Two years ago, our daughter Rachel broke off her engagement shortly before her wedding. My husband and I never really had a totally clear understanding as to why she did that. The young man she was engaged to seemed like a nice guy, and we thought they seemed happy together. According to Rachel, she felt he was aggressive in his interest toward her from the beginning, kind of forced her into getting engaged before she felt ready to do so, and his feelings toward her were so over the top that she felt smothered.
At that time, I was proud of how my husband and I handled the whole saga. Generally, we are the type of people who probably care too much about what people say and the questions they ask. Nevertheless, we stood behind our daughter, supported her in her feelings, and went along with the broken engagement and the enormous hassle it involved.
Right before the coronavirus took hold, Rachel got engaged again to another young man who seemed to be lovely and perfect for her. As time went on, Rachel still refused to set a date for the wedding, but we felt it was because she wanted to see how the situation would play out, hoping that she could have a regular wedding. Over the past few weeks, Rachel started dropping hints that her chassan was starting to get on her nerves. We figured that Rachel, like everyone else, was on edge because nothing was feeling normal, the two of them weren’t able to see each other for a while, and it was hard to stay excited about things.
A few days ago, Rachel told us that she wants to break the engagement. We were stunned to hear her say this, and also frightened. As we tried to get her to explain why she would once again take such a drastic step, all she could say was that she was feeling too much pressure from her chassan, Shalom, and was so anxious about it that she felt the best thing to do was to end things.
Unlike the first time she came to us with this scenario, we weren’t so fast to be supportive. My husband and I both feel that maybe the problem is with Rachel and not with her chassan (or the previous one), and that if we give her our support in breaking it off, she will never be able to stick it out through any engagement and never get married. We felt this way because both times, Rachel wasn’t able to point to any specific reason why her chassan was no longer marriage material. She agreed both times that they were good guys and would probably make excellent husbands, but just not for her.
We know that Rachel is waiting for us to give her the go-ahead, but we are hesitating. We don’t want to be complicit in her acting in ways that could ultimately ruin her life. We are concerned about her reputation and about people shying away from ever setting her up again because her track record will look really bad. While we are worried about what people will say, most of all, we are worried that maybe there is something wrong with Rachel.
We are not sure what to do at this point. Do we tell Rachel that we refuse to be part of her broken engagement and that if she insists, she’s on her own? If we can, do we just force her into marrying Shalom, hoping that once she’s married she’ll relax and make the marriage work? We are sorry that we allowed her to break her first engagement and don’t want to make the same mistake again. What is the right way for us to proceed?
Dear Concerned Parents,
Neither plan of action that you are presenting sounds appropriate, as it doesn’t address the bigger picture. It sounds to me like Rachel is harboring some serious issues surrounding commitment and marriage and has not only been unable or unwilling to communicate what they are to you or your husband, but, very likely, Rachel has not even been able to successfully tap into her own emotions in order to fully understand what is causing her to want to bolt as her wedding date draws closer.
The fact that each of Rachel’s chassanim was or is, according to you, a perfectly fine match for her, tells me that either you haven’t looked closely enough at them, which I doubt is the case, or that you don’t know your daughter as well as you thought you did.
From the little I’m hearing, I’m guessing that Rachel has commitment issues sparked by some overall anxiety. If you take some time to think about Rachel’s behavior in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve noticed a pattern throughout her life when it came to making small and large decisions. And let’s face it — choosing a spouse is one of the biggest decisions anyone will have to make during the course of one’s lifetime.
Therefore, my suggestion for you is to insist that Rachel get some professional help as soon as possible from a therapist or possibly even a dating coach. Either one can help her identify exactly what is causing her to panic in the eleventh hour. Maybe she has chosen the wrong men for herself in the first place. If that’s the case, then perhaps a second broken engagement wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If, however, her insecurity right now toward marrying Shalom has little to do with Shalom per se and everything to do with Rachel’s own fears, then there is hope that Rachel can work through her issues and not do anything drastic that she may regret someday.
Where Shalom stands in all of this is anyone’s guess. If he is an understanding and patient man, he will hopefully stand by as Rachel gains insight and achieves resolution surrounding her feelings. Let’s hope so. As far as the position you and your husband should assume right now, it should be one of compassion and encouragement for Rachel’s journey toward self-awareness.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering Zoom, FaceTime, and phone sessions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.