Reviewed by Bayla Sheva Brenner
For most of my adult years I lived as a single frum woman–a mountainous challenge. Some days I scaled the mountain, most days I hung on. Flicking the light switch off each night served the heftiest challenge. I dreaded that familiar face-to-face with the dark, and the black uncertainty of my future. Pulling in a thick breath, I summoned the strength to trust that Hashem would provide, if I just pushed on for another day. And He did. I made it to that long-awaited day this past year. I realize now that the “hanging on” proved to be the most critical part of the climb.
Over those grueling years of waiting, I sought vital avenues of inspiration and practical advice. Determined not to merely go through, but to grow through this life test, I turned to the guidance of rabbis, shiurim and friends. Delivering like all three is Head to Heart, Gila Manolson’s guide to the thousands in our community stuck in an endless cycle of directionless dating. Chock full of Torah wisdom and psychological breakthroughs, as well as the hard-earned pragmatic tool of learned insight, Head to Heart speaks directly to a generation finding marriage an increasingly elusive goal.
We live in an era unique to Jewish history, where no matter the individual’s age or particular community, so many potential chattanim and kallot find themselves pushing up against an impervious wall in the struggle to get together. “Frum society is no longer the cozy, idealistic little community it once was…we’ve grown into a vast, diverse population, but people often know little about one another or what marriage requires,” writes Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz of Aish HaTorah in Yerushalayim, in his letter of approbation.
Yet we must continue trying, and dating and dating and dating. Manolson sees the dating period as essential preparation for marriage, and challenges the secular view of “experiential dating” which has seeped into the community. “…Dating may teach you how to date, but won’t teach you how to be married, and the illusion that it does can be harmful.” She clearly lays out the requirements one must bring to a good marriage, starting with a “healthy, adult personality” which includes maturity, autonomy, self-esteem, trust, the capacity for emotional intimacy and self-knowledge. Manolson emphasizes that these traits need not be acquired through dating, but rather through active self-development. The book provides a character test that identifies the areas one needs to develop in order to have the necessary qualities for a healthy marriage. Additionally, it provides methods to achieve growth including exploring ways to give of oneself, raising one’s self-esteem, opening up emotionally to others and truly “knowing oneself” by distinguishing between what one wants and what one needs.
Manolson…challenges the secular view of “experiential dating” which has seeped into the community.
Manolson moves on to explain how heightened self-knowledge helps couples learn how to most effectively know one another beyond infatuation. Her chapter “Behind the ‘Click’” explores the psychological dynamics behind the mysterious “unconscious connection” called attraction. The author draws from the renowned relationship theories of psychologist/author, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., who introduced the idea that romantic attraction stems from an individual’s search for his or her imago–a Latin word meaning image. One’s imago is a composite picture of the people who influenced one’s life most strongly during his early years. According to the imago theory, people unconsciously choose spouses with the specific, familiar personality traits of their early caretakers, in order to return to the scene of the original childhood hurt and frustration. By doing so, they avail themselves of the opportunity to finally heal these old wounds. 1
With clarifying case scenarios, Manolson illustrates these hidden motivations behind a person’s choice of spouse. “God may even have created this ‘unconscious spouse choice’ to encourage both marriage partners to confront their hurts and grow past them, so they can become more complete, not only as individuals, but as a couple,” the author explains.
Having demonstrated the deeper dynamics leading to landing one’s mate, the author presents the “how-to’s” of building a successful marital relationship. She defines lasting love as, “the attachment that results from deeply appreciating another’s goodness…goodness is what moves you to love.” The chapter quotes Rav Eliyahu Dessler’s, zt”l, famous teaching in Michtav MeEliyahu that it is through constant acts of giving that one engenders love. Manolson emphasizes that constant giving requires that one possess a strong identity as well as a keen awareness of one’s own needs. “Genuine love emerges not from a lack of self but from a desire to share all you are with another.” She explains that wholesome giving includes reciprocity. “In a healthy relationship, rather than losing yourself, you find yourself.”
The author stresses that the marital relationship will not remove emotional pain and make an unhappy person happy. She states clearly that if there are issues to work through, couples should address them together. A beautiful passage in the “Love and Marriage” chapter describes the infinite potential of marriage to cultivate closeness between two souls until they are one. “Love can…help you feel centered and at home in the world…. With the right kind of work, it can heal. And while love has excitement and passion, there’s even greater pleasure in the quiet drama of two souls moving closer. This deeply peaceful sense of increasing oneness is perhaps the most wonderful reward of love.”
The author continues to blend the best of twenty-first century sensibilities with steadfast Torah tradition in her chapter, “Affirming Womanhood.” In this vein, bold “Ms.” Manolson addresses the controversial issue of the Jewish woman’s role in observant Judaism today, carefully culling her information from Torah sources and such respected educators as Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l. Purely out to celebrate the status of the Jewish woman, she begins with the Torah’s introduction to the creation of woman as Adam’s “helper,” quickly clarifying that this does not place woman beneath man, rather, it indicates that man needs (spiritual) help–help that only she can provide. This section sheds badly needed light–one that has tragically dimmed throughout the secular world–on the vital impact of Jewish women on the perpetuation of our values and our People since Sinai. Manolson urges single women to “know that you’re following in the footsteps of generations of Jewish women who shaped our destiny. …Marry someone who appreciates you and wants you to grow into the best you possible.”
After placing the reader firmly on the track of personal growth and presenting a richer understanding of love and marriage, Manolson details an effective dating plan of action. Her advice on transforming the potentially tense, defensive dating atmosphere into one of mutual appreciation rang familiar. As did her recommendation to find an understanding mentor to provide an objective perspective and empathetic ear, and her urging to consciously pace each date, revealing more about oneself and one’s past in an effort to build more emotional intimacy. Shaya Ostrov, CSW, introduced these and other invaluable concepts in his excellent step-by-step guide to getting married, The Inner Circle, Seven Gates to Marriage (New York, 2000).
Manolson warns the buyer to beware of his own superficial biases. She stresses that true quality lies in the internal rather than the external. “You want to marry an essence, not an image” is one of my favorite lines in the book.
The closing chapters deal with recognizing and avoiding an abusive personality and take an innovative look at prenuptial agreements.
Head To Heart speaks to the single Jew in a tone free of condescension. The author demonstrates her desire to share her acquired wisdom with a voice of compassion, concern and respect. The heart of her message beats throughout the book–grow as a person, build your character, intellect and emotion–embrace life and shteig (grow). Your soul mate will surely follow. “So, while continuing to work toward marriage, don’t put your life on hold. There’s…much to do in this world. Go out and give.”
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my own struggle was not to give up–even when I’d given up. You will scale this mountain and once you get to the top, trust me–the view is well worth the climb. In the meantime, hang in there!
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
1. Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., Getting The Love You Want, A Guide For Couples (New York, 2001).