Religious Dating in a Secular World

Dear Elana,

I'm a 26 year old Modern Orthodox guy and I'm feeling frustrated by dating. I grew up in a family that valued travel and humanist education, and I appreciate my upbringing because I was exposed to literature, politics, and history, but I also feel like an outsider in many circles. The women I meet who share my Jewish values don't understand my need for independence and adventure, and the ones I meet in artsy or literary circles don't understand the significance of my Jewish life. Is it possible to meet a woman who can traverse both worlds, or am I chasing a white whale?

Always Hunting, Attempting Bliss

Dear Captain AHAB,

Judaism prizes community and bonding through shared history, rituals, and beliefs. As a Jew, you are encouraged to stay close to community and maintain traditions. But as a global citizen you are exposed to ideas of cultural relativity and motivated to question the privileging of any customs or beliefs over others. Creating a coherent narrative in between these two competing value sets can pose a challenge – especially when you are looking for your soulmate.

I believe that if you exist, a match exists, and when the timing is right you will find each other. In my experience, there are lots of Modern Orthodox Jewish women who can hold their own in intellectual circles and who love to travel. In fact, your family is living proof that Jewish home life does not have to preclude adventure. One of my friends moved to Buenos Aires for a year with her husband and children. After figuring out all of the logistics (renting their home while they were gone, transferring the kids to international schools, and arranging a telecommuting gig for her husband) they had a wonderful experience that they will never forget. You can design your marriage to be just as original and unpredictable as you are.

Finally, if you aren't having luck finding a match in Cleveland, consider expanding your search to Jewish communities that attract lots of young, Modern Orthodox, intellectuals like yourself in New York, Philadelphia, or Los Angeles.

Why Do I Only Attract Girls I'm Not Attracted To?

Dear Elana: 

Why do I only attract girls I'm not attracted to? I'm not horrible looking, but I'm not movie star handsome either. I know I can't get a supermodel, but I want a girl who I'm attracted to. 

- Still Trying Under Duress

Dear STUD,  

Beautiful women tend to want to date handsome men. But, if you happen to be a shorter, stouter, balder man, there's still hope. You might just need to adjust your expectations.

It's human nature to try to attract the best possible mate. Men who want to date women who are more attractive than they are often trade a winning personality, wealth, or status for looks. However, if you don't have these social resources to leverage, then you might need to shift your perspective. If you can't get the one you love, then love the one you can get. When I was a teenager learning to accept my changing appearance, I had a John Cage quote taped to my bedroom mirror: "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."

We tend to think of sexual attraction as being biologically determined, as if there were a hierarchy of sexiness that correlates with better genes and greater happiness. In fact, much of your perception of beauty is culturally-defined. You might think that a woman in a Rubens painting is overweight, but your ancestors would have considered your Tinder crush waifish. Similarly, you might view body modification as grotesque, but the Kayan Lahwi women of Burma and Thailand elongate their necks with copper rings because long necks are a sign of beauty in their culture. Who you get the hots for is greatly influenced by your socialized beliefs about beauty. If you learn a new way of seeing, you can fall in love with a non-traditional beauty. Maybe she doesn't fit your physical ideal, but she has stunning eyes, elegant style, and graceful posture. And who knows, your great-grandchildren might consider her the gold standard of beauty in the future. Whatever you do, don't wallow in vanity for too long. Remember that looks fade, but having a partner and best friend to share your life with is irreplaceable.


Elana Hunter started KickStartLove when she was single, and after years of dating she is now happily married. She provides individual dating coaching for private clients who are ready to change their lives. 

Breaking a Pattern

Dear Elana, 

I’m almost 40, and my relationships never last more than one to two years. I am seeing someone right now, and I was really excited about him when we first met, but now my interest is waning. This seems to be a pattern for me. I’m always the one who leaves – and then I feel regret and loss – but I don't know how to break the pattern because I start to feel stuck, and I wonder what I am missing out on by being in the relationship. I don't know if I'm falling for the wrong men or fleeing before the relationship solidifies. How can I break the pattern? 

– Serial monogamist seeking long-term romance

I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything, maybe that would have made the impossible possible. Maybe, but I couldn’t do it, I had buried too much too deeply inside me. And here I am, instead of there.
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


It sounds like you want a lasting relationship, but something keeps pulling you away and you can't quite put your finger on it. It is a force that is powerful enough to drive a wedge between lovers. I wonder if the force is fear. 

If you have been hurt in the past, you may have developed defenses to protect yourself, and your behavior of engaging in relationships that have an expiration date could be your own clever security system. The problem is that your defenses create a self-sabotaging cycle. When you push your partner away because you anticipate that he will hold you back, you prevent your budding relationship from developing into a secure and stable partnership. 

The scientific literature on attachment theory can help shine light on this behavior. According to attachment theory, there are three styles of bonding: anxious, avoidant and secure. Based on your letter, you may have an avoidant attachment style because it sounds like you have a tendency to avoid conflict, to prize your independence and freedom, and to plan an escape when the stakes get too high. Your boyfriend may have an anxious attachment style if he craves closeness, intimacy, and connection – and if his attempts to engage with you sometimes make you feel trapped. 

