By Baila Sebrow

Question

My relationship with Rivky (not her real name) had its “ups and downs.” One recurring theme, however, stuck in my craw—her obsession with status, being constantly concerned about what others will think and say. The topic kept rearing its ugly head. Still, in making a cost-benefit analysis, I decided, possibly mistakenly, that Rivky was “the one.”

We became engaged a few months ago. After finally spending significant time with my kallah’s family, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just Rivky who has this hang-up—all of the members of her immediate family do, from the parents to her youngest sibs. (In one conversation I overheard, the tykes were shockingly hostile to their peers’ choices of clothes and toys. I kid you not.)

When I later agreed to join my future shver (father-in-law) on a shopping spree for wedding preparations, it finally came to a head. We entered a Judaica shop, and he made a beeline straight for the tallis bags. Within moments, he had four samples atop the showcase, each more beautiful than the next.

“I want to see how clever you are,” he said, smiling. His tone was condescending. “Which tallis zeckel would you pick for Shabbos?” Naturally, my choice was the most stunning. After all, the halachah is that we honor the Shabbos by using our best everything—or so I was taught since I was knee-high. Yet according to my would-be father-in-law, the halachah was wrong in his imaginary universe. You see, everybody except for him (my rebbeim, rabbanim, parents, Pirchei leaders, camp counselors, etc.) just didn’t “get it.”

“As a sincere, well-mannered mensch, you may be oblivious to it,” he started his attempt to enlighten me. “But you are constantly being watched and assessed. People make conclusions based on all sorts of wacky standards.” Including him, apparently.

“When you carry a tallis zeckel during the week, it likely accompanies you to any number of places: the bank, grocery, pharmacy, take-out joint, etc. At each location, both you and it are seen. People gawk, especially if it is almost an objet d’art. And they conclude that you are a man of means worthy of their association!

“In contrast, on Shabbos, how many folks will see your tallis zeckel? At best, a few. That’s because you are leaving it in shul. So contrary to the prevailing wisdom among the under-educated, it is far more beneficial for you to have the more ostentatious bag for the weekday.” He forgot to add, also contrary to the halachah.

I was always taught to be myself, yet still work on myself. I’m happy in my own skin and have no need to engage in fakery. Unlike some other societies, in frum Judaism, we are taught to value individuals by character, not credit cards or “things.” And certainly never by outer trappings.

Materialism, we are taught, has its place, of course—to be uplifted in the Divine’s service. That’s primarily on Shabbos and yom tov. We honor the Shabbos for Hashem, not to score points with our peers.

When I related all of this to my kallah, she became defensive and tried hard to argue against me but, admittedly, failed. Halachah is, after all, halachah. Like a good “daddy’s girl,” however, she described her father as “clever” and more “in reality” than I am. She embraces his warped views.

To be frank, I’m not just scared, but terrified!

Like I said, Rivky is far from the only one in her family who takes a quest for status to a new low. I can’t even imagine what other warped anti-Torah notions lie just beneath the surface, as yet undiscovered.

We are inching ever closer to our wedding, and suddenly I have gone from being thrilled and singing “Thank you, Hashem!” (kudos to Joey Newcomb) to “Hashem yeracheim.” Indeed, Hashem yeracheim should my future kids fall under the sway of my kallah’s family!

Response

It sounds like you are suffering from an acute case of “cold feet.” I see this in a shockingly large percentage of dating relationships and also during the engagement period. “Cold feet,” is an overpowering feeling of uncertainty and reluctance a person oftentimes feels when the relationship is clearly heading towards the next major step. Change is scary, even if it is believed to be for the better. It is much simpler to remain with the status quo than to walk into the mysterious unknown. And marriage even in the best of circumstances is still unknown territory into which one enters with blind faith. Those who experience cold feet come to that realization, and to some it feels so emotionally paralyzing that they cannot move forward.

I oftentimes see this even among people who claim they are so in love with their significant other that they could not wait till they could get engaged. Once they are at the brink of marriage, the doubts start creeping in, and even things that the person initially found endearing or admirable then become viewed as negative.

I don’t know if you reached out to anyone else yet, but I am hoping that you didn’t. What I have seen happen way too often is that when people in your circumstances ask for advice, the results can be tragic, particularly if the advice is to break it off before investigating the situation from an objective and broadminded view. I once had a case where a young lady living in an affluent community was dating a guy who lived in a low-key neighborhood. The relationship was getting serious and the couple was discussing marriage. One day the guy was sitting next to his rav at the chuppah of a wedding (no less), and, feeling apprehensive, he discussed his hesitation with his rav. The rav asked him where the young lady lives and, based on her place of residence he concluded, without ever meeting her or speaking to her, that she would never fit into his community. First thing the following morning, the guy broke it off with the young lady he was dating and shared his reason for doing so. The young lady tried explaining to him that his rav has the wrong opinion of her, but between his cold feet and the rav’s advice, the guy’s mind was completely unyielding.

I have plenty of other stories where rabbanim, talmidei chachamim, and therapists, relatives, and good friends overzealously think they are staving off a future divorce by advising someone to break a relationship or engagement. I am not stating this to disparage anyone, chas v’shalom, but well-meaning people need to consider that offering such advice is no different than “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” It’s easy to tell somebody to end a relationship. It’s more of a challenge to help someone fix the problem than to eliminate it. The natural viewpoint of these people is that the one ending the relationship will find somebody else. Well, the reality of life is that it is not so simple finding someone you connect with. And if you found the person with whom you share a common bond and who accepts and cares about you unconditionally, you try to fix whatever might be there, because there is no such thing as perfection in anyone.

You went on a long diatribe about your kallah’s strong opinion of status, bringing in your ranting story about the tallis zeckel. This is your problem with her? You talk about your relationship with Rivky having its “ups and downs.” What ups and downs are you referring to? Interestingly, you followed up your statement by saying that you made “a cost-benefit analysis” and decided that she is “the one.” It appears that you did not come to the verdict of making her your ezer k’negdo on a whim. You dated Rivky, connected with her emotionally, analyzed her potential for being a good wife and mother of whom you would be proud, and now because of the philosophy about looking good to others and “keeping up with the Joneses,” so to speak, you are ready to throw all that away?

If you were to tell me that your kallah is demanding that you spend an exorbitant amount of money on her that you don’t have, I would say to run as far as your feet can carry you. I didn’t see that anywhere in your letter. Did she demand what you would consider an ostentatious diamond ring, and other jewelry? Do you believe that her family will majorly interfere in your life? I don’t see that anywhere in your letter either.

I can appreciate your feeling terrified. As you get closer to the wedding date and see that your kallah and her family have different perspectives than you, questioning your future is a normal response to your feelings.

Here is how I believe you should handle the situation. I plead with you to not make any rash moves. And I further implore you not to go around seeking advice until someone tells you to go break your engagement. Rather, I strongly urge you to go for counseling, with the intention that you want to find a way for you to deal with your feelings and the situation without compromising your engagement.

It would be wrong of me not to address a different issue, and so to cover all bases, I will take up another matter regarding your engagement. Do you feel that getting married right now is not something you are emotionally ready to handle? If the answer is yes, then you might have subconsciously been searching for something tangible to give you valid reason to not marry Rivky. If you really don’t want to get married, then you will be doing a grave disservice to your kallah and yourself. Without any delay, reach out to a trained therapist, and go there with your kallah. When you begin your session, do so with an open mind, and be completely honest about all your feelings. Whatever the result may turn out to be, the most important aspect is that it should ultimately serve to benefit both you and Rivky.

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. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, WVIP 93.5 FM HD2, and talklinenetwork.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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