By Baila Sebrow

Question:

I got married straight out of high school to a man who abused me for years. Every time I ran away from him, everyone convinced me to go back and have another baby with him. He told everyone that I’m crazy, so no one believed me. My mother tried to convince me that I was really suffering from postpartum depression and that my husband was a good man who made a good living and took care of his family. There were times that I even believed her. This went on for many years.

With the help of a few nice people I left him for good, and he was so embarrassed that he told everyone that he got rid of his crazy wife and gave me a get right away. He remarried a few months later, and then he got divorced. He tried to get me back, and I caved in and got engaged to him. The same people who helped me leave him got involved, and with therapy I was able to break up with him and be free of him.

This was a long time ago, and I am ready to start dating again. The problem is that men my age in whom I would be interested don’t want to date me. They want a young woman who will have children. I might still be able to, but I don’t want more children. Then when I go out with men who I think are my age—because that’s what they tell everyone—it turns out that they lied. They are really 15–20 years older than me.

Everyone is telling me to lie about my real age because all men lie to get a younger woman, and whatever age I say I am, people will think that I’m older. I don’t know what to do. I’m still having a hard time with dates not only because of my age, but because everyone thinks that I was the bad one in the marriage and my ex-husband was a tzaddik. Should I just give up altogether?

Response:

Your story is heartbreaking, and I cannot imagine how you have the emotional strength to reach out for help by writing this letter and also placing yourself in the position to reestablish your life to become a married woman again. You deserve much applause. Not too many can gracefully walk in your shoes.

We live in a society where the innocent can be made to appear guilty, regardless of how blameless and honest they truly may be. And where it relates to shidduchim, your letter hits very close to home for so many. You are battling several demons — your past volatile marriage, your final escape from his emotional clutches, clearing your reputation from a vengeful human being, and your desire to find a compatible man in your age bracket while still maintaining your own honesty about your age.

Lying about age has become so widespread that it is considered normal already, and it does happen amongst both genders. You are correct that there are men who make themselves out to be decades younger to get a younger woman to date them. G-d help them when the truth comes out — and it always does, whether before or after the wedding!

Rarely does a week goes by that a middle-aged man who seeks a shidduch doesn’t lie to me about his age. There were even a few instances where a man had the audacity to request that I lie for him, just so that he could date a much younger woman. It has gotten to the point that when I state someone’s age when I redd a shidduch, I always tell the single woman on the other end of the line that whatever age I am quoting her is what was told to me, and to conduct her own research regarding the person.

There are, of course, those who are honest about their age, yet still feel entitled to a much younger woman simply because that’s what they want. Many use the wish-to-have-a-baby excuse, whether they are childless or not. There are even men who have children from a previous marriage or marriages, who still use the same line. Usually, it’s just because they want to marry a much younger woman. With regard to you, such men can want whatever they want. Don’t even give them any thought. It doesn’t sound like they are your bashert, anyway.

I can appreciate the reason you are being advised to lie and say that you are younger, since people will assume that whatever age you state means that you are essentially older. I will not advise you to lie. Lies backfire sooner or later. Keep to the truth, and an honest person will believe you while also being honest with you.

Since we are on the topic of lies, I will address the issue of how your ex-husband managed to walk away spic-and-span clean even though he was an abusive husband, while you are stuck cleaning up a messy reputation. That is unfortunately not uncommon, especially in the case where you say he makes a good living, and he most likely conveys a calm, charming demeanor.

I can understand that the fact that you went back to him to get engaged after running away from him and getting divorced does not help your cause too much in claiming he was the offending partner in the marriage. Here, too, you will have to be honest and tell people your side of the story, leaving out no details, including how you were being blamed in your marriage and that your cries of his abuse fell on deaf ears. You will need to explain that you went back to him after your divorce either because you were emotionally weak or you needed his financial support. You cannot convince everyone, but you will hopefully have enough allies on your team who will not only advocate for you but will also contradict the rumors perpetrated by your ex-husband.

I think it’s great that you are seeing a therapist. Is this professional helping you deal with moving forward in life, or first helping you overcome the trauma of your past? It is important that you don’t make the same mistake again and end up in a similar pitfall. After all you suffered — having to run away while he distorted the truth and told people he’s getting rid of you, and then getting engaged to him after his divorce from his other wife — my concern is that you don’t fall for the same type of personality.

People who have been in abusive relationships tend to repeat the scenario over and over, but with different characters in each plot. From what I’m reading, you also allowed other people to misguide you and make you believe that it’s all your fault. According to what you say, your own mother did that to you! Your biggest concern right now should be that whoever you end up with in a future relationship needs to be the complete opposite of all the people who share some responsibility in the misery you endured.

No one sets out to marry an abusive partner, and those who have been in such relationships assume that it will never happen again. There are usually some telltale signs while in the dating stage: controlling behavior, anger, insults, mood swings, etc. However, not every abusive person will demonstrate all, or even any, of those signs. There are people who swear that their abusive spouse was sweet and kind while dating them, and after the wedding had a major turnaround and became mean, angry, and abusive. Also, apply some common sense and do your due diligence in finding out if the person has a history of abuse.

You need to be perceptive and on the lookout for anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Never make excuses for someone you are on a date with if his behavior is less than appealing to you. And do not make the mistake of assuming that by marrying him, you will somehow fix whatever is not right. That would be no different than when you were encouraged to go back to your abusive husband and have another baby in order to fix the things that were not functional in your marriage. Most importantly, if, G-d forbid, it ever happens to you again while in a marriage, get out as soon as you see any signs of abuse. Remember that abusers abuse. That’s the way they do things.

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 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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