Important note: You can gauge that far more accurately from what she does than from what she says
I'm currently going out a girl who's very nice, easy to talk to, and enjoyable to be around. For the most part we have similar hashkafos, with one big difference.
I grew up in a very open home with tons of guests, lots of kiruv, random people around our Shabbos table, etc. My parents are both heavily involved in all sorts of klal work and volunteer a lot of their time.
The girl I'm dating feels strongly that a Shabbos table is a place of refuge for the family. She believes that you should focus on your family and fit in chesed if you can, but your life shouldn't revolve around it. She's somewhat quiet and reserved, so I don't know how much of this is a shitah and how much is her personality.
We were told she's a loyal friend, and it seems she expresses her ruchniyus in other ways, like regularly going to shiurim, etc., but I'm wondering if this is just too big a gap to cross. You always refer to being hashkafically compatible ® does this qualify as incompatibility? Basically, is this a deal breaker?
You know how Jews answer a question with a question? Well, how about those Jews who answer a question with a story? If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a story.
Years ago, my husband and I had the zechus of joining a friend of ours at the bris they made on the East Coast. After the simchah, we gave a ride to one of the guests, and, of course, the topic of living out of town came up. I mentioned how much I enjoy being a big fish in a small pond and feeling that I can really make a difference in the community.
Our guest responded with, “I don’t need any fish, I don’t need any pond. I take care of my family, and that’s enough for me.” After I got past my initial judgmental horror (after all, I was around 32 and knew exactly how everyone should live their lives) I paused and thought about her words.
Shivim panim l’Torah. Who’s to say whose method of avodas Hashem, if any, is best? On an esoteric level, there are many ways to serve Hashem, and each draws on the predilection of the server, the cultural forces surrounding them, the spiritual milieu of the time, and a host of other factors.
As my cohort was growing up, we were imbued with a sense of achrayus to the klal. From what I can see in this current generation, the pendulum is swinging back to a focus on the family. “You should not be making four-course suppers for your kimpeturin neighbor while your family eats cereal” types of messages. Is there actually an objective right or wrong in this area?
But pontification doesn’t really help you here. You want to know, tachlis, if the two of you plan to build a home together, do you need to be on the same page? Chesed begins in the home. We can all agree on that. But does it end there? That, you have different ideas about.
I recently was privileged to hear a wonderful class about conversations, wherein I learned that in meaningful conversation, there’s a shared pool of meaning. Each of us enters a conversation with our own opinions, feelings, theories, and experiences about the topic. These make up our personal pool of meaning. When two or more people enter a crucial conversation, we build a pool of shared meaning — the more we add of each person’s meaning, the more information is available to everyone involved, and the better the decisions made (crucialskills.com).
You both need to understand more about each other’s feelings around this topic. It’s time to have an authentic conversation about what significance she attributes to family time on Shabbos. Is she coming from a place of seeing families who fell apart because they were too focused on external chesed? Did she experience Shabbos as a warm, wholesome family experience that she wants to pass on to her children? What does it mean to her?
And then it would be your turn to explore what “external chesed” means to you. What meaning do you attach to your family’s model of chesed? Do you feel that if you’re blessed with gifts, you have an achrayus to share? Do you feel that in order to feel areivus with Klal Yisrael you actually have to physically help them?
Having a rich conversation about this topic will help clarify whether you do, in fact, share similar hashkafos. You may discover that at the root of both of your philosophies is a deep desire to serve Hashem with joy. For her, joy might come in small intimate settings, and she might feel closest to Hashem when she’s in that space. For you, the buzz that’s created from various forms of activity might bring you to that place of joy.
The details don’t matter. The point is that you may discover that your goal is the same, but your pathways are different. That becomes a starting point. Then you can move on to the conversation about how a couple decides what to do when they see things differently. And you can decide if both of you are flexible enough to make that work.
Important note: You can gauge that far more accurately from what she does than from what she says. If she displays flexibility as you’re dating, if she disagrees respectfully, and most importantly, if she listens to learn and not just to respond, then you have the elements of someone who you can work with.
Alternatively, you may have the conversation and see that each, or one, of you is too emotionally attached to your way of chesed to see the perspective of the other. If you’re left with judgment and a deep sense of dissatisfaction, that’s an indication that trying to make this work doesn’t align with your true values.
May Hashem help you have this conversation in a way that enlightens you and brings you to a decision of shleimus.
Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a dating mentor. She lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, authenticity, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at email@example.com.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 794)
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