Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Things I wish I knew before I started dating

Here are 3 rules of Shidduch Dating Survival that I wish I knew before I started dating. By “survival” I don’t mean that I’ve survived and I'm done dating, I mean that I feel like I'm surviving every day by still dating and haven’t given up hope and become completely depressed because of how difficult it can be at times. Perhaps the word "survive" is a bit extreme, but I couldn't think of a better one that meant exactly what I'm trying to convey, and that was as close as it gets.

Just to clarify, these are not three rules about HOW to date, but they are things that I use to deal with this difficult time without falling into sad/upset/frustrated moods all the time. Most people feel sad/upset/frustrated at some point while on their quest to find their life partner, but there are ways to limit that.

These rules are based on my experience and many of my friends’ experiences as well. These rules, at least the first one, apply to girls more than guys, I think, though I could be wrong and I’d be curious if there are guys out there who feel the first rule is helpful to them in any way. I'd also be curious to see a version of this that was applicable to guys, since guys and girls struggles with dating are somewhat different.

Here goes:

1. Rule #1 of Shidduch Dating Survival: Don’t get your hopes up. This may sound extremely pessimistic and depressing, but in fact it is quite practical, just let me explain. Girls (in general, of course there are tons of exceptions, some who I know personally) are often quick to get their hopes up and jump to “Maybe he’s my Bashert!” This can happen before we’ve even met the guy and have only heard about him, or even after a first phone conversation that went well. We are quick to find reasons why this guy is the one, for example, a cute story of how we met (or how we met the shadchan, who we would never have met except for…*insert long complicated hashgacha pratit story here*), or he likes some obscure thing that we like as well, such as a music group that few people have heard of, or a writer or artist.

An exaggerated version of this demonstrated on the YU boys will be Stern girls video (an absolutely hilarious video based on this original video) where one of the guys (based on the premise of the video, which is that the guys are behaving like girls) explains that he knows he found The One because he was at an event and he dropped something and the girl said “Thank you.” He gushes, “You know when someone says ‘thank you’ and you just know that they’re you’re bashert?” This is obviously exaggerated for humor purposes, and in my opinion is successful at that goal, but the point is well made. We often find ridiculous excuses to decide that someone is meant for us, when those things mean absolutely nothing.

Back to the rule, “Don’t get your hopes up,” the point is not that you should never get to a point where you are thinking “oh, maybe this is the one!” but that point where you allow yourself to think that thought should be after you get to know the person and not after one date (or before one date).

This rule is practical, not depressing, because if you don’t follow this rule, then you end up crushed. Every time you go on a date you hope it’s the one, and when it’s not, then it becomes very hard to deal with. Obviously if there is no chance that this person is right for you, then you should not be going on a date with them. But if the person is shayach at all, then you are bound to come away with some cute stories at some point, and while you might be thinking, “this would be a great story to tell if we got married!” the fact is that I’ve learned it can still be a cute stories, even if you don’t get married. We often get so caught up in focusing on the negative aspects of dating and we like to tell horror dating stories because everyone wants to hear those, like the ones people post on this site, but sometimes there are good stories and good moments and shared interests and that doesn’t mean you’re going to spend the rest of your life with that person.

So, don’t get your hopes up too soon, otherwise you will end up sad/upset/frustrated.

2. Don’t take rejection personally. This one is self explanatory. People are going to reject you, sometimes based on absolutely nothing, and sometimes you will have no idea why. Don’t start being hard on yourself and think that it’s because you are a bad person or undesirable. Remember that you’re awesome, because you are. If Hashem decided to create you, then He has a reason for that. Hashem doesn’t create people who don’t have the potential to be great and change the world. Don’t let rejection make you forget this and think that there is something wrong with you. We all need to work on ourselves and change, but unless you are evil and need to do teshuva, there is probably nothing major wrong with you, everyone experiences rejection.

3. Remember that Hashem is the one and only shadchan. This is a tough one and the one that I wish the most that I had known before I started dating. We tend to think that shidduchim come from shadchanim, people or even websites, and that if we were set up on a date it is because someone decided to set us up. “So-and-so set me up,” we claim. The truth is that shadchanim, family friends who set us up, etc. are only means that Hashem uses to set us up. Ultimately, Hashem is the one who decides who we will go out with and who we will not go out with, when the right time is for us to meet our bashert, and when it is not the right time. No one ever taught me this directly and said it straight out that way and emphasized it.

