When it comes to dating and getting to know a potential partner in the framework of the Baha’i laws and principles, many young (and not so young) people experience confusion and uncertainty. It can be hard to know how to approach this topic, and while many of us realize that the concept and practice of dating in much of society today is largely inappropriate, it can be hard to determine how to get to know a person really well, while at the same time remaining steadfast in the Cause and staying within the framework of chastity.
Abdu’l-Baha tell us:
Baha’i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity.
When beginning the process of getting thoroughly acquainted with each others’ characters, let us first look at some important guidelines – the first being “Don’t start what you cannot finish!” – meaning, if while getting to know each other it already becomes clear that this person cannot be a potential spouse, it is not wise to start a relationship or pursue the relationship further.
The following four ‘red flags’ are clear warnings and important to heed, so if you see any of these – run the other way:
1. Problems with alcohol or drugs.
2. Problems with chastity (e.g. if the other person oversteps clearly set boundaries, is unfaithful etc. This may well continue into marriage.)
3. Aggression or violence (if someone hits you once it is advisable to end the relationship immediately. Do not give a person the chance to hit you a second time. Not even when they tearfully apologize. A person hitting someone needs therapeutic help!)
4. the partner does not want to have children (as opposed to a person who cannot have children for biological reasons. The purpose of Baha’i marriage is to have children. You should never assume that a person who says before the wedding that they do not want to have children will change their mind later on.)
If you’ve been fortunate enough to meet a person who is compatible with you and to whom none of the ‘red flags’ apply, there are quite a few possible ways to investigate that person’s character:
• Exchange your life stories: You can each write down your life history (e.g. divided by years) and let the other person read it. As you read over each other’s history, note areas where you would like more understanding, or greater clarity. Consult about it, ask questions, share. You should be looking for past events that might impact on the other person’s capacity for intimacy, sharing, parenting, etc.
• Exchange your life plans: Again, ask for clarification and more detail if you need it. You are looking for ways that your life plans can come together, for dreams that can be shared, and a future that can be lived as a couple.
• Ask each other about…
…your respective relationships with your mothers.
…your respective relationships with your fathers.
…your respective relationships with your siblings.
…your ideas and concepts of what marriage should be like.
…family planning and raising children.
…former relationships and how those worked out.
• Experience as many different situations together as possible. Don’t just meet for dates, try to get a view from as many different angles as possible. Work together or do a project together. Look into each other’s hobbies. Explore your respective relationships to your faith(s) together. Take care of each other when one of you is sick. Meet the other person’s parents and families, watch how they interact with members of their family (if you get married you will also be a member of their family!). Talk about gender roles and expectations with each other. See how your partner treats women and men. Spend leisure time together. Get to know the other person’s friends, see how you get along, see how he/she behaves around their friends. Do sports together. “Borrow” some kids and spend time with them, watch your potential spouse’s behavior and attitude towards children. Cook and eat together. Host a core activity together. See how the other person behaves under stress, how they take decisions, how they express their feelings, how they handle money, how committed they are to obeying Baha’i laws (if they are Baha’is. If they are not – how respectful they are about your choice to obey Baha’i laws).
• Read and study compilations and books about (Baha’i) marriage together. There are many great books and compilations available on this topic like Marriage: A Fortress for Well-being, and Baha’i Blog will be recommending more of these in a follow-up post in the near future.
• Participate in marriage preparation courses or seminars together. Studies have shown that couples benefit greatly from professional marriage preparation and that their marriages are happier and last longer. If they are conducted by Baha’i professionals, so much the better.
• Speak with several couples who lead good marriages in your eyes and learn from their experience.
When looking at these options it becomes clear that this process requires time, and it saddens me to see that far too often, young Baha’is rush into marriage without much reflection and after only knowing each other for very short periods of time (sometimes maybe guided by the wish to start a sexual relationship). From a psychological point of view, I would personally recommend a time period of at least one year of investigation before deciding to get married (provided of course this time is used wisely). The space of one year allows you to experience a whole cycle of nature together (including possible effects like seasonal affective disorders, i.e. ‘winter depression’) in one or both partners). You live through all Holy Days and anniversaries (which can deeply affect some people), and you get a much deeper understanding of what those special times mean to your partner and to his/her family and how they celebrate them. After all, you are trying to blend two lives, two family cultures, two backgrounds and two life plans together, therefore it is very helpful to have a good understanding of what those are before setting out to achieve this.
To finish this article, I thought I’d leave you with the questions of the following short ‘Express Test’, in the hope that these questions will help you decide whether a person is suitable as a potential spouse:
• Did I ever imagine marrying someone like him/her?
• Can I introduce him/her to my family, friends and colleagues?
• Can I imagine having children with him/her?
• Can I imagine that my children turn out exactly like him/her?
• Would I have chosen this person as a (best) friend if I hadn’t been in love?
• Do I feel really comfortable in his/her presence?