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Q I am a 22- year- old  yeshivah student who also attends college part-time. I plan to start shidduchim very soon, and I worry that my  indecisiveness will make it more difficult when dating to figure out who the right one is for me. Do you have any advice about what I should be looking for in a potential wife and partner?

A Thanks for the question. You raise two important aspects. The first question is: What are the things that we should be looking for in a partner? And the second one is: How can I deal with indecisiveness and doubt even when you may have found your potential partner?

I believe that there are three factors one needs to consider when finding a partner. One is attraction, both physical and emotional. This means a desire to spend time with the person as well as to connect physically. Do you look forward to her company? Do wish you could spend more time with her? These are important for the initial connection and when they are present even to a small degree, they can increase and grow with time. 

A second factor is similar life goals. This is important because so often in marriage we need to compromise and when the distance between what we’re both looking for is so vast, it makes it that much harder. This is especially true when addressing issues that carry meaning to each member of the couple. This includes outlook on life, level of religious observance, and what the ideal home should look like. This  can also include things such as where to live, the role of money, and the importance of familial relationships and the role they play in each one’s life. 

The third factor is that the person has an interest and an ability to work on themselves when it comes to their character. Perhaps this is the most important of the three.  No matter how kind, patient, or giving we think we are, marriage will stretch us in ways we can’t anticipate when we’re single, and it will force us to either grow and mature, or experience tension and fighting. And whatever challenges marriage may bring, raising children will exponentially stretch you even more!  When a couple is willing to address their shortcomings and try to grow, it brings connection and love between them. 

I believe this concept also touches on your second question about dealing with indecisiveness. You need to ask yourself how much of your happiness in marriage is dependent on choosing the right person vs. what you do after you make the choice. Which one do you think holds more weight in determining happiness? This is a concept that applies to other decisions as well, big and small. Many of us believe that happiness is the direct automatic result of making the right choices when faced with options. (To be clear, I am not addressing moral decisions where there is a clear right and wrong.) We may believe this when it comes to decisions about choosing a job, buying a home, choosing a school, perhaps choosing a spouse. We need to ask ourselves if the decision is the true catalyst for happiness, or if that is more dependent on fully committing to the option we went with. Of course, this doesn’t mean ignoring our preferences and the three factors mentioned earlier. But if we are still unsure and find ourselves searching for the “perfect” partner?  This can indicate that we are just avoiding facing uncertainty and/or assuming that our choice is the sole and primary determinant in the success of our relationship .

Once the three things are taken into consideration, we can argue that the “choice” part of getting married is over and the commitment part has now begun. We see both in sefarim (Rav Dessler) and secular psychology (Eric From, The Art of Loving) the concept that the work we put in after we make that choice in our relationships will truly determine what becomes of our marriage. So perhaps our making the “right” choice is more in our control than we initially thought. Of course, we should ask Hashem for His help and guidance when it comes to making this choice, and I hope you find your bashert soon!   

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