There’s no one more uniquely qualified to answer these questions than those who dated for years before they met their bashert
Settle, or wait for Mr. Perfect? There’s no one more uniquely qualified to answer that question than those who dated for years before they met their bashert. They all grappled: Should I revise what I’m looking for? Am I being too picky? How can I get past what other people think so I can make the best decision for me? Now happily married, these women reflect on their experiences, and offer insight and advice to those still in the dating arena
Dated 13 years, married at 32
You can build a life with anyone.
That’s what I thought when I started dating at 19. I’d known someone who married at 25; it seemed the end of the world. I was adamant I wasn’t going to end up older and single. So, I was open to anything, having just two and a half criteria when I started dating. I still ended up older and single.
In hindsight, I thank Hashem that my openness didn’t sabotage me. Ironically, the longer I dated, the more I realized I had to have some standards: He had to be kind and menschlich and he had to be inherently frum.
When I was dating, people would tell me they had married someone very different from their original picture, saying, “You can’t be picky, you can’t be so particular.” Was it too much to ask for someone nice? People would go on about how nice a boy was, I’d go out, and someone very different showed up. That’s why there are so many bad date stories.
I used say, “I’ll try to overlook this,” but I had a few deal breakers. When I agreed to go out with someone despite a deal breaker — because I couldn’t be picky, you know — I sobbed on the kitchen floor. I still went out with him. But I couldn’t go forward.
When people are older and single, it makes other people uncomfortable. Our world is constructed around families, and when we see someone who isn’t married, it makes us nervous. No one wants to think, that could be my daughter, my son, still single at 30. So they say, “They’re being picky.” And I’d think, you don’t know me! Marriage is serious. I’ll be spending the rest of my life with this person. It has to be right.
When I met my husband, I knew he was it very quickly. He fit my two and half criteria, and so much more; he’s my Mr. Perfect. Funnily enough, the two of us were redt to each other a number of times since I was 21, but for some reason we didn’t meet until I was over 30.
Looking back, I believe if we’d been set up earlier, it wouldn’t have necessarily worked. A person doesn’t stay in stasis for ten years; one learns, reads, thinks. I discovered who I am and what I needed in a relationship, and “anyone” wasn’t going to cut it. I wasn’t the same person at 31 that I was at 21.
Life is about compromise, there will be disagreements even with the person you skip off into the sunset with. It’s wonderful when a couple gets married at 21, spared a decade of searching and wondering. But everyone has a personal journey in shidduchim — and then in marriage. This was mine.
Dated 14 years, married at 34
“What’s wrong with you?” people used to say. “Just get married. You’re too picky.”
They didn’t understand that I was trying hard. I went on thousands of dates, but I just wasn’t finding the right person. Every time I met a guy, there was a big element missing: our hashkafos were mismatched, there was no chemistry, we didn’t have similar values, I didn’t enjoy his company. I had multiple broken engagements.
I was 33 when I met my husband. He’d been married previously; his first wife had passed away, and I was the first woman he met after her petirah. When I met my husband, he said, “I don’t understand why you’re still around.” And I said, “Neither do I.”
I tried to be open. If you set me up with a guy and he was a mensch, whatever he was doing, I’d give it a shot. I met all sorts: baalei teshuvah, divorced, with kids, younger, older.
When I met my husband, I thought he was awesome. I had 50 items on my list and he came up on 48 of them. It was ridiculous, but I found myself getting hung up on those other two. Why do I have to settle, I thought, and marry someone who was married before?
I knew my husband was a good match for me, with so many qualities I hadn’t even realized I needed, but he was also things I didn’t want. I had to mourn it, cry, to let go of my fantasy in order to embrace this great reality — a wonderful guy, who’d make a great husband and father. I realized it was better to mourn the loss to embrace what’s here, than to let the whole thing go and mourn the fact that I may never get married.
I think everyone compromises on something. When you’re younger, you may not know what you’re giving up on. Everything seems wonderful, but maybe later, parnassah is a struggle, or having children is a struggle, or the marriage takes a lot of work in terms of chemistry or obtaining the deeper relationship you always wanted. There will always be an avodah for every couple to work through no matter how good the marriage.
Great relationships don’t just happen, we have to make them happen. With work, you can turn someone into your bashert, but not everyone is willing to put in the effort. Sometimes two neshamos have been apart for so long they don’t even recognize each other at first, and it takes perseverance until they can connect.
While it’s important to seek advice from those who have experience, the opinion that matters most is yours. I realized I alone had to make the decision to marry my husband. We were engaged before I even introduced him to my parents. After she met him, my mother asked, “Are you sure you want to marry a guy who was married before?” I was prepared, and I said, “Yes.” Sometimes we can’t consult people we love because they care about us, and they want what’s best, maybe too best.
