By Baila Sebrow

Question

I am a divorced man who is shomer negiah. I decided that I can’t date because if I like the woman, then I want to get married — like ASAP. Otherwise, as traditional dating elapses, I lose that feeling of desire.

Usually people who are dating for the second time around take their sweet time dating the same person, albeit for very good reasons. Men are visual, which is an advantage, as we know after five seconds if we are attracted to someone. We don’t need five months to dissect every angle to ascertain definitive compatibility.

But it’s a disadvantage if we know we want to be with that woman after five seconds but then have to wait five months for the other party to play catch-up. I’m totally over it after five weeks, let alone months.

If I’m attracted and we “shtim” or are “shayach” (compatible), then I’m ready to get married after five dates. That’s obviously problematic. I’m like a Martian lost in Venus-land.

Do females ever think or feel like this? Do you know anyone like that? Is this a recognized disorder or common problem? What’s your gut response? Should I just lay my cards on the table? I don’t expect any quick solution, as no woman will say yes to marrying me after one week. I just want to know why I lose interest. I await the verdict!

Response

Your dilemma is common among the shomer negiah crowd. You wonder whether women deal with the same issues, and the answer is yes, of course. Regardless of age, people of both genders who are shomer negiah speculate about the subject and wonder if and how it will have an impact on dating the type of person they are interested in. Being shomer negiah does not mean that a person is created with fewer desires than one who is not shomer.

You are finding that your commitment to halachah is getting in the way of nurturing a relationship and advancing it to a greater level. Your personal solution to this problem would be to marry the woman after a few dates; however, you know that most women would not agree to such a compromise. On the other hand, you find that if the dating relationship continues beyond the five or so dates, then you lose interest in her.

I thank you for bringing this unspoken issue to this forum because it does need to be addressed. Thousands of singles grapple with this dilemma, especially second-time-around singles who typically need to be extra-cautious before committing to marriage again. Many of the confidential calls, emails, and texts regarding dating problems are from men and women who are dealing with questions such as you presented.

As it relates to attraction, it is true that there is a gender difference where men are more visually inclined than women. Your reference to feeling as though you are from Mars and women are from Venus (as experts have coined) is because men are referred to as being aggressively goal-oriented and more impatient than females who are thought to be more emotional and communicative. You are correct that a man can determine within a few seconds whether he is attracted to somebody. There are women who will make such rapid determinations, too, but for the most part, when a woman is as marriage-minded as you appear to be, she will usually give it more time to at least try to get to know the man in the hopes that she will be drawn to him by some sort of allure. By the same token, because a woman will give herself a chance to feel an attraction before quickly dismissing a man, it will typically also take her longer to agree to elevate her relationship with him.

It’s troublesome that you lose interest after the fifth date. While there are stories of happy marriages that resulted after dating a few times, it is unlikely to establish compatibility with accuracy in the second-time-around crowd. The problem that I am assessing here is that to you, compatibility might be based solely on physical attraction. If you like the way she looks and perhaps smiles or reacts to what you say, then in your head you are ready to marry her.

That being the case, you must have encountered many challenges in the time you have been dating. Finding somebody physically attractive who can put on a good show of being nice is probably not too difficult. That is why in the secular style of dating, people behave with little morality. When secular people or those who are not shomer negiah feel that instant attraction, they go after what they want. But what happens in such relationships? The feelings on at least one side wear out rather quickly. It is really no different than a child who gets a shiny toy to play with. The child falls head over heels in love with the toy but after a short while loses interest, only to move on to a new toy he saw elsewhere.

As you adhere to halachic guidelines, you want to take that strong attraction you feel for a woman and marry her. But if you can say that after meeting her five times you lose interest in her, specifically because you are shomer negiah, what makes you think that you won’t lose interest in her if you marry her? If you are so visual and you base compatibility on what your eyes see, what happens if she gains weight or her appearance changes in some other way? What if there is nothing else between you two except what your eyes appreciated?

You sound worried that this might be some disorder, but it is not. You are experiencing natural feelings and you are not sure how to navigate that in frum dating. You need to understand that it does not have to be that either a couple is shomer negiah or they have to get married ASAP.

Dating used to be clean fun. Couples went out on dates and treated each other like good friends for a certain amount of time — not too long and not too short — and they became engaged. For people who are shomer negiah, the recommendation is to date in that same manner.

In previous generations, when a man and woman decided that they wanted to date each other, their date would take place either at the woman’s home (in some circles people do that today, and it is called a beshow) or in public locales, such as parks and fairs. Nowadays, that same principle could be applied, adding the restaurant or coffee shop or any other public domain as another option.

Frum couples who are shomer negiah are best off not placing themselves in situations that can foster challenging circumstances. Therefore, I recommend that they meet up for dates if the venue is a far distance and would require spending a long period of time in a vehicle together.

Interestingly, years ago, “courtship” for secular couples entailed being “shomer negiah” to some degree, and so all dates were specifically designed for the parties to meet one another to see if there was compatibility for an engagement to follow.

There is no reason why you cannot date and get to know one another and build from there. If you find your interest waning after the fifth date, it is possible that by that time, the woman is feeling more comfortable showing her true self. In the beginning of any relationship, even platonic ones, people are often somewhat guarded. Until they know each other well, they demonstrate only bits and pieces of their persona. What you feel as desire waning may be that you are seeing a side of your date that you find unattractive.

It is not uncommon for people who know each other for a long time to become attracted to one another when initially they found each other physically unappealing. In getting acquainted with somebody, there can be beautiful characteristics about the person that overshadow any physical aspect that might have at first appeared unpleasant to the eyes.

It works the other way, too. If the person whom someone considers physically beautiful does not turn out to be so nice, or perhaps there’s no compatibility, the relationship does not have a leg to stand on.

My gut feeling about your quandary, and my final analysis of your situation, is that not only do you lose interest in the woman after five dates because you discover that you are not for each other, but you are afraid that it will keep happening. That is OK. Don’t stop dating. Keep on dating the way you have till now, until one day date number five will turn to six, seven, eight, and will continue until you both feel ready to get married.

The fact that you are strictly shomer negiah means that your judgment will never be clouded. You will always see the person for who she is without allowing chemical reactions to obscure your mental vision.

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 5townsforum@gmail.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would also suggest that the writer of the letter also do some serious introspection, perhaps with a qualified therapist, as to why he is dating. Is the kedusha from marriage his goal? Or is it to simply find a halakhically valid vehicle to indulge his physical desires based on his “visual” preferences? Is he shomer negiah simply because he wants to follow rules? Does he use that as away of avoiding (i.e. after being hurt from his divorce) the emotional intimacy that physical intimacy implies and engenders? Divorce is never good or pleasant, but sometimes only the least bad option. Understanding why one married in the first place, and why one divorced, might be very helpful for future dating and marriage.

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