The Cap’n and I recently celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. In honor of nine years of fun, laughs, mind-boggling accomplishment (of which our four children are only a part), and true friendship, I thought I might share some of Shimshonit’s Finding the One tips.
I have observed that people tend to be attracted to the same type of person and don’t always realize it. I once had a conversation with a woman who was recently divorced. I had known her husband, so when she told me she was looking for something different, I was all ears. She told me about a man she had met with whom she was spending time regularly. As she described him, I realized she could easily be describing her ex-husband. This woke me up to the fact that while we may set out after a failed relationship to find something different, we must do some thinking before we allow ourselves to repeat the choices of the past.
I took time out when thinking about married life to imagine what I wanted my marriage—and myself—to look like. What kind of father did I want my children to have? What traditions would we have in the household? What religion would be observed at home? What kind of upbringing would we give our children? And what kind of mother should I be? When I decided for myself that I wanted a Jewish home, I was forced to come face to face with the fact that I was not, according to most Jews in the world, Jewish. I could have chosen only to move within the world of Reform Judaism, disregarding the rest of the Jewish world. But I wanted for myself and my (then future) children to be able to move freely in the Jewish world—in America, Israel, and everywhere else. To be an attractive marriage candidate for a Jewish man who cared about such things, I would have to go to work making myself properly Jewish. I quit my job, came to Israel, and embarked on an intensive program of remedial Jewish study. (That’s an extreme course to take; most people can pursue some sort of formal or informal Jewish study where they live.)
What I did NOT do when planning my future family was invent deadlines. When I finally decided what I wanted, and determined that my wants and expectations were reasonable, I was prepared to wait. A friend of mine from college had her life mapped out at the age of 22. She told me she would meet a man with the appropriate Christian beliefs, marry at 28, and have two children by the age of 33. I asked her how she could possibly know all this, but she had her mind made up. (I bumped into her ten years later on the street and none of the things she’s planned for herself had come to pass.) The truth is, we don’t always know when we will meet the right person, and baruch Hashem, we don’t live in a time and culture where girls have to be married by a certain age or they lose all prospects. I know men and women who married for the first time in their late thirties, forties, and even fifties. I had decided before coming to Israel the first time that if I had to wait until I was 80 to meet the right man, then I would wait (though clearly the children part would probably not happen then).
When I was done dating for recreation and psychological experimentation and decided to look for a partner in earnest, I decided to go about it the scientific way: with a list. In my head (though one could use pen and paper), I listed the qualities, based on my experience of trial and error, that I thought would make a successful candidate. I took into account the few good qualities of the individuals with whom I had spent my spare time up to that point, and added to it my wish list of qualities based on my own weaknesses. Where I was weak, I would look for someone with strengths in that area. Where I was strong, I might not avidly seek a person with the exact same strengths. I also noted which qualities were deal-breakers (kindness, willingness to pitch in with household chores) and which were desirable but not essential (neatness, a good singing voice).
Interests were also important. I thought about the man who said he could never be in a relationship with a woman who didn’t love bluegrass music. I’m not even sure I know what bluegrass sounds like, so perhaps I’m biased. But I don’t think it’s wise to insist that a person like a particular type of music (rather than music in general), or be ethnically exotic, or look like Princess Diana. (Don’t laugh; there are such people in the world, and many of them are still single.) If I have 10 areas of serious interest, I think it’s reasonable that my partner for life share half of them. I lucked out: the Cap’n is an accomplished pianist (something I am not, though I sing and play the flute), enjoys classical music (an appreciation I share), reads widely (usually stuff I don’t read, but which I am happy to talk about with him), loves to go to movies (and sees British costume stuff with me, while I go to Star Trek movies with him), and hates camping (though a good hike is always greeted with enthusiasm). He has interests I don’t share and vice versa, but we have plenty to enjoy together as well as separately.
Some things must be negotiable. Someone who dates only people who look like Scarlett Johanssen or Ioan Gruffudd may find themselves compromising on more important issues. I once heard that someone should look good enough for you to want to hold his hand in public (even if you are shomeret negiah and don’t actually hold hands in public). There is something to the cultural wisdom about “Beauty is as beauty does” and the Beauty and the Beast story. Sometimes a person’s inner beauty outshines by far his outer beauty. To know a person well enough to see the inner beauty should be seen as a privilege that not everyone shares.
Money is also important (poverty is incredibly stressful), but my Cousin Bertie’s advice that “You’ll never marry a poor girl if you never date one” is perhaps a little too materialistic. (Bertie’s been married several times.) It’s reasonable to want someone who is a wage-earner (or is willing to be); it’s less reasonable to expect a potential spouse to be a Fortune 500 CEO. Money enough to feed, clothe, and house you both (and your children, iy”h) is essential. But greater financial security can be achieved in a relationship where both partners recognize that family and friends are more important than wealth, that money is a means to an end, and that doing without things is sometimes healthier than owning or doing everything you want.
The deal-breakers should probably depend on the answers to some tough questions:
· How does the person treat others? His mother? Women in general? People who report to him at work? Intellectual inferiors? Poor or mentally ill people? Animals? Appliances that don’t work?
· How does he behave in a crisis? When he’s lost? When he loses something? In a car accident? When he’s sick? When you’re sick?
· Is he honest? I’m not talking about the guy who tells you you look great when you know you don’t, though that’s certainly nice. Does he deal honestly in business? Does he cheat on his taxes? Does he lie about important things? Is he afraid to say “I don’t know” if he really doesn’t know something? Do his words match his actions and behavior?
· Is there anything between you that might make a long-term relationship difficult (or impossible), like alcoholism, drug use, chronic illness, history of neglect or abuse, legal problems, mental illness, or kleptomania?
· Are your religious/spiritual beliefs reasonably similar? Do you agree on how the household should be run, and how holidays should be celebrated?
· Can you picture yourself growing old with him?
· Would you want your children to grow up to be like him?
Before I met the Cap’n, I decided that a spouse should be a friend, lover, fellow parent and wage-earner, but also something else: a teacher. However a man checked out on my list of desirables, deal-breakers, and Tough Questions, I wanted the person I would spend my life with to be someone from whom I could learn something valuable. Examining my greatest flaws and thinking about what I had yet to learn, I found things in the Cap’n that he could teach me: patience, generosity, financial sense, and how to analyze problems in ways I never did before. And I flatter myself that despite my manifold flaws, I’ve perhaps been able to impart some minor skills and wisdom to him in return.
I’m no Dear Abby or matchmaker or “relationship coach.” I’m just someone who made lots of mistakes and eventually lucked out finding a partner. The places I have found the sagest advice about dating and relationships are the Aish.com website, Barbara DeAngelis’s seminars and books (which taught me that couples can actually fight constructively), and couples I’ve observed throughout my life. I also recommend Suze Orman’s books on managing one’s finances to put money into perspective.
I welcome any reader perspectives on this issue, including thoughts, experiences, and other good sources of advice.