and nothing is ever out of place – to their great satisfaction.

Now let’s check out what happens if we put Shira together with Eliezer, who ideally would like things to be neat, but is busy and a little absent-minded, and will not infrequently leave his books on the table, or drop his cereal bowl and spoon into the sink and rush out because he has to catch the bus.

Baking soda and hot water isn’t quite as smooth as Shira and Daniel. Shira is sometimes annoyed by the fact that Eliezer leaves things around, but whenever she mentions it, Eliezer apologizes and thanks her for doing so much to keep the house neat – as he really does appreciate it. The appreciation is important to Shira, and so she takes most of the responsibility for the home organization – kind of like in seminary. Usually this doesn’t turn into a major issue – unless Shira is after birth, or sick, or in a situation where she can’t take care of the house, and the little things that are out of place start driving her up the wall.

Final match – Shira is now paired with Yonatan, whose bachelor apartment looked… indescribable. It’s a good thing Shira never walked in there, because she would have needed a radiation suit. But Yonatan was quite happy. With the precision of a Geiger counter, he can always locate his things, no matter how deep they are buried, and he feels that when a home is too orderly, it feels like a museum and the family members can’t relax.

Yep – explosion. When you combine baking soda and vinegar, this issue is going to come up again, and again, and again – in a big way. Yonatan will feel stifled and put-upon by Shira’s constant cleaning (and what will turn into nagging about him not dropping things everywhere) and Shira will feel overwhelmed and attacked by Yonatan’s constant messes and what she feels is inconsideration of her needs.

Does that mean Shira shouldn’t marry Yonatan? Not necessarily. It does mean that if she marries him without being aware that this WILL BE an issue, they are going to have a rocky time of it. The more fully conscious they are that the organization of the home (or lack thereof) will be a sore point, the better they will be able to deal with it when it arises. And if Shira knows that she absolutely cannot stand being married to someone who leaves messes all over and it will cause their relationship to suffer immeasurably, then perhaps the best thing is to say no – before she even goes out with him.

How does this relate to reference calls? When you’re checking out a potential shidduch for yourself or someone else, try to get a general picture of all the person’s outstanding characteristics. Ask for examples – stories where they demonstrated those middot.

Then think about how those characteristics will interact with yours. If she is an outgoing community activist – that might work well if you dream of having a home that serves the Jewish people. If you dream of a lot of quality time building your personal relationship, and your vision of a Shabbos table is very family-focused, realize that this may be an issue in your relationship that the two of you will have to deal with.

If he is a wonderful listener and very respectful of others’ opinions – that might work well if you’re an independent thinker who appreciates an audience and support for your ideas. If you were looking for a husband who will share his ideas and opinions with you, and/or whom you could look to for guidance, realize that you may be frustrated when he doesn’t do that.

And again, just because you foresee a potential issue, that’s not a reason to say no. Because in any relationship, no matter how wonderful, there are issues. Figuring out what they are likely to be before marriage (not only through the reference calls; that’s a first step, but often you may need to discuss them directly with your shidduch during the dating process) enables you to choose wisely. Which issues will you be able to deal with, and which will be unmanageable for you at this point in time?

Don’t Run From Your Potential Date’s Issues – Meet Them Head On

If you’ve been in shidduchim for any period of time, you or your parents have experience making reference calls. What most people try to get out of reference calls is the potential date’s positive qualities.

That may be missing the point.

And no, the point is not to dig up the dirt on the negative issues so you can say no. It’s to dig up the dirt so that you can say yes – and mean it.

Let’s be honest. Your spouse is not going to be perfect. I am not perfect; you are not perfect. There were only four people in the history of the world who were perfect[1] – and we don’t talk about them too much, because we don’t see them as role models for humanity. It stands to reason, then, that your spouse will not be the fifth perfect person in the history of the world – and will therefore have issues.

Issues that will annoy you. Issues that will sometimes drive you up the wall.

This will happen even if simultaneously you know deep down that he is the perfect spouse for you.

If you don’t realize what your date’s issues are until you get married, you’re in for a very unpleasant shock. On unfortunate occasion, it can be so unpleasant that remaining married is impossible.

Using the reference calls and dating process as a way to figure out what issues are likely to arise in your potential marriage is a way to make wise decisions and cushion the inevitable blow (because it’s still going to be hard when your spouse exhibits those negative traits, even if you thought you were 100% prepared to deal with it).

