Dear Dating Coach,
I recently started dating, and I am excited to be in this new chapter and hope for a bright future. But my parents have a really unstable marriage, and our home can still be a place of volatility and unrest. I know I don’t have any control over my parents and their choices, but I don’t want to repeat their mistakes. I’m scared that I will make an unhealthy choice since I don’t really have any role models for shalom bayis. How do I guarantee a good decision for a strong marriage and partnership?
It’s winter in Miami! Ice skating season! Ok, ok, maybe not technically “winter” in the “it’s cold outside” literal way, and maybe the ice skating rink is indoors and manually frozen, and maybe we need to take off our gloves (and hats and sweatshirts) when we leave the rink. But only if you insist on being exacting, or you know, accurate. So, there we are ice skating our hearts out in full ice skating attire (flared skirts) ready for triple axles and death spirals. The wind is blowing (air conditioning), the ice is smooth (Zamboni), and we are pumped. When out of nowhere, this guy runs right into my daughter. Knocks her down like a bowling ball leaving her flat on the ice. After the initial shock she is ok, but we learned a valuable lesson that day; you need to skate with your eyes open. Yup, apparently that matters.
Thank you for reaching out with this important question. Of course, you want a stable and fulfilling marriage and are understandably concerned since you did not grow up in a home where this was modeled for you. It should also be said that having parents who have a beautiful marriage does not guarantee a blissful marriage for their children. Additionally, we know, that ultimately, we do not have a crystal ball or the ability to predict our future. There are certain things you can watch for, however, so that you can protect yourself as you begin to look for your own spouse.
My Eyes Are Open, But My Brain Is Asleep
Research: Whether you are set up by a shadchan, by a friend, or meet on your own at a singles event, take the time to do your research. Call friends and references who truly know your potential date so that you can find out about his or her character before you start to date. You will be able to get a clear picture of how they present based on the stories and information you garner in your research. Of course, this is not a substitute for actually dating, but it can call attention to red flags or damaging character flaws before a first date.
Conduct: When you do go out, watch how your date conducts himself/herself with everyone you encounter. This includes wait staff, parking attendants, and family and friends. Notice their manners, their level of respect, and if they are gracious to everyone regardless of their station or position. Someone who belittles others, is rude to a waiter, or is quick to anger at any slight is someone that should raise a red flag for you.
Control: If your dates “suggests” that you act a certain way, dress a certain way, or stop behaving in a certain way, this may be a sign of someone who is controlling. (This does not mean of course that if you are going on a hike and he suggests that you wear sneakers, he is controlling.) If your date tries to minimize your relationships with your family or friends, this also can be a sign of controlling behavior. A date trying to “change you” for your “own good” should be a red flag.
A commitment to doing research before you go out, and the ability to be mindful on dates as you notice his/her conduct and their willingness to support you and who you are without a desire to have control will set you on the right path. Reflect and be attentive to your comfort level and emotions, and take the time to consult with someone you trust along the way like a rebbetzin, dating coach, or even a respected teacher, if a family member is not an option. Keep your eyes wide open, and you will see a future with someone with whom you can build a solid foundation.