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Dating, Marriage, and the Jewish Way
By Barry Lazer
We take for granted that the method of meeting one's spouse is through a process called "dating." Dating is the selective process, presumably, by which and man a women find and choose their partners in life. This process entails several steps:
- making one's self attractive to the other sex
- having, sharing and showing a good time with the other person
- making one's self into desired company by the other person.
In practice, it is accepted by most people without much reflection that this is the proper and tried and true manner of meeting one's future spouse. The "date" requires the two people who go to some event together in which they enjoy the event and in such an environment enjoy each other at the same time.
This tradition has been the accepted mode of thought for perhaps a hundred years. Before this, marriages were by and large "arranged." The parents of the young man and women would check out the person, the family, the money, and if all was in acceptable sharp, and agreement would be made and the couple would either meet briefly first and then get married or perhaps get married first and then get to know each other.
Now in theory, the practice of dating should be a better system, since the prospective mates will have much more time and leisure to learn about each other prior to actually committing themselves to marriage. Conceivably, this should greatly eliminate chances of a mismatch and getting stuck with a "dud." After all, going out with a person multiple times will eventually reveal who has incompatible character traits.
It is probably not necessary to convince anyone today that the marriages, which should have benefited from this system of mate selection, have reach proportions of break-ups, to the point that some refer to their first marriage as a "starter" marriage. Marriages don't seem to hold like they used to. It's no secret that the only reason that the divorce rate is tapering down, is because less people are actually getting married. Even to 'concept' of living together for extended periods is now on the wane. It seems that young adults prefer to maintain their own individual lifestyles, copulating for one night, and then returning to their own independent roosts.
What should have cause such a supposed dependable system for mate selection to boggle down and not achieve its goals?
The answer is very simple. The dating system was, and is, a system geared to provide a good time. He has a good time with her and she has a good time with him. He enjoys her, and she enjoys him. They enjoy having a good time together.
Unfortunately not all of life, and especially marital life, is based on enjoying a good time. Families, children, finances, life's goals and challenges, are just some of the ingredients that may take away from the focus of enjoyment. When he who used to enjoy a good time with her - doesn't anymore; and she, who used to enjoy a good time with him - doesn't anymore; then the entire fiber and purpose of their marriage comes apart. There is no meaning in being together any more if it doesn't bring that gratification anymore. Commitment to the other was only for the great times, and not for the less then pleasant everyday mediocrity of daily life. And so, they part.
The smart person on the other hand, realizing that marriage is more serious than a mere joy and elation; that marriage is a real commitment to a family, does not use the date as a vehicle for selection. Instead, he and she will look into the other person from a distance to make an impartial judgment before getting emotionally involved.
We find in the Torah that Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to Padan Aram, today Iraq-Iran, to find a wife for his son, Yitzhak. Eliezer was looking for a girl that had a good family and was a doer of kindness. He devised a plan. He would ask a girl to give water to him and his camels. If she acquiesced then he knew that she was a kind girl. Young Rivkah appeared on the scene and agreed to give him and his camels water. Having fulfilled the criterion, Eliezer proposed marriage for his master's son. After her acceptance and the family's agreement, he took her back to Yitzhak. He married her and loved her, but the marriage was first. From this marriage came Jacob whose children became the great Jewish nation.
We can see that selection is more important than 'falling in love'. Many of those marriages in which people 'fall in love' find that they can just as easily 'fall out of love. To have a good life and a good marriage, take advice from our patriarchs: choose a mate first based on their character and afterwards you will fall in love.
from the July 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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