Too many romance novels have the exact same plot. Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy has to win girl back. It all starts with the “meet cute.” They both reach for an apple on the same shelf of the grocery store, or get stuck in an elevator. Love is an accident; staying together is a drama.
This was the picture of dating I absorbed for years, so like any normal teenage girl, I dreamed of someone sweeping me off my feet.
By the time I got to college, I realized that the threshold for a guy to express his feelings was absurdly low. A text saying, “Hey, what’s up?” was the equivalent of a bouquet of roses. It didn’t take long for me to become disillusioned. Deep down, however, I still wanted a meaningful relationship. I had given up on the fairy-tale, but I wanted something substantial.
When I began visiting people’s homes for Shabbat, in these warm, welcoming families, I saw an approach to relationships that resonated with what I intuitively desired.
The main thing that impressed me in the Jewish approach to relationships is that a person’s marriage is the central sphere of his or her life; therefore, every care is taken to protect it. Under that protective shield fall the laws of modesty and refraining from touching (shomer negiah). These are ways of making boundaries around that which is most precious and most vulnerable. I was also struck by the level of accountability for both partners; both are held to Divine laws and equally responsible to be an active partner in building a relationship.
In the traditional Jewish approach to dating, young people first focus on developing their own identity and values. Only once they decide that they are ready to commit to a marriage do they start dating. The contemporary world makes your profession the center of your life, and a relationship something you hoped for along the way. People would casually let so many partners into their private lives without carefully assessing the impact it would have on their own growth and identity. As I deepened my appreciation for the importance of relationships and marriage, I was surprised at how haphazardly the secular approach treated this essential area of life.
Jewish dating still has its drama and intrigue. But at the end of the day, it gets to the point, and that is to build your life and family with someone compatible, good and committed. If you can make this your goal in dating, you can sidestep a lot of frustration, ambiguity and heartbreak. As I began to solidify my religious identity, I started dating in this focused, goal-oriented way. Then it came to the question: How do I assess if the person I am dating is “the one”?
I ended up getting engaged to my husband after 10 days. I got some very good dating advice from a wise older mentor who was channeling the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. She told me to look for three things—three main things—and if they are in place, then I can feel confident in moving forward. (Note: You can’t really know someone in 10 days! I wasn’t delusional. What I knew is that I found out enough to want to get to know him for the rest of my life.)
Here are the three essential things to look for in a partner:
1. A Commitment to Living a Jewish Life
First and foremost, you have to assess your values. If one person refuses to live anywhere but Manhattan, and the other person needs nature and fresh air, that could be a source of contention for years to come. More important, however, is that you share a vision for how you envision your home and family. The Lubavitcher Rebbe advised a young woman who asked what to look for in a potential partner: “First and foremost, the person should be trustworthy, so that he could fully be relied upon in all his promises relating to the establishment of a truly Jewish home.”
2. Good Character Traits
The Talmud says you can know a person through three things: his anger, his pocket and his cup. “His anger” refers to all the ways a person interacts and treats those around him, especially when something goes wrong. Does he yell, or can he maintain his composure and resolve the issue? “His pocket” refers to how he deals with money. Is he generous and giving, or stingy and manipulative? Dealing with finances together is an ongoing part of a marriage, so you want to have a similar approach. The final way is “his cup,” meaning: how does he act after a few drinks? The Talmud teaches that when wine enters, secrets come out; this is a way to see his true nature. These are just a few ways to assess some of a person’s traits.
3. A Drawing Close of the Heart
It’s not all about fireworks or romantic gestures. This final aspect is simple: Do you feel an emotional connection? Do you want to spend more time together? Plenty of people can check off the first two requirements, but this third component cannot be written on a dating profile. It’s that magic spark that makes a perfectly nice guy into your perfectly nice guy. The Rebbe stressed that the heart must be taken into account. Even if we take marriage very seriously and methodically, at the end of the day a potential marriage partner has to resonate with your heart.
Having these three things on my checklist helped me make a fast decision, but that isn’t necessarily the goal. What I loved about the Jewish approach to relationships is that we want to make it work, and we will put in the effort to build a fantastic marriage. Part of me believes I met my soulmate, and part of me believes I chose a good person to marry because I was ready to get married. I don’t think that’s a contradiction. If we can start off the dating process with a commitment (and an emotional connection), then love has a safe place to grow.
Whether you are observant or not, this advice could work for your life; there is a way to apply the Jewish method of dating to any situation. It might take a bit of courage to go against the grain, but for a strong and lasting relationship, isn’t it worth it?
By Chava Green Chava Green is a writer, teacher and perpetual student. After graduating with her BA in Women’s and Gender Studies, she attended Mayanot Women’s Program in Jerusalem and Machon Alta in Tzfat. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Jewish studies at Emory University and lives with her family in Morristown, NJ. Her work considers the relationship between Chabad teachings and feminism. More from Chava Green