Finding your Bashert: A User’s Guide to Avoiding Misery and Heartache
This is a clipping from the new Shmuz book:
A User’s Guide to Avoiding Misery and Heartache.
R’ Ben Tzion Shafier / The Shmuz.com
Marriage is Forever
I want to present you with a challenge: You have six months to find the perfect roommate. The way
it works is you can choose anyone you want, but once you decide on this person—that’s it, you are stuck —no changes.
And, here are the conditions. From now on, you and your roommate will do everything together. You will go to sleep and get up at the same time. You will drive the same car. You will eat your meals together. You will vacation and visit family together. You will have the same friends. And, you will share your possessions, keep your money in the same account, and pay your expenses together. So what you buy, when you buy it, and how much of it you buy – you decided together. And one more thing: there will be no secrets from your roommate. You will report everything: where you go, who you go with, and how long you’ll be there. This arrangement will last for four years – no taking off a semester, no two-week breaks.
How confident are you that you could make the right choice? How sure are you that you won’t regret your choice after a few months?
Now, let’s add one more wrinkle to this challenge. What if instead of the arrangement lasting for four year, it was for ten years? What if you now had to choose the person that you would room with for the next decade? How certain are you that you can pick the right one?
Here’s the point: When you get married, it’s for a lot more than ten years—hopefully, it’s for life. And that’s the problem. When you choose a spouse, you are committing to that person for the next who knows how long. How could you possibly make an intelligent choice? Who you are now, isn’t who you will be twenty years from now. People change. Things happen. And what was important when you were younger isn’t what matters to you when you’re older. So, how can you know now, who the right person will be for you when you’re forty or fifty? You don’t have a clue to what you will be like then?
While this is one of the more glaring difficulties with choosing the “right one”, we’ll soon see there are many more.
Chapter 2 The Dating Game
The shaddchan says in that singsong voice. “So,
tell me, what are you looking for?”
out comes the laundry list.
need someone who is extroverted, funny, and outgoing.”
need a woman who is very frum, tolerant
need a guy who is a take-charge type, strong but not headstrong.”
The lists are long, and the benchmarks are detailed, specific and exact. This is what I need. This is what I would like. This is what I have to have. If he has this and this quality we can be happily married. If he doesn’t then – forget it—it just won’t work.
It seems that, before they date, most people take a sort of personal inventory. They say to themselves, “Let’s see… Since I have this type of personality, I need this type of guy. Of course, I would really like qualities A, B and C as well. But D and E? They are non negotiable. I just can’t marry a guy who doesn’t have them. If he has F and G – all the better. But for me, it’s D and E. If a guy doesn’t have those two, forget it—I’m just not interested” Then based on their understanding of what they need, what they want, and what they would like to have, they take their shopping list, head out into the market place, to find the guy that comes closest.
And unwittingly, many people make the first big mistake in dating: they aren’t looking for their bashert (predestined) they have already formed him in their minds, and now they’re looking for the one that comes the closest to that image.
Mr. Potato Head
It’s almost like they are playing with Mr. Potato Head (the doll that children design). Simply, open the box and out come your choices. You can dress him up with red lips or blue. Big ears or small. Would you like long legs or short? What about eyebrows? Bushy or sparse? How about feet? Big or little? But don’t fret, if he does look just right, simply start over, until you get him just the way you like.
This is the way people look for a spouse. They make their list: “This is what I need. This is what I would like. This is what I have to have.” They form their image of their ideal match, and with these convictions firmly in place, they begin their search. Yet, for some strange reason it doesn’t work. They come back empty handed, uttering the words, “I just can’t find the “right guy.”
They can’t find the right guy, because they aren’t looking for him! They are too busy looking for their Mr. Potato head, the one they created, and who only exists in their imagination.
Finding the Right One
The problem, however, really begins with a powerful assumption. The assumption is that the average person should know what they need in a spouse. Naturally then, their responsibility is to find the person who fits that profile.
As we will see, however, this is far from simple.
Chapter 3 Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a Match
A Close Circle of Friends
When my wife and I were newlyweds, we took up an informal study of marriages. At the time, my parents had a close circle of friends – eight couples – who got together regularly. We looked at each couple, to try and discover the “secret” to a happy marriage. After a while, we compared notes, and found that we both reached the same conclusion: every one of them was mismatched!
