I’m a middle-aged man, and after two divorces I don’t want to get married again, but I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life either. When I’m honest and tell shadchanim the truth, they rip into me.
My first marriage ended because my ex did terrible things, and I had no choice but to file for divorce. I couldn’t take the lies and cheating anymore. The second was more civil and ended because of personal differences. I have children from both marriages, and I still keep in touch with my exes for obvious reasons. I’m looking for a partner right now, a serious relationship, but I’m not looking for marriage at the moment.
Now that you know my story, why would this be a problem for a shadchan?
Unlike a shadchan who might have ripped into you, I tip my hat to you for your honesty. At the same time, I cannot blame any shadchan who takes offense to your request either. A shadchan commits to matching people for marriage. Most shadchanim do not charge a fee upfront for their services, but they do devote a great amount of time to your search and some money to out-of-pocket expenses. As any active shadchan will tell you, most of the shidduchim a shadchan suggests may not necessarily lead to marriage. So all the energy and effort and time that was exerted oftentimes do not get remuneration. But that’s how it goes, and the shadchan chalks it up to chesed and the hope that his or her work will at least bring the singles closer to their bashert.
You are coming to the shadchan with your history of bad marriages, and for that reason you are not looking for marriage. Rather, you want a girlfriend! You are entitled to want what you want, but expecting someone to work on your behalf for something they find distasteful is unreasonable.
The reason I began my response with tipping my hat to you is because I have lost count of how many middle-aged men have wasted my time telling me how serious they are about marriage and trying to convince me what a good catch they are for a lucky woman. I will admit that I have been fooled numerous times and have introduced such men to refined, upstanding, serious, marriage-minded women only to have it backfire. Such men never had any intention of marrying these women. Instead they dated them and came up with what sounded like a good reason to break off each of the relationships. However, when it happens too many times with the same person, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that they are conning shadchanim. I no longer wait to find out someone’s true intentions and sincerity. I always ask single middle-aged men or women if they are seeking marriage or just a relationship because they are lonely. I find out soon enough if they are sincere or not. The marriage-minded singles still pursue me as their shadchan, and those who are just looking for fun are afraid to contact me again!
If you are in the market for a girlfriend, why bother retaining the services of a shadchan? There are lots of ways to meet women who are on your emotional wavelength. Although I don’t recommend that singles seek romance on social media, in your case, that’s exactly where you should be looking, as long as you are upfront and honest about your intentions.
Most advisers would end their response to you right now. However, I sense that you might want more help than you are requesting. Men complaining about such a dilemma will not take the time to write a letter to a columnist, especially one who is a frum shadchan, unless there is something else going on. Is it possible that even though you may have wanted that no-strings-attached type of relationship with women, as time goes on you are finding emptiness in your life? Is it also possible that while you spent so much time trying to convince everyone that you don’t need a life partner, you are wondering how true that really is?
When people go through bad experiences one after the other, they not only become shell-shocked; they anticipate danger before it even happens. Picture a young child going into the pediatrician’s office while the parent is holding him. Why does the child cry even before the examination? Because the child associates the doctor’s office with the discomfort of an exam and perhaps the prickly pain of a shot.
Fear of any dangerous situation causes one to run and hide. It can also generate that freeze reaction. If you have ever watched an animal freeze in its spot you will understand what I mean. When an animal is frightened because it senses danger of being attacked, it actually stands rooted in its place. Soldiers in combat know that remaining still, in camouflage, could save their life.
After bad things happen to people, they can be easily triggered. For example, for someone who has dealt with ongoing illness, the sound of an ambulance siren, or even the sight of an ambulance, is enough to cause emotional pain and anxiety.
From what you are telling me, you have not had an easy time in your marriages. You have been in the position of having to file for divorce and breaking up your family — twice. It sounds like those decisions were not done impulsively. Nobody stands under the chuppah with the intention of getting divorced a short while after. However, things sometimes happen.
It is evident that you are not a loner type of personality, and you crave human interaction. That is the sign of a normal and healthy individual. You are also a man with a conscience. Meaning, just because you went through painful episodes in your life where you have been hurt by women, you go out of your way to make sure that an innocent person does not suffer pain because of your past hurts. That said, if you really do want to spend your life with a woman and experience love, devotion, and commitment, know that it is possible.
When you say that you are looking for a serious relationship having nothing to do with marriage, it comes across like you have not been successful in finding it. You also say that you are not looking for marriage at the moment. Just so you know, the type of relationship that doesn’t lead to marriage can still produce pain when it ends. If you invest time and emotion in somebody, the ache that you can feel when it ends may be no less than when you got divorced. The only difference is that with a non-marriage relationship there is no paperwork involved. But the grief that comes with its dissolution can still feel the same.
In the Orthodox world especially, even women who say they are not looking to remarry can change their minds when they get into a relationship with a man. When they say that they don’t want marriage, in most cases it’s their way of protecting themselves and their pride, just in case it never happens for them. They prefer that society view their life as a personal choice rather than an unwelcome circumstance. If you date a woman who says she is looking for a relationship without marriage, it is possible that she will change her mind and will want you to marry her. So let’s address what’s holding you back and how to overcome those fears so that you can live your life in a manner that will bring you fulfillment.
The first thing you need to accept is that although life can create disappointments, they are not meant to hold you back. On the contrary, disappointments can be used as an opportunity for growth. Whether it is one bad marriage or two, as you have endured, you can succeed in marriage again. Unfortunately, you have had bad experiences, and so you are not naïve to fall for the red flags that others may inadvertently miss. While liars and cheaters can often conceal their intentions and behaviors, you will at least have more astuteness in recognizing the early signs.
Another reason many singles are afraid of remarriage is the loss of finances or cost of getting divorced. That is certainly a cause for concern, as financial loss is a common occurrence during the divorce process. There are ways to protect yourself in advance by clarifying all your personal assets so that they never become a marital asset. Not that anyone in a marriage should think of divorce, but it is important for every person, married or not, to keep accurate records of financial statements. I will not go into any more details, as each state has its own laws. If you one day find yourself in a dating relationship, reach out to an attorney who will advise you how to proceed so that you can enjoy advancing the relationship without any financial worries lurking in the back of your head.
It’s OK to continue a relationship until you feel comfortable enough to marry a person who taps into your psyche. Leave yourself open to the possibility that you can one day share your life with that special someone who understands you and will never misread your intentions. However, you might be best off going that route without the facilitation of a shadchan.
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.