Don’t avoid uncomfortable topics; that’s what dating is for.

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You went on a date and something that was said or done didn’t sit well with you. So when you come home you call the shadchan or you speak to your parents, or whomever you turn to, and let out your frustration. 

Differences are inevitable.

For example, you are on date number six, and she says that she wants to live in Florida. You are highly disappointed. “That shidduch went up in smoke,” you think to yourself. “Why did no one say this to me from the outset?” Another example: You thought you were told you’d be meeting an open-minded guy, but then on date number five he says he’s against children having secular education. When you get back from the date, you express your unhappiness: “That’s just completely unworkable from where I am coming.”

To you we say, “Welcome to the real world!” This is not uncommon on a shidduch. That it occurred is not the issue; the question is how to respond. The answer is to discuss it with your dating partner. As coaches, we sometimes have people express all manner of uncertainties, and yet we discover they had not properly discussed the issue during the date.

Sara is concerned that, although Moshe is a very frum guy, he seems to have an independent streak. He learns quite a bit, but isn’t strict about the designated shiurim that are customary in his circles. Binyomin really likes Baila’s company and appearance, but he is being put off by what he feels is her dowdy dress sense. But Heaven forbid that Sara or Binyomin would actually bring up the issue during dating.  That’s unfortunate.

They ask around the issue, but never directly bring it up. Sara may ask Moshe why he does things the way he does, but not tell Moshe straight up that she is bothered by it, in case he feels judged. Binyomin may at most check with Baila that this is how she often dresses, but would stop short of stating his preference, lest he cause offense. 

Talk about it rather than discontinuing the shidduch.

Sara and Moshe would be ready to discontinue the shidduch because those things bother them – as if that won’t cause offense. Of course, it is absurd. It is much less offensive to have an honest conversation and see whether there could be a point of agreement rather than to walk away because you are dissatisfied. Why, then, do some people avoid having those conversations?

This is because they are uncomfortable. No one looks forward to uncomfortable conversations, so we are inclined to avoid them. Moreover, we are often worried about coming across as judgmental or intolerant, and we may feel embarrassed to raise our concerns. But this is exactly what dating is for: to see if you are capable of handling these kinds of interactions. In marriage, that type of conversation will be a daily occurrence.

Here is what happens when we don’t engage in these conversations. We allow misunderstandings to go unclarified, and we enable reasonable compromise to go unexplored. Without discussion, there is no way for issues to get resolved. What may start out as a source of frustration can quickly draw people closer and prove they have the ability to communicate well and to iron out differences. That initial bump in the road could turn out to be the best thing that happened in the dating.

The problem with inferences.

It is just being human to draw inferences. Our brains are designed to use these logical shortcuts to figure things out, because it is so much more efficient, and most of the time we get it right. When we go shopping, we assume that the cucumbers are likely to be positioned near the tomatoes – and usually we are correct. But dating is more complex and we need to be aware of the much greater chance of “getting the wrong end of the stick.”

It’s about how you resolve misunderstandings and differences.

Now, you may say, “If we are misunderstanding each other now, how much sense does it make to contemplate marrying this person?” Luckily, it is exactly the other way around. Misunderstandings are a normal and inevitable part of life. What is not a given is whether we have the ability to resolve those misunderstandings through compassion and good communication. It is far less interesting that you had a misunderstanding – wow, we found out you are human. What would be important to know is how well you can together resolve those misunderstandings.

People can occasionally make a mistake, or follow bad advice. For example, Yankel was told by his married brother that “the guy needs to lead and show, he is in charge.” On the date, he starts making decisions for both of them, and sounding overconfident. Miriam thinks she has now discovered another side to her date, and is rather unnerved. Thankfully, Miriam called Yankel out on it and explained her reaction. Yankel was somewhat embarrassed – never a comfortable thing – but admitted he was following advice, and that he now sees it was a poor suggestion. He apologized, and Miriam was able to put the matter aside. They are now happily married.

Obviously, everything has its limits. Those are not fixed in stone, but everyone will know what for them are unbridgeable gaps. If one person wants a large family and the other wants two kids, if one person won’t live outside the USA and the other has an established business in Europe, these may just be unresolvable issues. If you realize that your personal values or religious levels just don’t match up, it is probably best to face that fact and move on.

Compromise is part of successful marriage (and life).

We have discussed elsewhere that it is not wise to expect people to change their character in marriage, nor is it advisable to imagine that people will exchange their core values or religious beliefs. If you discover that there is a significant mismatch on these matters, it is important that you don’t let wishful thinking play too much of a role in your thinking. At the same time, it is not wise to imagine that people are entirely inflexible and unwilling to adapt or adjust. 

If I am a more casual dresser, and you prefer me to smarten up, I may genuinely have no problem going along with that. If you prefer to live near your parents, but I dream of moving away, it is not at all far-fetched to arrive at a reasonable compromise. If I have been a poor shul-goer of late and struggle to get to shul on time, why should you reject out of hand my expression of desire to improve on that?  

Working things out during dating is not a “a worst case scenario,” something to feel sorry about and wish to avoid. It is a healthy and productive means of seeing if you both have what it takes to build a successful union, which invariably requires effective communication. If you can figure things out during dating, there is a good chance that you can figure things out during marriage. Don’t feel bad if at times it feels like you are “negotiating.” Relationships are continually negotiated. Every day of marriage, a couple will be hammering out issues from where to send kids to school, where to vacation, whether to move home, or whether to put money on a credit card. 

Reaching compromise is not the problem; an inability to reach compromises is the problem. You don’t like uncomfortable conversations? I’m sorry. But that’s life. Don’t try to avoid them in dating; that is actually what dating is for.


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