Dear Rachel,

I’ve been on a few dates with some really nice guys, but I’m running into a problem. They all fall short of the romantic version of a husband that I have in my head. Maybe it’s a skewed version of love since I grew up on Disney stories and romantic novels and movies. I’ve been learning more about Judaism, and I’ve come to understand that the Torah approach to love and marriage is different from the fantasies I was raised on. Do you have any suggestions for how I can set my expectations more realistically and general tips for nurturing a fulfilling relationship?


— Disney Girl

Dear Disney Girl,

Great questions! And I know that you are not alone with your false expectations of love.

As a woman who came to Jewish observance in my early 20s, I also grew up on the Hollywood and Disney model. I must have watched hundreds of romantic shows by the time I reached my teens. And on top of that, the amount of love-struck music that played on the radio everywhere was not helpful for realistic expectations of dating and marriage.

I see it now as an insidious form of brainwashing. As Swiss-born British philosopher and author Alain de Botton says so clearly: the classic romantic model has sold us on a number of self-defeating beliefs about the most essential and nuanced experiences of human life: love, infatuation, marriage … .” Many people are coming to recognize that these “fairy tale” expectations are not serving us well, and the high level of divorce certainly proves that the world does not educate properly on dating, relationships and marriage.

To juxtapose this, here is a beautiful story that sheds light on the real meaning of love and marriage:

A young woman named Chana Zuber (now Sharfstein) once came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a private audience. He asked about her dating, and then upon hearing that she had rejected some good young men, said that she read too many novels. Then he shared some very timely advice that we can all take to heart. Thank you, Chana, for revealing this personal information so that the world can learn from the Rebbe’s wisdom.

In her words:

“Love, he explained to me, is not that which is portrayed in romantic novels. It isn’t that overwhelming, blinding emotion that is portrayed in a romance. These books do not portray real life, he said. It is a fantasy world, a make-believe world with made-up emotions. Fiction is just thatfictionbut real life is different.

And then, as a father to a daughter, he began to explain to me the meaning of real love.

Love, he told me, is an emotion that increases in strength throughout life. It is sharing and caring and respecting one another. It is building a life together, a unit of family and home. The love that you feel as a young bride, he continued, is only the beginning of real love. It is through the small, everyday acts of living together that love flourishes and grows.

And so, he continued, the love you feel after five years or 10 years is a gradual strengthening of bonds. As two lives unite to form one, with time, one reaches a point where each partner feels a part of the other, where each partner no longer can visualize life without his mate by his side.

Smilingly he told me to put aside the romantic notions developed by my literary involvement, and view love and marriage in a meaningful way.”

From the Rebbe’s very powerful words, we can see that where there is kindness, generosity, respect and partnership, love can grow, and a marriage can be nurtured.

It's such a brave act to partner up with someone, and false ideas of how relationships “should be” can lead us away from our soulmate instead of closer together. My suggestion to you is to choose someone compassionate and respectful, and to be this way as well.

And please be careful not to swing the completely opposite way either—meaning, don’t think that there should only be the rational objective of a paper perfect spouse. The Rebbe was very clear that one should have an attraction of the heart (hamshacat halev). Your feelings count!

With a caring heart, kindness and some marriage skills, you will G‑d willing, have a marriage that the Rebbe is referring to—one in which the bonds of love strengthen over the years.

Wishing you much success on your journey, and good for you for taking responsibility to change your perspective on love and marriage. You and your future spouse surely will benefit greatly, and nurture a home of peace and kindness!