She was too smart… He was too frum… She was too sophisticated… He was too loud… Had we been the shadchan, we would not have put any of them together. They just didn’t fit.
Our little exercise brought home a critical point: A successful marriage isn’t a match of two similar individuals. It is a union of a man and woman, different in temperament, emotionality, and priorities. Each comes in with their unique strengths and weaknesses, and as a couple they complete one another. His deficiencies are compensated for by her strengths, her shortcomings are filled in by his positive attributes, and the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.
But knowing exactly what your strengths and weakness are, and what is the correct balance for them is far from simple.
Who Am I?
Marriage is a complex weave of human personalities, attributes and attitudes, and before a person can know what they need in a spouse, they have to know themselves. They have to be able to answer some fundamental questions about their personality “Who am I? What really makes me tick? What are my core tendencies, strengths and faults? How will I react in different life situations? How do I handle stress? What about failure? What about health issues? What if I lose a child?”
Most people don’t come to this level of self-awareness until they’re old and grey—and even then, not everyone does. How can we expect a young person, just starting out in life, to have such a deep understanding of themselves?
But, the problem is even worse. Let’s assume that somehow I do know myself. To find the right match I have to know which attributes will compliment my own? Do I need a person who is strong or mild? Do I need a leader or follower? One guy needs a woman who believes in him. And another needs a woman who will put him in his place. But which guy needs which type of woman, in what balance, and to what extent is very hard to know. As an example:
The Perfect Shidduch
One day, before giving shiur, my Rebbe, HaRav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l laughingly remarked, “Boruch Hashem! We finally found a shidduch for this guy. I didn’t know who we would marry him off to. What a temper he has! But, Boruch Hashem, we found the perfect match.”
At this point, we were very curious about the “perfect shidduch” for a guy with a fierce temper.
The Rosh HaYeshiva, zt’l, continued, “We found him a woman with a temper even bigger than his. Now when he opens his mouth, she screams louder, and he’s as quiet a lamb. It’s the perfect shidduch.”
While this is a cute story, everyone knows that the worst match for a guy with a temper is a woman with a bigger temper. It’s asking for the next Hundred Year war. Unless… this guy only talks a big game, but deep down he’s docile. If his spirit is really meek, then he won’t explode when confronted, quite the opposite he will simmer down. In that case, the ideal match is a strong woman.
But who has the wisdom to make that judgment call? Who has the life’s experiences to know whether their inner essence will comply or rebel against such force? Certainly no other relationship requires that type of insight. When it comes to choosing a friend, the criterion is simple: do we get along. If yes—great. If not—then let’s move on.
A marriage, however, is so much more complex. It entails taking two people diverse in nature, temperament and upbringing, and asking them to mold themselves into one unit. Choosing the right one requires a level of genius that the average person people simply doesn’t have.
In fact, most people don’t even understand marriage.
The Dynamics of a Marriage are Complex
Ask couples that are married for twenty years or more to explain the “secret to a happy marriage”. Ask them to define, why some marriages work, and others don’t? Why do some couples flourish and others fail? “
Likely, you will you get a string of answers, with most honest people admitting, “I really don’t know.” And, if you do get some people offering theories, just ask them to explain why many nice, considerate couples are at each other’s throats. And plenty of coarse, selfish couples manage to get along just fine.
What you will find is that the average person can’t explain these high mysteries, because the dynamics of a successful marriage are very elusive. And even highly intelligent, worldly people can’t define the “mechanics” of why a marriage works, and if it doesn’t, what to do about it. So how can we expect a young person, never married, to know what they need in a marriage, when older married couples can’t?
If the situation isn’t sounding difficult enough, there’s a far bigger issue at stake.
Men are from Mars
The entire notion that a young woman is capable of choosing “Mr. Right”, denies a fundamental reality.
Hashem created men and women to serve distinct roles, and therefore made men and women different. Not different marginally or incidentally – different in almost every imaginable way. They are different in their nature, outlook, and values. They are different in the way they approach life, objects and relationships. They are different in the way that they behave, relate to each other, and communicate. Men and women are so different that you would almost think, that they belong to different cultures, or come from different planets.
And, it’s not that they are socialized or brought up differently; these distinctions are inborn.
