| Family Diary |

Minus the Fireworks

"Everyone keeps asking me if I look forward to seeing him again, and I don’t really feel like I do!”


As told to Zivia Reischer

"My name is Yael Green,” said the girl on the other end of the line. “You don’t know me, but I really need your help.”

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Yael launched into her story. “I’m 23. I’ve been dating for around three years,” she said. “I finally found a boy who’s everything I want, and we went out eight times already. I can’t find any reason not to get engaged, but I just don’t feel that… you know… excitement that everyone talks about. My parents think that means he’s not right for me. If he were The One, then I wouldn’t feel so…” She searched for the word. “Pareve. I’m not pareve, really. I like him and I think he’s far more suitable than any other boy I ever met. But it’s true that I’m not ‘excited.’ ”

I could hear the distress in her voice. “Slow down,” I told her. “First tell me a little about yourself and the boy you’re dating. I want to hear about your personality and dating style in general, and how the dating progressed while you’ve been going out with this boy specifically.”

“Okay.” She paused to collect her thoughts. “Here goes. His name is Naftali. He grew up in the Five Towns. His father is a businessman, his mother doesn’t work, he’s the oldest boy in the family. He’s outgoing, charismatic, articulate, worldly, considerate, caring, has depth, and is serious about learning. He plans to go into computer science eventually.

“We’ve had great discussions on all kinds of hashkafah topics, politics, science, and history. We’re both intellectually curious, so we never run out of things to talk about. We have common interests, and we see eye to eye on the important things. We definitely enjoy each other’s company.

“I’m from Brooklyn, went to Bais Yaakov. I had a really great year in seminary. I’m in Touro for PA, almost finished my degree. I enjoy reading nonfiction, history, and science. But I also enjoy hanging out with friends — I love a deep conversation, but I also like having fun.”

I noted what Yael seemed to prioritize — she spoke about her schooling and intellectual pursuits before mentioning family or friends.

“I’m the second of five,” Yael continued, “and we’re only girls. My father is a biomedical researcher, my mother is a high school English and science teacher.  My older sister is married, and she’s totally different from me — outgoing, a ball of energy, that type. She thrives on social situations. I’m not like that. I’d say that I enjoy or tolerate those things, but I’d much prefer to sit and talk one-on-one with someone than go to a party.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I said. “When you were growing up, and even now, when you’re planning to get together with your friends, is that something you look forward to? Or is it something you dread? Or are you just pareve?”

“Not dread — for sure not,” Yael answered quickly. “I’d say pareve, but on the positive side.”

It fit. “And once you’re there, and you’re with your friends, how do you feel?”

“Fine. I mean, great. I always enjoy being with my friends.”

“Okay,” I said. “So now let’s talk about your dates with Naftali. Do you look forward to them?”

“Not particularly,” Yael admitted. “That’s why I’m so worried — everyone keeps asking me if I look forward to seeing him again, and I don’t really feel like I do!”

“When you’re with Naftali, does the conversation flow? Are you relaxed?”

“Oh, for sure,” Yael said instantly.

“How would you describe what you feel like when you’re with him — does he bring out the best in you? In other words, do you like yourself when you’re with him?”

“Mrs. Leiman,” Yael asserted, “I’m so comfortable with Naftali. I feel like I’ve known him much longer than the three weeks we’re going out. When I’m with him I don’t feel the time passing at all.” She paused and I could hear her frustration. “The whole thing makes no sense! To feel so great when I’m with him, but then not miss him or look forward to the next date?! I feel like I can’t just walk away, but I can’t get engaged if I’m not excited, either!”

“Yael,” I said, “there are different types of people and different personalities. Some people are highly emotional, and some are more cerebral or analytical. Such people approach relationships almost the way you would close a business deal, with a lot of analysis and thought. Sometimes this process of serious thinking and analyzing doesn’t allow for emotions to emerge in the relationship. You’re so busy thinking and rethinking, analyzing and reanalyzing, you can’t even feel your emotions anymore.

“Then it becomes very scary to make a decision, because you’re expecting to feel strong emotions, but instead you find yourself involved in a very logical decision-making process — ‘everything adds up, okay, I’m good to go!’ ”

Yael laughed weakly.

“On the other hand, let’s take your older sister. You described her as a very emotional, social butterfly type. If she called me after eight dates and said, ‘I don’t look forward to the dates,’ that would be a different story. Because of her personality, we would expect her to feel strong emotions. We would expect her to rely on her emotions to guide her to a decision.”

“So that means it’s okay if I’m not excited?”

“The general rule is that you must have some degree of positive feeling before getting engaged, but it doesn’t have to be as strong or extreme as ‘excitement.’ In fact, there’s something even better than feeling excited — feeling a deep sense of contentment. That would mean you feel happy and grounded when you’re with Naftali, and there’s a feeling of connection between the two of you.” I paused. “Yael, does this make sense?”

I heard her draw a deep breath. “Mrs. Leiman,” she blurted, “I feel like you’re living in my brain. You just explained exactly how I feel.”

I laughed. “You’re not the only one, you know,” I told her. “There are lots of girls and even boys like you — people who have a more analytical personality, and then get anxious about what they are or aren’t feeling.”

I talked to Yael for a bit longer, until I sensed she really was ready to go ahead.

“One more point,” I added. “Once the decision is behind you and there’s no more need to analyze, you might find yourself suddenly feeling all the excitement you’re missing now. That’s great. It might not happen, either, which is fine too. The crucial thing is to have a general positive feeling and a deeper sense of things being right.”

Yael’s parents came on the line, and I explained to them what I’d told Yael.

“I feel so much better,” Yael said before we hung up. “I didn’t know what to do…. I didn’t want to say no to Naftali. I was afraid to lose him. But I thought something must be wrong if I didn’t have that flying-high feeling. It’s like you gave me permission to do what I really wanted.”

to be continued…


Shani Leiman is a teacher, shadchan, and dating coach. She lives in  Silver Spring, Maryland.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 739)

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