Everyone wants to date models, and while I'm sure plenty of people fantasize about it, this post explores something slightly different.
We all have an image of how to date, and perhaps the type of person we want to date. Often times, we base this on our experiences, seeing things we like and things we don't. Our upbringing has a significant impact on that image, as our expectations are often shaped by the experiences we had growing up, both in terms of the good -which we want to replicate -and the bad -which we avidly avoid like the plague.
So when it came time to start dating, I found myself asking a lot of questions about how others dated. Married friends, single friends, random people on the street, Shadchanim (some of whom decided it's their mission to dictate what I should do and some whose wisdom I continue to cherish)... practically anyone who I could squeeze for a perspective.
I have to say, the single most influential couple in my life is my parents. I grew up watching their ongoing romance -and sometimes lack thereof -both subconsciously and with rapt attention. Some things I decided to avoid at all costs, while others I absorbed with pride and hope to replicate in my own future marriage. Most importantly, though, are those elements of their relationship that silently slipped into my subconscious mind, planting seeds that grew without my notice.
The longer I'm dating, the more I discover some of those seeds, though more often than not they've grown into fruit-bearing trees that have fed my insecurities, frustrations and successes alike.
For example, my parents have some very different attitudes and beliefs. When they met, my Father was far more traditional than religious, and my Mother was far more religious than traditional. My Mother's family grew up immensely wealthy, while my Father did not experience that privilege. My Mother came from a very large family, my Father less so. My Mother is decidedly Democratic and my Father robustly Republican.
(Would such a couple date or marry today? I wonder... )
They grappled with so many issues and differences between them, including religious observance, finances, children, and politics. But what they did was create a shared vision together, and put every ounce of effort into building that dream into a reality. In truth, both my parents are immensely proud of that work, and so much of that dream has been realized through their choices and their relationship (of course there is always more!). They compromised in thousands upon thousands of ways over years, each one giving up huge parts of their individual dreams to build something together.
I am beginning to realize how their relationship affects my expectations, in big and small ways alike. My mind absorbed so much from them, such as valuing flexibility and being less picky about many differences between myself and a potential partner as well as expecting and hoping to replicate one of our family rituals wherein everyone stops what they are doing, gets up, and meets my Father and/or Mother at the door when they come
home from their long days.
In other ways, I would like to choose my own path, since my experience growing up had its unpleasant moments. I cannot overestimate the effect of seeing my parents argue over some of their issues without ever really seeing a reconciliation happen (though they always did reconcile and build a stronger relationship together). I resolved to learn how to reconcile conflict even though I did not get to learn by observing my parents, and I very strongly believe that children should have that opportunity to learn by witnessing their parents work through conflict rather than just experiencing the arguments that spill out from behind closed doors. Part of me feels it is important to protect children but more than that I believe that as a parent my primary mission is to teach them, by example wherever possible.
It can be so clear sometimes. I met a woman whose mother begrudgingly gave up her own career so that she could stay home and raise her children. Her mother's resentment became her insecurity, and this woman grew to feel petrified of marriage, assuming it means she gives up her own life for someone else just to create a family life.
Another man I know watched his parents argue for years, slowly becoming bitter towards each other and finally divorcing. The parents' sniping led him to expect his partner would take belittle him too, and he often seemed to be waiting for the hammer to come down any time a potential argument broke out.
I know a single mother whose son grew to have great admiration for her, but lacked a sense of his own role and meaning in a relationship. In some ways, without a father as a male role model, he felt lost and useless. His mother got along just fine without a man, so what makes him important in a relationship? He struggled with feeling important and needed, assuming that his feelings and needs are not necessary to express and have fulfilled for a successful marriage/family. On the flip-side, I have seen men like this who grew up to expect a woman will take care of everything for them (after all, his mother seemed to manage beautifully!).
Everyone sees something in their parents' relationship (or lack thereof), and everyone has expectations based on what they saw -both the good and bad. Those models can silently creep in and determine our frustrations, fears and limitations, or we can explore and decide for ourselves how we will work with the blueprints we inherited.