Mixed Gender Best Friends
Studies show that when asked, “Who is your best friend?” three-year-olds are as likely to name a girl, as a boy. At that age, mixed gender friendships are the norm. They play the same games, have the same interests, and are fully compatible. Yet by the time the same group of children is five years old, only 20% of the boys will name a girl as his best friend, and the same for the girls. By then, the two groups are no longer so similar. The boys are off running around playing rough and tumble games, and if they do sit down it’s to play with “boy toys”: trucks, action figures and guns—things that little appeal to the girls. By the time the same group is seven, it is almost unheard of that a boy will have a best friend who is girl, or for a girl to have a best friend who is a boy. By then the two groups have almost nothing in common.
And, these differences don’t go away with age – they increase dramatically. Watch children at play during recess at the local public school. The girls will be off on one side of the yard playing jump rope or hopscotch, while the boys will be off to the other side playing tag or touch football. Even though the classes are mixed, it is rare to find boys and girls together in play. The two groups have moved off into their own worlds.
So let’s even assume that a young person has enough life’s wisdom to truly know themselves, and what type of person they need. How much do they know about the opposite gender? Are they so wise that they can translate their needs into the emotional language of another gender? They don’t understand the emotional operating system of that gender. For a woman to know whether this guy fits the parameters of the type she needs, she would need to decode a complex individual operating with a different set of feelings, needs and desires, recognize his core strengths and attributes, then translate that information back into her own emotional operating system. How many people have the sheer intellect to do that?
Listen at the Kollel Table
If your not if this is true, try visiting most any kollel. Just listen in to the conversation at the breakfast table, when the newly married guys talk amongst themselves. It seems that every one of them comes in with a glazed look in his eyes, mouthing the words, “ I don’t understand her?” When she says this, she means that. And when she says that, she means this. I just can’t figure her out!”
It isn’t that his wife is difficult, or that he is thick. It’s simply that in the first stages of a marriage, it isn’t easy to read your spouse’s emotional needs. And there is a real learning curve that a husband and wife must go through to understand what is really going on in the other person’s world.
The odds of success aren’t great
So, the plot thickens. For a person to know what it is that they need in a spouse, first they have to fundamentally know themselves, which for most people doesn’t happen till they are much older. Next, they, they have to find the corresponding jigsaw puzzle piece from amongst a gender that they don’t understand, and compute their differences within the context of a relationship they can’t yet relate to. They then have to make sure that this person will fit not just now, but in twenty years as well. Finally they have to go out amongst the tens of thousands of potential matches and find that one needle in the haystack.
What do you think the odds of success are?
Not good at all. In fact, for a young person to go out there and expect to find the “right one” is beyond absurd. It’s preposterous.
Infatuation isn’t a sign that she’s bashert
So, some people will tell you the answer must be love. “If, I can’t use wisdom to find my bashert, then, I’ll guess I have to use my heart. I’ll simply go out and find the person that I fall for. If I love her, then obviously we are meant for each other.”
And, if making their “Mr. Potato Head” is the first big mistake that people make in dating, “Loves is the Answer” is the second one. Here’s how it plays out.
Infatuation is not a sign that she is bashert
A young man gets engaged, and his friends ask him, “How did you know that she was the right one?”
“I knew it the minute I saw her.” He answers. “I took one look into her eyes, and I was gone. It was like rockets on the fourth of July.”
What this young man is describing is infatuation. Infatuation isn’t a sign that she’s your bashert. It is a sign that you are attracted to her. You can be attracted to your bashert – or to any number of people. Just ask someone who has gone out for a while. It isn’t uncommon that a happily married man or woman went out with other people before they were married, and they may well have had strong feelings towards those other people—feelings, sometimes, more intense than what they felt for their spouse when they went to the chupah. Yet, they go on to build beautiful marriages. And equally telling, many, many couples get married not really being that “infatuated”. Yet they create strong loving relationships.
The reason these couples succeed isn’t because infatuation isn’t important – it is. But, it was designed to play a specific role. To understand that role, we need a deeper perspective of the human.
