At almost every one of our programs, someone will come up to us and ask, "What is the most important thing that I need to know before I start dating for marriage?" Most people expect to hear, "Look for someone with a good heart," or "Always look your best – you never know who is watching you," or even "Find someone with a good family background. They are usually surprised by our answer. The most important thing a person needs to know before they start dating is – themselves.
The most important thing a person needs to know before they start dating is – themselves.
How many of you know someone who has gone out with dozens of different people but hasn't been able to make a connection with any of them? Or, they have a set idea of the type of person they want to marry, and since none of the people they meet fit this description, they never get past the first date. Both of these singles, who are seldom happy with their dating partners, expect that when they meet the "right person", everything will fall into place. Unfortunately, they're missing the first basic step in the dating process.
The starting point for everyone who wants to find their future spouse is to look for a dating partner whose values are similar to theirs and who has goals that are compatible to their own. Those lists of minute details that many singles rely upon seldom take these essential factors into consideration.
We find that many singles who are bright, educated, talented and personable do not have a clear understanding of the values that are important to them, as well as what they would like to accomplish in their personal lives over the short and long term. This is true for people no matter what their level of Jewish observance. They may have general ideas about what is important to them and what they would like the future to hold, but often these ideas are a product of their environment rather than what is really important to them as a unique individual.
At age 32, Rami had dated scores of women. He thought he knew exactly what he was looking for – someone pretty and fun-loving, who came from a nice family and had a well-paying job. Unfortunately, "the one" had always eluded him. One woman was attractive, but turned out to be shallow, another seemed perfect, but the two of them ended up arguing a lot, other times he liked her but she didn't feel the same way about him. Many times, he'd go out with one woman for three months, break up, and then move on to the next prospect. Rami couldn't understand why the right woman hadn't come along. One day, he mentioned his quandary to a married friend, who remarked…""What makes you think it's the girl? Maybe it's you. I don't think you know what you're looking for. Yeah, you want pretty and smart and so does everyone else. But you never seem to look for anything beyond that."
Although Rami protested, he was troubled by his friend's comment and thought about it long after their talk had ended. Finally, he admitted to himself that his friend was right. Now, he needed to sort out what he really wanted in his own life, and what kind of a woman would be best suited to follow that path with him.
Take The Time To Think About Who You Really Are
We often encourage single men and women who, like, Rami, come to us for advice to take some time to do some introspective thinking about who they really are, where they are going in life and what is really important to them. We suggest that they find a quiet room, let the answering machine handle telephone calls, and take out a pad and pen to write down their thoughts on the following:
What makes you a unique person? Think of your interests, hobbies, the things you've always wanted to do but never took the time to develop or experience, your talents and strengths, and the parts of your life that are so important you would be miserable without them. What makes you happy? What personal qualities do you value in yourself? What positive qualities would you like to bring out in the future?
What would you like to accomplish in your life in the next six months… next…next five years? Explore areas like spirituality, education, career goals, creative expression, lifestyle, and finances, and focus on what you truly want rather than what others want for you. This part of the exercise may be harder for you than the first. Many people complain, "I don't know what I am going to have for breakfast tomorrow. How I am I going to plan out the next year of my life?" Frankly, unless you develop a clear idea of the direction you would like your life to take, you may have trouble finding the type of person who can be a good marriage partner for you. We meet many Jewish singles who wonder why the following scenario keeps recurring: they get along well with a new dating partner but after a while realize that he or she "really isn't the person for me." One reason they may fall into this pattern is that they really do not know what they want for themselves, and choose dating partners who may be nice people but aren't well- suited to share the future with them.
Read over your notes a few days after you complete the "exercise". This will help you sort out your thoughts. Select four of the best positive qualities you have defined about yourself, and think about four positive qualities you would like to see in a potential spouse. We'll bet that you'll discard most of the minute details that used to be on your "wish list". When you've only got four qualities to think about, you have to be very focused and understand what is truly important to you.
Now, you're actually at the starting point for marriage-oriented dating: finding dating partners whose goals are compatible with your own and who shares similar values, and who possess the few personal qualities that are most important to you. Believe it or not, by narrowing the field in this manner you'll actually find it easier to meet someone with whom you can build a happy and long-lasting relationship.
By Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, Esq