Dear Dr. Chani,
I always looked forward to dating. I thought it would be so much fun to go out, experience new things, and meet new people. Then, I actually started dating. I am so surprised by how stressed out I get about it!
I do enjoy getting to meet people. Sometimes, I even have a great time on dates. The part that makes me stressed out is the decisions that I need to make. I am not sure how I am supposed to figure out if a guy is for me or not. Most of the guys I date seem normal and nice. But, I have not been excited about any one person I have dated. I am afraid to say no to a guy because then I will seem too picky or I may be passing up my bashert. On the other hand, I do not want to just keep going out because I want to get married. I would rather not waste my time dating someone who is not for me.
Fortunately, I have an amazing support system to help me through this. I often discuss my dates with my mother, my older married sister, and two of my married friends. I also have an advisor from camp that I am close to who I call when I need more help. Yet, despite my having all these people for me to discuss my dating, my head spins whenever I need to make a dating decision.
This issue came to a head in my relationship that just ended. I was dating Ari for two months. At first, I was not sure how I felt about him. Thankfully, I was able to turn to my support system. Things seemed pretty good, so everyone kept encouraging me to continue going out. Over several weeks, I began to feel more relaxed and I wanted things to work out. But, when Ari finally began to talk about getting engaged, I panicked. I told him that I liked him, but I needed more time to get to the stage of getting engaged. At first, he was very understanding. He told me I could take all the time I needed.
I made the rounds among the people in my support system and they all helped me feel excited and positive about continuing. Yet, something still held me back from moving ahead. Even though our relationship made sense, I could not get myself into it. I began to act somewhat awkward on our dates. After a few weeks, Ari seemed somewhat confused and insulted by my behavior. Then it was over. I really cannot fault him for breaking up with me.
In the end, I was very relieved that I did not have to go through with it. Yet I feel like I let down myself, my parents and my mentors. Why was it so hard for me to take the next step? Should I worry that this will keep happening with anyone I date seriously?
I can only imagine how emotionally exhausting your dating experience has been. You try to relax on dates, but you get tense about making decisions about whether or not to continue dating. You find the decisions so difficult that you regularly consult several mentors in your life to get advice. Recently, you dated Ari for around two months but you panicked when he began to discuss getting engaged. Although you dated him for a while, you were not enthusiastic about marrying him. It sounds like you were trying to adjust to the idea of marrying him, but something held you back from moving ahead.
When it comes to making decisions in life, there are many voices inside our heads telling us what to do. Some of these voices can be our own. Often, we have the voices of our parents, our friends, and other people whose opinions matter to us. It can be very confusing to choose which voice to follow. This is one of the reasons why it can be helpful to talk aloud about your options and your reasoning. Verbalizing the different sides of your decision can help you analyze the facts and understand where your feelings are coming from. When you externalize the conversation that is going on inside your head by talking about it with a mentor, it is easier to clarify what factors are most important to consider and to determine what decision is right for you.
There is also a downside to consulting with people about your decisions. Sometimes, mentors direct you towards a certain path, based on their own experience and knowledge. While it can be helpful to gain from the life experience of someone who is older and wiser, their perspective may not lead you to a decision that is right for you. It is best for you to view your discussions with these mentors as a form of research to help you make your decision. Mentors cannot make your decision for you. This is particularly important when making a decision with long-term ramifications, such as choosing who to marry. You need to own the decision because you need to live with it.
Your vast support network may be a mixed blessing. You are fortunate that you have people you trust to guide you. At the same, it sounds like you dating advisors have been encouraging you down a path without enabling you to get the clarity you need to make your own decision. This may be a significant reason why you panicked when Ari initiated the idea of getting engaged. You had been going through the external motions of dating, but you had not internally worked through your own thought process to develop your own feelings for Ari.
Another issue with having many people to speak to after a date is that it affects the way you interact with someone on a date. While you were speaking with Ari, for example, you were really having two conversations. One conversation was happening between you and Ari, while another dialogue was happening inside your head. In your mind, you were thinking about what Ari said and what you said, and trying to remember the details so that you would be able to report it to your dating advisors after your date. You also might have been wondering what they would think about what he said and how you responded. The conversation going on inside your head was so important that it was probably louder than the one between you and Ari. Your internal dialogue was distracting and drowned out the actual conversation happening with Ari.
Essentially, it is like you are bringing a whole group of people along with you on your dates. Your mother and father are sitting on both sides of you, your married sister is behind you, and your two married friends as well – perhaps with their husbands looking on. Since you respect all of those people and value their advice, each of them affects the way you think about and experience the person you are dating. The emphasis on reporting to mentors can make you focus too much on what they will think, instead of developing your internal compass based on your own emotions. This dynamic can hold you back from developing a genuine relationship with someone.
As you go forward in dating, seek out a mentor who will ask you questions for you to consider. These questions should help you reflect and gain self-awareness. It may take time, but you will eventually develop your own voice to give you direction.
In addition, try to limit the number of people you consult about dating to one or two. You can maintain your connection to all of your mentors by speaking to them every so often and keeping them up to date about your general dating experiences. Consulting only one or two mentors about the details will be less overwhelming and will ease the pressure you feel to analyze dating so much.
It is important to be aware of the impact that too much analysis can have on your ability to create a relationship with someone you are dating. With this awareness, you will notice when you are having a double dialogue on your dates. You can then choose to take a genuine interest in your conversation with the person you are dating and focus on getting to know one another.
I am sure that you will find your dates more relaxing and enjoyable as you discover more about each person you date and about yourself. This will help you develop your own feelings and create a real relationship with your dating partner so that the next time someone pops the question of getting engaged, you will feel ready to say, “Yes!”
Wishing you much success,
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About the Author
Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Find out how to date successfully through her free e-course: chanimaybruch.com/datingclarity and her upcoming master dating online course. Send in your relationship question to firstname.lastname@example.org.