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path through forest

Reflections from my Dating Journey: It All Came Down to a Mental Shift

By Perel Lightman*

Editor’s note: This story was sent to me by the author as a gift to strengthen others who are going through similar experiences. Feel free to share your feedback and appreciation with her in the comments below.

An amazing place. Filled with millions of bright flowers. That’s what we had heard about the Valley of the “Turmusim.” People come from far and wide to see it during the winter season in Israel.

We wanted to take our children there to see this glory of nature, but before getting them too excited about it, we decided to travel there and explore it ourselves. This way, we would see if it would be worth it.

We arrived at the valley. There were many people climbing up a large mountain on a snake-like path. We set out to climb up the mountain, anticipating the view of this natural wonder that seemed to be just on the other side of the mountain.

As we climbed up the mountain, we noticed a gorgeous red flower hidden among the wild grass. Then we saw another. Could it be that this is the flower everyone had raved about? We imagined that the valley on the other side of the mountain would be filled with these red flowers. We proceeded to climb up to the top of the steep mountain.

When we arrived at the top, we were disappointed. There seemed to be just a few bright red flowers scattered along the top and down the sides of the mountain. The view was definitely nothing like what we had heard about.

Then, in an instant, we looked at each other and down at the ground below. We realized that there were flowers covering the entire mountain, but not tall bright red flowers. Instead, the mountain was covered in a carpet of beautiful small purple wildflowers.

That moment, we realized that throughout our journey to the top of the mountain, we missed out on the millions of purple flowers.

So my aunt had described her hike to me. A simple story… but it penetrated deep within my heart.

When you are searching with very specific criteria in mind, but what you are looking for appears in an image or presentation that you do not expect, it can be difficult to find. It is so liberating to free yourself from the image in your mind, and to allow things to progress on their own, in an incredible way… It’s all about what you focus on.

In my mind, this is a microcosm of our story.

So where do we begin?

2017. Yosef heard about me from his married friend, his chavrusa.

“Perel is 23, in nursing school… a year older than you.” “Why would I want to go out with a nurse?,” he thought. She is probably busy with hospital shifts all of the time. How would she have time for a family? With that, the idea faded away. Before I had even heard about it.

In the meantime, I continued dating.

Looking for a religious guy… who was also interesting.

I went out and played the game. Religious enough. Not religious enough. Super religious. Not religious, but really cool. The merry-go-round kept turning, again and again. Deep down, maybe I was not yet ready to go through a wedding. I was afraid of facing the world. Maybe I was looking for something too specific. Maybe my criteria contradicted the image I had in my mind of what I wanted.

I picked up the phone to call up my coach. She supported me throughout my journey. She believed in me. She gave me space… and direction.

I completed my nursing training. I waited to hear where I would be placed for my nursing internship at a top hospital. Labor and delivery unit. If there is one thing that I told myself I would never be… it would be a nurse midwife. What on earth would I do there?

I realized that I wanted to work at this particular hospital, so I convinced myself to take the job. It was great. I felt happy. Hundreds of newborn babies were entrusted to my care. I really mattered to their parents.

I saw couple after couple visit the labor and delivery ward. Each couple was a different world. No two couples looked alike. 

Meanwhile, my own desire to start a family was growing stronger and stronger until I could feel myself screaming from deep inside me, “Me too!”

One year later, the suggestion came back to Yosef. Again he refused.

I continued to date. But I felt that something was not right. I was confused, not relaxed. I decided to take a break from dating. More precisely… to start working as a nurse full-time.

I felt I needed a change. Needed a slap to wake me up. Not just to survive. Or to give in. Or to accept myself… A spark to get me going… and not only to marry.

My sister sent me an email: “An event for single women will be held at the home of a respected rebbetzin. Do you know any single women who could benefit from this? Forward this to her. She will thank you for it.” She added… “I’m sending this to you only because I love you.”

Suspicious and anxious… I gave in and took a chance.

In the meantime, Yosef was beginning to see the world differently, under his rav’s expert guidance.