Critical point: the purpose of finding out negative information is not to say “no.” It’s to ask, “Can I deal with this issue?” If you can deal with it – you’re going forward with your eyes open, and increasing your chances of an easier entry into marriage. If you absolutely cannot – that’s the time to say no. But make sure you’re saying no realizing that you’re agreeing to get a different type of imperfect relationship, not that saying no is going to bring you perfection.

So how do you figure out on a reference call what issues your relationship with this shidduch is likely to have?

Next post I’ll continue with some practical tips. (The next post has since been written; you can check it out here.) In the meantime, we’d all gain from hearing your ideas as well. So if you have any ideas on how to spot and evaluate issues even before you start dating, please share with us in the comments below!


[1] Gemara Shabbos 55b

Undue Parental Pressure – A Shidduch Problem, or Beyond That?

How much of your dating life is shaped by your parents? How much of your life is shaped by your parents?

I recently read an interview with author Yael Levy, focusing on her new book Brooklyn Love. While my perspective is limited by the fact that I haven’t yet read the book, the article (and especially the title of the article) give over the impression that one of the key bumps in the road of the dating process is the pressure of young women’s mothers.

“Levy’s debut novel spins the story of three young women on their journey toward the chuppah: Rachel, an artist who falls in love with an aspiring rabbi despite her mother’s entreaties to marry a wealthy man; Hindy, who says she wants to marry a Torah scholar but falls for her accountant boss; and Leah, who dreams of becoming a doctor but must balance her studies with intense pressure from her mother, an immigrant who sees marriage as her path to a better life. [bolding added]”

“Levy recently spoke by phone with The Times of Israel, explaining why even well-intentioned mothers often cause anxiety for single women…

Is this issue only limited to shidduchim – and once the woman gets married, it will be solved?

Unlikely.

Issues that surface during the dating process, whether between the dater and his/her shidduch, the dater and his/her parents or the dater and his/her self – are meant to be taken as a hint to issues that need to be dealt with, or they’ll rear their ugly head and cause issues later on, when the stakes are higher.

If a woman feels stress and anxiety due to parental pressure as regards her dating life, is that going to disappear once she gets married? Or is it more likely that stress caused by parental pressure will continue to be an issue as regards:

  1. Where the couple lives?
  2. The couple’s financial decisions?
  3. The couple’s child-rearing decisions?
  4. The couple’s personal relationship?

Does this sound like a recipe for a calm and happy marriage?

Don’t think I’m putting the responsibility for this issue solely on the parents. While it might be the parents who are overly involved and invested in their child’s life to the point of pressure, one can have parents who try to be involved in a healthy way – but the child herself is underconfident and dependent on outside opinion, and so she takes any indication of her parents’ opinion to an unhealthy extreme. Different percentages of parent-over-involvement and child-over-dependence can create a recipe that’s unhealthy during the dating process… and even more so down the line.

If parental pressure causing stress is an issue during the dating process, the time to deal with it is NOW… so that you’ll increase your chances for a less stressful marriage.

It’s not a simple thing to deal with (hard issues are rarely simple), but if you’re fortunate enough to see it and deal with it now, it’s worth thinking about the following questions:

1) How much influence do my parents have on my decisions?

2) How much influence do my parents have on my emotional state when I’m making decisions?

3) How much responsibility do I feel for the emotional state of my parents?

You may or may not be able to change your parents’ responses, but you certainly do have the ability to change the internal dynamic and effect it has on your life: both your life now, and the family life you will eventually build.

If you’ve experienced working through the effect negative parental pressure had on your life, and you can share constructive tips and ideas – please do so with all of us in the comments below!

Leah Imeinu’s Shidduch Wasn’t That Easy

Difficulties in shidduchim didn’t start fifteen years ago.

Some of the more famous women in Jewish history – so famous they get the term “our Matriarch” appended to their names – had some serious trials and tribulations on the road to marriage.

Just to take one example (maybe we’ll deal with others in a future post) – when Yaakov comes to Charan to find a wife, the Torah describes the shidduch prospects. “And Lavan had two daughters: the name of the older was Leah and the name of the younger was Rachel. And the eyes of Leah were weak and Rachel was beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance.” (Bereishit 29:16-17)

What’s the source of the weak eyes? Not a genetic predisposition toward nearsightedness, but crying over her shidduch prospects. (Bava Batra 123a, Bereishit Rabbah 70:15)

The talk around town (apparently shidduchim was big talk even then) was that the descendants of Avraham were very into marrying within the family. Lavan had two girls, and his sister Rivkah who had left town when she married years ago had two boys. Perfect shidduch! Leah would of course marry Eisav, as they were the older of the pairs, and Rachel would marry Yaakov. Perfect!

