The Dating Process
Preparing for a Date--Boys
It is often the boy who decides where the couple should go. A good practice is for the boy to plan one or more options for the date, and to find out, directly or through the shadchan, whether the girl has a particular venue or activity in mind. If she doesn't have a plan in mind, he can present her with his suggestions. Girls prefer to know in advance the type of activity they'll do on the date so that they can dress appropriately, e.g. sneakers or flats for outdoor activities, heels for hotel lounges if she prefers.
Boys are expected to lead the conversation; therefore, it is a good idea for them to have a few conversation topics prepared in advance.
Dates often take place in hotel lounges, preferably not more than 30 minutes drive. However, singles sometimes find it more natural to talk while doing an activity, such as playing board games, rather than being placed next to each other and expected to converse. By the third time it is good to change venue: perhaps walk outside, do an activity, or see an exhibit. Some other environments include coffee shops, parks with picnics, museums, book stores. Eating out together allows the couple to observe each other's eating habits. It is nice to find places that are conducive to conversation but it is also good to vary dates with fun activities such as bowling. A general principle is to try to have opportunities to see the other person in a variety of situations and observe how they handle them.
Many boys have found the Mikomos website useful for finding appropriate dating venues. This site provides descriptions and ratings of the places it lists.
Once the venue has been determined, the boy may wish to study the route in advance. If a car is needed, he should make sure he has access to a clean car--the family van may not be great for first impressions. Beginner drivers may find it useful to make a practice run.
Preparing for a Date--Girls
Girls must present themselves at their best, especially hair and makeup. Some girls stretch their clothing budget by borrowing dating outfits from friends. Part of checking out the boy should include finding out his preference: does he like the girls to dress up to the maximum or does he prefer a more subdued/less intimidating look? If the girl finds that the boy's preference is very different from her style, she might think about rejecting this shidduch rather than pretending she is someone whom she is not. Will she be willing to dress this way for the rest of her life? The girl should find out in advance the boy's plans for the dating venue, in order to make sure she is dressed appropriately.
Parents’ Role During Dating
If he is coming after a long drive, the boy may need the bathroom when he arrives . Some fathers may be more comfortable than others in offering to show the boy the bathroom; the boys themselves vary in how comfortable they are with being asked. A shadchan comments, "I know someone who was so impressed when his future father in law asked him this!"
Parents usually initiate the conversation by asking a few questions before the date. One practice is to have five minutes of talk before the first date; ten minutes before the second, and after that, just greet the boy and let the couple leave.
Not all girls date from home. Girls, especially from out-of-town, may be living at a college dormitory, sharing an apartment in the tri-state area, or boarding with a family. In such cases, the boy and girl may arrange to meet near the girl’s residence or somewhere in the “city”. Sometimes, a girl may arrange to have at least the first date originate at a married friend’s home.
On a Date—Boys
The boy should make sure he arrives on time, and call if he knows he will be late. If the drive to the girl's house is long, it could be useful to allocate time along the way to stop at a rest station, a convenience store or a shul so as not to need the bathroom upon arrival. Should the boy be running late, he might skip the stop and ask the father for the restroom upon arrival.
If the boy has trouble juggling driving, directions and maintaining a conversation, he should ask the girl if she minds deferring conversation until they arrive. Alternatively, he may ask her if she can hold the GPS and help with directions.
On a Date—Girls
While traditionally it is the boy's role to "make conversation" on a date, dating is more pleasant and productive for both parties when the girls does her part by facilitating conversation. Boys appreciate it when the burden of keeping the talk flowing is shared more equally. For example, the girl may try to solicit more detail about experiences or ideas that the boy shares. Girls are also likely to learn more about the boy they are dating if they turn the conversation to topics that are important to them. In general, total passivity on the girl's part implies that she is not focused on the purpose of dating--getting to know this young man.
The main function of the first two dates is to for both parties to decide whether they want to get to know the other person better: is this someone who has potential to be a marriage partner? It is often recommended that the first date be fairly short--1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, in case one or both of the parties is too nervous to sustain a longer first encounter.
Subsequent dates may be three hours or longer. Light conversation about interesting experiences or shared interests helps break the ice. At the second and third date one might begin to slowly share stories of family, trips, Yomim Tovim, reasons for picking a particular career path/yeshiva/seminary. At this stage, it is probably still safer to keep away from anything very personal or controversial.
The fourth to sixth dates may become a bit more focused on detecting whether the two parties shares core values; are they hashkafically on the same page? By then, dating venues should be mixed, with some involving fun activities and others encouraging serious talk. It is very crucial to a healthy relationship to know that one is able to have fun and feel safe, relaxed and comfortable with the date partner. Singles should keep in mind that life consists more of mundane discussions:diapers, grocery shopping, carpool, than of deep philosophical conversations. Therefore, it makes sense to vary activities rather than spend all the time conversing and sharing deep issues.
Around the seventh date and further, it is crucial to see whether the couple is emotionally compatible. Are opinions respected? Do the dating parties feel safe and encouraged to express themselves?
The idea here is to grow the relationship slowly, rather than rushing immediately into deeper emotional areas. Generally, this approach helps build a more solid relationship. That said, people are different, and many solid marriages have begun without following these rules.
Checking or Rechecking Fundamentals
Dating couples vary in how much they know about each other before they meet. Some parents/singles try to find out every possible detail about a shidduch prospect before allowing a shidduch to proceed. Others check minimally to ascertain that there are no serious problems with the prospect. In either case, it is worthwhile for the couple to discuss the issues that are important to them: e.g. Hashkafa points such as internet use, future plans including career choices and community preferences.
