By Baila Sebrow

Question

I got tired of dating quack frum guys, so I decided to start going to clubs, and I met a guy who is not frum. My parents knew about it. They weren’t happy, but when I turned 30, they figured this was their only chance for ever having a grandchild from me.

I’m dating this guy, and he was really cool about my being frum and all. And then the craziest thing happened. He decided he wants to become frum, too. My parents were thrilled, but then things started to change for me. When I started dating him, I decided that I wasn’t going to cover my hair like I used to want to do. Now that he started learning about Yiddishkeit, he is telling me that a married Jewish woman must cover her hair.

And that’s not all. He follows this super-strict rabbi, and he is telling me which hechsher he will allow in our home. Also — and this really gets to me — he doesn’t want a TV in our home, because he feels that children should not be watching TV and that it’s a bad influence on them.

It gets better. When we first started dating and things were going great between us, we both decided that we would date for four seasons to complete one year. Now he tells me that his rabbi said we must get engaged right away. Where’s the romantic proposal that he knows I want?

My parents are so excited, but I am thinking to break up with him! He has become a different person. I still love him, but I’m worried that he is becoming a lunatic fanatic. I don’t know what to expect if I marry him. How far can he go? I know that there is no limit to how frum a person can be. He is a changed man. Help!

Response

In the midst of what seems like a huge dilemma in your life, you don’t realize how much you inspired this young man. And I believe that inspiration came from his wish to make you happy. When the two of you started dating, he knew that you were frum, and yet he continued to date you. That is not so common.

In most cases, when a non-frum man dates a frum woman, the prohibitions that come with many issues pertaining to living a frum life, including Shabbos and kashrus, can create friction in the relationship. As a result, one of two things typically happens: either the couple eventually breaks up, or the frum partner in the relationship tragically gives up on Yiddishkeit. The turning point in your relationship is unusual and yet inspirational at the same time. Not only did you remain together, but he made sure to learn the halachos to become frum. I believe he did that because he wanted fit in to your family life. The problem is that he went much further to the right than you are comfortable with.

Let’s talk about your impending engagement. You both discussed dating for one year — four seasons. Whether or not that is a good idea is not the point; this was what you both wanted, but now he wants to speed things along at the urging of his rabbi. I get where this rabbi is coming from, and why he is pressing the issue. And I believe that as an intelligent young lady, you realize that it is likely coming from a halachic perspective.

I gather that you have been frum your entire life and followed a specific lifestyle. From a place of disappointment with the way things were going in your dating life, you assumed that you would stand a better chance with an irreligious guy. But in a twist of fate, things evolved the way they did, and he chose a rabbi he felt comfortable with. The problem for you is that this rabbi is strict on issues that you would rather be meikil on. It is not unusual among ba’alei teshuvah to become close to a rabbi such as the one whose direction he is following.

My concern is his insistence that you get engaged before you feel emotionally ready. I would like to believe that it is just based on halachic considerations. I don’t mean to throw a monkey wrench in here, but I want to make sure that you have all the cards neatly laid out for you on the table. There are cases where the person who becomes close with his rabbi ends up confiding in him about matters that he has not shared with anyone else. Zealously wanting nothing but happiness for the person, there are times that the rabbi might feel that it would be in the best interest of the couple that an engagement be wrapped up quickly. This is where you need to do your due diligence and find out as much as you can. I recommend that you contact this rabbi and ask to meet with him, preferably along with your parents.

If you are satisfied with what the rabbi says about the guy, you will need to figure out if you are still compatible with him. There are stories about marriages where spouses grow apart. Unfortunately, it sometimes reaches a point where they become so different from one another that the marriage turns out to be irreconcilable, and they sadly divorce.

In your case, all the changes that happened have occurred during the dating stage of your relationship. The question is if you can live with that. Can you live with the person he has now become?

Even though he wasn’t frum when you met, the fact that he went along with your level of religiosity somehow made you a compatible match with him. There could also be something else going on, where you dislike frum guys altogether. I notice that you referred to frum guys as “quacks,” and that’s why you determined that it would be best to go to a club where you could meet somebody who is not frum.

You say that you don’t want to cover your hair, yet he now expects you to do that. He will also only accept certain hechsherim in the home and will reject those he does not feel are kosher enough for him. Going further, he informed you that he will refuse a TV in your home as a married couple. The reason he gives has to do with the education of your children, G-d willing. Do you realize that such a mindset does not just end with the TV in the home, but also involves the type of schools and camps he will agree to send your children to? Not only that, but he will insist that you live in a specific type of neighborhood (that you may not agree to) so that your children will associate with the kind of friends that will meet with his standards. He not only became frum, but he outgrew your level of frumkeit.

It is not uncommon for those who shift to the Orthodox way of living to become much stricter in matters of halachah. So while those who have been frum from birth may be satisfied when they see that there is a reliable hechsher, conversely, those who are ba’alei teshuvah will in many cases not be complacent. For example, this guy might be seen speaking to the mashgiach in a food establishment, even though he sees a certificate from an authentic rabbi, and will go several steps further to check out the mashgiach by making calls, to the point where you might feel he is going overboard. And that may happen with all the food products you will bring into your home, too.

In addition to your debate about hair-covering, there is the possibility that he may decide that your mode of dress is also not a Jewish way of life, and you might eventually be asked to alter that, too. If that is not what you want, then you should expect much arguing and the downfall of shalom bayis, chas v’shalom.

The reason you have not broken up with him despite all your complaints is because you say that you love him. In essence, that also means you are afraid of losing him. As different as you both are in terms of hashkafah, there must be other qualities about him that are endearing to you. You are without doubt in an emotional bind.

I wonder how your level of communication with him stands right now. I am sure that he discusses a lot of things with his rabbi. Do you feel comfortable enough to talk to him and tell him all that you wrote in your letter to me? If not, then that tells me that, as sad as it is, you are no longer compatible with him. He is not the man you fell in love with. If, on the other hand, you are able to sit down with him and open your heart by explaining your fears and concerns, then your relationship has a chance for survival.

When you speak to him, don’t just throw in the issues that bother you. Rather, praise him for his accomplishments in learning how to live a frum life and for being so open-minded with you when he was not frum yet. Tell him that although you appreciate what he has done, he has gone further than you can accommodate. It is possible that after you spill your emotions to him, he may accept your lifestyle just as he accepted you earlier on — but in reverse.

During your conversation with him, please remain strong and do not allow him to convince you to get engaged until you are satisfied that he is the type of person you can live with since his religious transformation.

At the end of the day, it is possible that if both of you are willing to work at this relationship with sensitivity, you might be able to respect each other’s customs and expectations of halachah and find a middle ground.

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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