To the Shadchan:
I am a 26-year-old, nice, normal guy, and I am having an issue with commitment. I think the problem is that I have a number of divorced friends, and that number seems to be growing. My parents are happily married, as are my two married sisters – at least I think they are – but this divorce thing scares me.
What typically happens is that I go out about 10 times, and I really like the girl. But then, as I am getting ready to move to the next step, I start to see the bad traits. These could be a high level of anxiety, temper, putting others down, or just plain selfishness. I don’t see these issues in the beginning.
My parents tell me that when it is the right one, I will know. I’m not so sure. In addition, I see that shadchanim are starting to get fed up with me. I could have been married several times already and am starting to get scared. Will I ever get married? Maybe it is time for me to take a break.
The Shadchan Answers:
You mention first your divorced friends and the fear that the same could happen to you. Yet I am sure that you have friends who are happily married. Why do you not look at those friends and think positively? Next, you state that you go out numerous times with a girl but get “cold feet” when it’s time to commit. (To paraphrase a saying of the outside world, “you date ’em and leave ’em.”)
You describe a behavioral pattern that is well known to professionals. I call it being a “career dater.”
Before I continue with your personal situation, I must write a few words about why people divorce. Good husbands and wives are not born but made. It is a relationship that requires effort and determination. Years ago, one married “for better or for worse.” In my grandparents’ day, one would not even think of divorce – and believe me, in those days there were plenty of reasons to divorce. People came to a new country, with new ideas with a different culture and a difficult economic situation, but they worked together to combat all these negatives in their lives and came out with stronger marriages. That does not mean that everyone was extremely happy and deeply in love at all times, but they took the good and the bad together, admired and stood by each other, and raised wonderful families.
Today, we have a “throwaway” generation. If at first it doesn’t “work,” people are perfectly willing (sometimes eager) to exchange their present spouse for a new one. Professionals describe this phenomenon as “serial monogamy.” Sadly, this is now happening in our “frum” society, and it should stop. (I am not speaking, of course, about situations where divorce is unfortunately necessary.) Couples need to learn to invest effort in their marriage and not always look at the “green on the other side.” Over time, the green meadow can turn into marshy wasteland.
Returning to your situation, you are not so different from others, in the sense that many of us see the attractive points of a dating situation much earlier than we see the negative ones. Then we slowly become aware that this person has faults. If the dater is able to incorporate the realization that no one is perfect and that there is a negative side to even the best of people or situations – and if there are enough positives in the relationship – he or she is able to move ahead.
But if the positive points keep moving at their very slow pace, while awareness of the negative grows at an alarming rate, and if the negatives outweigh the positives by quite a bit, we end up leaving the situation or the person. In the non-frum world we have examples of people going together for a long time, but when it is time to commit, one will drop the other and end the relationship. The person then begins again, and the same pattern repeats itself many times.
You need to ask yourself if you have specific ideas of what you are looking for in a wife. Are you very clear about your needs and values and about how a wife would enhance your life? If so, you very correctly decide to end the relationship when you discover that the young lady does not live up to your standards, and your mother is right in saying that when you meet the right one, all your doubts will disappear.
Alternatively, do you go into your dating relationships with no particular criteria in mind and break up for a different reason each time? Have you ever questioned why you dropped a girl and felt sorry that you did? If this is the pattern, I would humbly suggest that you take a break and see a professional to clarify what your anxieties are and why you are unable to move forward. You need to work on yourself before you can continue your dating process. It is very easy to get caught up in self-pity and bemoan the fact that you are not married. But the older you get, the more you worry about not being married and the more cynical and negative you become. Again, I urge you to discuss this with a professional with experience in such issues.
I hope to Hashem that your troubles will soon clear up and that you will go to the chupa in the near future, besha’ah tova.