Judaism teaches the idea that men's and women's neshama (or "soul") fuse together and become complete when marrying your bashert, or "fated one." When it comes to love and relationships, everyone should be so lucky as to find a partner who agrees with this teaching. But when it comes to leading a successful life, are we measuring our satisfaction on whether we're completed by another person?
When I talk with peers and friends of my generation, they most often disagree with the idea of being totally completed by another person. They want more out of life than a perfect shiddach (or "match").
Unsure if I was correct on this point, I decided to do a little informal polling. When I asked friends and fellow daters how they would define a successful life, they responded with different answers. These included being financially secure, pursuing a dream job and/or career, having a hobby aside from work, a family that gives fulfillment, having strong relationships with friends and family, and, most important of all, "being happy."
When I asked the same people what makes them truly happy, most added, being in love.
I finished by asking: "Do you think having a happy and healthy family would make you feel successful?" To this, almost everyone immediately said "yes." But with a little prodding, the majority of those I talked to agreed that a family alone wouldn't be enough.
So what what would be?
"Having it all" was the answer. Both men and women approaching marriage age in the 21st century seem to expect to "have it all" in life, and I'm not sure that I'm any different. Is it so wrong to uncompromisingly shoot for the moon with our personal goals and relationships?
My friends want to live their own lives, be able to successfully establish themselves in their careers, and then find their true love. Obviously it doesn't always happen in that order, but there's more to life than just searching for someone to complete us. Instead of looking for another person to make life a success, I think more people are looking inward, and asking what they can do to make themselves happy.
Don't get me wrong. When it comes to searching for love, I'm the queen of encouragement. But I do have a special place in my heart for those savvy daters who know how to define their own version of a successful life.
The meaning of "success" is defined by Webster as: "(1) something planned or attempted and (2) impressive achievement, especially the attainment of fame, wealth and power."
I find it interesting that in dictionary definitions of the word "success," two key elements are missing: love and happiness.
If you could imagine yourself in your 80s looking back at your life, what would you want to be the most successful thing you accomplished? You might want it to be that you succeeded in your career or hobby. Just as realistically as you'd wish that, you're answer might be similar to what my Bubby and Zaidy always say: "We experienced great love, and we raised a family that has made us very happy."
My friends seem to agree that dating and finding a relationship that leads to marriage is important, but it's not their primary focus in life. They want to have a little fun and pursue their own goals first.
Some say that they're focusing on the other part of the success definition — "fame, wealth and power." Still, it seems like everyone wants to end up in the same place — the experiences, the career, the true love and family.
And this brings me to my next question: Why does even talking about a family with a potential suitor become so terrifying if both people eventually want the same things out of life?
Even if our generation is taking the long road to marriage and a family, shouldn't that make it easier to talk about your future and about commitment? Why is it so hard to share those goals in a real way when dating?
I think there may be a few differences in how men and women in my generation deal with these issues, which stops us from doggedly pursuing success in our relationships the way we do in the other parts of our lives.
Women, on average, are more likely to be completely comfortable talking about a family and the future of their relationship than men. A man often thinks that if his girlfriend mentions "future," "marriage" or "children," it means that she is consumed by the topic and wants that future as soon as possible (meaning, she's looking for a ring).
It's normal that while seriously dating, a woman mentally thinks of a particular boyfriend as a likely husband. That does not mean she's any more ready, or anxious, to take the next step than he. More often than not, the man is imagining the same future, but would only admit to it grudgingly.
If women are on the same track to becoming successful in their professional lives — and also want more than just love and a boyfriend — what makes the man think she needs the ring to make her happy? I get irritated every time my guy friends suggest that all women want to do is marry and have kids. If that's really what we want, then why do we choose to wait so long?
Having children with a man I love is a huge aspiration, but it's not enough in and of itself to make me happy. And I'm not yet ready for marriage.
If you place importance in advancing your career to ensure "success," then you can also work hard to ensure a life filled with love and happiness, as the rabbis have prescribed successfully for thousands of years.
The wonderful pleasure of being in love can require work and effort, but when you look back at your life, will you really wish you spent more time at the office?