Recently, one of the popular Shabbat publications that is distributed in Israel depicted a number of myths that hinder and impair many young people’s quest for their life’s partners. The article appeared in Zomet, was written by Rav Yoni Lavi, and pulls no punches in an effort to highlight areas in which a change in philosophy – and a discrediting of some of the myths – can go a long way in promoting marriage and resolving part of the singles’ “crisis.” The myths follow (translation mine) and one can agree or disagree with some or all, but the issues raised are all important:
1) Every person has one special someone. Actually, everyone has many more than just one person with whom he/she can marry and establish a loving, happy and enduring relationship. The mentality that in a world of more than seven billion people there is only one person wandering about that is meant for me – my twin, my soul mate – who, if found, will provide me eternal happiness and who, if not found, will doom me to despair and misfortune for the rest of my life, is a dangerous illusion. There is a gigantic field of hundreds, and maybe even more, of appropriate and worthwhile mates. A successful marriage depends less on the identity of the person chosen and more on one’s ability to conduct himself/herself in that marriage on a daily basis. Therefore, the task before you is not to decide “is this the one?” but rather to choose a person with whom you feel you can build a home together that is filled with love. This transforms the quest of choosing a spouse into something that is much more logical and attainable.
2) When it is the right time, it will happen. This statement is somewhat true but also conditional – the condition being that you don’t interfere with what should happen. From G-d’s perspective, He has long desired to see many of his sons and daughters standing joyously under the chupah (marriage canopy). He is even prepared to assist in this process. But the problem is that there are those who, with their own hands, sabotage the process. How? Through their patterns of analysis, their manner of searching for a spouse and their conduct while dating. The central question becomes: is what stands between you and the chupah a lack of information or options? Do you need more and more advice, and more and more recommendations – or is a change in approach and a removal of [self-imposed] obstacles most desirable? If the latter, then a proper match is already available and waiting.
3) I simply haven’t met the right one. How do you know? Maybe you have and you told her/him “no!” Maybe the right one is in your vicinity – even a meter away – but you ignore her because you are focused – obsessed – on some model who is unattainable [or on an ideal that is a fantasy] and therefore you are uncertain if the person you are with is the right one. Maybe you are looking in one direction, and he/she is standing in the complete opposite one?
4) Without you, I am half a person; without you, I am nothing. A single is not a“half-person.” A single person is not a broken vessel or a worthless wretch. A single is a complete personality, productive and generous. Sometimes people forget that singles have lives outside of dating, and that they have other objectives in life aside from finding a spouse. Thus, aside from the questions that sound general and interesting but actually imply something else, like “Nu, what’s new with you?” and the encouraging but ultimately tormenting words “soon, by you,” it is permissible to ask a single, “How’s work?” or, “How do you like your new car?” or, “How about meeting for coffee tomorrow night?” or, say “That new blouse is stunning!”
Before you are a “single,” you are a human being. If everything in life hinges on dating, then perhaps it is time for some soul-searching. There are other substantive things in life – study, work, family, service of Hashem (G-d), hobbies, etc. And G-d-willing a relationship will also be part of that life.
5) Men disqualify women based on superficialities like appearance. But this is true not only of men but also of women. It doesn’t happen all the time but it does occur too frequently. What does this say about us – the culture of the “pose” and the “show” in which we live? What does it say about us that visions of fashion models dance in our heads, drawn from the mass media, movies and advertisements, which clutter our minds and complicate our choices and the process of choosing? These are good questions for which each person must find an individualized answer. (Note: Be careful what pictures you post on Facebook. You have no idea how many potential dates are lost because of this.)
6) When it is “the one,” then you will know. It is clear that you have watched too many romantic dramas, but…real life does not work like that. Most couples arrive at this most momentous decision when something in their heart trembles, when everything does not seem perfect. Moreover, if everything seems perfect, check again. Maybe you have been blinded and are overlooking something important. In relation to other significant choices in life (where to attend school, where to work, etc.) the matters are complicated and there are pros and cons for each side. One has to have confidence and faith in the person with whom you wish to take the next step – but one who expects to hear a “divine echo,” or to feel butterflies in the stomach, or the sensation of burning love in his/her fingertips, will keep waiting and waiting.
7) Meeting on the Internet is for the pathetic and the desperate. Friend, you are passé. Even if there might have been something to this in the past, those days are long gone. Today, it is possible to find on the relationship websites many pious and exceptional individuals who understand that it is mistaken to categorically reject any option that Hashem has afforded us in order to achieve our destiny. Of course, one has to exercise caution before an actual meeting takes place, but it would be a shame to discount any avenue to the sacred goal.
Those are the myths. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the above is Rav Lavi’s apparent rejection of the concept of “bashert” – the idea that Hashem has designated a particular person for us to marry and our task is merely to identify that person. But, if we were to submit to that myth, believe there is just one, does that make the task any simpler? I think not. If anything, it complicates it, adding to the difficulties of getting to know a complete stranger and deeming them “marriageable,” and then tackling the esoteric question of: “Is this the one Hashem has ordained for me?” That type of pressure is liable to discomfit too many people and invalidate too many otherwise fine relationships.
Many years ago, I heard Rav Ahron Soloveichik zt”l explain that bashert (in the Talmud’s language, bat ploni l’ploni) guarantees only one thing: Hashem arranges that you encounter that person. Bashert does not guarantee that you will marry that person, or that the marriage will be a happy and fulfilling one; those depend on our free choice and good middot (character traits). And even what we do after that initial encounter – pursue that person or ignore him/her; look for the good or obsess over flaws – also depends on our bechirah (free choice). As such, it is probably best to remove the bashert issue from our calculations, as it obfuscates instead of clarifies. It should remain in the realm of divine secrets to which we have no access, and which plays no role in our deliberations.
A debunking of many, if not all, of the aforementioned myths will lead to a healthier dating process and more satisfying marriages – and create Jewish homes that bring glory to the Torah and our Creator.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, a synagogue consisting of nearly 600 families located in Teaneck, New Jersey. He is a member of the New York and Federal Bars and is a trustee of the RCA on the Board of the Beth Din of America, as well as a dayan on the Beth Din itself. He also is a member of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, and served as the American co-spokesman for the International Rabbinic Coalition for Israel. He presently is on the Board of Directors of Pro Israel and the One Israel Fund.