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Dating Advice #75 - International Hook-up

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

It's the old problem of knowing when to take the leap. But with a new twist -- he's on the other side of the globe.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm happy to share the news: I think I might have found "the one". However... he lives in a different country. We seem to fit each other's "profile." But developing a courtship is very difficult, especially when you need a visa to go see the other person.

We met online, in a Jewish dating chat room, and we hit it off immediately. We didn't stop talking (every night for hours, and then one month later we met in person. We decided to start dating. For the last four months, not a single day goes by without an e-mail or a couple of hours online or on the phone.

The times we have spent together in person were incredible, and they only confirmed my feelings: I can see myself married to this man. Because of the distance, we're taking it very slow. We don't want to make the move too fast and risk uprooting one of us only to find out later that it didn't work out.

So the thing is: How do we know when we're ready to take it a little faster? It's okay to be cautious, but we don't want to be in a long distance courtship forever.

I'm 31, he's 33, and neither of us has been married before. Neither of us is afraid of marriage, and we have talked about it, and even the education of our kids. So the problem is not a fear of commitment, but a fear of the enormous change that one of us is going to have to make by leaving friends and work behind and starting over -- even having to deal with immigration papers. And once one of us has moved... what if it doesn't work?

We don't want to stretch this out too much (taking it too slow) because of our fear of pushing it. So how long do we need until we decide we can't live apart from each other? When do we say "enough"? I appreciate any input.


Dear Carolyn,

Many readers ask for a "test" to help them decide if they are ready to take the next step in the courtship -- i.e. the leap of faith to engagement and marriage. While we haven't been able to develop a foolproof "test," over the years we have identified a list of factors that we believe are the building blocks for a happy, stable and loving marriage. If a man and a woman see these foundations, they are probably ready to begin building a life together.

We've mentioned these factors in a previous column, but we'll list them again:

  1. Compatible values and goals
  2. Respect for each other, and belief that the other is a good person
  3. Admiration of certain qualities the other possesses
  4. Physical attraction
  5. Potential for Emotional intimacy

Even if a couple feels they share all of the qualities on this list, it is natural to be a little nervous about making a lifetime commitment. In your case, the concerns are exacerbated by the fact that if you decide to marry, one of you will have to relocate. The fact that one of you will have to get used to a new country, find a new job, and develop a new social network, will definitely make the transitional first year of married life more challenging.

We think the following pointers will make you more optimistic when you make that decision. Actually, these pointers are good advice for any newly married couple.

  1. The first year of marriage will be challenging.

    No matter how much a man and woman think they know each other, they will both be surprised at how much adaptation and negotiation is involved when a couple begins to share their lives together. In addition, each of them will suddenly become aware of a number of idiosyncrasies that they never before noticed in their partner (and themselves!), and while some of these will be endearing, others will take some getting used to. As will differences in sleep patterns, eating habits, financial management, dealings with parents, dealing with stress, etc., etc.

    Although this sounds daunting, the fact is that the majority of couples who share the building blocks we have described are also emotionally equipped to meet the challenge of the first years of marriage. Men and women who are more rigid will find it harder to adapt. Ask yourself: Is your future spouse flexible enough to bear these changes well?

    In addition, newlyweds who aren't forewarned about the transition from single-hood to marriage may panic and think that their marriage is in trouble -- when they are simply experiencing the "growing pains" that every newlywed couple goes through.

  2. Create a social network beforehand.

    As soon as possible before your marriage, both of you should take steps to make the move easier for whichever one of you is relocating. Meet your intended's friends and family, and spend time getting to know them. If you find a particular friend or relative with whom you seem to get along, spend some time cultivating that relationship before you move.

    One or two fledgling, same-sex friendships can become life-savers when you move to a new place, since your spouse will not be able to meet all your social and personal needs, and it will be unfair to expect that of him or her. (Beware that opposite-gender friendships can be detrimental in that they detract emotional energy from the marriage relationship.)

    Another excellent way to make valuable connections is to decide upon the synagogue you would like to attend. The synagogue needs to be a warm, couple-friendly environment that will help meet your social and spiritual needs. Then meet with the rabbi, his family, and some of your contemporaries who are members.

    Before the move it would also be helpful to conduct some career-related networking. You may also want to plan an activity, such as an adult ed course, project or community activity, to help you feel productive during the time you may be looking for work.

  3. Keep the big picture in mind.

    The big picture -- your marriage -- should always be the most important thing in your lives, even more important than career, material comfort, friends and family. This means that you two will always have to work at maintaining your emotional intimacy -- by sharing private time once a week on a "date"; by calling each other at work each day just to say "Hi," or share something that interested, upset or amused you; by making appropriate time to talk about something that bothers one of you, instead of letting it fester; and by constantly expressing your appreciation and affection for each other.

There are many other ways to nurture your relationship and keep your marriage happy and enduring. "What Did You Say?" by Rabbi Simcha Cohen (available in Hebrew, English and French) is a great resource for every engaged and newlywed Jewish couple.

Good luck in your decision. We hope that everything turns out for the best. And if you move, please send us a picture postcard!

Rosie & Sherry

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