July 5, 2007
Marry first, date later
Someone mentioned that a girl sitting to my right was "the new face of JDate," whose picture was gracing those ubiquitous full-page ads. A girl to my left then asked the JDmodel if her prominent exposure made it easier for her "to find a husband." At which point, a guy jumped in and snapped: "What do you mean, husband? You mean date, right?"
"No, I mean husband and soulmate," the girl snapped back, coolly sipping her rosé.
Well, about half an hour, several digressions and many sips of wine later, a few of us had come up with a theory to help answer one of the great questions of the Jewish singles world: Why is it so hard to find a soulmate?
In fact, a few people suggested that I touch on the subject in my next column, and with the romantic winds of summer in the air, I couldn't resist.
No one wanted to rehash the usual explanations for the failures of dating that have been covered in hundreds of singles columns -- bad chemistry, different values, fear of commitment, gender and family conflicts and so on. Those are all valid, certainly, but we were looking for a different angle. We wondered: Is there something else going on, something in how we approach dating itself?
In his book "Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments" (Doubleday, 2000), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach explains that "to find the perfect soulmate, you should focus not on what you have, but on what you lack." He goes on to say: "You don't go into a relationship because you have something. Rather, you go into a relationship because you are missing something. And only by identifying that one big thing that we are missing are we guaranteed to find someone who actually makes us feel whole."
The problem, of course, is that dating is rarely about showing off what we are missing. It's more about showing what we have -- and what we can get.
In this mating dance, we're either seducing or evaluating. It's a low-risk mindset. We put "our best foot forward" to show what we have to offer, and we constantly evaluate what we can get in return. There's little room for weakness.
But this protective posing comes at a price. If we have passed the initial test of mutual attraction, we can end up in relationships where we simply float on the surface and never connect deeply enough to know if we are dating a potential soulmate. And when the inevitable break-up comes, even the explanations feel superficial: He wasn't "emotionally available," she didn't really "get me," we weren't "on the same page," etc. How many witty post-mortems have we all read in singles columns documenting these break-ups?
Assuming there's some truth to this theory -- that our dating has a tendency to be superficial -- are Jewish singles doomed to squander millions of soulmate opportunities? Is there a way to create deeper connections?
At that point in our Shabbat dinner, with the wine continuing to flow, I blurted out the idea that maybe we ought to "marry first and date later." Not literally, of course, but in terms of how we approach both dating and marriage.
Perhaps one reason why so many dating relationships peter out, I said, is that we are relating to a boyfriend and a girlfriend -- a date -- instead of a potential soulmate. If we're really looking for a soulmate, shouldn't we be looking for the soulmate inside the person we are dating?
Dating with a soulmate energy means having the courage to show that we are not complete -- and knowing that we are looking for someone who will, as Rabbi Boteach explained, make us whole. With this approach, we can look for deeper, more meaningful things in our dates, and show the same. This means being more vulnerable, yes, but it also means getting closer to the soul of a person we might be spending the rest of our lives with.
But what if a guy is just not ready to make the commitment needed to become a soulmate, as one of my guests asked? Well, if you follow our theory, taking a deeper approach to dating will put people in touch with their deeper needs. The commitment-phobic guy won't be the same after he realizes he is not complete without his soulmate, and that no serial dating will ever fill that emptiness. And if he still can't take dating seriously and keeps floating on the surface, then he doesn't deserve to be rewarded with a long relationship. (In other words, dump him.)
Ironically, the liveliest part of our singles evening came when we talked about married life. Someone who was previously married shared the insight that just as dating relationships can fail if they don't incorporate a deeper soulmate energy, marriages can fail if they don't incorporate a lighter dating energy. Like a friend once said to me, when you're married, reality can beat "the crap out of you." But that's precisely when the seductive traits of dating are most needed: the courtesy, the caring touches, the cafes, the laughter, the flowers -- that whole mating dance we did before going under the chuppah, when the electricity of romance made everything seem possible.
Thinking of seducing your spouse while immersed in the often mundane realities of marriage, like thinking of a soul connection during the dizzy swirl of dating, requires us to break our patterns -- to leave our comfort zones.
So after finishing our last bottle of wine, at least some of us concluded that in relationships, whether you are married or just dating, sometimes the path of greater resistance is the most rewarding.
How very Jewish.