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Dating Maze #383: The Boondocks

July 11, 2013 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He wants me to move out of town. Will I be able to adjust?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 27-year-old professional. A few months ago I met a guy who has many of the qualities I am looking for. He is smart, successful, thinks the world of me, and we are on the same page in lifestyle choices.

He has made it clear that he is ready to get engaged, but I have hesitations.

He lives a few hours away in a very rural community and I’ve lived my whole life in the city. I have never lived so far “out of town” and I'm not sure I would enjoy it. I would also have to give up my job which I enjoy, and I would probably not find another one since his town has no work in my field.

Also, I am very close to my parents and family, and always imagined living near them. It would be hard for me to only see them once every few weeks or so.

Finally, I'm not sure if my feelings for this guy are what they’re supposed to be. We have a good connection and he feels like a very good friend, but I don't get particularly excited before I see him.

I've been surprised how difficult it is for me – a smart, pretty, successful woman – to get serious dates, let alone a courtship going. I'm worried that if I let this guy go, I might not find another good one. What should I do?


Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

Dear Melissa,

We can understand your feeling a bit overwhelmed, wondering if this man is right for you, and whether you can safely make the major life changes that marrying him will entail. We applaud your honesty. Too often, daters mistakenly assume that because someone seems right "on paper," or because they “love each other,” all the doubts and dilemmas will get resolved after marriage. Experience has shown that it doesn't work that way, because many of these unresolved issues go to the core of whether the couple is really right for each other.

Let's first look at the issue of what you should be feeling at this stage. You believe that you should have a degree of affection for him before becoming engaged, and this is absolutely true. You're not there yet, but from what you describe, it sounds like you are in a good position right now – feeling connectivity and friendship, admiring his qualities, and respecting him as a person.

You will simply need to date him longer, to give your feelings time to grow.

You need to date longer, to give your feelings time to grow.

It’s important that you take that time, even though he says that he’s ready to get engaged. It's very common for one person to reach the “point of decision” faster than the other. That's because each of us has our own timetable and mode of developing an emotional connection, and of moving through all of the conscious and unconscious aspects of this process. In our experience, the man usually feels "ready" long before the woman, and he has to be patient for her to reach the same point, according to her own internal timetable.

It's also common for the one who “isn't there yet” to worry, "How long should this take?" and "What if we continue to date, and I never get to the same point as him?" There's no single answer to this, but in our experience many people can benefit from another 1-3 months of dating to enable their feelings to develop further, or conversely to realize that the emotional component is not properly growing and that it’s better to stop.

If a relationship has potential, you need to invest time and effort to see if it develops further. There are no guarantees that it will, but that’s a sensible risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Dating Diet

Sometimes, daters will decide, "We can speed up the process – we'll just see each other more often." They mistake "more time" for "more dates", not realizing this will be overwhelming and will interfere with the process they need to go through.

Pay attention to the experience of being together, and the range of emotions.

That’s why we suggest what’s called a "dating diet." For the next month, see each other not more than twice a week, and limit your phone conversations to 10 minutes or so a day. When you're together, try to stay "present" in the moment. Pay attention to the experience of being together – focus on the way you're interacting and the content of your conversation, and the range of emotions you experience over the course of your time together. What sounds do you hear? What simulates your sense of smell? What looks appealing? If you have something to eat, concentrate on how the food feels in your mouth and how it tastes. How do the things you touch feel against your fingers? Try to stay with the experience you're having.

Resist the pressure to analyze every date and phone conversation to see if your feelings have gotten stronger. Doing this actually blocks those feelings from developing. When the month is over, ask yourself one question, "What's changed between us?"

Don't look for "excitement" – some people feel it, while many others develop other positive feelings like contentment or happiness. You may say that you like him more, that you sometimes missed him, or wanted to see him or talk to him longer. You may say, "I feel good/ happy/ safe/ whole with him." Each of these are signs that your feelings are growing in a positive direction. If that's the case, the process may need to continue before the feelings are strong enough to decide about marriage.

Small Town Orientation

It's also possible that once you feel more comfortable about the other issues you're grappling with, you'll be able to relax a little so that your feelings can develop more freely. Marrying this man will involve a lot of changes – moving from the familiarity of a city to the different lifestyle of a small town, no longer seeing your parents every day, and giving up a job and career you enjoy.

