washingtonpost.com
On Love: Dating and marriage advice

Ellen McCarthy and Rabbi Shmuley Boteaach
Washington Post Staff Writer and relationship expert
Monday, February 14, 2011; 11:00 AM

Relationship expert Rabbi Shmuley Boteaach joins The Post's Ellen McCarthy to offer marriage and dating advice.

McCarthy writes about weddings and relationships in Sunday's Style section.

Boteeach is an author and radio and television personality, with an emphasis on relationships and spirituality. He is also the host of TLC's "Shalom in the Home," a program that addresses familial household issues. To learn more, visit Boteaach's web site here.

For more marital and relationship advice and to see how other couples have gotten to the altar, visit our On Love section.

The transcript follows.

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Ellen McCarthy: Good morning and Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. I'm so excited to have Rabbi Shmuley Boteach with us today. You might remember him from "Shalom in the Home" where he visited families with broken relationships, attempting to help them find some peace in life and with each other. Hopefully he can do the same for WashPost readers. Fire away with questions on dating, marriage and love.

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Ellen McCarthy: Hey Shmuley, Maybe could could start by telling us some of the factors that you think are the biggest causes of relationship strife in society today. And how should we mitigate them?

Shmuley Boteaach: First, bad values. We value making money and advancing in career over connecting and being intimate with people we love. We are becoming more external than internal. Success has to be redefined to encompass the private sphere.

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Burbank, Calif.: What is your opinion of inter-religious marriages where the parents decide to expose the children to both of religions and then let the child decide? At what age should they accept a child's decision and do you even believe this is a good idea? Would you recommend anything different?

Shmuley Boteaach: I believe a child has to be raised in one religious tradition. Giving them a smorgasbord and telling them to decide doesn't work. People need to be grounded in an identity and raised with a strong sense of who they are.

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NYC: I've been involved in a 15 month relationship with a lovely woman. I told her I loved her in December on our first anniversary. I also told her that I was looking for a life partner. Her answer: "I really, really, really, really like you, but can't imagine what a long-term relationship would look like." Her husband died some years ago. Should I continue or let it go? How long should I wait for her to come through the door toward me? We seem so far apart. I ain't a spring chicken.

Shmuley Boteaach: Don't let it go. She's frightened. Get her to talk about her fears. The more we discuss our fears the more they melt away.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband likes to "troll." This is where someone constantly says mean or hurtful things to get a rise out of someone. It is part of the Internet culture. I have explained that I do not like having my feelings hurt and his response is that it is only "trolling" and I just have to learn to recognize and accept it. I come from a background where you never say hurtful things to someone unless you mean it. What is the point of putting someone down? I am not humorless; I like to joke around and that is fine with me. This is not the same as obviously joking around. This is someone intentionally saying cruel things in a serious tone with the purpose of evoking a response. How do I get it through to him that it isn't funny, it doesn't bond us and in fact only hurts me and makes me resentful?

Shmuley Boteaach: Sound appalling. You need to tell him that you don't like being put down. That if it's humorous it's one thing. But to simply be insulted is unacceptable. We don't get married to be hurt.

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Ellen McCarthy: As a religious man, why have you decided to spend so much of your time focusing on relationships?

Shmuley Boteaach: The essence of religion is a relationship between G-d and man. Everything in life can be categorized as a relationship. In addition, after my parents divorce I became engrossed in the question of how a man and woman can live happily under the same roof for the rest of their lives.

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Washington, D.C.: What is your best advice on maintaining individuality in a relationship?

Shmuley Boteaach: Don't be dependent. Don't be independent. Be inter-dependent. Don't be insecure so as to feel that you can't assert your opinion/individuality into the relationship. On the contrary, morphing into the same person is a recipe for boredom.

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For the Rabbi: I am a 52-year-old single mom. The men my age are online looking for 36-YO women. I notice that women my age who connect with someone in midlife generally are recycling old loves. (Mine are married.) Joining community activities puts me in clubs and groups packed with other middle-aged women. Where can I meet a decent guy?

Shmuley Boteaach: Try places where good men congregate. Church/Synagogue, volunteer organizations. You want to find men who have substance and who aren't looking to date their daughter's friends.

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Richmond, Va.: What's the best way to deal with a potential partner who is on a different speed than you? I've gone on three dates with a guy, and he's ready for moving in, marriage, and children. We're both in our mid-30s. I'd like to continue dating him, to see whether I'd like to take the next step, but I'm afraid that if I find that I am not that interested, that I'll have led him on for too long. Is there a way to have him tone it down without hurting feelings, or for me to figure it out faster?

Shmuley Boteaach: Everything in moderation. Dating for a few months makes sense. By then you can easily ascertain whether the fundamentals of the relationship are present. Dating for a few years is usually a sign of commitment issues. But three dates is ridiculous. Tell him you like him and want to get to know him. But the relationship has to gradually unfold.