There’s a strong message in the frum world: to be successful you need to marry and have a family. But there are two routes to the same destination. Many people get married young and then grow up together with their spouse to become who they need to be in life. Others grow and mature on their own in order to be ready to meet another person who is already grown and developed. And both paths can reach a beautiful destination.
Dated 11 years, married at 29
A lot of people have an image of a certain type of guy in their head, and until they find that guy, they feel they can’t get married. I didn’t have an image; there weren’t a hundred criteria a potential husband had to meet.
I was hoping to meet someone headed in a similar direction in terms of goals, and more than anything, someone whose company I enjoyed, someone I could eat breakfast with every morning.
I was a hard match — bright and intense. But I approached dating with an open mind, didn’t verify every last detail. I don’t think I finally married because I changed my standards, or became more realistic, but because I met someone I liked. If I would’ve met my husband ten years earlier I would’ve married him then, too.
Were there things I was aware I wasn’t getting? Of course. Were there things I would have found out later had we dated longer? Yes. Even now, there are things I wish were different, but I wouldn’t say I settled, and I’m glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
There was an argument I had with shadchanim all the time. They’d say, “He graduated from Harvard.” And I’d say, “So what am I going to do? Talk to his diploma? I couldn’t talk to him.” When I met my husband, who might be able to only squeak into Harvard, that fact didn’t matter, because I enjoyed his company. The fact that he can’t solve a math problem as quickly in his head as I can doesn’t mean I settled. It means I recognized that since I liked him, and he was a thinking person, being a genius wasn’t important.
Even though I was dating for so long, the fundamentals of the man I was looking for didn’t change. Circumstances change, and that effects how we do things. But values, integrity — those are timeless.
My friends who are still not married were likely just as open at 18 as others, but they didn’t have opportunities, and then time gave them more criteria. Some would have easily married at 18, but once they got to 28, they may have thought, “I waited this long, I may as well get exactly what I want.”
I think if a single is looking for a rare combination and has a good reason for doing so, she has to go with it. But from what I’ve seen from my friends, those who eventually did get married generally let go of the silly stuff and started looking past exteriors to see what’s beneath.
Still, bottom line: marry older, marry younger, there will always be surprises.
Dated 11 years, married at 30
Nachum was divorced; he was the first guy I dated who was a divorcé. I had a friend who’d gotten married a year before, also to someone divorced. When we were seriously dating, my mother admitted it wasn’t what she dreamed of. But my friend’s choice made it okay for my mother.
I didn’t feel like I was settling. He checked off all my other boxes.
I think settling is when people talk you into it, an outside pressure. My mother married when she was 24, and thought that was old. She used to tell me I need to settle, but I made it clear I won’t marry just to be married.
It’s important for a single to be happy and self-confident in their present situation. There’s nothing worse than being depressed or anxious about not being married. Strive for success, find things to keep you occupied so you’ll be able to wait patiently, without feeling the need to rush into something to fill a hole inside you.
When you make your decision, you should be drawn to that person. It may be different from what you anticipated because who you are may change. When you’re younger, maybe you’re looking for a learning guy, but maybe that isn’t relevant to who you become later. A 30-year-old girl may want to get married and be a stay-at-home mom, to have that flexibility.
What a single needs is often very different than what other people think they need. Older singles aren’t necessarily picky, it’s just that they know themselves, and who they can be with, and they haven’t yet found that person. Most important is to find one person with whom you can be your truest self, with all your idiosyncrasies. You shouldn’t give up a part of yourself to be with someone. Don’t compromise on your values to get a proposal.
In literature, you have the character and the setting. Don’t settle on the character — the middos, the essence of the person. But you can look away from the setting. The core still stays the same, it’s just the externals that may be different. Maybe the guy’s profession isn’t what you imagined, perhaps his family background, or his marital history, or his nationality doesn’t match up with your dreams. Broaden your horizon, be willing to give it a shot.
While you need to be open to meeting people who may not check off all your boxes, you also have to know yourself and what you cannot live with. I never said I wouldn’t go out with a divorced guy, but other things would have been harder for me to swallow. When I was dating my husband, I had a discussion with my cousin, also an older single. She said, “I could handle a widower, but a divorced guy would bother me.” Be flexible, but also be honest.
Dated 10 years, married at 35
I had a mental picture of the kind of guy I wanted and the qualities I thought were important for me. I didn’t expect to find all of it; it was a starting point. I was open to exploring “variations on my theme,” within reason. I wasn’t holding out for Mr. Perfect, but Mr. Good Enough.
In the end, I found 100 percent of what I was looking for, even details I didn’t put on the list. I wasn’t holding out for Mr. Perfect, but I ended up finding him anyway.
