By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

Our daughter Mindy has always done things her own way. Although she is our third child, she did not follow in the footsteps of her older brother and sister. The two of them are both married and went about the shidduch process in the traditional way. They were happy to allow me to check out prospective shidduchim, do research, and help guide them toward appropriate people to date. Thank G-d, things went pretty smoothly, and their dating histories would be considered pretty typical in terms of the age that they each started dating and also who they dated.

Mindy had her own ideas about everything. To begin with, she didn’t want to start dating until she finished school and got a good job. That was important to her and we respected it. When she mentioned that she wanted to start dating, she took matters into her own hands and found some shadchanim on her own. She went by herself to meet them and didn’t involve my husband or me at all. On the one hand, it was kind of a relief, since I must admit that I put a tremendous amount of time into shidduchim for her older sister and brother, but it also made me feel uncomfortable, since I had zero control over any part of the process. But Mindy didn’t give me a choice. She was in charge.

She went out with several different young men for one or two times. I have to admit that upon meeting them for a few minutes, I felt she was dating young men of whom my husband and I would approve. So that was good. The fourth guy she started dating, Tzvi, also appeared to be a real mensch—polite, already enjoying a promising career, and he seemed well-suited to Mindy. So we were thrilled and realized that we should trust Mindy’s instincts.

Anyway, it seems to be getting pretty serious with Tzvi. They’ve gone out five times already and Mindy is interested. I’ve been trying to be respectful of Mindy’s privacy, which I know is important to her, and she seems to be showing such good judgment as well; nevertheless, I did something that I’m sure Mindy would be furious about if she knew.

We learned that Tzvi’s family lives in Passaic. As it happens, one of my closest friends lives there, so I decided to tell her about Mindy and Tzvi and ask her if she knew Tzvi’s family and if she could tell me much about them. She hesitated for a while, and I felt as though I kind of had to pull the information out of her, but finally she told me that Tzvi’s parents are strange people. His mother in particular is viewed as a weird kind of person, a real odd-ball. My friend felt pretty certain that Tzvi’s parents didn’t have friends in the neighborhood and basically kept to themselves. Frankly, she couldn’t think of one positive thing to say about Tzvi’s parents. Admittedly, she confessed that she doesn’t know Tzvi at all, as he’s been out of town for a long time. He went to an out-of-town high school and didn’t come home all that often. She did tell me, though, that Tzvi has an older sister who seems “normal” compared to her parents, and she got married and moved to Israel. There are a few younger siblings my friend knows nothing about. Just to be clear, this friend isn’t one to gossip. I forced her into telling me whatever she knew.

So here’s my question. From all the time that my husband and I have spent with Tzvi, I can honestly say that there is nothing about him that is at all alarming to us. He’s always been warm and mature and seems to make Mindy happy. They seem similar to each other, much on the same page, with similar interests and the same goals.

My husband and I are not fancy, full-of-ourselves type of people. We were never looking for “yichus,” money, or any other parameters that I know some other parents look for in a shidduch for their children. We want our children to marry fine, kind people who are on the same wavelength as they are, and people we feel would blend into our family well. But it sounds as though Tzvi’s parents are odd and we have to wonder if it’s possible that, coming from such an environment, Tzvi could be as wonderful as he appears to be. My friend sort of hinted that if it were her daughter, she would try to steer her clear of this family. Though Mindy would probably not listen to us anyway, my husband and I still wonder whether Tzvi can be everything he appears to be. But if he truly is, then are we wrong to feel that he shouldn’t suffer just because he comes from such a strange family?

Are we wrong to ignore what we’ve heard and just allow things to progress? Or is it our duty to be frightened of this shidduch and do everything in our power to sabotage it?

Unknowing

Dear Unknowing,

These days, it’s not the least bit unusual to do a big of digging into a prospective shidduch’s background, family, etc. The fact that you reached out to your friend is perfectly understandable. Little did you know, however, that what you would hear would sound so strange! It must have been troubling for you to hear that information.

But the real question, I suppose, is whether a person who grows up in what appears to be such a strange home can turn out as wonderful as Tzvi seems to be, at least as far as you can tell. And the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” Just as there are individuals who grow up in the most amazing homes but choose paths that do not resemble the lifestyle of their immediate family, so, too, can individuals recreate themselves, separate and distinct from what they’ve seen within their childhood home. Many people make choices. They can continue the family pattern for better or for worse, or absolutely find their own way. Some sensitive children who observe and dislike the way they see their family functioning often seek role models among parents of friends, teachers at school, counselors at camp, and anywhere they can. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tzvi has been out of his home for so long. No doubt, he felt the need to escape his family at a young age in order to bring more “normal” into his life. Apparently, Tzvi must have had and still has strong survival instincts that powered him to create a better environment for himself.

However, if you still feel uneasy about what you heard, you may want to make a few phone calls to the yeshiva he attended and speak to a rabbi who knows him and/or his family. But concentrate your research more on Tzvi than on his family. Hopefully, you’ll hear wonderful comments about Tzvi that will confirm and bolster your impression of him.

Now back to his family of origin. Ask yourself how much of an issue it is to you—and also, how you think it would be to Mindy—to find yourselves connected to people who sound “off.” From the way you describe Mindy, it sounds as though it would be a touchy conversation to bring up. So you will have to choose your words carefully, but you may want to ask her what she knows about Tzvi’s family, without initially telling her what you’ve heard. Again, for many parents, this is an important part of a shidduch and they wouldn’t dream of getting involved, in any way, shape, or form, with a family that is not similar to themselves. But not everyone feels that way. As you said, if Tzvi is everything he appears to be—a self-made, good man—why should he suffer just because he was born into the “wrong” family? But that’s a question you have to answer honestly for yourselves and a conversation that you might need to gently introduce to Mindy.

The bottom line is that growing up in a wonderful family does not guarantee that someone will be a wonderful husband or wife. And, conversely, growing up in a dysfunctional home doesn’t preclude someone from rising above the mess and becoming an amazing individual!

You could benefit from a bit more research, but it sounds as though Mindy will ultimately be the one to call the shots, as she has done up until now. So far, she hasn’t done such a bad job, so maybe you need to relax and have faith that she will continue to know herself and act wisely.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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