How Not To Marry A Jerk

To enhance your understanding of what I mean by this article, and also to make it clear who I am trying to prevent you from marrying, you should know that I wanted to call this “How Not To Marry An A%$&*#e.” But it is unbecoming of a Chosid Of The Rebbe™ to use such language, so I am saying “jerk”. Now you know what I mean, though. I mean a selfish person who will ruin your life. I mean the kind of person who might look good on the surface, but underneath is a “jerk”.

I’ve seen a lot of people marry jerks. I’ve seen them either live with the jerks and suffer, or get divorced and continue to suffer if there are kids involved, since kids = a lifetime connection to the ex. I’ve seen people litigate expensively and also have to piece back together crumbled lives.

I also want to say that I was pretty picky about who I married, and I married a genuinely good person. Not a jerk. But on the way to marrying him, I met and dated a wide variety of people who could have (at least for some time) ruined my life. I thought about it carefully, and the following safeguards were stuff that prevented me from marrying a jerk. I’ll share my secrets now, since that is what Hevria is for.

While what I am about to say is in the context of shidduch dating (religious Jewish dating via matchmaker), I think it all holds true for anybody. Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious: Jerks are jerks. They might wear different costumes and speak different languages, but the underlying issues are the same: selfishness, a lack of respect for both self and others, and cruelty. This article also isn’t directed at men or women in particular, since jerks come in all genders, all social classes, all races, and all levels of education.

Another thing: Before I start, we have to define “jerk”. Everybody has their bad days, bad moods, bad moments. Nobody is perfect unless you marry a tzadik, which in itself might be intolerable unless you also are a tzadik. I would not want to be married to a tzadik. A regular good person, with all the issues a regular good person, is right for me. The difference between a regular good person and a jerk is that a regular good person works on his-or-herself, and actually changes.

  • A jerk thinks the way he or she is can’t be changed, or can’t even see his or her own flaws.
  • A jerk might hate the way he or she is, and might have low self-esteem indeed, but won’t refine his or her bad middoth either out of laziness or inability.
  • A jerk cannot really be a partner in a relationship, whereas a regular good person with the issues of a regular person is totally capable of being a partner.
  • A jerk blames himself or herself or the world for his or her problems; a regular good person might have some rough moments but will take responsibility and change for the benefit of the relationship.
  • A jerk will expect you to change, and you only. His or her promises of change almost always revert to the same old selfish, disrespectful, cruel, taking behavior.

1. You better have a clear picture of who you are before you get married, or you might marry a jerk.

Want to marry a jerk? Then pretend to be someone you are not while you are dating. Put your desire to be in a relationship before who you actually are, and you could find yourself married to a nightmare.

For example: I know someone who married and divorced a jerk. While they dated, she hid some fundamental aspects of her personality from him. She wanted to be married so badly that she said “yes” a lot and acquiesced a lot while they dated. Well, lo and behold, the guy turned out to be domineering and egotistical, and she wasn’t the kind of person who actually took well to being bossed around, and she and the guy ended up fighting bitterly. He pretended to be nicer than he was while they dated (though he did show her signs of his true nature), and she pretended to be someone she wasn’t. Don’t do that.

Since you don’t really know a person until you are married (this is true even of secular people who live together before marriage), you need to do your best to shove who you are in the face of whomever you are dating. If both of you do that, there is a better chance of you marrying well. You have got to know who you really are in order to present who you really are. I was open with my husband about my Type-A personality while we dated. By the time I met him, I was so fed up with trying to be who I thought religious guys wanted to marry (a chiller, and I am not chill) that I just said, “This time, I’m being me. I’d rather be single forever than go through dating the wrong person again.”

It is better to be single than to marry the wrong person. Keep that in mind if you’re not sure who you are, or if you are afraid to share who you really are.

2. Marry Someone A Little Bit Better Than You.

Do not marry someone who thinks he or she is better than you. Do not marry someone “out of your league” who seems to be stooping to your level to marry you. Marry someone who is a little bit better than you are in some area of life where you want to improve. You need to respect and admire your spouse.

Do not marry a fixer-upper. You cannot change people. I repeat: You cannot change people. If somebody shows you their problems, don’t think that marriage to you will fix them. The only thing that can happen is that their problems will become your problems. There is a difference between marrying someone with his or her own normal human issues and marrying someone whom you think you can fix.

3. Stay Sober While Dating.

Before you all jump on me and call me a teetotalling prude, you should know that my own position on drugs and alcohol is “legalize it” and “enjoy responsibly”. I’m not saying that puffing a bowl and having a beer — in moderation and in appropriate company — are bad. They’re just bad for dating.

You need to keep the clearest vision possible when you are dating. Alcohol and drugs make things, and people, look better than they are. They take you out of reality, which is also why they are useful. For instance: I know someone who married a guy who turned out to be a class-A jerk. He was manipulative, condescending, mean, a freeloader, and addicted to drugs. She admitted to having been way out of reality while they dated, as she used drugs with him on dates.

Whatever you do, keep your head on your shoulders and your feet on the ground while you are dating, or you might get fooled into marrying a jerk.

ALSO: People who party don’t usually stop after marriage. If you’re marrying your drinking buddy, don’t expect that marriage will put a halt to his or her drinking. I know of someone who partied with her husband (partying was a big part of their life), and when she gave birth to their child instead of helping with the baby, he left her alone while he went out to the bars every night. Nice, eh?

