Recently, I went out with a boy seven times and everything was amazing — on paper. He had good middos, we came from similar backgrounds and hashkafos, he was pleasant-looking, and conversation flowed nicely.
But I had no feelings for him.
He was nice, and when we were together, I had a nice time, but I didn’t look forward to seeing him. I kind of hoped he’d say no so that I wouldn’t have to make the decision, but eventually I did say no. Yet, I can’t stop thinking about whether I did the right thing. Did I make a mistake? Am I waiting for something that may never happen? Am I being superficial or, worse, have I fallen prey to Western notions that have no business in our shidduch world?
Being that any and all reservations against the decision that was made here seem solely to be a byproduct of wondering if you should have progressed with a shidduch that lacked any degree of feeling, and not out of any concern that this young man may have been “the-one-that-got away,” it does not appear that your conclusion was made in error. However, it does seem to me that you may benefit from some general discussion on the subject of emotional connection and attraction while in shidduchim, so that you are not left in the mire of uncertainty as you continue seeking out your future husband.
First of all, while the apothegm “love-at-first-sight” is indeed nothing more than unrealistic, romantic pabulum, and does stem from Western culture and ideals (right alongside the ideals of consumerism and materialism that plague our communities, as evidenced by the constant and ever-expanding barrage of sybaritic advertisements for clothing, food, and leisure found in many of our trusted, frum publications), the need to have feelings for the person one is dating, before committing to marriage, is both vital and firmly imbedded in our yiddeshe dayos.
There is no question that emotional connection and attraction is a Torah value, and holding out for a person for whom one has strong feelings should in no way be categorized as waiting for something that may never happen, and is quite the opposite of being superficial. It may not happen immediately, but it will happen with the right person.
To provide but one example of the many to be found in the words of our chachomim, when Yaakov Aveinu chooses to marry Rochel Emeinu, the Torah tells us, “Viye’ehav Yaakov es Rochel” and Yaakov loved Rochel. And the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains, “Lo l’tzad yoifyuh, ella l’tzad mah shehei Rochel bas zugo” he loved her not because she was beautiful, but because Yaakov recognized that Rochel was his zivug.
While there are a number of fundamental lessons to be learned from this Ohr Hachaim, the one I would like to focus on at present, and with respect to the topic at hand, is the message that there is an innate ahava that comes along with the realization that one has encountered the person that is truly meant for them. As such, if one’s absence of feeling for the person they are dating goes so far that they do not even look forward to seeing that person, longing only for that person to do everyone the favor of breaking it off, that is about as clear a sign as any that the two people are not meant for each other.
Furthermore, I do not think it a stretch to say that one of the core causes for the astounding uptick we are seeing, b’zmanainu, in broken engagements and divorces within months of marriage, is daters rushing into a commitment without very much feeling at all, only to realize that the relationship is positively untenable.
One does not need to be head-over-heels in love to proceed with engagement, but it is a rather portentous proposition to head into marriage whilst being totally devoid of emotional connection to one’s betrothed, satisfied merely by how things look on paper, with the expectation or hope that those feelings will somehow miraculously materialize later on just because the two people now share a home. At the very least, there must be some feelings there, accompanied by a palpable sense of confidence that they are real and have the potential to increase and grow.
Many people match up on paper, and many of those people can have amiable dates together, share in common interests and values, and find one another to be pleasant-looking, but marriage is a great deal more than a transactional agreement between two people who can tolerate being around each other. If there is no transition from simple commonality to actually having feelings for one another, the proper course of action is to move on, acknowledging that though there were no glaring deal-breakers, it just wasn’t the right match.
That said, segueing from a completely non-coeducational life into dating comfortably, and then attempting to detect or construct a real emotional connection in a manner that is appropriate, is not always a simple task. It is the goal, yes, but successfully discerning whether or not such a connection exists, and if not, if there is at least the possibility for it to be cultivated over additional dates, can remain a confusing path to navigate.
Moreover, one might be subconsciously refraining from creating that connection because they are under the impression that is it not tznius to do so, or they may be afraid to create it, only for the shidduch to end unceremoniously, and thus be subject to experiencing feelings of loss that are much deeper than would have been felt if there had been no meaningful connection established at all.
Though it may sound easy, ascertaining whether or not there is a genuine emotional connection and sincere feelings of ahava, for the right reasons, can be quite challenging, complicated, and complex. And, unfortunately, it is ma’asim bchol yom that shidduchim which may have been able to go the distance, end up getting cut short for want of proper direction in this area.
Consequently, if one is struggling to identify the status of, or potential for, emotional connection in a shidduch, it is crucial to receive hadracha from an expert who can guide them towards making that distinction in a fashion that is astute and appropriate. This may be in the form of a rov or teacher who is b’kant in the area; it may mean having a different shadchan, one who can more aptly oversee the shidduch at this stage, take over; or it may mean reaching out to someone who specializes in coaching and mentoring for those in shidduchim.
There should be no feeling of inadequacy, shame, or embarrassment in one’s needing assistance when it comes to understanding the nature of emotions and feelings within the scope of dating and marriage, nor should one presume that it is necessarily a realm wherein it is sufficient to rely on one’s gut inclination. Unless it is blatantly obvious that there is just nothing there – as appears to be the case in the scenario detailed in the original question we are addressing – it is worth getting some help to work through it.
May the Shomer Oihavav ensure that all those in shidduchim have the opportunity to distinguish and develop the eternal feelings of ahavas hazivug, b’derech sheholchu Avoseinu hakedoshim.