Dear Rachel,

I am 25 years old and looking to get married. I have been religious for about four years, and am very grateful to Chabad for playing a part in this transformation. My problem is that being in the religious dating world is completely different from dating in the secular world. Sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland—things are getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Unlike in the secular dating world, where you can just approach someone and ask them out, in the religious world you generally have to be introduced to someone through a third party, who thoroughly “researches” you and tries to find a similar match. So far, I’ve been introduced only to other baalei teshuvah (Jewish returnees) or people with issues, which rules out a lot of potential men. I feel like there is some sort of social pecking order, and because I’ve been exposed in the past to the “impurities” of a secular lifestyle, I’m worth less than people who have been raised religiously. Why can’t people see me for who I am now?It’s eroding my self-esteem and also making me angry. Why can’t people see me for who I am now? It’s like trying to gain admittance to an exclusive club, and I don’t know the password. Aren’t all Jews the same? And what if I never get married because of this prejudice?

Lonely and Disillusioned

Dear Lonely,

What you’re essentially asking is a question that anyone can relate to: “How am I going to find my soulmate?” One can ask the same question in secular culture, where there is a such a huge dating pool that it seems impossible to find that one special person. And one can ask the same question in cultures with arranged marriages, where it seems that choices are extremely limited.

The answer to this question is the same, regardless of culture. Your soulmate was decreed 40 days before your conception, Your soulmate was decreed 40 days before your conceptionwhen a heavenly voice called out, “This girl shall be for this boy.”1 Barring exceptional circumstances, as long as you make the required effort to be reunited with your soulmate, no one can interfere with G‑d’s blessings and your destiny. And you will meet him when the time is right.

There are, of course, some things you can do to help the process along—for example, praying for yourself, praying for others, trying to match people up yourself, and networking as much as possible.

Now, to address your specific situation: The rules and processes of dating are very different in the religious world for someone who has dated in the secular world, and it’s natural for baalei teshuvah to find this very daunting. It really is like moving to a different country where the dress, language and cultural codes are different. In general, the religious dating system has evolved as a way to protect the parties involved, not to, G‑d forbid, discriminate or make your search harder. Rather than casual interactions that could lead to hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or even casual intimacy, the third-party approach helps to match two people who are serious about marriage and have similar values. These “matchmakers” or friends ideally have your best interests in mind, and screen the potential candidates to ensure that you don’t waste your time or energy (a concept from which the secular world could certainly benefit).

You say that there is a social pecking order, but being a baal teshuvah is a very high spiritual level, and no one has the right to look down on you. In fact, if someone does, it’s more of a reflection on them than on you. Your search for meaning has taken you to a deeper place in your soul than many others have been: “In the place where the baal teshuvah stands, even the most righteous among us cannot stand.”2

You also ask, “Aren’t all Jews the same?” We Jews are a diverse nation. Although we share the same root soul, we have myriads of different customs and traditions. We have all had different upbringings and traveled on different journeys. Indeed, many culturally diverse couples have created beautiful, holy families together. But there is something to be said about couples with similar life experiences. It may be easier for your husband to understand where you’re coming from, both figuratively and literally, if he’s been there himself, and vice versa.

I think there are enough single baalei teshuvah out there to ensure that you have a good selection of potential soulmates. And if your bashert (intended one) was raised religious, he’ll find his way to you without the interference of recalcitrant matchmakers.You’re in good company!

If you ever feel slighted or disheartened, think about the great leaders of the Jewish people. Many of them came from questionable backgrounds or had “issues,” and would surely have a difficult time in today’s matchmaking process: Abraham’s father worshipped idols (not the greatest lineage); Isaac, after almost being sacrificed, was a candidate for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he had a wayward brother, Ishmael; Jacob had a wayward brother, Esau, to whom he didn’t speak in over 20 years; Leah had weak eyes; Sarah, Rebbecca and Rachel dealt with infertility; Moses had a speech impediment; Miriam had a highly contagious disease (leprosy, a spiritual consequence of speaking ill of her brother Moses); King David was the black sheep of the family . . . You get the idea. You’re in good company!

Although it may seem as though you have taken the long route to come to where you are now, that was all meant to be. Through your life’s journey, you have become who you needed to be in order to unite with your bashert.

May that time be soon!