Chapter 5-Love Doesn’t Conquer All
Ask a typical, single guy what he expects his marriage will be like, and he’ll get this far-off look in his eye, as he says: “Oh, it will be wonderful! I will love her, she will love me, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
This same young man may come from a broken home. He may have lived through years of fighting, screaming, and cursing. He may now have a difficult relationship with his parents and siblings, and may have ongoing run-ins with roommates and friends. He may even be aware that he is a difficult person — but it won’t matter — his marriage will be harmony and bliss. “My wife will love me, I will love her, and we will live together in happiness and joy forever and ever.”
Unfortunately, the divorce courts are filled with such couples. But what went wrong? They started out so in love. He was great. She was perfect. What happened?
What happened was that when they got married, they weren’t in love – they were infatuated. That infatuation wore off, real life set in, and they weren’t ready for it.
Infatuation is like a drug. It affects your senses and changes the way you view things — so everything is wonderful. The whole world is smiling on you. Scientific studies show that falling in love affects brain chemistry in a manner similar to cocaine use; the normal balances are changed. The result is that a couple “in love” experiences a rush of adrenaline, a sense of euphoria, and the feeling that they will always be happy together. “Her bad habits will never bother me. She will always be tolerant of my being late. And, we will live forever and ever in this state of bliss.”
Infatuation Plays an Important Role
Hashem created infatuation to allow men and women to get married and create long-standing, loving homes. But, there in lies the problem. To take two individuals from different backgrounds, with diverse natures and upbringings, put them together for a short time, and then ask them to live together for the rest of their lives in peace and harmony, should be impossible.
In all relationships, differences of opinions tend to escalate, feelings eventually get hurt, and after enough time the liaison ends. Most business partnerships end with a fight. Most friendships weaken as people go their separate ways. And the institution of marriage should never work.
To allow marriages to succeed, Hashem gave mankind the capacity of love. When a couple is in love, they operate in a climate of acceptance and understanding. They overlook each other’s shortcomings, and ignore their partner’s flaws. She is forgiving. He is tolerant. Differences don’t matter. Disagreements are rare. Your way. My way. What difference does it make anyway. And the marriage thrives despite what life throws at it. The heart blood of a successful marriage is love.
But love isn’t instant. Learning to give doesn’t’ come naturally. And, real dedication to another person takes a long time to develop. To allow marriages to flourish, Hashem created certain forces to jump-start the relationship.
One of these forces is infatuation. Infatuation works like sulphur on a kitchen match. When you strike a match against the phosphorous on the match box, it will ignite into a flame. It gets very hot, very quickly. For a second or two, it will flare up, just long enough to light the wood of the match. That flame, however, wasn’t designed to last. It was meant to be a catalyst to start the fire, not to keep it going. If the wood catches, it succeeded in it’s job, if not, it shined bright for a while, but accomplished nothing.
Infatuation works the same way. It allows the couple to begin; it starts the process, but they must then do the difficult work of creating a true bond of love. They need to become attuned to each other’s needs; they have to learn to actually care about each other, and the hardest part: they have to change those things that bother their spouse. Change isn’t easy. And, unfortunately, many couples never make the transition.
Often, their initial expectation was their downfall. They walked in thinking, “We are in love, so everything will be beautiful and easy. Love will conquer all.” The problem is that they weren’t in love; they were infatuated. When the drug wore off, they woke up the same people they were before, and then the choice was either change or suffer. Many people never make those changes, and their marriages dissolve.
But here is the point: While infatuation is an important tool to help start a marriage, it isn’t the basis for a marriage, and it certainly isn’t a criterion for choosing a life’s partner. It is a short-lived chemical explosion, and if you use it as the indicator that “this is my bashert”, you might well be making a life’s mistake.
Where do we go from here?
Now we come to crux of the issue: I can’t use my wisdom to determine the right one for me, because it will never work. I can’t use my “falling in love” as a gauge either. So how can I know? How can I possibly decide which one is right for me?
Chapter – Hashem wants us to succeed
The answer begins with the understanding that Hashem wants us to lead happy, productive lives. Hashem wants men and women to create loving, solid homes. And so, Hashem selects the ideal person for each individual, and guides us to that person.
Our role in the equation is to do our hishtadlus (effort). We use the system that Hashem has set in place, and do our part in finding that person. The only question is what is the correct hishtadlus for finding that person? How does Hashem want us to go about finding the one that He has chosen?
