Distant Love

From: Elaine

Dear Rabbi,

Since from before I became observant about a year ago, I have been dating a really great guy. He’s intelligent, sensitive, considerate, attractive, and really everything I could ask for in a husband, except that he’s not religious. When we met, that was not a problem for me, but now it is. I would not marry any non-observant person, including a Jew who is non-Orthodox. My boyfriend realizes that, and has made a lot of effort and progress to learn about Orthodox Judaism in order to decide if he’s willing to become religious and get married.

But things have become complicated. I have been growing tremendously over the past year in Seminary. I’m also older and anxious to start a family, as so many of my friends already have. On the other hand, while he has been attending classes in a yeshiva for a few months, the time he can do that is ending. And anyway, he has not made the progress I was hoping for. At this point, I can’t say for sure that he’s decided to become observant, and even so, if he’s willing to adhere to the same level of Orthodoxy as me.

So for the first time in our relationship, we’re experiencing a lot of pressure and tension. I’m feeling like he’s arguing against everything, resisting, and lagging behind. He feels like I’ve become too extreme, and am pushing Judaism on him, or at least too much too soon, rather than enjoying the growth together at a slow, natural pace.

I’ll be honest Rabbi, I really don’t know what to do. On the one hand, we really love each other. On the other hand, what has the potential to bring us so much closer is actually pushing us apart. Should I just keep waiting for as long as it takes him, with the risk that for whatever reason he might not become religious in the end or might not want my level of religiosity; or should I let him go and focus on moving on, completely immersed in the lifestyle I have chosen for myself for life?

Dear Elaine,

I empathize with your dilemma, but without knowing you both and more details, it’s hard to recommend with certainty what you should do in your case. You both should really speak to someone who knows you personally. Nevertheless, based on what you’ve shared, and I know it’s easier said than done, I think you should separate at this point, in order to alleviate the tension that has grown between you, and to let each of you freely explore and decide the direction in which you each want to grow.

It sounds like he’s been exposed enough by now to Orthodoxy that he basically gets a picture of what it’s about. If his interest until now is not just because of you, but also because he is genuinely interested in Judaism, he will be interested in pursuing that interest even without you. And of course, once apart, he may even pursue it with more interest, once he feels he’s doing it for himself, and not that it’s being forced upon him or expected from him.

In the meantime, you need to move on and make an effort to realize your personal and religious aspirations to get married and establish a strictly observant family. Finding the right person for yourself might take time. But if you’ll find your besheirt (soul-mate), it will be clear to you that your current relationship was rightly ended.

However, if you do not find someone else who is clearly the right one for you, and during your separation, your current boyfriend, on his own accord, even if it’s with you in mind, arrives at a commitment to belief and practice at a level which is compatible with yours, (and you could stipulate that he could let you know through a third party), at that time you could explore dating for marriage in the Orthodox manner.

Otherwise, what’s your option? Given where you are, every question which he needs to consider critically in order to pursue truth is perceived by you as a threat to your life’s goal and happiness. And given where he is, your well-founded fervor and urgency is perceived by him as extremism, which negates and threatens his sense of individuality and his world-view.

You certainly would not like him to insincerely go along with everything just in order to marry you. That could eventually result in his feeling miserably imprisoned and undermine and ruin everything you’re aspiring for in Judaism. On the other hand, you can’t be his guide and mentor to sincere acceptance of Orthodoxy. You see that isn’t working.

For these reasons, my advice is that you should discuss this all very clearly and thoroughly with each other now, and agree that when he leaves yeshiva you should make a complete break with no expectations. He must not expect you to wait for him, and you must not expect him to become religious. If you are destined to be together for life, G‑d will send him the right people at the right time to guide and help him to Him and to you. And G‑d will also “provide” for you the time you’ll need to wait. Otherwise, He will guide you away from each other and closer to your individual, respective paths in life.

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