By Baila Sebrow

Question

I’m involved with this mixed-up gal who acts like her parents are more important to her than I am.

I’m over 40, and I have never been married. When I started getting older, rebbeim were advising me to stay away from older girls and instead date young divorced women who have kids, who wouldn’t mind dating someone older. They say that the older ones can’t have children anymore, and they are stubborn. So I tried dating younger divorced women, but I couldn’t hack being a father to kids who are not mine. Then I met someone my age, and we really hit it off.

Things started getting serious, and then I saw her true colors. She puts her parents ahead of me. She will stand me up when we are supposed to have dates, so that she can drive her parents to places they need to go, or just hang out with them when they are bored. Don’t think she is an only child. She has brothers and sisters, but she says that her parents only want her to do things for them. She lives at home and is at their beck and call day and night. And when she is with them, she never takes my phone calls.

She doesn’t understand why I get so mad when she cancels on me, and she claims that I would be a bad son-in-law to her parents. It happens to be that I am a very good person, and I would do anything for her parents. She doesn’t agree with me. She says that a good son-in-law and daughter have to drop everything for the parents, because they come first.

We have been together for six months, and I have to make a decision soon. I don’t want to drag this along if we will end up breaking up in the end. What do you think of all this? Do such things get better with time? I know that her parents won’t live forever. Should I just go back and try again with the younger women who have children, but are not so set in their ways to see if maybe I could work something out? I am ready to get married.

Response:

When you ask if “such things get better with time,” what are you referring to? This woman’s disrespect of your time and feelings when you make plans together that she cancels without even informing you, or her seeming over-involvement with her parents?

Because I am more concerned about the lack of respect you are being subjected to, I will first address her behavior and attitude towards you. The one thing you should be grateful for is that she is not hiding the fact that her parents will always come before you. In all likelihood, that is never going to change, not even with time. If you marry her, the problem might get worse.

What typically happens in such relationships is that once you are married, she may expect YOU to drop everything to drive her parents around or take care of anything else they might need. I am not telling you that a daughter and son-in-law should not make themselves accessible to assist their elderly parents or in-laws. I am saying that whatever a couple does regarding such a mitzvah should not be at the expense of their shalom bayis.

There is another component to your dilemma, and that is how she treats and values you as a person. Unless you have omitted other aspects of your relationship, what I am gathering from your letter is that she does not view you as a priority in her life. You actually made reference to that twice when you said she acts as though her parents are more important than you, and she puts her parents ahead of you. Those are serious claims when a couple has been dating for six months.

For a marriage to succeed, each partner must make the other the primary focus of their life. Nothing should ever become more significant than or take precedence to the person they committed to share their life with. The vow to fulfill reasonable requirements to make the union work is one of the fundamental facets of a successful partnership. Is the woman you are dating on board with such a way of thinking?

That brings me to your later statements where you say that her parents won’t live forever. It is true that no one lives forever. But you may not realize that it’s not about how long her parents will live. They should live till 120 years in good health, iy’H. But even after that time, do you really believe that she will suddenly put you ahead and make you a priority in her life? This woman might be demonstrating a belief that the man in her life is secondary. Today it’s about her parents, but in the future, who knows?

Generally speaking, people will continue living in the manner they have become accustomed to. If she has the attitude that your time and feelings can be put on the back burner, then even if it’s not her parents needing her, it will be something or someone else. You will find that it will always be one thing or another that will come before you, and that will likely never change.

You might be wondering why she is even dating to get married, or how she became that way, and if there is a way to alter her behavior. It is also possible that her parents have instilled in her that her first responsibility is to them and no one else. There are parents who raise their children in a manner that distorts what halachah mandates regarding child-to-parent responsibility.

Since I don’t know the details as to why she became an older single, I can’t comment on that. However, there are cases where the child who remains with the parents the longest ends up with the brunt of the obligations. You mention that there are other siblings, yet it is only this child they want to assist them. That is probably a result of always being there for them, and that is what they have gotten used to. It could be that her parents might be fearful that someone else will not know what to do or understand whatever circumstance is going on at the time. Combine that with whatever has been implanted in this woman’s emotions by her parents, and you have the circumstances in which you currently find yourself. Can she even physically separate herself by leaving her parents’ home to get married?

Depending on how much you care about her, and if you feel she is a good match for you despite any other issues, with therapeutic intervention there is a possibility that your relationship can be salvaged. But that would first depend on her recognizing that she is not functioning in a healthy way. Additionally, if she has not seen normal couples interact, she will have to learn how to be a spouse while still maintaining healthy boundaries with other people — namely, her family members. But from the way you are describing your relationship with her and her response to your complaints, she sees nothing wrong with what she is doing to you. With such an attitude, I doubt if you will see modifications anytime soon. But I do advise you to do whatever you can to help her and yourself. For if it does not end up working out, you will at least have the peace of mind that you did everything you possibly could.

As a shadchan, I need to address the advice you received to date younger women who have children. With the greatest respect to those offering you such counsel, do they not realize that it takes two to tango? Just because a woman may have had bad luck in a previous marriage that produced children does not mean that she is ready to marry someone who is much older.

Time and again, I receive requests from older never-married men who tell me that they were advised by rebbeim to specifically seek a younger divorced woman with children rather than an older never-married woman. The thought process that someone older is set in their ways works both ways — for men also! Additionally, who is to say that a young woman cannot be set in her ways, too? Stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise are a part of one’s nature. There are even young children you can’t reason with. And regarding the issue of having children, that is an area best left to the One running this world. My advice is for you to place emphasis on finding compatibility with a woman who will treat you as you will treat her.

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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