So I’m pretty newly religious, I just finished college, and I think I am ready to start dating and get married. The one thing that I am concerned about, all the frum people I know date for such a short time! How am I going to know that he’s the one that fast?
That’s a great question, and one that maybe more people should ask before jumping into this next stage of life, no matter what their background. There is no law that says you have to date for a certain amount of time. That’s why I imagine you have noticed that people in different Orthodox communities date fairly differently from each other, including the Hasidic communities that date only once or twice, all the way to more left wing modern Orthodox communities where the dating styles are more similar to the secular world, with much variation in between.
That being said, one thing most “Orthodox” style dating has in common is the orientation: Orthodox dating is goal-oriented. As you pointed out, you are trying to figure out if this is the right person to spend the rest of your life with. There are a few things in general that help the process to be focused on the goal.
-Wherever on the religious spectrum you fall, there is generally some amount of information that is being shared before a date. Before you even start a conversation, you know that on a basic level, your values and lifestyle are compatible. Of course, you still need to discuss all of these things, but you are at least starting from a certain amount of common ground and compatibility.
-Waiting until ready to date. This is why many Orthodox communities don’t generally encourage dating for teenagers, or even young adults who don’t feel ready either emotionally or practically to get married. People are not spending time in relationships where they are waiting for their significant other to finish their education, establish a career or feel like they know who they are. To a large extent, these things should be figured out individually, before beginning to date, or the couple should be willing to work it out together, as partners.
-Postponing physical contact until marriage. There is obviously a lot more to say about this topic, but I think it is much easier to focus on developing the spiritual and emotional side of a relationship when the couple is not focused on the physical side of things. It is also easier to see red flags or even just ways that you are not compatible when you are not involved physically with someone. See just about every rom-com ever for evidence that jumping into a physical relationship does not actually help to develop a real relationship.
So, all of these factors probably help to speed up the pace of a relationship. But you wanted to know how YOU will know that he is THE ONE. The truth is I can’t actually tell you. Different people come to this decision in different ways.
Back when I was first dating my husband, a very close friend and I began dating people at the same time. After what seemed to me a short time (maybe 5 weeks), we were both feeling a lot of pressure to make a decision. She got engaged, telling me “sometimes you need to hold your nose and jump.” She felt that she had all the facts that she needed to make an educated decision. She is still very happily married today. Her method was not for me. I needed to KNOW (my friends held up signs spelling out the word “clarity” at my wedding to make fun of me).
I was given very wise advice that I have given over many times: you don’t have to decide on any one date whether you want to marry the person you’re seeing, just whether you want to see them again and continue to get to know them. At any point that you decide that you don’t want to spend time with them anymore, you are allowed to stop. How do you get from that advice, to being ready to make a decision?
When you begin to date, you may start with a figurative or literal checklist of the qualities you seek in a spouse. As you are getting to know them, you naturally try to figure out if this person matches that theoretical person you have created in your mind. Are they kind and honest? Do they get your sense of humor? Do you feel physically compatible? Are your hopes and dreams aligned? Basically, does this partnership work “on paper”?
At some point, you will G-d willing realize that THIS real person sitting in front of you is the one you want in your life going forward. It stops being about the list and the specific qualities that they possess. If you knew there was a guy just like this guy, but a little funnier, or a little taller, or a little more organized, a better learner, a better earner–it wouldn’t matter. THIS person is the one who you feel safe with, like your best self with, who you want to build a life and future with. That’s when you know. And that might take 6 weeks (That still sounds scary to me!) or it could take 6 months, or longer. Don’t feel pressured by a deadline–listen to your gut and your own comfort zone. Get help if needed, from mentors and professionals who have no agenda other than your best interests. G-d willing, there is a lifetime to be married. At the end of the day, any happy marriage is going to take work, compromise and partnership, but it certainly helps to start off with a sense that you have found the one you want to do that work with.
I wish you much luck, joy, hashgacha, and of course, some C-L-A-R-I-T-Y from Hashem as you embark on this holy journey.
To have your question answered by Rebbetzin Chaya, email firstname.lastname@example.org.