The challenges of marriage and dating through COVID

Aleeza Ben Shalom is a dating and relationship coach who arrived in Israel less than a year ago - here is her story.

 Aleeza Ben Shalom (photo credit: RACHEL LINKWALD)
Aleeza Ben Shalom
(photo credit: RACHEL LINKWALD)

Finding effective tools for dating a potential marriage partner should be simple in our age of information, right? However, the process doesn’t always go smoothly for digital natives or those who grew up with the Internet. 

Building a relationship is not an instant process but one that takes time, energy and skill and requires one of the participants to be proactive and take the lead. More involvement is required than tapping out text messages, staring at screens and clicking a mouse. 

Aleeza Ben Shalom – a dating and relationship coach who arrived in Israel less than a year ago – has developed simple techniques to help stuck singles avoid common pitfalls and guide them onto the right path. The Magazine observed Ben Shalom in action, and heard some of her forthright guidelines as she conducted a workshop for a group of singles in Jerusalem. This monthly event was one of a series sponsored by the OU organization. Most participants were over 30. They listened eagerly, took notes, sipped hot soup and raised questions about issues that were bothering them.

Ben Shalom warned against filtering out prospective partners too hastily, first of all. Some singles expect instant chemistry on the first date. Some will not date the individual again unless they experience an immediate rapport or strong attraction. To others who are already dating someone but unsure whether to continue, she recommends, “When in doubt, go out.”

To encourage hesitant singles, Ben Shalom’s second but similar rule is a version of the old favorite: “Date ’em till you hate ’em, or marry ’em.” 

 WITH HUSBAND Gershon.  (credit: Courtesy) WITH HUSBAND Gershon. (credit: Courtesy)

“But the goal isn’t to hate them,” she explained. “The goal is to gain clarity and know if this can work or if it really can’t.” She recommends meeting your date at least twice a week “to get things moving,” otherwise momentum will likely flag and the relationship will peter out. In her experience it might take from a few weeks up to six months of intensive work for a promising connection to develop. Emotional receptiveness will forestall hasty judgments.

BEN SHALOM started her present occupation as a matchmaker or initiator in 2011, long after she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. “I never had career aspirations,” she confessed. “Although I have a degree it was in interdisciplinary studies and it didn’t really qualify me to do anything.” 

However, her outstanding social skills led her in the direction of promoting interpersonal relationships. “I received a coaching certification and spent many hours in other coursework to support my line of work,” she said. She names her mentors as “Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, my rebbetzin, my parents and grandparents who all had long-term marriages. And my husband likes to joke that he taught me everything I know.” 

She soon realized she was not only a matchmaker but a facilitator. “Another part of a matchmaker’s job is to help singles figure out if this is the one, or if they are done [at the end of a relationship]. I love this part of the process,” she enthused. This is why she often works together with professional matchmakers or shadchanim.

Ben Shalom’s business, Marriage Minded Mentor, deals with dating and relationship management for singles. Two of her recent books are Get Real, Get Married: Get Over Your Hurdles and Under the Chuppah and Virtual Dating: Your Guide to a Relationship in a Socially Distanced World; she’s currently working on a third.

COVID-19 did not dent her activities. “My work increased tremendously during the lockdowns. I’ve always worked remotely with clients and less frequently in person. Loneliness did have an impact on singles wanting to find someone and to do it now. They were more open to virtual dating and wanted to know how to transition it from virtual to in-person in time.” 

Aleeza, who grew up in a Conservative home and became Orthodox in her 20s, is now the mother of five, married to Gershon. “I was born and raised in the Philly suburbs,” she said. “My husband too. He grew up in Glenside.” The Ben Shaloms met at a Jewish retreat.

“We dreamed of making aliyah and planned to come after seven years. We are over a decade late.” Her two older children made aliyah through the Naale program a few months before the others.

BECAUSE SHE owns her own business “that’s what made it easy to transition to Israel work-wise. Before this I worked in sales and was a Hebrew school teacher. But mostly I was a stay-at-home mom raising five children. “

Though her husband had his own company selling blinds and shades in America, “He generously gave it up so we could come here and I could grow my business. He’s taking the year off to find a new career, and in the meantime helping us adjust and taking care of the family while I’m working,” she explained. 

They chose Pardes Hanna as their home because they had friends there and found it “a warm welcoming community and environment with many different educational opportunities.” They also “wanted a city that felt like what Israel felt like years ago, not like a mini-America.” Besides that, “We are all creative and artistic, and the community here very much supports those interests,” Ben Shalom remarked.

“As a bonus I was hoping to be near the beach. Caesarea is 15 minutes away and an absolute delight!“