R ecently I went out with a guy seven times and everything was amazing — on paper. He had good middos we came from similar backgrounds and hashkafos he was pleasant-looking and conversation flowed nicely.

But I had no feelings for him.

He was nice and when we were together I had a nice time but I didn’t look forward to seeing him. I kind of hoped he’d say no so I wouldn’t have to make the decision but eventually I did say no. Yet I can’t stop thinking about whether I did the right thing. Did I make a mistake? Am I waiting for something that may never happen? Am I being superficial or worse have I fallen prey to Western notions of romance that have no business in our shidduch world? Help!

Finished but Not Done

Dear Finished

Do you know that of all the questions I get this is the hardest one to answer? Because the answer is quite simply I don’t know.

We’re bombarded with so many messages from the outer world and from within our own world that it’s hard to hear them all clearly much less sift through them. And many of the messages directly contradict each other.

A girl (or boy) can hear the following messages simultaneously: Real love doesn’t happen until you are married. Listen to your inner voice and follow your heart. Life is not Hollywood; there are no fireworks. The most important thing in a marriage is respect and menschlichkeit; everything else can be figured out. When you meet the right one you’ll just know. You go in and do your best and you never really know until you get married — I was terrified but now I’m so happy.

Every girl who’s dating has probably heard some variation of each of these statements and many of them seem mutually exclusive. So how can they all be true?! At the same time?!?! No wonder you’re confused.

Let’s clear the cobwebs by removing some of the extraneous stuff. Any message that begins with “should” is probably clouding your voice and only adding guilt to the mix. “Should” doesn’t represent what “is”; it only represents where we judge ourselves for falling short. And that’s not helpful.

Yes it’s important to have ideals but growth and solid decision-making begin from where we are not where we deem we should be. So “I shouldn’t be waiting for fireworks ” can be replaced with “I’m not as excited as I thought I would be” for a more productive conversation. Then you can begin to figure out why you’re not so excited and can evaluate whether those are productive reasons instead of getting stuck on judging yourself. Listen deeply to your inner voice. Cut the messages that are some variation of “should ” and see what’s left.

I’d also like to say a word about vulnerability. Often the spark that’s missing is a lack of connection. That connection the first step toward deep intimacy is born from shared vulnerability. This is why couples often get stuck at around date five or six.

Many singles are adept at small talk and have good social skills. So it’s pleasant enough to spend time together. But excitement only builds in a relationship as the superficial layers are peeled back to reveal the inner person. And that takes a boatload of courage. Because when we reveal our thoughts and feelings we’re trusting the other person to hold them sacred. And how can we trust? We’ve barely known this person for 30 hours. Where else would we ever do such a crazy thing?

Some people take the plunge. They either feel they can weather the fallout if it backfires or they’re just more trusting by nature. But people who have been hurt are often unwilling to take the risk and the relationship stagnates. It grows in quantity but plateaus in quality. The true work of vulnerability and connection never happens. And neither does the spark.

So when this difficult question comes up I ask the questioner: Are you willing to take the risk? Can you take the relationship to the next level and reveal some part of yourself that you wouldn’t normally share and see what happens? Some people have used some of the dating games that are available to take this next step in a safer more measured way. Others do it solo. But if you don’t risk something if you aren’t willing to be vulnerable the relationship will stay bland.

Once you do take a risk you can review those same questions and see if they still apply. Has any part of the spark been lit?

I’m not daas Torah and I’d always urge someone in this situation to seek the advice of a talmid chacham but if you were my daughter and had given it your all and still felt nothing I’d tell you to listen to your heart. It may be your neshamah speaking.



Originally featured in Family First Issue 573. Sara Eisemann LMSW ACSW is a licensed social worker and a columnist for inshidduchim.com. She also lectures on topics related to relationships personal development and growth. She welcomes questions comments feedback and interaction at inshidduchim@mishpacha.com.