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Dating Advice #17 - Bridging The Gap

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Between the age difference, cultural difference, educational backgrounds, and geographic distance -- can they make it work?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am 43 and live in Sweden. Since I have always wanted to only marry a Jewish woman, dating has not been easy and up until now I did not find my soul mate. Recently, however, I met a wonderful Jewish woman in Israel. Many things about us are very different. She's only 29. I'm Ashkenazi and she's Sefardi. I'm from the Diaspora, she's from Israel. I'm an intellectual and she has little formal education (but is full of life-wisdom).

Sometimes, I wonder what we can talk about together, yet I feel a comfort that's beyond words, and this gives me a wonderful feeling of belonging.

IIs this enough of a foundation for a life-long relationship? After many experiences with dating, I do have my doubts. I feel I cannot trust my own feelings any more. How should I proceed so that I feel more secure in knowing this is right for me?

Mike in Sweden

Dear Mike,

Our first piece of advice is to relax. The discomfort you feel is typical for a person your age who has begun a very promising courtship. Most people in their 30’s and 40’s have had their share of disappointments, and its natural to be cautious and uncertain about whether the person you’re with is really right for you. What you are experiencing is not a reflection of the quality of your courtship, and you can expect to feel occasional doubt throughout the time your courtship grows and strengthens. Sometimes, these doubts don’t go away until the couple is married.

The differences between you do not have to be problematic. For example, 14 years is not a significant age gap to many people in their 30's and 40's. Indeed, in certain Sefardi cultures it's not uncommon for the husband to be about 10 years older than his wife. The fact that you are European and she is Israeli means that each of you will have to understand how the other's cultural background influences their actions and expectations. If both of you are flexible, growing people, this experience will be more interesting than it will be challenging.

The gaps in your conversations may be the result of a number of factors. One of you may not be adept at your common language, or you may not yet know each other well enough to have unlimited topics of conversation. Guess what? Loving, married couples don't always have a lot to say to each other. Their marriages succeed through quiet periods because they have one or more shared goals other than merely being together "for the ride." These goals may include raising a family, devoting time to community service, helping others (chesed in Hebrew), taking up a cause like ecology, and of course religious/spiritual growth.

The least significant difference between the two of you is the difference in your educations. You admit that the woman you are seeing is intelligent and wise from life experiences. As long as you respect her for that, the fact that you are more highly educated than her is immaterial. Mutual respect is one of the four "building blocks" which form the foundation of a healthy marital relationship. The others are mutual admiration of qualities, a degree of physical attraction, and the close, trusting, affectionate relationship we call emotional intimacy. If you and the woman you are seeing can nurture these qualities, you may well see your courtship blossom into the "right thing."

Rosie & Sherry



Dear Rosie & Sherry:

I desperately need your advice! A male friend of mine has been "acting strangely" for a long time now. We have known each other since we were teenagers and it's always the same thing. After not dating for a while, he shows up, starts spending a lot of time with me, makes statements such as, "One of these days, you and I should quit playing dumb and just get married," or, "You know, I really like you and have been attracted to you for quite some time." However, as soon as we get close, he panics. One time he asked me if I want to "give things a try." I was so shocked that I asked what he meant and immediately "the wall went up" and he said that he'd made a mistake and never wanted to discuss it again.

A few months ago we began spending a lot of time together again, and after dropping a few hints, he told me he had feelings for me and asked me start dating him. I said, "Yes," but 15 minutes later he told me he'd made a mistake and that it wouldn't work out.

I am tired of all of this, but at the same time I really like him and feel there could be a future for us, if he could keep his nerves under control. Why is he acting like this? I know he has a lot of problems at home (he doesn't get along with his parents, who are very demanding) and he was hurt once before when he broke off with a fiancée. But I don't understand why he won't give things a try? What should I do?

Jenny in Missouri

Dear Jenny,

As much as you like this guy, we advise you to move on to someone else. He doesn't seem to have a handle on what he wants for himself. Until he deals with whatever baggage may be causing his ambivalence and he gets his priorities in order, he isn't marriage material. If you continue your on-again-off-again dating, you're guaranteed to experience more of these same confusing signals.

We also suggest that you resist any urge to help your friend sort this through. This is his problem; let him own it and deal with it when he decides to do so. His motivation has to come from within. We hope you can part as friends, and move forward with your life.

Rosie & Sherry

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