Well, not so perfect for Leah. Upon doing some informal reference checks and hearing how Eisav spent his days, Leah was devastated. THAT was who she was destined to marry? She couldn’t come to terms with that. So for years, Leah cried and prayed that she should not have to marry such a spiritually repulsive individual.

The result? Not only did Leah get to marry Yaakov – she married him first. Not only did she marry him first – she got to have the firstborn son of Yaakov. Why? “That’s the power of prayer,” the Sages note in one source. “Because G-d saw that the actions of Eisav were hateful in her eyes,” they comment in another.

What exactly is the “power of prayer”? A mystical chant that will enable you to get your wish if you repeat it often and with enough concentration?

Not quite. Maybe there are aspects of prayer which operate beyond our understanding, but much of the effect of prayer is quite simple to understand – albeit difficult to achieve.

Prayer is a process of reflection and integration. Leah was destined to marry Eisav, but by her prayer she changed herself, and thereby her destiny. Leah became a person who valued spirituality above all else, who placed spiritual reality at the forefront of her priorities in marriage and in life. When she integrated that so profoundly into her life, she was ready to become the primary wife of Yaakov. She was ready to become the bearer of the first of the twelve tribes, not to mention the tribes who would be the ancestors of the priests and kings of the Jewish nation. All from Leah. All from the effort she put in to refine and develop herself before marriage.

The years Leah spent before she got married must have been years of trial and anguish. Her eyes, weak and lacking a significant portion of their lashes, bore testimony to that. But Leah utilized those years effectively. She integrated the values she would need to become a mother of the Jewish people – and that is what she became.

The Bee and the Window – A Shidduch Mashal

The following is based on a true story. The name of the bee has been concealed so as to protect innocent wildlife.

Once there was a bee who flew into a house through an open window. He buzzed around a bit and then decided he preferred the great outdoors. He turned around, spied the great outdoors and zoomed right toward it. Bzzzz… BUMP! The bee crashed into the other side of the sliding glass window – the closed side. That’s funny, he said to himself. I can see the sky and the trees out there. Let’s try again. Bzzz… BUMP! Can’t be!

Buzzes and bumps alternated as the bee tried and tried again to push himself through the glass. He tried a little higher; he tried a little lower. Eventually he collapsed, panting, on the window ledge from exhaustion. When he had recovered, he tried again. BUMP! It…has…to…be…BUMP!

Unbeknownst to him – about two feet to his right was the open part of the window.

(This mashal first appeared in a blog post I wrote for my blog on marketing.)

Moral of the story: even if it looks like the way is clear, if you keep hitting a closed window – back up and try a different way!

Do you feel like you’re banging against a closed window when it comes to shidduchim? The way looks like it should be clear – you seem to have a good chance at shidduch prospects, and relevant ideas keep being suggested, and there seems to be potential on the dates… but it never works out. Time and time again.

Or maybe it’s more like a brick wall, where there doesn’t even seem to be clear potential. You’re not getting suggestions, or the suggestions never sound relevant, and when you go out on dates it’s clear why they’re not relevant…

BUMP! OUCH!

It hurts to keep bumping up against walls. It hurts a lot.

So what do we do? Oftentimes our reaction is, “Just haven’t met the right one yet – let’s try again.” And then the result of the next, similar try is a painful BUMP.

While it could be true that it’s just a matter of tries, it’s often more effective – and less painful – to back up and try a different way. Keep dating, of course, but change something about the path:

  • re-evaluate who you’re looking for
  • re-evaluate how you express what you’re looking for
  • develop a trait that will help you be more ready for a successful marriage
  • tweak the way you interact with my date on the dates, if you always stick to the same pattern
  • go to different sources to find potential shidduchim

Anything but go back to the same shadchanim or the same circle of friends and hope to get set up with yet another person while you stay the same.

A different path might be the trick to getting out of the box – and at the very least, it will bring a refreshing change to your life.

Wishing you a smooth flight out an open window!