I’m in a serious relationship with a guy. He’s super incredible but he is not romantic. I’m really frum and everything. I went to Bais Yaakov type of schools and seminary and he comes from a yeshivish background too. But he’s so stiff! He never tells me that he likes what I’m wearing or that I look good. If I ask him, then he tells me. For example, I asked him if he likes my perfume and he said yes. How do I know if he means it or he just doesn’t want to insult me?
I’m close to my rebbetzin in my shul and she said that a frum boy should not compliment a girl on what she wears. She said it’s not halachic. I hear how other people talk about their husbands and how romantic they were when they dated. I told that to my rebbetzin and she said that they couldn’t have been that frum.
Can a couple be frum and romantic with each other at the same time?
The short answer is yes, it is possible to be frum and romantic at the same time. However, it also depends on how somebody defines the word romantic, and if to them it represents romance. Additionally, what does romance in a relationship mean to them? It is possible that when you tell your rebbetzin that the guy you are dating is not romantic, she might be thinking that you are complaining that he doesn’t conduct himself like a secular guy. In her mind she might be associating romantic behavior with a non-frum manner of dating. So, let’s put that aside for now and focus on the guy and the serious relationship you have with him.
What you are describing about him and what he is not doing may not portray so much the lack of being romantic. A sincere compliment done in good taste and carried out appropriately is in the league of good manners. What might be happening here is that he might be misguided about frum dating etiquette.
Dating in the frum world has evolved in ways where people have no clue what they can or cannot do, and moreover, what kind of impact of whatever they do or don’t will have on their future shidduchim. Young men are afraid to be chivalrous for fear that they might come across as presumptuous. For example, there are guys who are not sure if they should pull out the chair for the woman, because that would mean that he would also adjust it when she sits down. In some frum circles that would be considered a major boo-boo!
For a person from an earlier generation it would for sure seem like the logical gentlemanly thing to do, and in some frum circles today too. However, I know of cases where the girls for whom a guy did this became upset, and it was promptly reported to the shadchan that the guy did a terrible thing on the date. Consequently, such a guy becomes known as not frum enough for a Bais Yaakov type of girl for this reason. Other stories are told about guys who complimented their dates on the scent of perfume or on a piece of jewelry, and they were subsequently accused of speaking inappropriately or making the girl feel uncomfortable. Opening the door for his date and allowing her to walk ahead? In many frum circles that is considered a faux pas, especially if he lags behind her a second too long. So, it has come to the point where guys from yeshivish backgrounds, as the one you are dating comes from, and girls from Bais Yaakov type of backgrounds, such as you, end up dating in a blasé way. These guys feel like they have to pretend not to use their sense of sight or smell! Who can blame them?
Then there are cases such as yours, where you would like to be complimented, but the guy was taught that he should not do it, and if that’s not the custom in his circle of friends, then he won’t.
There could be something else going on that is entirely different. I’m not convinced that your issue is romantic vs. halacha. I think your question should be whether you are compatible with each other with respect to personality. There are people who have warmer personality traits than others. People who are warm are usually sociable, making people in their space feel comfortable, and they are affectionate, especially with words and compliments. They are not afraid to allow the person they are with to know how they feel about them. They are also free and open with compliments.
By contrast, those who are colder personality types typically present as stand-offish, and they manage to keep their friendships and those they are in relationships with at arm’s length. As a result, they seem unfriendly and resistant to becoming emotionally available. When in the presence of such a person, one might feel as though they are disliked or that he/she does not care about them at all. Those who are in a relationship with such an individual find that spontaneous compliments are in most cases nonexistent.
If he is a cold person and you are a warm person, then you need to prepare yourself for much frustration. It may be difficult for somebody like you to ever get to the point where you will feel a healthy connection to him. Please understand that just because somebody has a colder type of personality does not make them a bad person. Sometimes, it can be that they act that way because they are by nature very private and not comfortable with a warm gregarious style.
Before you go any further, you need to figure out if your personalities are compatible. If so, we can discuss how it’s possible to be romantic and frum at the same time. It is perfectly appropriate for a frum man to ask the woman he is in a relationship with how her day is coming along either by phone or a short text. It shows that he is thinking about her, and she needs to reciprocate that gesture too. When they are together on a date, stating that her shoes are nice, and that the fabric or style of an outfit is pretty shows that he appreciates her fashion sense. That includes saying “that’s a good perfume.” In this way he is not making a direct statement about her physicality, rather that he notices that she is taking care of herself.
The female in the relationship should also feel comfortable returning the compliments, whether it’s about his tie, shoes, or suit. However, the focus of the compliments should be more about praising and making each other feel appreciated for the character traits and talents they possess. If one of the parties needs encouragement or is feeling down about something, the other should step up to the plate and say the right things to cheer her/him up.
Because he is not used to being romantic, and if you care about him and your relationship, you might have to be the one to take the lead. By doing so, you will be dropping the hint that you want to enhance your relationship with him and bring it to a new and interesting level. It might be up to you to start complimenting him and see how he reacts. If he is oblivious to your verbal overtures, then you might want to rethink that as incredible as he might be in other ways, you may not end up being happy if you are married to him. If he picks up on your cues, then you will have won on all accounts.
I will finalize my response to your letter by saying that the Torah views romance vastly different than the modern or secular view. Romantic love in a secular form centers on the physical attributes that becomes the cause and effect of the relationship, though mostly disregarding personality and mutual interests. While the secular perspective is about falling in love the way books and movies portray, the Torah does not frown upon romance when conducted in a manner that shows loving the person for their middos and in turn showing dedication to the other. In the famous romance between Yaakov Avinu and Rochel Imeinu, it says that he loved Rochel so much that he expressed that he was willing to work the seven years for her, and that it seemed to him like a few days.
In addition to the compliments that are important to you, you need to know that keeping the romance alive in a healthy halachic way is not just by words of admiration but going that extra mile for the person you care about. Dedication and selflessness to one another is the art and key to lasting romance between a couple.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.