Dear Dr. Yael,
I’m hopeful and excited, yet nervous and scared at the same time.
My girlfriend and I have been dating for about seven months and are truly in love. She has so many wonderful qualities that I believe would make her a wonderful wife and mother, including her fluid personality, spiritual perspective, and never-say-no loving mentality.
There is, however, one area that concerns me: hashkafa and religious compatibility.
We both attend YU/Stern and come from very similar Modern Orthodox backgrounds. We’ve both gotten more religious since our time in yeshiva/seminary, but express it in slightly different ways. We are shomer halacha and place an extraordinarily strong emphasis on Torah observance, learning, and building a religious home. However, I associate more closely to the Modern Orthodox machmir world whereas she associates more with the yeshivish world. We currently live very similar lives, but my end goal is a working life infused with Torah observance, collecting the best of both the secular and religious world, whereas she wants the more yeshivish, not as secularly-integrated lifestyle.
She sees so much beauty in a lot of the external aspects of Judaism – black hat, tzitzis out – while I hold my Judaism very internally – tzitzis in, no black hat, integrating Judaism into the secular world.
I want us to be able to grow together and get closer to Hashem. I understand that some compromises need to be made in any relationship, but one of the main reasons I value the Modern Orthodox world is because I genuinely see so much beauty and room for inspiration within it. I feel uncomfortable moving to the amount of yeshivish she envies.
We’ve spoken about some of our hashkafa differences and it makes us both nervous and scared. Dr. Respler, do you think there is a middle ground?
A Nervous Boyfriend
Dear Nervous Boyfriend,
Thank you for your letter. While I understand your dilemma, it’s important for you to understand how rare it is to find someone that you feel so strongly about. It sounds like you and your girlfriend are at the point where you must have meaningful discussions about your differences. I am not sure that there is a major difference in your hashkafas, although if your girlfriend wants you to become more outwardly yeshivish, this can end up becoming a point of contention. It is imperative that you take the plunge and find a way to talk about this before you get engaged.
Firstly, this will be a great opportunity for you and your girlfriend to learn to communicate effectively with each other and to learn to compromise about important matters. This is the most important ingredient in a good marriage. Secondly, because you and your girlfriend are scared to talk about this, you may both be making more of this than you need to. Talking about your dreams and hopes for the future will help you both articulate what is important to you and what you each want. It’s possible that your hopes and dreams are not as different as you think! Lastly, if this really is a deal breaker (and I’m not so sure that it is), then it’s better to have this conversation sooner rather than later.
Perhaps you would both be willing to compromise on certain things (e.g., maybe you don’t have to change your mode of dress, but you will both agree to send your kids to a more yeshivish school). There are several ways to find a middle ground, and once you open those lines of communication, you will be headed in the right direction.
As an aside, as the woman is the akeret habayis, it is good if she has very strong feelings about Yiddishkeit. You want a positive, frum and loving role model for your future children.
I often say that the man is the head of the household and the wife is the neck. If the wife is a smart caring neck she can lead the family in the proper direction.
You have shared such beautiful things about this girl. I believe her fluid personality is so important. Flexible people are much easier to live with, especially in today’s challenging world. Knowing that your spouse is a positive person who tries not to say no can make even the most difficult days easier to get through.
I must share an interesting story with you. Many years ago I was counseling a young woman who was determined to marry a boy who was frum and wore a “black hat.” She met a great boy who was everything she wanted, except he did not wear a black hat on Shabbos. This really bothered her. I tried to help her see that his middos were more important than his livush, but it was still hard for her.
On one of their dates they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and instead of getting upset he turned on some light background music and said, “Lets, just enjoy talking and relax.” At that point she realized that he had everything she was looking for and that the livush was not integral to her decision. They got married and, out of respect for her family, he wore a hat when they went to her parents for Shabbos.
Please focus on the issues that really count. I wish you hatzlocha in your relationship and keep us posted.Dr. Yael Respler