We are in a terrible bind. My daughter is dating a boy who is not for her, and we feel responsible. She is the oldest child in our family and our children are close in age. Maybe it’s an old-fashioned thing, but we want our children to marry in order.
My daughter did not have an easy time with shidduchim, and her siblings were pressuring us to let them date. So we applied more pressure on this daughter and she pretty much said yes to going out with the first boy in a long time who said yes to her.
A few years earlier, she never would have agreed to go out with him. He is way too modern and just not a nice person in general. He is not nice even to her, and he is dating her. When they are alone, he talks to her in a disgusting way. I sometimes overhear her try to calm him down when she talks to him on the phone. And then she cries for a long time.
They are discussing a future together, and my husband and I are so scared for her. But we also don’t want her to stay single and hold back the younger children from getting married. Besides, she defends him and says that she provoked him. I can’t imagine she would do that because she is such a sweet, gentle girl. We feel stuck. I know that you will probably tell me to tell her to break up with him and to let the younger ones get married, but that’s not how we do things. What else besides that can you advise?
It is as though you are asking me how to keep a critically ill patient alive without medical intervention. Intellectually, you know that’s impossible. The same concept applies here.
You probably do not realize that your letter comes across so self-regarding that it is almost hard to believe that it is written by a mother. But for the sake of the future happiness of your daughter and her younger siblings, I will respond for the benefit of everyone involved. You will likely not appreciate all my comments; however, I am writing for the purpose of helping you to understand where you have failed in your relationship with your daughter so that you put an end to the mindset you and your husband seem to share.
Your daughter, like every frum girl, was placed in a most challenging position. She put herself out there for the sake of finding a shidduch. Nowadays, that is one of the most stress-inducing experiences that girls are expected to look forward to. When it results in marriage after dating just a few guys, they consider themselves lucky. But in most cases, that does not happen. On the contrary, many accomplished girls sit home without any suggestions for a date for very long stretches of time. And it sounds like your daughter fell into that category.
You and your husband added fuel to the fire by making her feel that she is holding back her younger siblings from dating. You both placed this poor girl in a position of defense when not only did she do nothing wrong, but she held no control of her destiny where it relates to shidduchim. Knowing all that, you admit to putting pressure on her to say yes to a guy just because he is a guy — just so that you can move your assembly line along. Your children are not items in a factory to be moved into the next phase of production.
Now let’s talk about what you did to your other children. You don’t mention ages, so I don’t know if any of your children in this saga are even that old. But here is what I do know. To uphold some self-imposed, misplaced family honor, you prevented your younger children from dating until their older sister is married.
Perhaps it is not entirely your fault and you feel loyal to a time-honored tradition in your family. There was a time, especially back in the shtetl days, where some families would hold back entire households of single children while waiting for the eldest to get married. Tragically, there were cases where they all remained single for life. In later years, even here in the United States, there were those in previous generations who still held on to that same tradition. Thankfully, we are seeing less of that even in the most right-wing circles. But even if it is just one family, such as yours, it’s still one family too many.
What’s done is done. At this point, the focus needs to be on how to rectify the matter with your daughter and the boy she is dating, and to cease impeding your other adult children from living the life they each choose to live.
Your daughter felt imposed upon to accept the next boy who wanted to date her. The pressure must have felt insurmountable, so she ended up accepting a guy whom she previously would have declined had she been in a different state of mind and not felt pressured. You are now witnessing her being mistreated by him to such a degree that he brings her to tears. It is even scarier that she defends him. She is reacting like a typical victim of abuse. He is in a favorable position to manipulate her because she feels she has no choice but to marry him. If she doesn’t, she believes that she will be responsible for the fate of her younger siblings remaining single. This fellow has it made! He secured himself a victim to control.
You and your husband must immediately take the reins of this chain of events. In the first place, you need to reestablish your priorities in your household. Express to your daughter that you were wrong in pressuring her to date a boy only because he said yes to her. But make sure that she sees your sincerity in those words. Then tell her how you feel about the boy she is involved with, and how if this were an earlier period in her life she would have immediately declined him. Tell her that you appreciate her altruistic action in accepting him just to free up her younger siblings. Emphasize that she is under no obligation to continue with him, especially because you are aware of how badly he treats her. She will likely defend him. Do not accept that. You must tell her that his behavior is unacceptable and abusive, and that you will not stand for it.
It may seem odd to you, but even though she may not have initially wanted him, she may have developed feelings for him nonetheless. And this is where you and your husband will have to exert much energy in getting her to see the toxicity of her relationship with this person who wants to get serious with her. I also recommend that you reach out to your rav, as well as a therapist, to step in and speak to your daughter. You will need to do whatever it takes to get her to break up with him. There is no room here for any sort of goodwill where he is concerned. Verbal abuse and causing his potential wife to cry will worsen with time. There is no doubt about it. You must realize that this is his good side; you never want to find out what he is like on a bad day when he no longer needs to impress anyone.
Once this person is out of your daughter’s life, I advise you to call a family meeting, and explain to everyone how you and your husband had old-fashioned ideas about children marrying in the order of which they were born. Talk about how silly you were, and apologize — yes, apologize — to your kids for any inconveniences that may have caused them. Children gain extra respect for parents who admit that they were human and made a mistake.
From that point on, allow nature to take its course. Your eldest daughter will need to heal, after which she should be encouraged to date as she had previously, and your younger children should feel free to carry on as they wish. Removing the stress and pressure from your home will surely bring renewed spirit to everyone’s disposition. May you and your husband be blessed to escort each of your children to the chuppah in the order that is suitable to each child’s specific requirements.
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.