By Baila Sebrow
This is a personal topic, but I imagine other guys might be going through it, too. For many years, I have struggled to keep the Torah’s laws of negiah, refraining from physical contact with a woman before marriage. It’s been difficult but, baruch Hashem, I have succeeded. When it comes to dating, though, it’s always been on my mind that the girl should have been shomeres negiah, too. Thus, I usually avoided dating a ba’alas teshuvah or giyores. Sometimes I’ve dated someone in that category, depending on the girl, but it has never actually worked out and I never liked a girl enough to take the relationship further and see whether I’d be able to get past this.
Just to be clear, I don’t judge anyone for what they’ve done, as I almost for sure would have done the same thing had I grown up in that culture. It just freaks me out that she has lost this naiveté and I wouldn’t be the first for her. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I’d meet an amazing girl and the only thing I’d find wrong is this.
And of course that has happened because G-d apparently has a sense of humor. I met someone wonderful and even though our relationship is not perfect, I feel that we communicate well and have enough in common to make something beautiful. However, I feel afraid to take it further (we’re still at the beginning of our relationship) because I don’t know how I’ll react. Suppose we get married but I carry this reservation with me and it comes out later? What would happen throughout our relationship? Will I always be thinking about the myriad of guys in her life previously? Would she also be thinking about her other boyfriends?
In order to get past this, I feel like I should talk to her about it, but how do I even broach that respectfully? This has happened before with other girls. Some got insulted and immediately pulled away, though some were willing to talk. But again, I never took it far enough to say for sure. I suppose I could work to change my mindset, but will it come up later? Maybe I should just call it off, but, on the other hand, I wonder if people have reservations but get married anyway.
Let’s start with your last statement first. It is common for people to have reservations about a major life commitment, and even some misgivings about the person they are thinking to marry. Most of the time it’s just about fear of the unknown. Even in the best of circumstances, marrying someone is a huge leap of faith. How life with that person will turn out is anyone’s guess, regardless of how well the couple gets along during their courtship.
The fear of making the right choice is so deep-seated that I have received frantic calls from people not just before an engagement or during the engagement, but even on the day of their wedding. With quivering voices they have expressed to me how they are scared to go through with the wedding. They start listing all the reasons that they feel they should back out. At the late juncture of a few hours before the wedding it usually turns out to be nothing more than pre-wedding jitters, and baruch Hashem I have been successful in talking them through their fears.
However, not all reservations about a person one is dating relates to fear or insignificant heebie-jeebies. There exist serious tangible reasons why someone should end a relationship. One of the chief reasons for ending a relationship is when one feels he or she is deliberately being mistreated by the other person. Such things never get better with time.
Your issue with the girl you are dating is that you feel a lack of compatibility based on your idea of what someone’s background ought to be. That list of requirements designed when one begins to date is typically a product of upbringing and environment. People gravitate towards what they know and are familiar with. As I said earlier, one of the reasons people are afraid of marriage is the fear of the unknown. So when you take a person who comes from a different background, who doesn’t meet anything on the list of requirements, at that point, fear can turn to terror. And that is what I believe is happening here.
I am not a halachic authority nor will I ever play the part of one. Having said that, I will not comment on the Torah’s view of negiah. What I will instead focus on is how this girl has become accustomed to living her life prior to meeting you. You don’t state whether she is a ba’alas teshuvah, giyores, or a frum-from-birth liberal-minded person. None of those things should matter with respect to the past, especially if she has become more stringent in Torah observance. That’s where you need to exercise your main focus.
Does this girl practice being shomeres negiah as her personal commitment, and is she observant in this area with other men in her life, too? Or is she just going along with whatever you say and promises to uphold this mitzvah in order to maintain the relationship she has with you? The answers to those questions will help guide you in the decision process. One important piece of advice is that you cannot change any adult person for the long term. There are people who promise to be more or less machmir for the marriage to happen, but as soon as there is tension in the relationship, the person may revert to old habits. You need to keep that notion in the forefront of your mind.
There is an even bigger piece to your dilemma, and that is your ability (or lack thereof) to make peace with this girl’s past. It is not unusual, especially for men, to struggle with this topic. It is not surprising for a man who has not had prior negiah relationships with women to want to marry someone just like him. To be frank, though it may seem like a double standard, there are men who may have not been shomer negiah, but when it comes to choosing a wife, they prefer someone who has always observed the halachah.
I can see how this is tormenting you at this stage of your relationship. You didn’t anticipate finding compatibility with her, but as we know when it comes to shidduchim, Hashem is the ultimate shadchan and somehow brings together two people who never thought it could happen.
I am happy to read that you want to communicate your concerns to her. I can’t stress enough how healthy and mature that is. Moreover, when a man who is in a relationship where he feels conflicted about taking it to the next level does not run to a third party to make that decision for him, it speaks volumes. That you want to figure it out by discussing it with the person you are dating is indicative that you stand a high chance of achieving a successful marriage, iy’H.
I understand that you have previously been unsuccessful in bringing up delicate topics with others you have dated. But if you were as respectful as you say you want to be with this girl, then it might not have been your fault. There are people who refuse to discuss anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, and they will run from the relationship rather than face the issue and figure out a way to make it work.
Arrange to speak to her in a quiet location when you are both in a relaxed frame of mind. Tell her what’s on your mind, without being condemning. Praise her positive qualities and emphasize everything you find appealing about her. Highlight the point that you care about her and wish to intensify and strengthen the relationship, but you feel you need to be completely open about something that has been on your mind. And in the most polite manner, speak from your heart.
Allow your face to convey optimism so that she doesn’t get defensive. You want her to feel comfortable enough to be unguarded with you and more inclined to share whatever information you need. Her response might even surprise you in a good way. But the idea that she may have prior boyfriends on her mind, or that you will be thinking about them when she marries you, is as likely or unlikely to happen amongst those who are shomer negiah, too. Thinking about a previous romantic relationship while married would be indicative of a huge problem within the union itself. Working through any hesitations together in a respectful manner will help bring you closer emotionally, and take your relationship to a higher level of contentment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.