When Compromise Becomes Losing Yourself

We met on a dating app. Dating apps were where I went to take my dating life a little less seriously. For years I had spent so much time looking at dating with so much intensity, I forgot what it meant to actually flirt, to actually have fun, that you could actually be on a date with someone and not be wondering, are you my husband? Because in my Modern Orthodox Jewish circle that’s how dating usually goes. I spent so much time taking myself so seriously, I was looking for a way to just relax a little.

And so I downloaded the apps, chose pictures, answered prompts and started matching. I was ready to just stop overthinking so much.

And that’s exactly what happened when I started matching. I started to meet amazing guys, although not necessarily marriage material (many were not on the same page as me religiously), they unlocked a different side of dating for me. They were fun. They were interesting. They were flirty. They allowed me to get out of my head, and just have a good time. They were smart, and the dates lacked the stiffness I was used to. These guys: teachers, and bankers, and media managers, made me want to talk; I wasn’t scared of sharing my feelings with them, despite the fact that opening up was often challenging for me. Knowing that things weren’t necessarily heading in a serious direction, took the pressure off, and allowed me to grow in a way I hadn’t expected.

I joked with my friends that these one off dates were my flings, but more than that they were real growth opportunities for me. People always say with dating, that every guy you meet brings you closer to the next relationship, and usually I think it’s a BS thing people in relationships like to say. But these guys, well in a way, I felt like they were bringing me closer to figuring out myself.

And then I met him. And the lines blurred. Because he was half fling half serious. Because he was from my world. He grew up like me; religious. I knew he likely fell somewhere on my religious spectrum, but I wasn’t quite sure where. So he hovered the line of fun and potential. And so I went into our first date with the same lighthearted ambivalence as my previous flings, but with a slight awareness that this could be something more.

My guard was definitely down. But I didn’t think it would really go anywhere. Despite the fact that we set a second date for the following night on the spot of our first. Despite the fact that I clearly had a good time. Despite the fact that we started hanging out multiple nights a week.

And even though we were both religious, I knew we were different. We observed differently. His views of Judaism were different than mine, and as time went on we continued to unearth the ways in which we were different. And so, we hadn’t even said I love you, and we were wading into the “future,” navigating the ins and outs of what we wanted for our families. Could we live with our religious differences? What would we do when we had kids? Did we even want to have kids together?

We spoke about religious compromise and what we were each willing to give up or take on. And yet, neither of us seemed to want to truly make such huge changes. We debated over where the middle of “meeting in the middle” actually was, but we struggled to find it.

At Jewish weddings the bride circles the groom 7 times. Various reasons are given, but one is that the bride is breaking down walls like Joshua and the children of Israel, who circled the walls of Jericho 7 times before the walls came tumbling down.

If that’s what we were doing, we sucked at it. We were knocking out bricks to put up new ones. It felt as if the walls that stood between us, the unidentifiable boundaries that separated us, continued to rise and fall with each conversation we had, and each circle we made brought us back to the same place. “I like you, but I’m confused about our religious differences. ”

“It should be easy”, my mom would repeat to me.

And a part of me knew she was right. The relationship felt harder than it should be. Every time we hung out, we landed at the same conversation addressing the same issues that seemed to plague the relationship and prevent it from moving forward. But there was something about her saying it, even my friends saying it, that was so, well, expected.  “You don’t get the whole picture,” I kept telling her. “We’ll figure it out.” “Just trust me.”

And she did.

And so I continued plowing along in a daze of comfort, but also confusion about the future of the relationship. Because I really liked him.

And then a few months into the relationship, my family went on a short vacation. A weekend to Lake George, and on the last day my dad and I lounged by the lake, our books by our side, and he turned to me and asked, “So what’s the deal? Why are you so confused? You’re usually so decisive. You’re like me.”

And it’s true. My dad and I are similar in so many ways, decisive, at least about the big things is one of them. And he proceeded to give anecdotes from his own life, explaining what he thought was right for a relationship, and what he thought made for a successful partnership. And we spoke a lot about the difference between compromise and losing yourself. And most of it I already knew, because I had seen my parents’ relationship evolve over the past 26 out of their 30 plus years together. But what I heard the most was a reaffirmation of what I already knew. “Don’t lose yourself.” And “You’re usually so decisive.”

And he was right. I was decisive. I had decided. I knew deep down that this wasn’t right, and yet, I wanted to go on just a bit longer. Because I was hopeful. I was comfortable. I was scared. I was vulnerable. And I felt a deep connection that I was scared to lose.

“You have amazing values. You are happy with who you are. Don’t compromise on them,” he told me. And the thing is, my mom and dad came from two totally different places religiously, and well, he never felt like he had to compromise in such big ways. Compromise is different than giving up on who you are, he told me.

And so, after circling for months, it just became too hard. Too dizzying to keep moving without making progress. Because after months of wondering whether there was a point somewhere in the middle of our religious see-saw called compromise, where we were willing to meet, we realized we were destined to toggle up and down forever. Because In the few months we dated, it felt that we had built more walls than we had broken down. Because deep down I knew I was giving up more of myself than I was willing to lose. We were giving up more of ourselves than we were willing to lose, and that just didn’t feel right.

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