The first step is to recognize that Hashem has carefully chosen the ideal match for you and wants you to find him. But, that person might not look like any image that you have fashioned in your mind. He may not have the qualities that you think are essential, and he may come with other traits that you don’t think are particularly helpful.
And that’s the point – the point that most people miss, the point that causes so much misery – its not your job to know. You can’t know. That’s Hashem’s job.
Hashem is the wise and generous Creator. Hashem knows the future as He knows the past. Hashem knows better than you, what’s for your best. And Hashem has selected the ideal match for you. Your job is to go out and find him.
To make it easier HASHEM has given us an intuition to know who that person is.
The Chovos Ha’Levovos taught us that to help us earn a living, HASHEM implanted in us an inclination towards a type of work. So too, when choosing a spouse. Hashem gave us the instinct to recognize our bashert.
The system that we use to identify that person has two parts to it.
The Paper Test
The first is done before the two meet. Ideally, before anyone has seen anyone, and certainly before there is any involvement, or emotional investments, you take the “paper test.”
The paper test is: on paper, do they match? Are they looking for the same things in life? Do they share a similar outlook? Do they have the same aspirations for their home? If he intends to learn for the next six years, and she only shops in Sax Fifth Avenue – we have a problem.
What you are looking for at this stage is the type of things that they won’t find out on the date. Granted he might fall for her—but is that the problem?
This is also the stage where you look for things that you won’t see on the date. Is she emotionally stable? Does he have a drinking problem? Are there things in his past that might prevent him from being a supportive husband?
The paper test determines from an objective standpoint is this a good match. That doesn’t mean, “Do they have the same sense of humor?” “Are they equally intelligent?” “Are they similar in personality?” Those are compatibility issues— issues that only they can answer—and only in the second stage of the process.
Assuming that the two are holding in about the same place in life, and there are no skeletons in the closet, then they meet. Here, however, is where most people make their mistake.
The right word and the almost right word
Mark Twain used to say the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug—a mighty big difference. In a similar sense, the difference between the way people date, and the way they should be dating, is often worlds apart.
The reason you meet isn’t because you are looking for “The best girl in Brooklyn” or for “the person with the best middos.” Nor are you searching for “the person you want to spend life with”. You are looking for the person who was chosen for you. Not the one who comes closest to your image of what you want. Not someone who’s tall or short, fat or skinny, smart or dumb, introverted or extroverted. You are looking for your bashert – and you don’t know what she looks like, what her personality is like, what type of family she comes from, or even what type of person she is. And there is only one way to know if she is the one—you take the Bashert Test.
The Bashert Test
The Bashert Test consists of meeting this person and seeing how you feel. Do you feel comfortable? Do you enjoy her company? Does it just sort of feel right?
Not deep, mad, passionate love. Not fire works being shot off rooftops. Not even “Wow!!!” Just does it feel natural? Your hishtadlus is to see if you feel an intuitive sense that this is the right one.
The questions to ask yourself are: Did I enjoy the date? Do I look forward to seeing her again? Does it sort of seem to click? If it does, that is the sign that she is the one destined for you—the one that Hashem has chosen for you. But that is the point, Hashem has made the choice, you are out there to find out which one Hashem has decided is best for you.
There need not be any high level emotionality. No heart palpations and no shortness of breath. (Those are sure signs of infatuation, which if anything may cloud your vision.) Just an inner sense of peace. A feeling that it’s natural. We enjoy being with each other. It somehow feels, like I’ve known her all your life.
When you have that feeling that this is the right one. You move forward with the confidence that that Hashem runs the world, and he has guided you to your bashert.
She’s Not What I’m Looking For
While this system may sound simple to implement—it isn’t. Most people have such entrenched notions of what they need, and they won’t allow themselves to just let it flow. And it seems that no matter how much they try, they keep coming back to the same obstacle.
Chapter Beating the System
I got a call from a fellow who said, “Rebbe, you have to help me.”
“Sure, sure what’s up?”
“Well, I was set up with this girl, and I think that I am going to fall for her.”
“That’s great. So, what’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem? That’s the problem. She’s not what I’m looking for! I want a girl who… and he went on to list his “Mrs. Potato Head” qualities that he needed to be truly happy. He had a clear image of the kind of girl he was going to marry, and this young woman didn’t fit that picture.
