I’m a 26-year-old Modern Orthodox guy and I’m feeling frustrated by dating. I grew up in a family that valued travel and humanist education, and I appreciate my upbringing because I was exposed to literature, politics and history, but I also feel like an outsider in many circles. The women I meet who share my Jewish values don’t understand my need for independence and adventure, and the ones I meet in artsy or literary circles don’t understand the significance of my Jewish life. Is it possible to meet a woman who can traverse both worlds, or am I chasing a white whale?
– Always Hunting, Attempting Bliss
Dear Captain AHAB,
Judaism prizes community. We bond through our shared history, rituals and beliefs. Judaism encourages communities to stay close and maintain traditions. But as a global citizen, you are exposed to ideas of cultural relativity and motivated to question the privileging of any customs or beliefs over others. Creating a coherent narrative in between these two competing value sets can pose a challenge – especially when you are looking for your beshert.
I believe that if you exist, a match exists, and when the timing is right you will find each other. In my experience, there are lots of Modern Orthodox Jewish women who can hold their own in intellectual circles and who love to travel. In fact, your family is living proof that Jewish home life does not have to preclude adventure. One of my friends moved to Buenos Aires for a year with her husband and children. After figuring out all of the logistics, (renting their home while they were gone, transferring the kids to international schools and arranging a telecommuting gig for her husband) they had a wonderful experience they will never forget. You can design your marriage to be just as original and unpredictable as you are.
Finally, if you aren’t having luck finding a match in Cleveland, consider expanding your search to Jewish communities that attract lots of young, Modern Orthodox intellectuals like yourself in New York, Philadelphia or Los Angeles.
I love my boyfriend, but whenever there’s an issue, he walks away from it. My instinct is to talk about it and figure it out but he refuses. He’ll get “busy,” and then when he comes home, he changes the subject. When I brought this to his attention he told me to “let go” and not to “overreact.” After a few days, things usually simmer down and go back to normal, but I wish we could air our concerns and talk about how to solve problems together.
– Lost In Non-communicative Dating Arrangement
Couples often find their way to my office looking for help with similar concerns. A common example is when the husband is sitting down to watch a Browns game and his wife interrupts with a request to talk about their relationship. Instead of engaging in the conversation, he turns up the volume. Fuming, she makes dinner and silently goes to sleep.
In these cases, I summon the work of Dr. John Mordechai Gottman, a renowned psychologist who studies relationships in Seattle. According to Gottman, conflict is a normal and healthy part of a relationship. The way a couple handles conflict is what matters. For example, if one partner wants to process their frustration and the other wants to hold it in, minor annoyances can escalate into heated arguments. In contrast, if both partners agree about how to express their feelings, they are able to diffuse tensions more quickly.
It sounds like your boyfriend is falling into one of Gottman’s relationship traps called “Stonewalling.” Stonewalling is when one partner shuts down and withdraws from an interaction. If you continue pressing him, he is likely to erupt in anger or further shut down because his nervous system is in overdrive. The solution is to recognize that your boyfriend is sensitive to conflict, and he needs time to calm down before he is ready to engage. In Gottman’s research, couples who take a break to self-soothe before talking about their concerns had lower heart rates and were able to problem-solve more constructively. So, the next time you see the sink piled high with dishes, take a break to read or go for a walk before reminding your sweetheart where he can find the sponges.
Elana Hunter started KickStartLove in 2010 when she was single, and after years of dating, she is now happily married. She provides individual dating coaching for private clients who are ready to change their lives. Learn more at KickStartLove.com.
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