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Dating Advice #183 - Checkin' Him Out

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

A process of pre-screening your dates can save you lots of time, effort and heart-ache.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

It's happened again. This is the fourth time in as many weeks that I've been set up with a disastrous blind date. Each guy was so far out of the ballpark there was no way I could say 'yes' to a second date. The people who set me up are friends, or friends of friends, and I know they mean well, but come on... what did they think I would have in common with these guys?!

After these experiences, I wonder if there's something wrong with me. Why can't I meet someone who is normal? Maybe there are no decent guys left and that's why I'm getting set up with these people. Or maybe I'm too willing to go out with anyone who is described as a nice guy, and I don't ask the right questions before I accept a date.

Please tell me what I'm doing wrong, before I give up on blind dating altogether.


Dear Joanne,

Please don't give up on blind dates! They can very well be the avenue by which you will someday (soon, we hope) meet the man who will become your husband. We know hundreds of married couples who were set up by a friend, a friend's friend, or even a matchmaker.

That doesn't mean that you should accept a date with every "nice guy." There are millions of "nice" men in the world, but if you keep dating ones who are not even remotely close to what you are looking for, you'll get jaded very fast. In your case, you're even starting to thing there's something wrong with you!

The way to avoid this is to screen people who have been suggested to you, by engaging in some preliminary "research" about them. (We also recommend this before accepting a date from someone you've met on your own casually.) This will save you the ordeal of discovering that the cute guy you met at a party has a lifestyle/value system/background/goals/emotional state that makes the two of you poorly suited to each other.

We know that the idea of pre-screening potential dates seems alien to some people, and others are uncomfortable with the thought that someone could be checking them out as well. Many people believe dating should be more spontaneous. Others don't want to pre-screen because they say it takes too much time.

Screening preserves one of your most precious resources - your self-esteem.

Our answer to these skeptics is that we've seen first hand how screening is a very "cost-effective" way to date. The process preserves one of your most precious resources - your self-esteem. If you date a series of people who are very poorly suited to you, you can begin to wonder about your own worth and appeal. You also can approach future blind dates with a jaded attitude that could result in your being closed off to the potential of someone who might be right for you.

Contrast that to only saying yes when someone appears to have many of the qualities you're looking for. Even if you date fewer people, and at first none of them is right for you, you'll probably realize that you're getting closer to finding the right person and can be more confident about future dates.

We suggest that anyone who is dating for marriage only go out with someone who has good marriage potential - someone who also wants to get married, shares values that are similar to their own, is moving in the same general direction in life, and has some of the personal qualities they feel are important for their future spouse to possess. You should be comfortable with an individual's background, and should look for a dating partner who is emotionally stable and is capable of being a partner in a healthy marriage.

We've developed a series of questions that you can ask to learn if another person has these qualities. You may not want to ask them all, but if you adapt our suggestions to your own needs, you'll maximize your chance for success. You'll also minimize the sense of frustration and disappointment that comes with discovering that all of the arrangements for the date, and the date itself, were a waste of time.

Skeptical of the Concept?

You may be thinking, "I thought the purpose of the first date is to find out all this information. Why should I spend hours beforehand checking someone out when I could learn all I want to know in one date?"

The answer is that when someone dates for marriage, the very first qualities he or she should look for in a dating partner are similar values and goals and emotional stability. Do you really want to go on first dates with scores of people whom you can tell from the start are very wrong for you? In addition, some of the questions we suggest you ask will not be answered on a first date, or even a second or third. Research may spare you the pain of developing affection for someone whom you ultimately discover has a fear of commitment, cannot manage anger, has misrepresented himself, is not reliable, etc.

This method increases the likelihood that a lifelong romance will sprout.

You may be thinking that our suggestion takes all the romance out of dating. We can assure you that our method actually increases the likelihood of romance (because some of the basic ingredients from which a lifelong romance can sprout are already present), and decreases the heartbreak of breaking up with someone you care about because the two of you cannot reconcile different value systems or lifestyle expectations, or one of you wants to marry and the other is allergic to the "M" word.

Don't worry about missing out on the drama of dating - even when someone looks right on paper, you still have a lot to learn about each other, as well as forging an emotional connection, and developing attraction and affection for each other. That's exactly what dating is for.

Before Beginning Your Research

Before you start researching potential dating partners, it is a good idea to engage in the kind of soul searching we discuss in our book, Talking Tachlis, to identify your personal strengths and talents, goals, expectations for the future, and the characteristics you would like to see in the person you marry. Let your imagination run its course, and write down all your thoughts.

A few days later, read what you have written and work on clarifying your goals for the next several years, the kind of lifestyle and home you would like to have, and the four most important qualities you would like your future spouse to possess. This information will be a point of reference when the time comes to check out a potential date. You can also refer to it when you network - this information will help them identify people who fit the general description of who you are looking for, and will help them avoid recommending possible dating partners who are genuinely ill-suited to you.

