Two years ago, I made the decision to change out of my pajamas, pause Netflix, and attend a Shabbat dinner. This was not an unusual occurrence for me, at the time a 26-year-old singleton living in Lakeview hoping for love.
As I walked through the doors of a beloved rabbi and rebbetzin's home in West Rogers Park, a half circle of eligible Jewish bachelors ranging from two to five inches shorter than me greeted the three women who walked in at the same time. I said hi to a David, an Adam, two Bens, and a Joshua, until, between the Bens, I saw a figure.
He was playing clapping games with the Rabbi's children and did not even notice the swarm of attractive women walk through the front door. 'That one,' I told myself, for as a woman who had repeatedly fallen into the traps of dating, I was attracted to men who ignored me.
We then enter into the Shabbat chair tango. It goes like this: I stand behind a chair, and the cute guy stands behind a chair not directly across from me. I shift one chair right, and he shifts right. Now we are even further apart. The dance goes on for five minutes where, in my mind, I perform graceful turns and side steps until we are sitting directly across from each other.
The dinner conversation started as any would: 'What is your name? What do you do? How do you know the rabbi?' 'He is definitely not into me,' I continued to tell myself.
Once again, my mind made up the narrative where I played the sidekick to my life and the downward spiral of self-doubt begins: 'He is too cute for you. Did you forget deodorant? You are a mess.' My inner voice, Dolores, was relentless.
"I just started taking a mindfulness class and realized how amazing each person is due to their soul," he said. My thoughts stopped. Did I just hear that come out of the cute guy's mouth? He cares about what is under the frizzy hair and half worn-off lipstick?
The rest of the conversation flowed seamlessly. We spoke about our life passions, spirituality, family, and what keeps us going each day. I was no longer the awkward best friend watching myself attempt to talk to the cute Jewish boy -- I was just me.
"Hakarat hatov," he said as he was giving me a ride home after dinner.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It means awaken to the good; that is why I was so intrigued when I learned your name," he explained. "I was told to awaken to good and a few days later I meet Goodness (Tovah) Goodman."
The next day I left for Israel to staff a trip with over 100 eighth graders. Despite the unfortunate timing, he said he would text me when I returned, and we would meet up.
To my surprise, as I landed in Chicago, I received a text asking when I was free. We settled on a tea date two days later, but with huge risk involved. On my flight back from Israel, I came down with a horrible stomach flu. Not willing to wait any longer, I showed up to the date with my puffy eyes, stuffy nose, and oversized sweatshirt.
Even though throughout our first dates I felt like a hideous mess, he continued to coordinate another date. A year later I asked him, "What made you continue to ask me out?"
"I saw something so beautiful in you and wanted to make sure, no matter how much time it took, that you saw it in yourself," he told me.
With that, I say this to my remarkable fiancé: Thank you for giving me the guidance and mostly the inspiration and push I needed to be who I am today. You persevered through self-doubt, many tears, and extreme stubbornness to bring out the woman who is genuinely happy every day. I am grateful for each new day we are together and each step we take together to make an impact in the world.
Tovah Goodman, who lives in Chicago, is a musician, yogi, and youth educator.