I’ve heard from shadchanim, read in articles, and heard in shmuessen that there are “boys in their thirties who are still single because they say no to every girl they go out with.” There’s also the famous story about the Steipler Gaon zt”l, who reportedly told a yeshiva bochur that he did meet his bashert but said no to her. I personally know numerous older single boys who very obviously have some kind of issue preventing them from getting married despite presumably getting set up with many good girls.
At the same time, I’ve also heard that you shouldn’t feel like you’re settling for a girl and that this can be very dangerous to a marriage. You should feel happy and excited about the person you get married to. Thus, if even seemingly minor things, like the way she talks or some kind of habit you find annoying, really bothers you, you shouldn’t get engaged, because it won’t go away and will just get worse.
So, as a single boy, I’m very confused. If on one hand no one should ever get married to someone they are unhappy about, how can we simultaneously be hearing about boys (and sometimes girls) who are overly picky? What are some scenarios in which a boy or girl will want to say no to somebody but shouldn’t and will ultimately be happy with them?
If we are to effectively solve this apparent riddle, I feel we must first address the designations “settling” and “picky,” as they are commonly thrown around haphazardly, and oftentimes unjustly or incorrectly so. And before addressing these terms, I would like to preface by sharing one of the most crucial pieces of dating advice I have ever heard: “When in shidduchim, one should make a list of the top 10 characteristics they are looking for in a spouse, identify the most important two or three, and then cross out the rest”.
Though it may sound trite, there is great wisdom in this precept, and when followed correctly, it offers the opportunity for daters to avoid the conundrum we are now facing.
There are countless attributes that may be significant to any man or woman who is in shidduchim. Among the myriad, some are related to personality and techunas hanefesh, others are related to the family one would potentially be joining, and yet others are related to life goals and objectives. And although some attributes may seem superficial or inconsequential to another, or to many, for any one individual, it may be the fulcrum on which their future contentment hinges.
There is nothing objective about delineating import or compatibility in a match between two people, nor is anyone to say what properties another person needs to sustain a relationship. As such, whatever holds the most meaning to a dater, it is their right and prerogative to prioritize it.
That said, there are two vital qualifications that must be noted, and which I believe reside at the heart of the aforementioned adage.
1. Not everything is crucial. I.e. acquiescing that attaining all of our wants is not a prerequisite for a pleasing partnership, and it is this matter that addresses “pickiness”.
Being picky does not mean an adamantine insistence on actualizing any one or two given needs that are deemed positively essential. That would be better coined as integrity and appreciating that no matter how wonderful a suggestion may be, absent Factor-X, it will not work, and it would be damaging to both parties to attempt to circumvent that which is irreconcilable. Rather, if one compiles a list of their 10 most desired qualities in a partner, and refuses to separate the grain from the chaff, that is what I might call picky.
Part and parcel of committing to marriage is conceding that only genuine needs are to be steadfastly pursued, as opposed to that which might be nice, but is not required for a marvelous matrimony to follow. Some might refer to this as laissez-faire dating, but I would prefer to call it dating with lucidity and sechel. Yes, it is true that unenthusiastically entering into marriage is undeniably inadvisable – to say the least – but that does not mean the only route to nuptial bliss is via propitiating ourselves and getting everything we want.
No relationship is perfect, and that is something that one either recognizes from the outset and is prepared to deal with, or will uncover later with utter surprise as dissimilarities are exposed, and will quite possibly struggle to make peace with. When we are unable to accept disagreement or incongruity in our relationships, it frequently leads either to connections which are highly superficial, or issues being ignored or overlooked – be it willfully or subconsciously.
Consequently, one of the most substantial areas of self-discovery with respect to dating is understanding that wants can be relinquished. A variety of strengths can solidify a marriage in ways that cannot be accomplished by two people who are but carbon copies of one another. Being challenged by vantage points counter to one’s own can press a couple to really think deeply about their individual views, and lends to a broader overall perspective that is fundamentally needed to meet the task of building a home and a family. Furthermore, and on an even higher level, it is by gazing beyond our wants that one can learn not only how to maintain a marriage despite its extant “incompatibilities”, but to even achieve higher degrees of fulfillment and satisfaction, welcoming and growing from the differences.
2. Not everything that seems crucial actually is. I.e. acknowledging that not everything which one estimates to be a need is sincerely needed, and it is this matter that addresses “settling”.
Though this point can be a tougher pill to swallow, it is every bit as integral. While it may seem that the entirety of one’s top-10 list is to be categorized as needed, such isn’t really the case, and if one cannot yield to that fact, it would be an example of succumbing to self-indulgence or deluding oneself.
Accordingly, settling does not mean marrying someone who embodies “only” a portion of the incalculable traits, features, and qualities that one has defined as needs in a husband or wife. Rather, what settling means, is convincing oneself that exhilarating trappings – those items which ought to be classified as wants – will lead to marital gratification, in lieu of needed items which are earnestly indispensable to one’s ability to have a healthy relationship. Settling is valuating our coruscating and ornamental wants as needs, and commensurately demoting our real, though less flashy and perhaps even tedious feeling, needs as secondary, or worse yet, as needless or gratuitous.
One can, and must, discern between needs and wants. And subsequent to such a discernment, one can then set aside less central wants, and begin concentrating on their real needs.
Now, it is all good and well to intellectually digest these points, but that does not inherently make them easy to implement. For some, a bit of self-reflection is all that is needed to clarify these distinctions. For others, however, many hours may be spent in an attempt to grasp the necessity of needs versus wants, and that it is safe to commit to another person even though it would mean forgoing certain items which one had hoped to secure, along with endeavoring to discriminate between true needs and those which are deceptively and incorrectly being perceived as such, and still find themselves right back at square one.
When that is the position one has found themselves in, the answer is to seek assistance. In the same way that some people can peer under the hood of a broken-down car and instinctively know how to fix it, or gather some lumber and fashion an exquisite shtender, while others are left scratching their heads when lacking flawless, step-by-step instructions, so it is with dating and regulating our cognitions and emotions. For some, it all makes perfect sense, while for others it is but a tangled ball of yarn that only gets knottier the more it is worked on. The struggle is real, and it is no sign of weakness or shameful ineptitude.
We all have unique talents, but no human has amassed all the talents known to mankind. And therein lies the value of experts. When a young man or woman is unable to navigate these waters, when one cannot cede control of their wants or differentiate between needs and wants, and is thus unable to make the requisite leap into marriage, they must seek guidance. Guidance from someone who can walk them through the steps of the decision-making process, and support them through uncertainty and indecisiveness.
Given the proper tools, reaching resolute conclusions is a teachable skill, and for some, one that must be gradually and carefully nurtured in order to be acquired. And once obtained, eagerly entering marriage, whilst knowing full well that a measure of incongruousness is present, can transform from a perplexing paradox into a chorus of clarity.
May the Boichein U’Boidek Ginzei Nistaros give us all the aptitude to sensibly weigh our needs and wants, and emerge with certitude and confidence.