April 20, 2024
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Does the Person I’m Dating Need to Match My Family’s Style?

Dear Dr. Chani,

Even though I thought I knew the type of guy I wanted to marry, I am totally confused right now. A few months ago, after dating for a few years and not finding anyone I liked, I decided to try something different. I went to a speed dating event for the first time. There was one guy who really caught my attention—Yaakov. He was refreshingly real and honest. We connected instantly and have been dating ever since. The problem is that Yaakov is nothing like my family.

I come from a very prominent family. The average person in my family is an overachiever. Even in my extended family, my aunts and uncles are very successful. Our lifestyle is reflective of the success that we have. In our family, there is an emphasis on “the way things are done.” Most people in my family dress a certain way, drive specific cars, and have very exciting vacations. You might say that my family has an identity.

The problem is that Yaakov does not fit with my family’s image. Yaakov’s upbringing was dramatically different. His family is low-key and simple, and he wants to be that way as well. Although Yaakov is very motivated and already somewhat successful in his chosen profession, I do not think he will ever be able to match the material success of my family. We could probably live a fine life and have the things we need. When I think about it, I imagine that my family would even supplement if it becomes necessary.

Still, I’m concerned about our different cultures. I’m afraid that down the road it might cause a conflict between us or between us and my family. Even though I really respect Yaakov and am curious about what it would be like to marry him, I’m afraid to stand out or be pitied by my family. If I choose to marry him, I wonder if I will eventually regret my decision. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Confu$ed

Dear Confu$ed,

It sounds like you are drawn to Yaakov, especially in contrast to the people you previously dated. Even though he is different from the image of your family, you “connected instantly” on a speed date. At the same time, you hesitate to marry Yaakov because you feel uncertain about your future. You are concerned that your lifestyle with Yaakov will contrast sharply with the one you are used to. You fear that your family will pity you. Perhaps you also worry that you will pity yourself. This inner conflict is difficult to resolve. How can you get the clarity you need to make this decision? Let’s consider some of the issues that can affect your thinking.

One of your concerns is the contrast between the affluent lifestyle you lead and the one you anticipate living with Yaakov. It is telling that you are already envisioning your family “supplementing” when necessary. It sounds like you worry you will be missing out by living a more simple life with Yaakov.

Your concern makes sense. When a person is used to a specific lifestyle and needs to downsize, it may cause stress and unhappiness. This idea is reflected in Jewish law. When a wealthy person falls on hard times, the laws of charity require that the community support him at the level he is used to, not just enable him to make ends meet. This law suggests that when a person is accustomed to a certain social status, losing his way of living causes so much stress that it warrants using community funds to restore him to his former way of life. The details may depend on the specific situation and circumstances, but the message is clear. A significant downturn in social status and lifestyle may cause discomfort and anguish. It is therefore important that you are taking this into account in making your decision.

One way to gain clarity is to have more conversations with Yaakov about the lifestyle you each would like to have. Discussing your expectations can help you both become more aware of where you overlap and where you differ. You might be surprised to find that the gap between you is too wide to bridge. Or you might realize you have more in common than you thought. It is also possible that through these conversations you will influence one another until you develop a shared vision that you can embrace without comparing it to your family’s style.

Another issue you grapple with is worrying about what other people will think. Since there is a certain “way things are done” in your family, when you do something different you may feel like you are opening yourself up to criticism. It can be helpful to ask yourself how much you would like your behavior to be influenced by what other people think. Do you want your life to be determined that way?

Before you make this critical decision about how to proceed with Yaakov, it is healthy for you to think about your personal values, goals and priorities. Who are you? Who do you want to be? When you pay attention to how others influence your decisions and your thoughts, you can distance yourself from this influence and become free to explore these questions about your own identity. This might have a profound influence on the way you see your future with Yaakov.

As you reflect on your decision, you might ask yourself why you chose to date Yaakov in the first place. Did you choose to develop a relationship with Yaakov despite his being different, or maybe precisely because he is so different from your family? If you are interested in sharing a life with Yaakov even though you have concerns, that may tell you something about what matters to you. Listen to your inner voice and let that guide you.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


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 

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