I was still in my own world. Working. Not even thinking about dating. Never even discussing the topic. My life took on a different purpose. One that was not insignificant compared to dating. I worked on myself to shift my critical way of thinking.

Once again, I saw how Hashem sends messengers at precisely the right time. I got that slap. That fire. I began to move.

When I finished my internship, I resumed dating.

From a different place. Interested.

With a different eye. Appreciative.

Once again, Yosef received the suggestion to go out with me. 

This time, he was interested in meeting me.

When I heard about him, he sounded sooo great. I was worried that I was not even good enough for him! My sister got upset at me for saying this. She patted my cheek, and told me I was his equal and deserving of him.

“You should know, we thought of this two years ago,” his friend’s wife tells me. “Really? The truth is, this would never have turned out two years ago,” I admit. I laugh. “Well,” she answers, the truth is, that with him it also would not have worked two years ago.”

First phone call.

An interesting guy. What’s new with you? Where should we meet? Great. See you then.

That’s it? Awesome! I really didn’t like when guys talked forever before setting up a date on the first phone call. We decided we would meet at the central bus station in Jerusalem and figure it out from there.

I stand at the traffic light waiting to cross the street towards the station, and I notice a guy waiting alongside me. There was no mistake. He must be the one. But I wish this wasn’t him! The fleeting thought zipped through my mind. He had a large red beard, long peyos hanging below his ears. What was she thinking to set me up with such a super-religious guy? And why didn’t I ask her what he looked like? But I know why… because of the end of the story.

I was working on not being so critical. And I really do enjoy meeting new people. So I got along with him well. We bought drinks and proceeded to the botanical garden. It was lovely. Really nice.

That night, my sister calls me. “What happened? Did you go out?”

“Yes… wonderful. A religious guy.” Working really hard on my criticism that never gets me anywhere. 

“I don’t understand!,” she exclaims. “You had a great time with him, but he’s too religious? Aren’t you also religious?”

“It was great…” (But how great can it be when you are critical?)

“I am religious… but I don’t have a beard and peyot,” I reply.

“Ok, so he was too intense?,” my sister wonders.

“No, actually he wasn’t intense. Things kind of flowed naturally.”

She debated what to say next.

Her next sentence really captured my attention. There was no escape. “You were really excited when you first heard about him! He sounded amazing and exceptional. Why don’t you try to get to know him and to discover all that you heard about him?”

No, I did not give him another chance.

I gave myself another chance to be worthy of him.

And so I approached date number two.

And I discovered.

But I still debated. How could it be? He is really interesting and sweet. But he looks like all of the very religious guys I disqualified in the past. I never pictured my husband looking this way. 

Nonetheless, I kept searching. On our third date I discovered more.

And more on our fourth date.

And more and more.

I began to really appreciate him for who he is. Without my standards, my criteria, my image. 

I left my analysis behind me. I realized that he was good for me. He made me happy.

And his peyos actually made him look really cute.

One day, by the boardwalk, in the middle of a date that began like any other date, Hashem sent me a gift. A wake-up call. It seemed almost like a prophecy. Without a shadow of a doubt. “Yosef is perfect for me!” All of a sudden, I realized that he had everything I was looking for, in the perfect balance, in every area. It was eye-opening, like a bright light turned on. Just as I had prayed for all along.

When we got engaged, I said, “I promised that I would say that two years ago, this never would have worked out.”

Why? Because we would have gone out no more than once or twice.

It’s good we waited. Because even if we had gotten married, what life would we have had?

Appreciating is a life’s work. 

I’m so grateful that my eyes were opened to this mindset before I got married.

I never mentioned my parents in my story.

They are my foundation. They are my compass. With endless patience. Unrelenting faith and love for me. Even in times when a cold wind blew from me. Always there for me and always giving. Knowing when to let go. To look from afar. And to intervene when I lost direction. To remind me what I am striving for. By being exemplary role models. It is my privilege to be their daughter, my husband to be their son-in-law, and, with Hashem’s help, my children to be their grandchildren.

*Article published under a pen name.

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 get dating clarity through her free e-course: chanimaybruch.com/datingclarity. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™ – Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation.