After a long time, I finally made it to visit Generation Cedar, and have read some of the recent posts about the dangers of modern dating, and the alternatives. I encourage everyone to take a look.
Only a couple of generations ago, there was virtually no such thing as dating in the modern sense of the word. If a decent man pursued a woman, it was obvious to everyone that he intends to win her hand in marriage. He had to win the trust and blessing of the young lady's parents; and if they weren't fully convinced of the seriousness of his intentions, further contact between the young people was prevented.
Today, objection to dating seems so counter-cultural that it makes me wonder whether everyone suddenly woke up one day with their common sense completely and totally gone. It's clear that modern dating practices, with their casual approach ("we'll see how it goes"), instant gratification ("hanging out together just stopped being fun, so we broke up"), physical and emotional impurity ("we must try it out before we decide"), and drag of time ("we've only known each other for three years, there's no hurry"), have done nothing to prepare us for marriage. Actually, when I look at the divorce rates, it really makes me wonder whether we aren't missing out on something important here.
This, in my eyes, is just one of the symptoms of family breakdown. When parents aren't involved in their children's lives, when they don't put the time and effort necessary into protecting them, guiding them, and preparing them for mature and responsible adulthood, can we really wonder why young people make bad choices? There are many jokes about the Jewish mother who is worried because her son is 30 and still not married - parental involvement is seen as intrusive, excessively noisy, and even laughable. Big mistake!
I'm often accused of a dry, unemotional approach towards marriage. This is because I believe that people who are serious about marriage should know the basics of what they expect from marriage and from a potential husband or wife, and that they should keep that in mind when they meet someone who seems suitable - in order to prevent entering a relationship that will lead nowhere. He might be irresistibly cute, funny, intelligent, and like the same foods as you - but if he doesn't see marriage as his goal, or he doesn't want children while you do, or you have irreconciliable religious differences, you might be headed for a disastrous heartbreak a few months (or worse, years) down the road.
There's nothing wrong with having butterflies in your stomach when you see him, but beware of letting it overcome the consideration of basic compatibility. The romantic "love conquers all" myth might look awfully pretty in novels or movies, but marriage is about real, day to day life. A slight pang of disappointment now is much, much better than divorce a few years later, or a marriage where you constantly struggle because you can never agree on crucial matters.
Of course, I realize that problems may arise in already existing marriages, and when this happens, both spouses should be committed to resolve them. However, the argument of "people might change after marriage" doesn't hold water when it comes to initially choosing a spouse. Like one of my blog commenters wisely said, "you won't always be on the same page, but at least make sure you are in the same book!"
We have been told that traditional marriages were too suffocating, too pragmatic, too down-to-earth; traditional families were labeled as hypocritical and narrow-minded, when they looked for someone who was actually willing and ready to provide for their daughters and any children they might have. Yet life itself is down-to-earth, and so is marriage, for the most part. Ignoring this will only lead to inflated expectations, and thus disappointment.
Young people are told they shouldn't get married until they are madly "in love", and should get divorced when they are no longer "in love". It is also assumed that "being in love" is a random emotion we have absolutely no control of, yet our lives and the lives of our children should be dictated by it. With such a whimsical approach so widely spread, I can only marvel at how some married couples actually stick together.
It is claimed women in traditional societies were doomed for a life of misery in a loveless marriage, because matches weren't made according to the supposedly overriding argument of being "in love". Yet more experienced people knew that when both husband and wife are willing to contribute to a family in their unique roles, when there's respect, committment, basic compatibility of character and a reasonable degree of physical attraction (meaning that there shouldn't, at least, be any repulsion), a profound love and attachment is likely to blossom in the long run. Matchmaking is still a very common approach in certain Orthodox Jewish circles, and I don't believe it makes for bad marriages.
Don't get me wrong - I don't think any man or woman should be forced to marry someone they don't want to marry, nor is it even possible in Jewish Law. I'm talking about a rational, realistic, balanced, pure, committed and serious approach to marriage, which should be cultivated from an early age.
If you don't live in a traditional community, or don't have the blessing of wise parental guidance, or are an older single, it's never too late to become serious about marriage. It can save so much time, energy, emotional involvement, and pointless frustration.