Fortunately, your attachment style is fluid and changes over time in response to your life experiences. The goal is to become more secure over time. Individuals who are secure feel comfortable giving and receiving affection. They don't take problems too personally, they express their feelings directly, and they are responsive to their partners' needs. If their partner feels suffocated, they give them space; if their partner feels needy, they give them reassurance. 

Because relationships are easy for secure types, they tend to leave the dating pool early, and they rarely re-enter it. That leaves a lot of anxious and avoidant people who try to date each other. The anxious people chase the avoidants, and the avoidants run away because they are afraid of being rejected. 

If you want to break your habit of fleeing from commitment, you can start by communicating your needs clearly – no matter how frightening or uncomfortable it might feel. If you crave freedom, independence and the ability to pursue your dreams, then articulate your needs to your boyfriend and ask whether he is on board. If the answer is yes then, congratulations – you may have met your match! Find out what he needs from you to feel secure and accepted in the relationship. If he needs reassurance, attention and support, try to figure out how you can meet his needs without squelching your own. Expect ongoing negotiation in any lasting relationship. Roll up your sleeves and open your heart. 

Communicate with your anxious boyfriend by asking directly for time alone when you need it. Recognize that your desire for space may be about you, not him. Remember that you were crazy about him when you first met, and that you can keep those feelings alive if you nurture the relationship. Be patient with him, and show him that you are planning to stick around for the long haul. Over time, both of you can become more secure. Once he realizes that you love him, he will be willing to let you go away, knowing you will return. When you learn that he will respect your space, you will feel more comfortable being close and affectionate.

If you are interested in learning more about romantic attachment styles, I recommend reading the book, Attached, by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.  

Fake it until you become it

Watch Amy Cuddy's presentation on the power of body language to boost your dating success. Learn how to adopt a high power stance to project an image of confidence.

It’s no secret that confidence is sexy. Confident people radiate strength and power. They like themselves, and they are assured that you will like them too. They take risks, and they believe in their ability to win. You can spot a confident person from across the room because of their expansive posture and open stance.

The question is, how can you exude confidence when you feel insecure and unattractive? How can you stand tall, ask for dates, and flirt like a pro when you don’t believe that you have a chance? It turns out that body language has a lot to do with how others see us, and it also affects our self-perceptions. Standing in a posture of confidence can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even influence our chances for success.

This TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy entitled, “Your body language shapes who you are”, explains how to radiate confidence even when you don’t feel confident. As a child, Amy Cuddy was identified as gifted and placed in special classes for bright and talented students. In college, when she suffered severe brain damage from a car accident, she lost her identity as a person with a high IQ. Lying in the head injury unit of a hospital, she was told by her doctors that she had been withdrawn from her classes and that she needed to figure out a new life plan. She was devastated, but she didn’t give up. She worked, and she worked, and she got lucky, and as she challenged herself her brain began to heal. It took her four years longer than her peers to finish college, but she did it.

Next, she managed to gain acceptance at Princeton for graduate school. On her first week, she was asked to give a small twenty minute talk to a roomful of her peers. The lecture seemed so intimidating that she called her adviser and told her that she was dropping out. She said that there had been a mistake and that she didn’t belong. Her adviser told her that she was not allowed to quit and that she was going to give that speech even if she threw up, even if she felt so dizzy and uncomfortable that she had an out of body experience. She told Amy that she was going to keep giving speeches at venues all around the country until she became masterful.

Years later, after Amy had given hundreds of lectures, she was teaching a course at Harvard. One of the female students in her class came to talk to her privately. The girl said, “There’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here.” Now it was Amy’s turn. She realized that she no longer felt that way. That after all these years and all these lectures, she finally felt that she belonged. She told her student that she did belong. That she could fake it until she made it. She told her to come to class the next day and give the very best comment that she could imagine. The girl gave the best comment in class, and she kept faking it for months until she herself changed and became self-confident.

The message of this inspiring video is to not only fake it ’til you make it, but to fake it ’til you become it. When you feel terrified and anxious, you prevent yourself from taking risks. You neglect to ask for a date with the guy or girl you really like because you think they are out of your league, or you stop yourself from taking your relationship to the next level because you don’t believe that you deserve love. Faking it ’til you make it means pretending, through verbal and non-verbal behaviors, that you are worthy of the date, and that you do belong in the loving relationship. After you “fake” confidence for long enough, you won’t have to fake it anymore. One day you will look at yourself – and everything that you have accomplished – and realize that you have become the person you wanted to be.

Is he a player?

Q: I need a little dating advice. I had a first date on Thursday night. We met for drinks at a very romantic bar that he picked in neutral territory (in between our apartments). He was nice, smart, funny, open-minded… and very, very smooth. Too smooth. But, I was having fun, and I liked the attention, so I ended up staying at the bar over three hours with him. He was a little too comfortable talking about sex right away, but I mostly deflected and changed the subject. We did get a little cozy and kissed a few times by the end of the evening, and he asked me to go out with him this Saturday. I, obviously, said yes.

