Dear Dr. Chani,
Over the past few weeks, my heart has been in my stomach trying to decide if I should continue dating someone. I feel like there is no one who understands my dilemma and can help me make this decision. I hope that you can guide me.
I have been dating Roni over the past two months. He is the first guy I have ever dated. One of the reasons that we were set up is because I am very passionate about living in Israel, and Roni is Israeli. Roni is open to living either in the U.S. or in Israel so he would be fine if we chose to make aliyah. At first, this was a huge bonus for me.
Although I was originally excited that Roni is Israeli, as time goes on I have been having second thoughts. There is such a cultural gap between us. He does not understand many words that I use, so I have to explain them to him. Also, when we are in public, it embarrasses me when he mispronounces English words. Sometimes, when I make references to memories from my childhood or crack a joke that has to do with American culture, he has no idea what I am talking about. I also worry that he thinks I am too materialistic and spoiled. Yet it is not really true. I am just a typical American girl.
Aside from our cultural differences, Roni and I have a great time together. He is smart, funny and good-natured. Roni has a lot of the qualities that I am looking for in a spouse, but I am still concerned about our cultural gap. My parents have been telling me that I am being ridiculous by putting such an emphasis on our cultural differences. Also, our matchmaker told me that if we make aliyah, these differences will not matter.
Although I have been trying to listen to their advice and get over it, I just cannot. Do you think I should talk myself into continuing with Roni?
It is difficult to make a decision about whether or not to continue dating someone when your relationship is mostly positive yet there is still something bothering you. It is even more frustrating when the people whom you turn to for advice tell you that your concern is insignificant and that, essentially, you should “get over it.” It makes sense that you are left feeling confused and uncertain.
There are several points to consider here. The first point is to think about the conversations that you are having with the people whom you turn to for advice. It sounds like you have not felt validated in your conversations. People have mostly listened to you and then told you not to worry. Ironically, when they do that, it only increases your concern. That is the way we work. When we have something on our minds, we are eager for someone to listen to us and validate our thoughts, feelings and emotions. When they listen and validate us, we become free to look at different perspectives and think about them. Yet when the person we are talking to just listens in order to problem-solve or to persuade us to align with their point of view, our natural reaction is to dig our feet into the ground and keep our opinions the way they are. Even if we sense that the people we talk to are trying to help us, we need them to validate our own opinions before we can really entertain a different viewpoint.
You need to speak about your dilemma with someone that is able to listen to you and hear where you are coming from. Allowing yourself to accept that the cultural gap you are experiencing is a significant concern gives you the freedom to explore how you feel about it rather than just “brushing it under the rug.” This does not mean that your issue will be immediately resolved. You may need to sit with the dilemma for a while as you gather more experiences to help shape your decision. Yet, acknowledging that your concern is real and valid is the first step to dealing with it and gaining clarity.
Secondly, it is important to think about what you might expect if you keep dating Roni. You know that you already have a nice relationship. Chances are that your relationship will flourish more if you continue dating. What will happen to your concerns about your cultural gap? You may come to a realization that since Roni is so wonderful, you are not as bothered by your differences. Even though you may feel that a cultural gap exists, it may not matter to you as much as you get to appreciate all of the positive aspects of Roni. On the other hand, you may find that even though Roni has such great qualities, the cultural gap is still challenging for you. If so, do not ignore your instincts. You need to wait until you either feel ready to break up with Roni or you get to a point where you feel at peace with the cultural gap. You do not want to feel that you are settling by marrying Roni.
Since this is the beginning of your dating career, you do not know what it is like to date other people. If you feel that it would help you to have more dating experience as a point of comparison, it is important to follow your heart. No one can step into your shoes and tell you what it is like to date other people or what it would be like if Roni were not the first guy you were going out with. That might be something that you need to experience yourself, even at the risk of potentially losing your current relationship.
There is another point that is important to observe about your relationship with Roni. You are getting the impression that Roni is judging you. It sounds like you feel that Roni is distancing himself from you because he perceives you as very different from himself. If this is true, Roni’s attitude might perpetuate your concerns about the cultural gap.
It is helpful to be aware that even though this distance you feel is triggered by a cultural gap in your situation, this feeling of distance can happen with any couple. Every couple tends to have differences in some areas such as preferences and interests. One of the predictors of a happy marriage is that each spouse takes advantage of their differences to expand their point of view or way of doing things. For example, if a husband enjoys listening to a certain kind of music, even if his wife prefers a different kind of music, she can take an interest in listening to his favorite song. Maybe she will even buy tickets so they can go to a concert featuring one of his favorite music artists. When spouses take an interest in each other’s interests, in this way, it allows each spouse to develop and it strengthens their relationship by increasing their number of shared life experiences.
It sounds like Roni could adapt his mindset to take more of an interest in your culture. From some of your examples, it seems like he hears about your culture but approaches it as an outsider. Roni might not be familiar with your culture, but it also sounds like he is not taking an interest in your interests so well. You might be sensing that. Your issue might not only be about your culture, but about an underlying uncertainty about Roni’s willingness to blend your interests and experiences to create a life together. If that resonates with you, it can be helpful for you to discuss this idea of taking an interest in each other’s interests with Roni. You can each work on this mindset by taking turns sharing something that is meaningful to you, learning more about it and experiencing it together.
Your relationship with Roni is a great opportunity for you to grow regardless of what you eventually decide. As you accept your concern as valid and think about how you feel about your cultural gap, you may realize that the cultural gap does not bother you anymore and you choose to continue dating Roni, or you determine that your cultural differences are too significant for you to ignore. Either way, your efforts to deal with this issue and take an interest in each other’s interests will enhance your experience of any and all of your relationships.
Wishing you much success,
Dr. 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, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.