By Baila Sebrow
My husband and I are honest and fair people. We walk the straight and narrow path. We have children who are now in shidduchim, and though our kids are great, just like no one is perfect, neither are they. We are known to be a good family, but, like everyone else, we have secrets we need to keep for privacy reasons. For example, before we moved to the community in which we are living now (it has been a long time) we had a tragedy in our family that we don’t talk about because it is painful. It’s not that we would ever deny it, but we don’t want to be judged.
In terms of shidduchim, we are worried that if we don’t say anything and anyone finds out, it will be worse, because then everyone will start talking about us and people will think all kinds of things. We know of a case where a person in shidduchim was taking medication as a child. The childhood friends who knew the family they were going to marry into told them about it, and the shidduch was called off even though now, as an adult, the person no longer takes it. That’s not what is going on in my family, but I’m mentioning it because from what I hear it could be worse if people find out and blame us for lying.
We keep reading about how it is important not to hold anything back from someone you are dating. What should be said, and at what point? The rav of our shul says to wait until the fifth date; we did that with one of our children, and the shidduch didn’t work out anyway. That family promised to keep what we told them quiet. I am not so sure they did, and we can’t go through that again. Can you advise us how to deal with this situation?
There are times when the adage “less is more” may apply. Though I am a strong proponent of disclosing information about yourself when you marry somebody, that applies to issues that will have an impact on both parties and the future family that will be built, iy’H. Since no one is perfect, as you say, most people do have something they are not comfortable sharing with the world. People are entitled to privacy, and healthy boundaries are very important to maintain dignity and to avoid being falsely judged by gossipmongers.
I don’t know what you are referring to when you say that you had a tragedy in your family, but please accept my sincere condolences and sympathy for what you and your family have endured. The fact that you feel the need to keep it from spreading into tales and fabrications and you don’t have the opportunity to receive comfort and consolation, as in other types of situations, must be incredibly burdensome for you. I hope that Hashem gives you extra strength to deal with it.
To answer your question about revealing information to your children’s potential future spouse, these are my thoughts and advice. Being objectively honest without explaining the background and circumstances of the situation can result in portraying a false image of oneself, as does saying more than is necessary. The consequences are that whatever is disclosed will demonize the person in the eyes of the listener. In other words, if revealed incorrectly, a situation that should not have dire consequences will end up exactly that way. That is why many people choose to keep quiet. Fear and dread that one will be misunderstood, misjudged, and rejected is why information is typically withheld. I agree that it is much worse if the story comes out as a rumor, which then leads to a scandalous tale. Disclosure of any kind must be handled with great sensitivity in order to be fair to both sides.
I agree with your rav that one can wait until the fifth date to disclose a private matter. The problem I have seen is that by that time young frum singles have already developed an emotional connection. They might go ahead with the shidduch anyway but regret it later and, during an argument, throw it in the face of the person they married. If feelings have not yet been established, the great risk is not only that the listener may walk away but that he or she may share the story with anyone willing to hear a juicy tale. That is the nature of some people, and no one can predict who possesses that ugly inclination. Resentment that information was withheld, even for a short while, can lead to feelings of being deceived; thus, a bad breakup of the relationship could be the consequence.
I will caution you that under no circumstances should confidential matters be shared with any outside person unrelated to the shidduch, regardless of how much you trust him or her. There is nothing to be gained from it.
It is common for people who have deficiencies either within themselves or their family to overcompensate with achievements. In other words, such an individual oftentimes presents as being better than his or her counterparts. The result is that the one dating such a person has already placed him or her on such a high pedestal that anything slightly off will leave him or her feeling bewildered. So when negative information is revealed, the person will appear deceitful and fraudulent, even if it is a minor matter that will have no impact on a future relationship.
It all starts with the person who is dealing with a troublesome issue that feels shameful. I was happy to read that you are cognizant of the fact that nobody else is perfect either. I hope that you impart that attitude to your children, too. Owning self-confidence and giving weight to personal successes is of utmost importance. When people feel accomplished, they convey an air of confidence that causes people to gravitate toward them. Take a lesson from history, and even nowadays, from famous people who have endured something about which they felt ashamed and ended up embracing it. They talk about it, give interviews, and even write books so that others can learn how to deal with it. They own it, proudly. Not only does it not take away from who they are, but it causes others to want to be friends with them. People respect and look up to those who are courageous. I encourage your children to adopt that stance.
Certain information does need to be revealed immediately, such as a previous marriage, regardless of how brief, or even a broken engagement, because there is the issue of mechilah that can have serious ramifications, G-d forbid, and while some people do not care about such things, others do. Conversions, adoption, or another halachic situation must never be hidden. If someone is dating a kohen and does not feel comfortable sharing crucial information, I advise singles to stay away from shidduchim where such matters are of importance, as it will just bring about the dissolution of the relationship anyway. There have been cases where a young lady who was forbidden to marry a kohen dated one anyway and only divulged the truth after feelings had developed. That is unfair.
A health condition that requires medication, or even if it limits the person’s functioning in any capacity, should be revealed early on. Mental-health conditions, even if of minor significance, should also not be concealed. Though it is a very delicate and complex matter, withholding such information is ultimately unfair to both parties, because it can affect the outcome of the relationship. There are so many other problems that one may be dealing with, and, again, if it will have significant bearing on a marriage, it needs to be revealed. That is the moral and ethical thing to do. It is therefore preferable to share information earlier rather than later if one is certain that will cause somebody to back out when discovered.
If it is something that happened in the past to a member of the family, such as in your case, or financial records, grades in school as a youngster, etc., that has nothing to do with who the person is today, there can be no harm to wait until the fifth date, or perhaps there may be nothing wrong with not explaining all the details, other than a brief mention. If it really will have zero impact, perhaps not mentioning it at all may be acceptable.
Your question does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. If one has a specific question, one needs to seek da’as Torah or ask a healthcare professional. Bear in mind, however, that when a shidduch is meant to happen, as long as there is healthy transparency, nothing will stop it from proceeding. I caution you to stay away from families who treat a potential shidduch like a criminal investigation, with background checks, investigative reports, etc. Such people have severe trust issues, and they are usually the ones who are the most untrustworthy.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.