After four or five dates, it is usually time to have “the conversation,” or as I like to call it, the “State of the Union Address.” By that I mean that things are going well and some sort of reciprocal liking of one another has been established (though perhaps not openly discussed). The desire to drop the shadchan/go between has risen to the forefront of each dater’s mind, with the intention of moving forward on their own mutually negotiated terms.
This is the official turning point. The relationship undergoes a transition from the touch-and-go, overwhelmingly nerve-wracking sense of the tenuous nature of a shidduch, into the firmer footing of realizing that the two people actually have a relationship on their hands. No longer do the daters have to anxiously await confirmation of their hopes (another date) or fears (rejection) in what could easily be an abrupt, and unexpected conclusion to the budding connection between the guy and girl.
True, this doesn’t create a foregone conclusion that the relationship is the one, but there is certainly a shift in focus from “do I like this person?” to “could I marry this person?” Conversation topics become more serious, and you can actually talk about things such as how you envision your future family will look like or deeper nuances of your hashkafa that may have been a little too biased/extreme (not in a bad way, just not run-of-the-mill political correctness, such as being very passionate about) that might have initially scared off the other person.
This is also the time where people begin to reveal the not so peachy-keen aspects of their past, whether that involves a personal or family-related illness/condition/crises, past conduct that may not have been so appropriate, or some not-so-perfect relationship between relatives that has impacted their lives.
For me, this has always been a test to see how well my research people did their job. Yes, I have “research people.” As a ba’al teshuva, my parents are not so intrinsically involved in checking out girls before I go out with them, since their vision of what dating means is a bit different from the social circles I travel in. So I have a friend and his wife who volunteered to help me out in this area (though I have begun more recently to make phone calls and inquiries on my own, granted that my research people are much better than I am). I will admit that they’re quite good, so I very often have little to worry about, despite a few details here and there have slipped through. At any rate, I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for the countless hours they’ve spent helping me in my dating process these past two years. Anyway, for more people, who are first hearing information that could potentially be a deal breaker for them, I’m usually aware of anything my date is going to say, and it’s up to me to react in a proper fashion.
When I first started dating, I made the mistake on one or two occasions of waving off significant personal revelations as being “not a big deal” – which as you can probably tell, was a BIG MISTAKE. No person who is opening herself up, voluntarily making herself vulnerable in the hopes of reaching understanding and greater mutual bonding wants to hear “Oh, I know that already.” Since then, I’ve honed my acting skills to be able to properly receive potentially unexpected information as though I’m hearing it for the first time. The person who is sharing their insecurities or negative information is looking for a caring response, not a flippant “duh.”
In general, the person on the receiving end of these revelations should be patient, upbeat (as appropriate) and non-judgmental. Even if the person is telling you something that is in actuality a legitimate red flag/deal breaker/cause for concern, there is absolutely no reason to display any of those thoughts that may be running through your head. Be quiet, listen, and respond where prompted, such as my response with the date who told me about the illness of an immediate family member. In that instance, I didn’t freak out (the fact that she told me this information on a first date wasn’t the best idea either), and instead, I relied on my background knowledge of the condition and honestly expressed an observation of how lucky their family was to have detected the condition early enough to successfully and completely treat it.
In the back of my mind, I was quite concerned, particularly since the illness could be genetically included in my then-date’s future. Thankfully, even these concerns were put to rest by a Rabbi/Doctor mentor (intro paragraph here). At any rate, that was the correct way to respond – take in all the information and fully process it later. Don’t make snap decisions and risk being insensitive/offensive to the person’s face – which is just plain rude. The time to mull things over and emote your gut reactions are after the date possibly with a dating mentor or rebbi, especially if you are very concerned about what was revealed.
One of my older friends who I turned to advice when I started dating explained this crucial moment of the State of the Union Address in terms of an adventure video games, like the Legend of Zelda series (forgive me for those who don’t know what that is, though I think the metaphor will still be understood). In this particular game, you, playing as the main character/hero often get an opportunity to explore a specific town setting, checking out the shops, talking to townspeople, dig through the nearby foliage for treasure, and in general get a pretty good general sense of what the town is about.
However, you can’t stay there forever, because the game would never progress. The next part of the adventure usually involves going to a dungeon where you will face a mighty enemy (aka a boss battle). The catch is, once you enter the dungeon, you will never be able to return to the little homey town anymore. If the town is still accessible afterward, some major event will usually have happened, the people there will be different and you can’t relive the previous experience.
So it is with the State of the Union Address. Once you have this sit-down, let’s open up and see where we’re going conversation, the “innocence” (for lack of a better term) that characterizes those opening few dates where all you talk about is general fun topics and Jewish geography are gone forever. That isn’t to say you can never discuss lighter topics like Jewish music and who knows who from which camp, but there is a very different spin on the relationship. You and your date have basically, or actually, admitted to one another that you do indeed like one another, and that takes some guts. It also breaks down some façades that have previously been erected as part of the introductory phase self-protection. Vulnerability, at the right time, is a very good thing, and is entirely necessary for a relationship to progress toward marriage, and is absolutely essential in marriage.
This “so where do we go from here” conversation is the first moment that cements the relationship as being real. You don’t have to beat around the bush anymore about there not quite being an “us.” Having said that, the fact that this conversation has taken place doesn’t mean that it’s a free for all in terms of information flow and sharing – far from it. This is merely a beginning (one of many) on the road to a potential marriage. The give and take between the guy and girl, the exchange of personal stories and information previously left unmentioned, still must progress on a natural level, b’nachas, without either party rushing into throwing everything out there. If things go well, one of two results will be reached after you’ve had some time to properly evaluate one another in a closer context:
1) You’ll determine the other person is great, but not for you, and amicably end things.
2) The person is actually not so great at all and it’s time to end things before they become problematic.
3) You’ll discover you’ve found the right one!
I’ve only experienced the first two (quite obviously), but look forward to one day having the realization dawn on me that the woman sitting across from me is the one and only person I want to spend the rest of my life with. May that day come soon – for us all!
P.S. I’ve never been sure what to refer to myself and my date after this turning point (for the handful of times this has occurred). Boyfriend/girlfriend sounds wrong and isn’t really appropriate, but she’s more than just my “date.” Do the readers have any ideas?