What are some practical applications? Let’s say someone suggests you go on a date with someone and you agree, but they decline. If you believe that the reason you did not go on a date with that person is that they said no, then you will focus on the reason they said no. You’ll try to change your profile/shidduch resume/ whatever form of information you give out. You’ll take new pictures determined that the picture you have isn’t flattering enough, and you’ll blame factors external to yourself as reasons why you’re not married yet. If only I had better yichus, if only I lost weight, if only my parents were different, if only I had gone to better schools, etc. That is completely the wrong reaction.

You will never know exactly why you’re not married yet, but you should always know that if you are not married and you want to be, then it is because Hashem decided it should be that way. Hashem wants us all to get married, of course, but for some reason, which you will probably never know, it is not the right time. I wish someone had told me that before I had started dating, so that I could have started earlier on reaching the level where I believe and trust an important idea: If Hashem doesn’t want you to be married right now, if Hashem has decided that now is not the time, or that you’re not ready, then there is nothing you can do, from an external standpoint, to change that (granted that you have put in enough effort).

The only thing you can do is daven, and change yourself, work on your middot. Going to more shadchanim will not help, talking to more people will not help, taking 100 pictures of yourself will not help.

Of course you have to put in hishtadlus. You can’t sit back and say “If it’s the right time for me to get married, then I will meet the person, so I don’t need to try or put in any effort.” If you expect your bashert to appear out of thin air, then that is not bitachon/emunah, that is foolishness. How much effort should you put in? I once learned that you need to put in enough so that when you find the right person you won’t consider it a miracle, because Hashem tries to hide in the world. I’m oversimplifying the shiur that I heard, but for example if you apply to 2 jobs and you get a job, you will be shocked. The number after that depends on you. If you think that applying to 10 jobs is reasonable amount to apply in order to get a job, then apply to 10, if you think 100 is normal, then apply to 100. But once you’ve reached that point of, “I have put in a decent amount of effort,” then you have to “let go and let G-d,” as they say.

So if you barely put in effort into finding your bashert, to the extent that if you *did* find your bashert you would think, “Wow, what a miracle from Hashem,” then you haven’t put in enough. But if you put in an amount of effort that is considered a normal amount, then you should focus on davening to Hashem and having Bitachon in Him. Otherwise dating is upsetting and frustrating. Until you know that Hashem has it all planned out, you’ll worry and look to the wrong places to find reasons you’re not married. I wish I was on that level that I fully internalized this message. Although I believe it’s true, it’s often difficult for me to focus on it.


  1. I think #1 is applicable for guys too, we might not get as into the cute little stories and I think it's harder for us to get to think something is meant to be, but if we're agreeing to go out with someone, chances are that we think there's a possibility of things working out and we will be at least a little disappointed if it doesn't. I have seen a few times where guys get their hopes up about a particular girl, usually when they know her a little bit and then they get hurt when they get rejected. Once the guy and girl actually start dating, I would say this advice is just as applicable to guys as it is to girls, b/c I think guys get rejected more. I'm sure a lot of girls will disagree with that, but most guys I know have been dumped more times than they dumped. Even if only b/c guys are careful not to hurt the girls feelings, whereas the girls are cruel. That may be a little cynical, but based on my extensive research, it's a fact :)

  2. Sterngrad, you put it very well. I've learned since elementary school to keep my expectations low, because they can only go up. I'm not a pessimist, just I can't stand the feeling of crushed hopes.

    You pretty much say exactly what I believe in. I don't bother to call so-called shadchanim - what for? I dress accordingly when I go out, smile cheerfully if I happen to meet up with some new people, and recently I finally succumbed and started putting on mascara in the weekday.

    In the end, the Eibishter is the shadchan I hope to be working with.

  3. BJG- I agree with you. In my experience also it is usually the girl who is doing the dumping and not being dumped. Not all guys are careful not to hurt the girls feelings and not all girls are cruel, but unfortunately some people do fall into those categories. Thanks for letting me know this applies to guys too!

    Bookworm- since it's all from Hashem, why does it matter if you are set up by a shadchan or if you meet the guy yourself or if you are set up by a family friend? If a shadchan is a means to help you find the right person, why not? It's not any less from Hashem than meeting on your own is.

  4. What I mean is when people call up so-called shadchanim, beg for a moment of their time, step on their own dignity as they plead for a date. It has never worked for me. So I stick to what usually happens in my family - someone we know calls up and says they think they found someone for me.

    I don't have anything against shadchanim; just many say it is hishtadlus to call them, when I don't think so.