I was looking for a guy who was learning, and when I hit my thirties, I was still holding out for a guy in klei kodesh or learning. I’m not typically yeshivish, I come from a more open minded world. Those two factors were hard to reconcile; it was an unusual combination to find.
When I dated someone good enough, sometimes we’d have hashkafic differences. Still, I tried to make it work despite those differences. After all, he was learning, he had a passion for it, he was nice. So I’d force myself to continue. I had a mentor who said the fact that we didn’t mesh hashkafically didn’t bother her, but I should see if I could connect in other ways, maybe on an emotional level.
When it didn’t end up working with the people I felt were good enough, I wasn’t the one who said no. I remember one incident in particular that was painful. We went out a bunch of times, and it got pretty serious. And then it was over. Hashem is in charge and it wasn’t for me.
I think it’s important to explore and go out with different types of people, because you don’t know how you’ll connect in a relationship. You may think you need one thing, and may not realize you can connect with another thing and still have a beautiful marriage. I don’t regret going out with those good-enough people, and trying to make it work. The process of exploration helps you develop an understanding of yourself and your needs. Each person you meet can help you develop a bit more, so when you meet your husband, you can truly connect.
Why They Can’t “Just Settle Already”
Looking from the outside in, it’s easy to judge older singles. Outsiders, thinking they have fresh insight to assess ongoing situations, assign pat reasons as to why an older single hasn’t found The One. This causes singles intense pain.
“Singles are often accused of making foolish decisions, of not knowing what they’re doing,” says Dr. Ruchama Fund, a psychologist in Brooklyn who offers coaching for effective dating. People say, “She should’ve settled,” but they don’t understand what’s going on behind the scenes.
“It’s possible she dated Mr. Eligible, and he had bad middos or some other issue that made it a deal breaker. She may have told you a ‘reason,’ but you don’t really know what went on. It’s important for friends, family members, and shadchanim not to cause pain.”
It’s often the case that singles are ready to marry, but were never offered a realistic choice. “It’s possible the majority of the women who are single now are in that category. Many women who were ready to say yes to the next appropriate person didn’t get that opportunity because he never came, or he never agreed to another date,” points out Dr. Fund.
A person’s current circumstances can dictate their choices. As people encounter life circumstances, priorities change, values change, and therefore aspirations in a shidduch change. It’s not about settling, but about prioritizing values based on who is right now.
Of course, it’s easier to get married younger. People tend to be more flexible when they’re younger, so it’s easier to accommodate another person’s quirks, but not everyone gets that choice. “There’s always a reason a person can’t envision making it work. They don’t like the person enough, or they have issues they have to work through; maybe they have scars from childhood — from their families or school. It’s not because they’re stubborn, or picky, but because they weren’t able to.”
Dr. Fund believes anyone in shidduchim past age 22 should have a dating coach or therapist. “When people are young, their parents can be their mentors, but as their parents get more anxious about the situation, the single often needs a coach or therapist who is objective, and who can help her work things through, without unconsciously imposing their own agenda.”
A therapist can provide multiple benefits. She can help a person make peace with a painful personal history, and also help her recover from shameful dating experiences, maybe even trauma caused by a well-meaning shadchan who pushed too forcefully.
There’s a small percentage of people who have a condition called relationship OCD — they have a hard time making decisions — and that can affect their ability to move forward in a shidduch. That’s something that can be treated in therapy.
Most importantly, a coach or therapist can teach a person to tune out outside opinions and focus on her individual needs.
I’m not Meeting the Right Type
Date after disappointing date seems to be DOA. What can you do to find more suitable dates? Rachel Burnham, dating coach and founder of D8gr8.com, offers guidance and perspective.
Broaden Your Scope
Try to be more open to different “packaging,” or externals. Consider broadening your criterion to include different backgrounds, yeshivos, or professions. Age can also be a factor you choose to overlook. “No one discusses age after marriage,” notes Rachel.
Work on Your Own Self-Worth
Self-esteem is attractive. Someone can only love us to the extent we love ourselves. “I ask my clients, ‘Would you want to date yourself?’”says Rachel. “Positive energy attracts a positive person, blockages stop you from moving forward.”
Expand Your Circles
Get out there, meet new people, and expand your social network. Start going out on Shabbos if you don’t already, try different Shabbos tables, shadchanim, and singles networks.
Say Yes More Often
If it sounds decent, give it a shot. An organization devoted to making shidduchim tracked dating trends among their members. They found people who claimed they weren’t getting dates had, in fact, been offered as many dates as anyone else in the group. This suggested the difference was the response — they were saying no more often if a shidduch didn’t match predetermined criteria.
Focus on the Positive
Look for the best in others. Remember you aren’t perfect, either. When you meet someone, and he isn’t what you imagined, don’t focus on why it isn’t for you. Ask: What could work for me?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 694)
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