I would like to expand on some of the responses and insights my fellow “tribe members” of the Kesher Nafshi column wrote about in “The Not-So-Skinny Truth About Dating” in the print edition of Nashim’s November 2019 issue.
You may be someone who is similar to the person who posed the question about dating, however, you may be in a very different stage of your life. There are many experiences, relationships and life events which come with a ton of unknowns and worries, causing you to question where you stand and how to find your voice.
You may be the one in your social circle who speaks up, begins conversations and inquires about existential realities, meaningful topics and compelling discussions. But many others hold these questions in their hearts, not daring to ask them out loud. So, to those of you reading, please keep inquiring and expanding your knowledge and learning. It’ll take you far, and you’ll be impacting many lives around you who will learn from the way you live by example.
I am going to broaden the lens of the question asked regarding a girl who is new to dating, and expand it to all of us at whatever age we are currently in, because advice and conversations about “who you need to be”, “what you need to do to fit in” and “what you need to look like” are ongoing topics we all face throughout many phases of our lives.
As humans, we all have vulnerabilities, and at some stages of our lives, our vulnerabilities feel ever-stronger and are at the forefronts of our minds, hearts and souls. You may be more vulnerable due to an emotionally sensitive disposition, because you’re currently raising a child who demands more time and attention than any other kid on the block, because your marriage is hitting some rocks or because you’re facing some spiritual or deeper existential questions you haven’t found the answers to. You may be healing from a dysfunctional family, are tending to anxiety or depression, are postpartum or processing a trauma which has taken up your mind and body’s focus. Whatever the reason, it’s only normal to have moments in life where you feel exquisitely vulnerable as you venture forward.
As a psychotherapist and anxiety and trauma specialist who works daily with women of all ages, I would say the first and most important skill to know is how to create a safety barrier between you and the outside world. This is especially important when you’re a sensitive individual, be it due to your disposition, experiences you’ve had in your family-of-origin, social group, or if you’ve gone through any form of trauma, neglect or abuse.
As each chapter of your life evolves and unfolds, remember that you are the one (partnering with Hashem, of course) who gets to define who you are, what kind of life you want to sculpt, and the people and beliefs you need, in order to propel forward with health and stability. Forming a platform to build your hopes and dreams is something which we all need.
6 Tips to Propel You Forward:
1) Build Your Tribe – Based on Attachment Theory, we are most influenced by relationships in our lives. Build your “tribe” of people by hand-selecting friends, mentors, a rabbi/rebbetzin, and when needed, a therapist, to help you feel secure as you navigate this particular phase of life. These people are the ones you trust, whose judgment you value, who live with integrity and who can be a sounding board, as well as offer insight and guidance when you get stuck, discouraged or disillusioned by social pressures, misconceptions or lack of knowledge. They also help you separate real-time data and proven information (scientific and Torah-based) from your own insecurities, which can sometimes blind you. Tribes kept people safe in the old-fashioned world, and they are necessary for healthy survival and thriving—emotionally, socially, mentally and spiritually—in today’s world.
2) Refine Your Filter – A filter is something that sifts the good from the bad, the helpful from the unhelpful, the productive from the unproductive. Create a filter which serves as a boundary to you. Sift through what you allow yourself to listen to, what conversations you want to be involved with, who you value as credible sources and what you should ignore. You may encounter some very well-meaning, well-intentioned, yet incredibly ignorant or even harmful people—some who may carry seemingly “impressive” titles, and who may say something that rubs you the wrong way, or leave you feeling confused, shamed or fearful. Trust your gut when you’re feeling this way, and check in with someone else you trust to see if the information you’re hearing, guidance you’re getting or advice you’ve been told is applicable to you, or if it needs to be chucked into the “unhelpful bin”.
3) Involve G-d – Yes, involve Hashem, because we all need Someone above us who we can rely on. I’m sure seminary, your home and/or previous schooling have given you some skills to develop a relationship with Hashem. And at the same time, we all know that a relationship with Hashem and frumkeit is something which takes ongoing work, commitment and honesty. Let Hashem know what you need and what struggles you’re facing, and surround yourself with people who are also authentic about their frumkeit and relationship with Hashem. Real emuna comes from knowing your capacities, engaging in hishtadlus, while also being humble and learning when to let go. If anyone tells you “what you need to do/be/look like/say” to get what you need to build a good future, readjust your lens and check if they are taking the place of G-d. Be sure to learn from others who model healthy relationships with frumkeit and Hashem. And remember to pray, not just for your dreams and hopes to come true, but to have the skills, capacities and mental resourcefulness to grow from individual challenges you may face.
4) Get Creative – Our imagination is what helps us create a mental map of what life will look like. Goals start with a picture in one’s mind. Get creative—take out a few old magazines and create a collage of what you want your life to look like in 6 months, 1 year and 5 years from now. How do you want to feel in your skin? What kind of character traits do you want to strengthen? What kind of home do you want to build? What do you want to be involved with and be focusing on? Each phase will be built on the other. Do this to keep yourself hopeful and trusting that each daily step you’re taking is getting you to where you need to be. It helps to have this as an anchor when the naysayers pull you down, when life throws you more than one dodgeball and when the voice of doubt creeps in. You need to know and focus on you and your bigger vision.
5) Stay True to What You Need – Many people may want to tell you what’s good for you, what you “really” need in a partner, what neighborhood and shul you “really” would fit into or who you should “really” be friends with. They may tell you what job you should get that’s just right for you, or what kind of food you should eat to keep yourself in shape, or any number of other random things. Nope. They do not get to have autonomy over your thoughts, beliefs, body type, friend groups, schedule or choices you make. You are whole as you are, and you’ll be doing yourself the greatest gift by clarifying what you really need. Write it down on paper and stick to it, no matter what. You can make adjustments if they feel in line with you and your integrity, but pause if you notice an urge to start the next fad diet, to break a boundary you have, to work in an environment that feels toxic or to date or marry the kind of guy who you really don’t respect.
6) Let Go – At the end of the day, take the tips you can, inhale a deep breath, and let go of the pressure. Once you have the tools in your toolbox and are headed forward with positivity, support and insight, the best you can do is enjoy the journey. Some phases of life will be smoother sailing, and other phases may have a rough patch or two. Knowing you have the skills and are doing the best you can, give yourself permission to let go of the extra worries society is holding, and embrace the wonders and gifts of today. You’re unfolding into the most wonderful version of you, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on experiencing that!