4. Talk About Money. Find Out His or Her Debt & Spending History.

Financially, jerks tend to either be extremely stingy or extremely spendy. It’s your job when dating to take your significant other’s financial pulse. Does he or she spend a lot when he or she is upset? Does he or she have a void in his or her heart that he or she fills with material stuff? Does he or she expect a standard of living that neither he/she nor you can provide? Beyond student loans for a degree that he or she actually completed, does this person carry debt? How did he or she accrue that debt?

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We all unfortunately live in the material world. Your spouse’s relationship with the material world says a lot about his or her character. It might seem awkward or impolite to talk about money, but you absolutely have to if you want to avoid marrying a jerk. Jerks will spend all your money and put you in debt, or they might try to control you with their own money. You don’t want to end up like a person I know who got stuck paying off $40,000 of their psycho ex’s credit card debt.

5. Meet Their Parents And Be Sure You Can Live With Them.

You are also marrying your in-laws. Your spouse will repeat their behavior whether he or she wants to or not. Find out if your significant other’s parents are your kind of people.

Another major thing to ask about parents: Be sure to ask your significant other how he or she was disciplined as a child. Find out what kind of boundaries his or her parents set for him or her. If your S.O. tells you that he or she was rarely disciplined and was allowed to do whatever he or she wanted as a child, that is a huge red flag that this person might not be capable of taking responsibility for his or her own behavior as an adult. It also could be a sign of narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies.

6. Make Sure That He or She Can Maintain Long-term Friendships.

Marriage is a long-term friendship. It’s a different kind of friendship than you have with your platonic friends, but it is fundamentally a friendship. Beware of people who are great at romance but don’t seem to have many true friends. Someone who gets along with you but only seems to have peripheral admirers and no friends he or she is actually close with is most probably — we’re talking 99.99% chance — a jerk. Likewise if all of your S.O.’s friends are new friends. He or she should be able to demonstrate a capacity for maintaining long-term relationships with other people.

7. Do Not Let Your Emotions Or Intellect Override Your Instincts. Trust Your Gut.

If you feel like something is off, it is. If you can list all the rational reasons why this person is the right one to marry, but your gut tells you not to do it, then don’t. If there is something off about the person that you can’t quite figure out, and definitely if there is something that is clearly problematic, then run the other direction.

A friend of mine dated a guy who “checked out”, but something just didn’t feel right to her so she ended the shidduch. He married someone else and ended up severely physically brutalizing her. Good thing my friend trusted her instincts!

If someone in any way gives you the creeps, get out of there. If for some reason you do not feel entirely safe with the person, move on. If the person is good-looking, smart, and likable but there is some kind of “he/she is great, but something doesn’t feel right,” don’t give him or her the benefit of the doubt. This is your life we’re talking about.

8. No Recent Major Life Changes

Is he or she a brand new baal teshuva who is still floating in awe? Is he or she very recently divorced or broken-up-with? Did he “find himself” within the past year? Did she just quit her job, pack her backpack, and move into her van? Are you in a weird transitional space?

Don’t do it. Marry someone when both you and s/he are on solid ground emotionally and spiritually. You want to see demonstrable evidence of how the person handles difficult life changes.

Here is the big one: Never date in a state of low self-esteem or weakness. Jerks are attracted to low self-esteem and weakness like vampires smelling fresh blood. Date when you feel strong. Date when you have a life. Date when you’re in your best state of mind, not your worst, or you might attract a psycho.

9. Look for a giver, not a taker.

Here we are going to get into gender roles, and I don’t care if you hate me for saying this: If a woman never once offers to pay, she’s a taker. Even if the man wants to be a gentleman and pay for everything on a date, the woman should offer to contribute or to somehow help (for example: being the person to take the initiative to call the taxi, even if the guy pays for the taxi in order to be a gentleman). If the man expects the woman to pay for the date, he’s a taker. I don’t care who earns more money — men who expect women to pay for dates and women who do not show signs of appreciation and/or helpfulness are takers. You can attack me in the comments for being “not feminist” or “not chassidish” — this one could go either way when it comes to internet outrage. I’m telling you now that I stand by what I just said because it comes from the Bible. 

Remember when Avraham sent Eliezer out to look for a wife for Yitzchak? Our forefathers looked for women who possessed the attribute of kindness. Although Rivka did not own anything, she nevertheless expended her effort to fetch water for Eliezer, his men, and his camels. Yitzchak’s family had big bucks; Rivka had water for camels. It was the helpful, giving gesture that counted.

10. Find Out What He Or She Laughs At

Sarcasm and humor at the expense of other people are signs of jerks. Dirty, disrespectful humor is also a sign of a jerk.

You can learn a lot about a person by observing what he or she laughs at. You can learn a lot about what a person respects and considers to be sacred by studying his or her sense of humor.

And if someone crosses boundaries and then accuses you of not having a sense of humor when you react, run away like your date is throwing fire ants at you, because that’s a sure sign of a jerk.

To conclude this article, I would like to say one little thing to all the jerks out there:

You’re playing with someone else’s life. If you have any decency, you’ll recognize that you have problems and that you’re not capable of being a partner in a relationship. I hope you stay single so that good people don’t have to suffer.

Chaya is on Twitter