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Dating Maze #308: Dating for Marriage

May 10, 2010 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

I don't see the point in dating a man I don't plan to marry. Am I wrong?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm 20 and people seem to enjoy being around me. Upon meeting someone new, I regularly get remarks like, "You're a lot of fun – we definitely need to hang out more!"

But I have some life goals that make me hesitate about dating, and many of my friends and family think it's odd that I don't really regularly date. My goal is to marry someone Jewish, and I want to date for marriage.

My mother said, “Go have some fun!”

The problem is that there isn't a large Jewish population where I'm going to school. All the Jewish guys on campus seem to either be taken or not interested in me. But my friends and family don't see this as a problem. My mother even looked at me and said, "Well, it's not like you're going to marry the first one you date, so go date and have fun. Who cares if they're Jewish?" I care. I don't see the point in dating a man I don't plan to marry.

Given my circumstances, people have suggested that I date Jewish men when I go home on breaks from school, but I even hesitate to do that. I'm currently laying the groundwork to make aliyah to Israel hopefully in five years. And the vast majority of Jewish men I've met have absolutely no intention of leaving America for more than a short vacation. They're just starting out careers and don't want to leave friends and family. I know the idea of leaving can be hard, but that just doesn’t jive with my long-term plan.

So I want to know: When people tell me that I’m making a mistake, are they correct? Should I just date men here casually to have a good time, knowing that I will never marry them and at some point will have to break it off even if the relationship is going great? Am I thinking about marriage too early? Or am I on a good path?


Dear Ellen,

Your letter raises a very good question – whether, even though you prefer to date only for marriage, you should start dating casually because your current (and temporary) life circumstances make it unlikely that the men you would date are what you would consider “marriage material.”

We don't believe that dating is something to "practice" with. That's because one never knows what will develop from even one date. It isn't fair for you to have an agenda of "I'm just using you to gain experience but I really have no interest in anything developing between us," because the other person may want an emotional connection and may start to develop feelings for you. Yes, we know that when two people start to date, it often happens that one of them will develop feelings that aren't reciprocated by the other – but to start off at the point where one of them is dating just to go through the motions is simply not honest.

Sometimes, casual connections evolve into deeper relationships.

And contrary to what your mother has told you, sometimes you do end up marrying the first person you meet. That's one reason we recommend that people who want to date for marriage only go out with people who initially seem to have the values, life goals, and qualities they want in a marriage partner. Even in a college environment, where people often date purely for socialization, most daters are looking for someone they can connect to. Sometimes, those connections evolve into deeper relationships and a young couple that didn't start off thinking about marriage may decide, "We're right for each other and want to build our lives together."

Those connections can develop even between two people who, had they been dating for marriage in the first place, would never thought of going out together. That's because there are many wonderful people in this world, and as you get to know someone who doesn't share your values or your goals for the future, you may still start to admire and respect him, and identify with him in certain ways. And after becoming emotionally involved, you may cause each other heartbreak when you decide that even though this man may be wonderful, you don't want to marry him because of your core differences.

There's also the alternate possibility that once the two of you become emotionally attached, you'll start to rationalize that your own worldview and life goals may not be as important as you once thought, and that perhaps everything will be all right if you decide to marry. Or you may hope that, if the very nice person you're dating truly loves you, he'll make your goals his own. These are very deceptive thought processes. Most couples who marry in spite of their incompatible values or expectations find that these become a continual source of conflict in the relationship. Surely it is naïve and unfair to expect the other person to change the essence of his thoughts and beliefs in order to make you happy.

For these reasons, we think it's a terrible idea to casually date someone who is not from a background or worldview that's compatible with yours. You want a Jewish home and you have a strong connection to Israel. Someone from another faith, or even someone Jewish who isn't interested in his Jewish identity, is clearly not someone you should even consider casually dating.

Having Fun

On the other hand, your mother is right: This is a time to enjoy life. There are plenty of ways to do that without dating, and it sounds like you're a fun person to be around. In addition, it's likely that you can think of a few things you'd really like to do or accomplish that are better done now, before you have to take your life partner into consideration. So take advantage of being unattached and do them. As a 20-year-old college student, you have many opportunities to enrich your life in many different areas – creative, spiritual, giving, fun. This is an opportune time to pursue them.

And, at the same time, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for the next phase of life when you will be dating for marriage. That means thinking about where to live when you finish college. We suggest looking into communities with marriage-oriented young Jews who are growing in the same spiritual direction as you, and only applying for jobs or graduate schools in those communities. That way, you'll be able to make friends and build social networks with those who relate to your goals and values, and there will be a good pool of potential dating partners. And we do think that, once you finish college and relocate to such a community, the time will be right for you to start dating, as long as you feel that you are otherwise ready to date for marriage.

How does your wish to move to Israel come into play? While this is an important goal in your life plan, we think that you'll find dating difficult if you use "moving to Israel in five years" as a deal-breaker for accepting a date. And we don't recommend that you put things on hold and wait to start dating until you get to Israel.

Be flexible, because life is ever-changing.

You correctly state that there are many young men who have no desire to relocate. But there are a number of young men who would be open to the idea of making aliyah after they finish their education, accumulate some sort of nest egg, and have more work and life experience under their belts. And since you aren't ready to make an immediate move either, it would be a good idea to let potential dating partners know that you hope to move to Israel in the next 5 to 10 years, and that you're looking for a man who is open to the possibility. We encourage you to be somewhat flexible here, because life is ever-changing, and there may be unforeseen reasons why your plans to move may not materialize in the time-frame you've set. Ultimately, it's more important to find a person who shares your goals and whom you can grow with, than to lock yourself into searching only for someone who has a specific goal.

We also suggest getting involved in events by organizations that attract individuals who hope to move to Israel, such as Nefesh B'Nefesh. This may be a good way to meet men who share your hopes for the future. Nefeh B'Nefesh counselors can also help you acquire information about what training and experience Israel may require for the career you'd like to have, what graduate school opportunities may be available there for you, the degree of Hebrew fluency you may need, and what financial and other arrangements can help you get started more easily once you move. You can use this information to set up a game plan that will help you meet your goal of aliyah in a reasonable time frame.

It seems that you've carefully thought about what you want out of life and are doing your best to grow in that direction. We agree with your decision to only date Jewish men who have values and goals that are compatible with you're your own, even though some family and friends may be encouraging you differently. We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry

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