Dear Mr. Weisbord,
I am a 25-year-old working boy who is kovea itim. Lately, I went out with a few girls I liked. It seems like what usually happens is that everything goes very well on the first two dates, and I get word that the girl likes me, too. Then it all collapses on the third date. We have nothing to talk about, and the date is a dud. Then she doesn’t want to go out again. Is this a common thing? What does it mean?
My interpretation is that we finished with all the small talk the first two times, but we are not yet ready to open up to the other person on a deeper level. I feel like all these relationships had potential if only the girl would not have ended it so soon. What do you say?
Mystified by Girls
I can certainly sympathize with your frustration. Relationships can be difficult to develop under any circumstances, and this is certainly so in the discrete chunks of time that our dating system allows. There are many advantages to shidduch dating, one of which is the fact that it is for a clear goal – to see if you want to marry this person. This means that a date is an opportunity for the two of you to learn about each other, and isn’t just for relaxing and having a good time. Therefore, shidduch relationships aren’t maintained simply to have someone to hang out with or because of a common taste in music. So unless there is real potential there, chances are it will not go anywhere, which is a good thing. However, this can also make the dating process more intense, which can occasionally lead to situations like the one you describe.
It would be presumptuous of me to definitively say what is going on, without a lot more information. I don’t know your personality and I haven’t seen you on a date. The good news is that the questions I am left with after reading your letter may be helpful for you to look at and may suggest various possibilities for you.
You say this is what usually happens. Have there been any exceptions? In other words, was there ever a girl with whom this did not occur? If so, what was different about her that allowed you to not get nervous? Sometimes by noticing differences we can learn about what is going on the rest of the time.
When the girls dropped you after the third date, what were their reasons? It is important for you to try to find out what really went on, either from the shadchan, or from someone who knows her. You want to get more specific than the “He wasn’t my type” kind of answer. If the girls dropped you for different reasons, then the “third date blues” might not be to blame at all. I realize that by doing this you are opening yourself to the possibility of negative feedback, but I think that you need to hear the truth so that you can know how other people perceive you.
You mention that “we are not ready to open up.” It seems there are two possibilities in your mind – either surface chitchat or deep spilling of guts. I’d like you to consider the middle ground between these extremes. In other words, there are things that are somewhat personal, that I wouldn’t share with a total stranger but would share with a casual friend. Then there are more private things that I would share only with my two or three closest friends in the world. So while a first date might be about surface conversations, there is a long way to go and many levels of depth to be shared before you get to what you might consider “really opening up.”
Let me give you an example. On the first date or two you can spend time on simple facts. How many siblings you have, what is your job like, who you learn with, etc. By the third date, you can talk about some of the character development you have done. Was it easy for you to decide to work, or what you wanted to do? Has it been easy trying to keep your seder while you are working? This is more personal information about your own struggles and achievements that let a person know who you are and what your life is like for you. While there is no need to confess every difficulty you have ever had, this is the type of thing you definitely want a prospective mate to know about you, and that you would want to know about her.
I wonder if there’s something specific that you think of when you mention opening up, and maybe it is on the “very personal” end of the spectrum. Often times, when a person is aware of something and is deliberately not saying it, it can keep his or her conversation at the surface chitchat level for longer than might otherwise have happened. If this is the case, it’s important to realize that you can get to know someone gradually, and share appropriate things at the appropriate time. You might feel like this piece of information is not something you want to share until you are ready to get engaged, or maybe even later than that. If this rings true to you, you might want to consult a Rav to find out at what point in a relationship this piece of information is appropriate to share. If you need anonymity, you can call me and I can ask the shaila for you.
I would also like to point out that, obviously, you are speaking about your own experience of the date. There’s no way to know what your date is thinking unless you ask her directly. She could be feeling fine, and merely be perplexed about why you are closing down on her.
You mention that these relationships had potential. What do you mean by that? How do you determine for yourself whether a relationship has potential or not? It could be that something about these girls appealed to you, but maybe they aren’t really compatible with you. That could also explain why, as the dating process progressed, things got more uncomfortable.
Think of it in terms of a pyramid. It’s easier to be relaxed in the beginning, because it is a less personal experience, so there are more girls with whom you can have a comfortable first date. The better you get to know someone, the more likely it is that you will find something about her that is incompatible with you. So by the time you get to a third date, there is a smaller pool of people with whom you will be equally comfortable. This may sound pessimistic, but I think it is also realistic. I don’t think there are that many people that fit you so well that you would actually want to marry them. That’s why most dating relationships in our circles don’t get that far.
I’d like to end with some suggestions. Sometimes openness can help get rid of nervousness. If you begin to feel that third-date feeling again, it might be a good idea to simply discuss it instead of pushing it away and being miserable. You can tell her that this has happened to you before, and that you want to make her aware that this is going on. You can then check out how she’s doing. Say something like, “I’m feeling a little nervous right now. This happens to me sometimes on a third date, because I guess I expect myself to feel a certain way, so I can’t just relax and let things happen. How do you feel about the way things are going?” Often, just acknowledging that you’re nervous will lessen it to some degree, because it’s no longer this terrible thing that you can’t talk about. People do get nervous sometimes, and that’s okay.
Another important tool is focusing on the person you’re with rather than on yourself. What do you want to know about her? What is her life like? What is important to her? When you can allow your natural curiosity and interest to appear, you can forget about making sure you have something to say, and just get involved in the conversation. People are fascinating, and spending time with someone is always an opportunity to learn something. Ask open-ended questions, rather than the yes-or-no type. For example, instead of asking her if she likes her job, ask, “What is your job like?” By showing interest in her, you will also be making her feel more comfortable being with you.
I hope that some of this has been helpful to you. If none of this fits you, or if your situation does not improve, I would advise you to speak to a counselor or therapist and explore this more thoroughly. Obviously, finding the right girl through dating is something that is very important for your future, and also something that can be dealt with successfully, be”H. I wish you much hatzlacha in finding the right zivug in the right time.