A Reader Asks:
I was blessed to grow up in a warm, loving, and healthy home. My parents provided the paradigm of marriage that I aspire to emulate, and my image of the woman I’m looking to marry incorporates many traits I’ve seen in my mother. I respect her intellectual curiosity and deep emotional intuition, as well as her humility and quiet confidence. She’s a multi-tasker who seems to be able to “do it all” with grace, warmth, and calm. Beyond her full-time work, running a home, and raising children, she’s always made her relationship with G-d and contributions to the community a central part of her life.
But am I asking for too much? I continue to be set up with what I am told is the “cream of the crop,” and on paper they all sound wonderful but when I meet with them I’m not impressed. They seem to be lacking in maturity and sensitivity. I rarely date a girl who has both intellectual curiosity and a warm, nurturing nature. Are my expectations unrealistic? I know the woman I’m looking for exists — after all, I grew up in a home with a woman just like that.
Dating Coach Rachel Burnham Answers:
This is classic “Perfect Parent Syndrome”: the subconscious search in dating for the qualities of a parent we deeply respect and wish to emulate. The thinking is, “If these characteristics worked for me in my childhood, shouldn’t they work for me in a spouse?” While some singles may believe they’ve found those qualities, many find themselves frustrated and disappointed, wondering whether they will ever find the combination they’re looking for.
While there’s nothing wrong with admiring unique qualities you’ve seen in your parents or other role models, it’s a mistake to hope that these qualities will present themselves fully formed in a dating partner.
Marriage engenders profound change, demanding focus, maturity, and the expansion of self to make room for another. It stretches giving muscles beyond what you assumed possible, and demands levels of love and devotion never before experienced. Then the bearing and raising of children pushes all those limits exponentially. Such practice for 30, 40, or 50 years can create a human being unrecognizable in selflessness, humility, giving, love, devotion, maturity, sensitivity, wisdom, and development.
On several occasions I’ve asked a room of singles to close their eyes and think of somebody who is similar to the type of person they want to marry. I tell them that the person they envision can be married or single, a family member or friend, young or old, it doesn’t matter. After giving a few minutes for thought I say, “Let me guess, the person you’re thinking of is married.” The room always breaks out into laughter, because in fact, everyone has chosen someone married. Not surprising.
Here are some tips to help ensure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations:
1. Look for potential: Try not to look for a finished product, but a person who has the core traits you respect and can see yourself growing with. The person you marry is a young and unrefined version of themselves and will develop many traits with time as they build a home with you.
2. Judge everyone on their own merits: Even if your date is not similar to someone you look up to, they still may have many redeeming qualities that can be compatible with yours. It’s unfair to compare a young man or woman to a person with decades of life experience. It’s usually not helpful to compare the date across the table from you with your friends’ or siblings’ spouses. Every person is a bundle that can’t be unbundled. We either take it or leave it. Selectively comparing bundle parts is both unrealistic and self-defeating.
3. Look in the mirror: If we were to submit ourselves to the same sort of scrutiny that we hold our dates up to, what would we find? We’re expecting somebody to take us for the special qualities we have and our commitment to a life of sharing and growth. We should extend the same courtesy to those we date.
4. Be open to surprises: Locking yourself into a particular “type” — personality, look, or background, will prevent you from being pleasantly surprised. Why limit yourself?
Pesach is a time of freedom, redemption, and moving away from our bonds of the past. This Pesach, may we say “dayenu” (enough) and choose to distance ourselves from expectations of our past in order to embrace the miracles possible in our future. By allowing the One Above to guide us through this unique journey, to recognize that we may already have in front of us the shortest distance to our longest relationship.
By Rachel Burnham