Among the reasons to go over the fundamentals:
If it's important, it's worth double checking. Even where all parties involved with setting up the shidduch act purely in the best interests of both parties, misunderstandings occur. Couples are well advised not to assume that their shidduch is guaranteed to be "perfect" just because it was meticulously checked out. While enjoying each other's company is an important basis for marriage, it is not sufficient.
By talking over these matters, nuances may emerge that did not come out during reference checking. For example, the girl might not believe in watching movies outside the home, but might occasionally download something to watch in the house. The boy is planning to learn for a few years in kollel, but is also open to taking part time work in chinuch or kiruv.
Discussing sensitive issues helps reveal more about the boy/girl's character and personality. The girl learns why the boy prefers a stay-at-home mother; the boy may understand why economic security is important to the girl. The couple also finds out whether they are comfortable speaking openly with each other: does s/he get offensive and angry or is s/he encouraging vulnerability and authenticity?
Building a Relationship
It is unrealistic and counter-productive to expect to know immediately that the person one is dating is one's bashert. In fact, it may be dangerous if one feels this too early, because the feeling may be due to infatuation which may quickly disappear when the realities of married life begin. Instead, singles should realize that in order to feel a bond with another person one has to invest emotionally.
One technique is to begin by discussing a challenge that they might have experienced and may or may not have overcome. Making oneself vulnerable to someone grants the other person the safety net to do the same. This creates an emotional bond.
This material above is derived from Mrs. Ruchama Twersky's approach to dating. Mrs. Twersky is a dating coach and gives seminars to parents of children in shidduchim. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-449-5101
Probing the Relationship Dynamics
While dating is meant to establish compatibility and to build a strong relationship, it is neither realistic nor wholesome to base the relationship on total agreement. Each partner is an individual and should maintain his/her individuality including his/her own opinions, activities, and relationships. Therefore, it is a good idea for the single to make sure to state his/her own opinions, especially when they differ from their date's views, in order to see how the other party reacts. The couple should try to create a sturdy yet flexible bond between equals, rather than a relationship that depends on total harmony and merging of selves. Does s/he put down the other’s ideas when they are not alike to his/hers? Does the dating partner change the subject when certain topics come up? How does the dating partner act when the date goes awry due to misunderstanding or mishaps? In short, the single needs to learn how the person s/he is dating handles "separateness" in a relationship.
One or both of the dating partners may have a secret: an important piece of information that is likely not to have been discovered during the shidduch investigation process. This may regard a physical condition, family history, or an incident that took place in the single's life. Ideally, singles consult with a Rav about how much they are halachically obliged to reveal. A dating coach may be helpful in deciding at which point to make the disclosure. While after the fourth date is a typical timing for revelations, singles should not feel bound to follow the trend if they are being guided by a competent and ethical coach. For more information on this topic, see Planning Disclosures in the Preliminaries and Preparations post.
The other party would be well-advised to research the implications of the revelation carefully, rather than trusting the dating partner, his/her Rav or professional. There may be a tendency to underplay the consequences of certain conditions.
When Should the Boy's Parents Meet the Girl?
There is wide variation about when in the dating process should the parents of the boy meet the girl. In less Yeshivish circles, the parents only see the girl when the couple is close to getting engaged. Among the Chassidish, both sets of parents almost always meet the boy and girl before the first date. Given that the parents of a girl get to meet the boy at every date (unless she is living away from home); it makes sense that the parents of a boy would want to see the girl at least once before the relationship get serious and more difficult to break off.
A practice has developed in Yeshivish circles where the boy's parents meet the girl after a third date. The benefit is that this enables the parents to guide their son more effectively. A parent can quickly pick up social cues, manner of dress, etc., from meeting the girl. Moreover, seeing the girl hopefully sets the boy's parents at ease so that they are not left in the dark during this important time in their son's life.
The challenge is to stage this meeting early enough in the dating process so that the relationship can be broken off if necessary, yet avoid giving the girl a feeling that she is making a commitment by meeting the boy's parents. One way to avoid the problem is for parents of sons to tell shadchanim at the outset that it is their standard practice to always meet the girl after a specific number of dates: "We always meet the girl after date X, so can you please tell this to the girl and her parents, and arrange for us to meet her briefly during the next date?"
The meeting should be brief, and at a neutral location, say, a half hour meeting at a coffee shop, when the couple is on a date.
However, parents of the boy should be aware that their request to meet the girl may come across as odd or interfering if the girl comes from a community where this is not standard practice. Moreover, a girl may find meeting the boy's parents intimidating. A shadchan recounts how a boy found that each time his parents met the girl he was dating, the relationship broke up afterwards. The shadchan finally persuaded the boy's parents to skip the meeting, and the boy got engaged and married.
How Many Dates are Appropriate?
It is assumed that by 6 or 7 dates, the parties know whether they are likely to get married. Dating may take place twice a week, but it may be necessary to slow down or speed up, depending on practical considerations. Unless something very significant happens on the first date it is recommended that there should be at least two dates.
While 7 to 10 dates is average, there are many couples who get engaged only after 10 or 14 dates. It is usually best to be patient and let relationships develop at their own pace. When people feel rushed, they may either end a potential viable relationship prematurely or they may jump into the wrong marriage. However, if the relationship drags on for many more dates, or if progress is not being made, it may be necessary to ask for advice to find out what the issues are.
For information about how to assess the dating couple’s compatibility and how their relationship is developing, click on Is This the Right One?.