But that’s the problem – he wasn’t looking for his bashert.. He was out looking for his choice—the woman that he fashioned in the image that he imagined, and nothing but that would bring him lasting happiness.
While this is a blatant example— often, the same thing happens in a far subtler manner. A person will have a feeling an inner feeling that this is the right one, yet, they won’t allow themselves to feel it because: I need someone smarter, or taller, or richer, or funnier, or more easier going, or more driven, or whatever imaginable attribute that people can think up. So they say no.
32 Reasons to drop someone
Because this happens so often, I hope you’ll excuse me for listing some of the more common “reasons” for saying no.
“He’s not smart enough.”
“He’s too smart.”
“He’s very smart, but not the kind of smart, I’m looking for.”
“His family isn’t good enough.”
“His family is too good.”
“His family is perfect, but I need a bal teshuvah.”
“I don’t like her looks.”
“She looks too good.”
“Her looks are great. But its not the look I’m looking for.”
Too tall. Too short. To smart. Too dumb. Too worldly. Too sheltered. Too narrow. Too broad. Too plain. Too fancy. The list goes on and on.
Now you may ask, aren’t these things important? Good family, smart, and attractive? Aren’t they huge contributors to the success of a marriage? The answer is that they are incredibly important, and if you were putting together your Mr. Potato Head, I think you should grab a whole big bunch of all of them. But that is the point. You aren’t creating your bashert. You are searching for her. And you don’t know whether she is smart, or pretty, comes from a good family or not. There is only one thing that you will ever know about her—that she is one that Hashem picked for you. The way you tell that is by allowing your heart to tell you.
Doesn’t attraction matter?
But, don’t I have to think she’s pretty?! How can I marry a woman if I don’t feel that she’s attractive? The answer is Yes, you should be attracted, and if you not, and that bothers you, it might be an indicator that she isn’t the right one for you.
But it might not be, and here is where things get tricky. If you like this woman, but don’t feel attracted; you enjoy the dates, but it just seems kind of flat. You have a question, and you should speak to someone older and wiser for advice. The fact that you aren’t attracted to her may be a sign that she isn’t right for you.
However,only too often what happens is that, it turns out that she is pretty enough for him. But, she not pretty enough for… his sisters… his mother… his buddies… or, his Hollywood notion of what a wife should look like. And so he won’t allow himself to feel that attraction.
And this doesn’t only happen to guys. A woman will be going out with someone, and she’ll say, “It’s going well, but… something is blocking me. I just can’t commit.” It may well be that this isn’t the right person for her. However, there are many times that she is stopping herself from feeling that it’s a good fit because: (and now fill in the blank). She doesn’t think he will be successful; she doesn’t like the family he comes from; she doesn’t feel that her brothers will respect him. Or, what will her friends think? Or her aunt? Or her dorm counselor? Or a whole host of other reasons, that only she knows.
That is when she needs help sorting out what her feelings, and she should speak to someone older and wiser for direction. (Older means older, and wiser means wiser. Only too often I have asked a 19-year-old girl, if she asked advice before deciding to end the dates. And she said, “Absolutely. I asked my friend, and she’s married, so she knows. “I see, and how old is this friend of yours?” “Why, she’s at least twenty.”).
All of these blockages can be bypassed if a person focuses on the viewpoint that Hashem created this world and runs it. Hashem has chosen for me the perfect life’s partner, and Hashem wants me to find him. He might not fit my detailed, preconceived idea of what it is I think I need, or what it is I want, but that person is the one that’s best for me.
The proper way to go out is to forget all the criteria, the laundry lists, the needs and wants, and ask only one question: How do I feel about this person? Not is she the best girl I can get? Not even is she the best one for me? Not even do I see myself twenty years from now being happy with her.
How do I feel now? Is there a certain comfort level? Does it just seem to be right? If she passed the paper test, and the answer to this question is yes, that that is the sign that this is the right person. This is the person that was predetermined by Hashem to be for you. And you have done your proper hishtadlus.
Now you move forward with confidence and reassurance. Not confidence that you have chosen well, not reassurance that your wisdom or good luck has brought you to this point. Confidence and assurance that Hashem has predetermined the one that is right for you and brought her to you.
This is a clipping from the new Shmuz book:
Finding your Bashert: A User’s Guide to Avoiding Misery and Heartache.