Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Looking Over Your Shoulder

In every group of friends there is the person who is the listener. That person is me. Perhaps because I enjoy listening, and perhaps because I like helping people think things through, I often find myself on the listening end of dating quandaries. It’s not that I’m an expert at giving advice, I’m definitely not, but apparently I’m a good bouncing board for ideas. Right now I’d like to talk about one problem in particular that seems to come up with a bunch of my friends, with slightly different manifestations depending on the situation. Let me paint one sample scenario.

A girl is dating this guy. (Great beginning, I know.) At some point in the relationship the girl is unsure how she feels about this guy. She kinda likes him, but she kinda doesn’t. She notices that she find other guys attractive. At which point she’ll say something to me like, “Isn’t it a problem that I find other guys attractive? If I’m spending my whole date looking at the guy on the date next to me, doesn’t that mean I’m not so into my guy? Isn’t that a sign that this isn’t the right person for me?”

It isn’t always about attraction and looks. Sometimes it’s emotional instead of physical. If the girl is close friends with another guy (part of the reason that on principle I don’t have guy friends) she might ask, “Why is it that I really enjoy spending time with this guy friend and why do I have no problem making conversation with him, while things aren’t as great with the guy that I’m dating?” Or sometimes this question takes the form of, “While I was on my date, I kept thinking of other friends of mine who would get along with this guy who I’d like to set him up with. If I’m thinking about setting him up with someone else, doesn’t that mean that I don’t like him enough? If I really liked him, wouldn’t I not want to set him up with my friends?!”

Now that I’m thinking about it, this kind of situation actually happened to me once. I was on a date with this guy in a restaurant and seated right next to us was another shidduch date. They were situated so that the girl was next to me and the guy was across from her, so it was easy for me to just look over and glance at that other guy, who happened to be much better looking than my date, in my opinion. So I understand where people are coming from. And that is the point when the thought enters, “Why am I more interested in someone else’s date? This is a bad sign! It must mean I don’t really like my date, despite the fact then when it’s just us everything is great!”

I’m not a dating expert, and I definitely don’t claim to be. Usually my friends just come to me to vent, and I don’t give advice. I don’t tell people what to do for many reasons, firstly because it is their life and their decision, secondly, because I might not know enough to be able to give the best advice, and thirdly because if I tell them to dump a guy and they end up marrying him, they’ll always remember that I didn’t think it was a good idea, and who wants to have that hanging over them?

So when it comes to this topic I look at couples who have been happily married for many years. I remember when I was a kid, I heard this woman tell her husband that she thought a particular actor was “such a hunk.” At the time, I was horrified. Even though the husband didn’t mind and the woman could list all the actresses her husband thought were beautiful. I was still horrified. It’s one thing if she wants to think in her head such a thing, but to voice it to her husband? Isn’t she supposed to tell her husband that he is the best looking man in the world to her? This is an extreme example, and we can debate whether what she said was right or wrong a different time, but the point is, we’re all human. We’re all going to find other people in the world attractive other than our spouse. If you think you get married and then suddenly every member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse is suddenly completely unappealing to you, then you have seriously underestimated the Yetzer Harah.

The husband and wife in my story each knew that the other one would naturally find other people in the world attractive (especially actors/actresses/models!) and instead of pretending that they didn’t feel that way they chose to share it with each other. For them it was completely healthy. Many girls would be extremely offended if their husbands told them that another woman is beautiful (unless their husband is closely related to that person, i.e. sister, mother etc.), but this couple is so comfortable with their relationship, they are so open with each other, and they are so committed to each other, that by each of them sharing their personal preference in looks in other people, the other person did not feel threatened. They each had the attitude: Yes, I’m attracted to other people, and you should know that, but you are my spouse, and you are #1 in my life, so that thought of “that person is cute” means absolutely nothing to me. In case you couldn’t tell, after I got over being horrified, I realized it was only their deep love for each other that allowed them to share these thoughts, and I thought it was refreshingly honest and down-to-earth.

I’m not saying that having an interest of some sort in another person other than your date means absolutely nothing. What I am saying is that I think if you’re interested in another person- be it physically or emotionally- it doesn’t necessarily mean that your date isn’t the right person for you. Just because you think your date would get along with a good friend of yours, doesn’t mean that they are not for you. If it’s later on in the relationship, and the girl still gets along much more with her guy friend, then it might be a bigger problem then if say, it’s the first couple of dates, and she’s glancing over at the guy at the next table. If you’re at the stage before you’re really invested in the relationship, then of course your conversation isn’t going to be as good as it is with someone you know very well, and of course you’re still going to be attracted to other people.

I’m all for questioning, I’m all for thinking about why you feel a certain way and why you react to someone a certain way. But don’t assume that just because you’re looking over your shoulder, that the person right in front of you automatically isn’t good enough.


  1. I'll admit, I've been guilty of doing that when I started dating, and just recently someone was telling me about a date she'd gone on that night and she didn't want her guy because there was a much better looking date next to her.

    My answer to myself and to her was: the fact is you can't have that other guy. Right now, your date is the only one. If you're always looking out for something better, how can you ever be happy with the choice that you will ultimately make? There are always better guys out there, but if they're not better for YOU (and who says they'd be interested in you anyway), then who is going to lose out by looking over your shoulder?

  2. I come from a family where beauty (in either men or women) is appreciated. But that's what it is - appreciated. It's not a "I want that!" reaction. It's "That's nice. I could look at this for a bit."

    While of course I appreciate a handsome feller, that's not my priority in my future husband. Looks fade, except in a few rare cases of good genes, so I might as well appreciate the sights of some gorgeous strangers and marry the personality that will have to withstand time.

  3. Sun Inside Rain (SiR?)- I completely agree with your attitude. In life you always have to focus on what you do have and not what you could have.

    Bookworm- yes, of course looks are not the most important thing. Personality is much more important. No question. But if there are two equally nice guys with great middos, and you are attracted to one and not the other (note: this is subjective), wouldn't you pick the one you're attracted to? You have to be attracted to the person you marry. If I had to pick a bad-looking guy who is nice or a good-looking guy who is mean, I wouldn't even think twice about picking the nice guy. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't think, "Hey, that other guy is more attractive, even if he is mean..."

  4. as people we are physical beings and as such are attracted to physical things such as looks and it takes depth to go beyond the surface. i have a friend who was thinking of saying no to a guy cuz she didnt think they would look good together..thats obviously not a good enough reason to break a shidduch but on the other hand if he disgusts you..then you cant build on that either-you have to be able to stand to look at your husband..

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