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Washington, D.C.: Good morning. I have been dating a man for almost two months; pretty casual. He did not mention Valentine's Day. That's fine, but my question is, how can a woman let a man know that she is becoming more interested in him without coming across too strong? He has been courting me, and I don't want to take away from that. I'm in my late-30s, he is 10 years older.

Shmuley Boteaach: Don't be afraid to be yourself. Tell him you like him and you enjoy spending time with him. You don't have to play games. If that kind of small commitment freaks him out, you're going to have problems down the road anyway. Be natural. Be yourself. Let things unfold gradually but not too gradually.

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Reston, Va.: Hello to you both! I have a dear friend who has a different kind of shalom in the home problem, that's really affecting his love life. Can you help? Recently his mother moved in with him, as part of a life transition she's making. But he's finding that women he's interested in are running the other way when he tells them about the situation. Even though his mom is staying in his house, and not the other way around, women seem to find this a red flag. His mom fails to see why this could be an issue... any suggestions that might help him through this?

Shmuley Boteaach: Depends on his age, obviously. But it's a beautiful thing that he's helping his Mom for a time. And as long as it doesn't become something permanent - unless his mother is ill - then why not show his mother support in a difficult time. He will find a woman who appreciates what a good man he is. It will happen.

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Ellen McCarthy: Obviously this can be a tough day for singles. What are the one or two best pieces of advice you have for people searching for love?

Shmuley Boteaach: 1. Don't quit.

2. Don't feel desperate.

3. Don't be cynical.

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Ellen McCarthy: Do you have thoughts on ways people can celebrate Valentine's Day without giving in to cliches or commerical pressure?

Shmuley Boteaach: Skip the box of chocolates and do an activity together instead. Give the gift of yourself.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm 41, divorced (no kids) and single. How do I go about meeting someone? I feel I'm so late to the game. I'm Jewish, but not very religious, if it makes a difference.

Shmuley Boteaach: Start going to Synagogue. There are tons of good men there. Many are single. And they are substantive men of depth. There are many Jewish singles events out of the Synagogues as well that should help.

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Marriage failing after only seven months: I have been married only seven months and the marriage appears to be failing despite having talked about major issues ahead of time. We are both in our 40s. The problems started on the honeymoon with him saying cruel words to me. I can now look back and see there were issues that were overlooked which should have postponed the marriage. The issues are online cheating on his part and difficulties at work with his boss because "no one is going to tell him what to do," and lots of anger and hurt on my part at doing it all. Do you recommend trying to fix a troubled marriage when there are problems right away, or cut my losses and move on and be alone to figure out my part in how I got into this mess?

Shmuley Boteaach: You didn't mention if you have kids. But of course you should work on it. Go to counseling. He has anger issues. He has to deal with them. Only think of leaving if he refuses any kind of counseling or says there's nothing wrong with him. Otherwise, he's your husband. Tell him about the growing anger inside you and how the two of you need help.

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Ellen McCarthy: You wrote a book called the Kosher Sutra. Can you give us a glimpse of some of the "8 Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Passion for Life?"

Shmuley Boteaach: The book is about how attraction is mostly in the mind as opposed to the body.

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Two years...: Just passed the two year mark and still waiting for a proposal. He says he wants to be together forever. Says that there are plans in the works, but wants me to stop bringing it up because I'm ruining the surprise/romanticism because I freak out every two months and worry he doesn't want to get married or he'll never propose. I'm going crazy. How do I stay patient and when should I become seriously worried?

Shmuley Boteaach: You have to give him a timeframe within which a proposal will work for you and tell him that after that a proposal will be meaningless, no matter how romantic. And stick to your timeline.

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Ellen McCarthy: I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on gender dynamics today. Is the American male still broken as you asserted a couple years ago? Why? And what will it take to repair things?

Shmuley Boteaach: Yes. The only thing that will repair it is a new definition of success for men where their hearts are appreciated as much as their hands.

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Marriage for the long haul: More of a comment on my experience from 15 years of marriage. Relationships in our society are WAY over-romanticized. Marriages are partnerships for getting through life, creating and raising families, companionship, etc. Yes, there is a recreational/sexual aspect to relationships, but after a few years that aspect falls WAY down the list of priorities . . . and THAT'S OK! People think that because they don't have that burning passion that they should end the relationship. That they're somehow entitled to perpetual passion. They are entitled to perpetual love, respect and support. That's what marriage is ultimately about. It should be harder to get into a marriage and harder to get out because in our modern society there is little difference between dating and marriage. The sad part is that most people think that's OK. Your thoughts?

Shmuley Boteaach: I disagree. Maintaining the romantic aspect is vital. Otherwise, marriage becomes a cold prison.

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Ellen McCarthy: Thanks, Rabbi, for being with us today. Have a great VDay everyone.

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