  5. Sterngrad: I know, I was just writing from my point of view, which unfortunately a lot of guys I know agree with. I don't even think that the girls are really cruel, just that they think the guys don't have feelings and they'll just move on to the next girl on their list.

  6. I agree with all three points, too. I adressed #1 a bit in this post:
    I also have to confess that I was very into "signs" etc when I first started dating, but now I instead collect all these little occurences to add to my repertoir of funny/interesting date stories. When the time comes to properly talk about the amazing coincidences that led to meeting your spouse, don't worry, the stories will be there to tell.

    and #2 (at the end, but a bit throughout) in this post:

    Everyone needs a healthy dose of self confidence. No one is inherently bad or worthless - and if dates are saying that to you a) break up with him/her, no one needs that kind of negativity in a marriage b) they're lying through their teeth because they have their own problems. It's not arrogant to think you have self worth and are fitting to marry a good person.

    #3 is definitely true as well. I think my friend best summed in up in a mashul she heard from a rebbe once (and she told this to me in the midst of trying to set up a shidduch I was very interested in, but ended up not working out).

    Basically, dating and getting married is like getting into a taxi cab. There are two ways to go about getting to your destination. 1) Be a backseat driver, and try to tell the cabbie what to do every step of the trip - exactly where to turn, when to stop, etc. You will probably get to where you're going, but it will be a very frustrating experience. 2) You can tell the driver your end destination, and let him pick the route - in short, you trust his expertise to get you where you're going. In the end, you'll make it, and with far less stress on your nerves than trying to constantly direct him.

    So too it is with shidduchim. You can try to arrange every situation to your advantage, getting the "right" shadchan, pursuing the one "right" suggestion ad nauseum, getting the "right" look, etc. Or you can be who you truly are, do you what you need to do, but don't commandeer the situation at every opportunity. In the end, G-d, the ultimate "taxi driver" gets you where you need to go, and who you need to be with.

    I had been meaning to post that for a while now... maybe I'll add it in a day or two.

  7. Shades of Grey- I like the taxi mashal!

  8. I logically agree with all 3 of these points. Except, I don't wish someone would've told me this before dating because then I wouldn't want to believe them! Kind of like the person who bursts your bubble by telling you the toothfairy doesn't exist.
    The problem is, something can make so much logical sense. Like, hey, I shouldn't be getting offended. But your heart tells you otherwise. As cheesy as that sounds.
    For example, I can KNOW that it's not the right time for me yet, but it can still hurt. And still feel like it should be the right now.
    Maybe it's just because I'm an emotional person(and therefore by definition- an irrational person).
    Do you find it easy to deal with rejection and not get your hopes up before a date, even if you 100% know that it's all l'tova and from experience that there's nothing you can do about it?

  9. Sefardi Gal- I know exactly what you mean. Trying to limit the disconnect between my brain and heart, between things I *know* and things I *feel* is something I constantly work on, since I am also a very emotional person.

    I *wish* I could follow these rules, and I have definitely gotten better at them. But I would be lying if I said I never got my hopes up or never felt hurt. I try to tell myself "this might not go anywhere, don't get your hopes up" but sometimes I just can't help it. And I *know* that by getting my hopes up even just a teensy tiny bit that it will lead to the road of being crushed again, but that doesn't stop me.

  10. SternGrad - oish. Yeah I think that guys have to deal with this problem a lot less often than us gals do. :(

  11. Stern Grad & Sefardi Gal,

    I too have those thoughts and feelings as well (perhaps I'm just emotional too :P). I do believe it is in part from religious, social and cultural expectations I was given growing up (Disney, anyone?). Crazy anecdotal shidduch stories really don't help on that front.

    Often I can't help but think, imagine, wonder... and it's easy to let my mind get carried away.

    Two things I focus on to remedy that pattern are (a) reality check -I know it's sometimes really difficult to do, but I like to "check in" with my emotions by putting the situation in context. How long have I known about her? What do I know about her? How well does my (likely minimal) information about her actually fit my predetermined criteria? And (b) I work on accepting whatever may come. Being disappointed is okay, and inevitable (even in marriage), one of the challenges in life is learning how to deal with disappointment.

    Generally, I don't think any emotions should be avoided for the sake of avoiding them; to me honesty and straightforwardness are more important (with tact, though -there's no good reason to trample someone's emotions or self-esteem in the dating world).

  12. Ish Yehudi- Good to know its not just girls! Doing a reality check is a very good thing- I also find that helpful. I definitely agree with your approach to emotions- they should not be avoided, it usually comes back to bite you.

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