The thing is, I can’t tell if he is a player. If he is, he still might be a great guy and a good friend… but not ripe for boy friend material. I am attracted to him and fairly certain that date two will end up back at his apartment – although dinner is in semi-neutral territory again. If he is a player, then it really doesn’t matter if I sleep with him too soon because it is ultimately going to end anyway. But, if he is not a player… am I being too cavalier since I would obviously like the opportunity to get to know him better?
- Is He A Player

A: Here’s what you’re saying. You want to sleep with him if he is a player. You also want to sleep with him if he is not a player – but in that case, you might want to date him too. Fair enough.

Let’s break it down. If he is a player – he’s craving a chase. If he’s not a player – he’ll still enjoy the chase. Either way, making him wait will make him more invested.

Date two is too soon to give it up. Some making out in public is hot, going back to his place makes the chase too easy. Make him work a bit. Build his desire. Get him excited, and make sure he knows that you are hard to get and highly desired.

Let him know through your attitude that you are confident with your sexuality. You are not playing games. You are waiting because you haven’t sized him up yet. He needs to prove himself. You’re interested, intrigued even, but not yet won over.

Does this make sense?

It should be fun, playful, and sexy. Let him win points. Let him woo you.

If he’s not around for date three, then yes, he is a total player and just wants a random hook-up, (ie. not boy friend material). If he is around, consider whether you are interested in him as a potential boy friend. If you are, maybe fool around a bit, but don’t give it all up just yet. Strengthen your bond. Tease him. Tantalize him. By the time you finally seal the deal, he’ll be totally into you and completely excited by the anticipation, (i.e. the sex will be amazing).

The case for high standards

One of the issues I come across most often in my coaching practice is settling. That is, dating someone who isn’t quite “good enough” but who you date because you don’t think you can do any better. I see this most often with men, but women do it too. Here’s why it’s a bad idea, and why you deserve your perfect match.

You have probably heard of people being rated by numbers. A gorgeous model is a 10, and a bottom-of-the-barrel ugly is a 1. But the thing to remember is that these numbers are subjective. Your 6 is someone else’s 10, and your 10 is someone else’s 6.

The same is true of your number. One person might see you as a 4 and someone else might see you as a 9 or 10. You owe it to yourself to avoid dating the people who diminish your value, and to only give your heart to the people who admire and cherish you.

Few of us grow up believing that we need to have low standards. Something happens in our adolescence or early adulthood that wounds our egos and diminishes our self-confidence. We experience some form of rejection, and don’t want to get hurt again. It feels safer to date someone beneath us, someone who will be grateful to date us. But there’s a problem with this logic. Just because we perceive our partners as being lower status does not mean that they see themselves that way. A “low-status” mate is not more likely to stick around than a high-status partner.

Here’s why.

If you treat your partner like a 6, he or she will have very little incentive to stay. (If your partner does, it’s a sign of low self-esteem, and that’s not good, either.) When you’re kicked to the curb, you tell yourself, “I can’t even keep a 6, I better lower my standards to a 4.”


That’s false logic. You would be much better off shooting for an 8, 9, or 10 next time, because you will treat this new prospect with love, respect, and admiration, and that will hold interest.

Now, let’s clarify what it means to be a 10. Before you go prancing off into La La Land and chasing A-list movie stars, let’s make sure that your “high standard” is your deepest, most real desire. Are a fit waistline, firm skin, and an expensive car the traits that elevate someone in your book? Are they the qualities that will bring you meaningful, profound, satisfaction for 50 years to come? Probably not. So, let’s take a moment to figure out what a 10 really looks like for you.

Start by identifying the qualities that you really want and that you honestly value. Create a list of 10 to 20 items that absolutely make you swoon, the ones that you wouldn’t want to live without. This list will be different for everyone. Most likely, your list will include qualities such as intelligence, emotional stability, honesty and loyalty. It might even include physical characteristics such as body type or hair color. Are creativity, athleticism, sense of humor and spiritual/religious beliefs on your list? What about lifestyle, status, and education? Determine the most important qualities that you look for in a mate and write them down.

Now, you have a succinct list of the qualities that you want. If you did it right, it’s not a superficial list of features that turn you on. Rather, it’s a genuine list of characteristics that make a person compatible with you, a really good fit. If you meet someone who is “okay”, but who doesn’t quite meet your standards, don’t get involved. Really. You don’t have to settle. You know that expression, “There are plenty of fish in the sea?” Well, it’s actually true. Throw your “okay” fish back in the water, and keep rowing until a superstar swims your way.

Love is a serious business. It’s fun and silly and romantic. But it’s also serious, especially when you are thinking about creating a life with someone. You want to make sure that your better half lives up to the title. Settling leads to disappointment and regret. Hold out for that astonishing person who will make your heart pitter-patter, who will understand how you feel through thick and thin, and who will be your best friend. That person is out there and they are looking for you. If you have the skills to play the game, and the good judgment to sort out the mediocre from the golden, you can win yourself a 9 or 10.