Before you check someone out, determine how well the person you are asking knows him, and for how long. If a person admits that they do not know someone that well, ask if they can suggest someone who knows him better. Try to talk to a few people who know your potential date through different frames of reference. Some ideas include roommates, a current friend, an old friend or neighbor from his hometown, a rabbi, co-worker or former teacher. In all cases, we recommend that you talk to at least one person who has known him for a long time.

Before making inquiries, you should also familiarize yourselves with the Jewish laws of Loshon Hara (slanderous talk) as they relate to dating for marriage. A good place to start is by reading the books the books Guard Your Tongue (by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin), and Chofetz Chaim - A Lesson a Day (ArtScroll). You can also obtain information through the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (1-800-867-2482).

Not a Witch Hunt

To clarify: Checking out a potential dating partner is not a hunt for negative information. If you hear something negative, don't rush to pass judgment. You may have spoken to someone who has a negative image that no one else shares. Or you may receive incomplete or inaccurate information. That's why we recommend speaking to a few people, especially if you hear or sense something negative. You do not want to reject or accept someone based on incomplete or misunderstood information.

Many people who have overcome difficult challenges make wonderful spouses.

Under certain circumstances you may also want to find out about his upbringing and family. If a person comes from a background that concerns you, don't dismiss them out of hand. Many people have overcome difficult challenges and will make wonderful spouses. Ask questions about the way someone has handled the difficulties he encountered, how he has grown and matured, and if he appears to have the ability to be a stable, kind, loving spouse and parent. If your prospective date was once a little wild or lacked focus, find out the direction he has taken since then.

If you discover a history of substance abuse, as opposed to briefly experimenting with drugs or alcohol, you will want to know if someone has been sober for the past few years and is committed to remaining involved in a 12-step support group for the rest of his life.

We recommend that you not immediately reject someone who has a history of emotional difficulties but otherwise seems to have potential. Look further; perhaps he was reacting to a difficult, temporary situation such as the death of a close relative, and has resolved the issue. Or, he may successfully manage his condition with therapy and/or medication, so that he enjoys a rich, full life, and can be a loving, stable marriage partner. While we would never encourage you to date an unstable person, simply dismissing someone out of hand because he may have had an emotional difficulty may result in your passing up the person who truly is right for you.

Some Questions to Ask

Here are some of the questions we suggest you ask. In all likelihood, there will not be any one person who can answer all of them, but if you speak with a few different people you should be able to find out the information you need.

  • How long have you known him? How well do you know him?
  • Where did he grow up?
  • Is he dating for the purpose of marriage?
  • How does he like to have fun / spend vacations / do in his spare time?
  • What type of person is he looking for?
  • What does he look like?
  • What are his friends like?
  • Where is he heading in terms of spiritual growth and Jewish observance?
  • What is his outlook on life?
  • What does he want to do with his life - career, education, involvement in the community?
  • What kind of lifestyle would he like to have?
  • Does he smoke? Drink? How much?
  • Where did he receive his education?
  • Describe his personality.

  • What frustrates him and how does he handle frustration? How patient is he?
  • How does he react when a friend or family member has a problem?
  • Have you ever seen him deal with an emergency or crisis? How did he react?
  • What importance does he place on dressing fashionably? On grooming?
  • Did he face any challenges when he was growing up - illness, family problems, educational issues? And how did he deal with them?

  • Do you think he has the emotional stability to be a good marriage partner?
  • Do you have any reservations about recommending him as a potential marriage partner?
  • What is he looking for in a future spouse?

  • What qualities can he bring to a marriage?

  • Why do you think he would be a good match for me?
  • What is his family like?
  • How do the parents relate to each other? (You can ask this even if they are divorced.)
  • What kind of relationship does he have with his parents?
  • What are his siblings like?
  • What kind of relationship do his siblings have with their parents? With each other?
  • What kind of connection do his parents have with their community? Who is their rabbi? What synagogue do they attend?
  • What kind of education and careers do the parents have? What is their cultural background? Their worldview?

Most of these questions do not have yes or no answers, because descriptive answers are more helpful. Whenever a response is too vague, ask more specific questions. "You say he is very nice. Is he outgoing? Shy?" Additionally, if the reply to your question sounds guarded or unenthusiastic, you'll need to ask more specific details.

It's a good idea to write down the information you receive, since it's easy to forget details that aren't written down. These notes can also be helpful if this person turns out not to be right for you, but sounds good for someone else you know.

One final recommendation: It is important to get pre-screened for genetic compatibility for marriage.

An organization called Dor Yesharim tests your blood sample to see if you are a carrier of one of many incurable Jewish genetic diseases. The organization holds your information in strict confidence, and only discloses test results when you and a potential dating partner ask whether you are genetically compatible, based on your confidential ID numbers. You can read more about this in an article, "The Genetics of Dating."

We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of success,

Rosie & Sherry

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