It sounds like what concerns you more than these changes is how well you'd make the transition – how you'll reorient yourself to the slower pace and different worldview of small town living, how you'll define yourself after you give up your career, how you will manage being less emotionally dependent on your parents. Will you develop new friendships, build a new career, discover outlets for your interests and creativity, find your place in the community? And you'll be making the biggest transition of all – building a new life with your husband.

Transitions can be easier when people prepare by understanding what may be good about them, what may be difficult, and that there are resources and ways to ably address the challenges they may encounter. For example, we encourage all engaged and newlywed couples to take advantage of the growing number of marriage education programs (either in groups or one-on-one). These foster a more realistic expectation of marriage and the different ways to adjust to living as husband and wife. You will learn tools and skills to make these adjustments, and will have someone to turn to for more guidance. This will help ensure that you experience fewer major "bumps" in the road because you can anticipate them better and have tools to deal with them.

One key way to adjust to a major life transition is to think about what will be difficult about the change, then explore the resources and ideas to address this difficulty.

You'll be giving up the city life you've always known for life in a small, rural community. What will you miss about living in the city? The fast pace, the abundance of restaurants, stores, entertainment and public transportation?

The pace of small town life may be slower, but may also be relaxing.

The pace of small town life may be slower, but it also may be relaxing. Do a little research about the availability of the things you think you'll miss when you move. Ask where people who live in this community shop, the best places to go for haircuts and manicures, and the different venues for entertainment and intellectual stimulation. You'd be surprised that you can find most of what you enjoy – exercise classes, book clubs, Jewish education, craft classes, sports teams, libraries, local orchestras, and theater groups. Chances are you won't miss out on life by being in a small town.

Relocation also means finding new friends and building a connection with a new community. At the beginning, you might feel lonely at times. Let this man know that this is one of your concerns, so he can start the introduction process – couples he knows, friends' wives, neighbors, people from his synagogue. While it's tempting for newlyweds to want to stay in their own little bubble for a while, it will be helpful for you to start cultivating friendships from the start. Arrange to meet for coffee, and begin to participate in some community activities.

One of your biggest challenges may be giving up the job you like. You may have to use your skills and training to reinvent yourself in a new career or profession. People do this more often than you think, due to all sorts of societal and technological changes. Living in Israel, we see this firsthand every day, with new immigrants who had thriving professions make 90-degree turns into new fields, or arrange to telecommute to a job in their area of expertise.

While you're exploring career options in your new community, it will be a good idea to find a part-time, productive outlet for yourself. Think about community service, re-training, Jewish learning, or a way to explore your creativity. This is a healthy way to maintain your sense of who and how valuable you are. People who relocate and have free time on their hands sometimes lose this sense because they feel purposeless. In addition, when you feel productive and creative, you won't put an unrealistic burden on your husband by expecting him to be your only source of entertainment, empathy, companionship, friendship, validation, etc.

Family Ties

Your final big adjustment will be not seeing your beloved family as often as you do now. Yet marriage involves creating a certain amount of separation between yourself and your family, particularly your parents. You and your new husband will need to create your own bond, and that means spending more time with each other and less time with your parents and siblings.

This may seem difficult for you, if you haven't fully individuated or separated from your parents. You may still live with them, see them every day, turn to them for help with decisions, and depend on them to take care of certain things for you. If that's the case, it's a good idea to start becoming less dependent now for your day-to-day needs, such as handling finances, making appointments, doing laundry, and running errands. Ask them for advice less often by gathering the information you need on your own, and when you do seek their counsel, evaluate their suggestion and make your own decision. These steps will help you become more independent, both practically and emotionally, and will ease your transition to “married woman.”

Moving some distance away from your parents may actually help this process along. Most married couples, even ones who live in the same town as their parents, do not see them daily, or even weekly. A new husband and wife, no matter how much they care about each other, need to learn to confide in each other, ask and give advice, keep each other company, feel like close friends, turn to each other for emotional support, and do nice things for each other. A couple can't grow into marriage if one or both of them continue to do all this with their parents or siblings.

By realistically anticipating what you may experience if you relocate, and understanding the different ways you can adjust to these changes, you'll be less anxious about moving forward in the relationship with the man you're dating.

You also mentioned how hard it is to find a good man, and your fear that if you let this man go, someone else may not come along. That in itself is not a compelling reason to marry someone. You need to have a strong emotional connection with the man you marry. It sounds like this current relationship has good potential, so give yourself time to allow your feelings to grow.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry

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