I recently got divorced for the second time. It was so embarrassing. The first divorce I wanted, and maybe I made a mistake about it, but the second one I had no choice. I also remarried too quickly after my first divorce, but I really thought that my second husband was a great guy before I married him, but that turned out to be a nightmare.
My kids got all messed up on account of the divorces and a few of them are not even frum anymore. The reason I’m writing to you is because I need advice. I’m very lonely, but my frum children don’t want me to date again. At first, I dated secretly, but as much as I tried hiding it from them, they would get suspicious, so I cooled it.
Then I dated a guy for a few months and I really loved him, but he picked up that I’m keeping him a secret and the pressure was too much, so I broke up with him. The truth is that maybe I should not date altogether. My kids need a lot of my attention, and I’m not the best at making my own decisions about life anyway. But I am very lonely. Do you have any advice?
It sounds like you are living with guilt from the life choices you made that you realized you probably should not have made. I’m sure you felt at the time that those choices were correct, but in hindsight, you may not have taken all factors into consideration, particularly regarding the consequences they would have on your children. I believe the guilt you are living with feels incredibly intense, and in trying to make things right for your children, and believing it is your obligation as their mother, you are now willing to sacrifice your own happiness.
Let’s start with the first divorce. I imagine that you either initiated it or went along with it because you were unhappy. From the way you are writing, it sounds like you have a houseful of children, bli ayin hara. That you chose to become a divorced mother could not have been an easy decision to make. It is possible, though, that you didn’t imagine things to turn out as badly as they did, but nevertheless, suffice it to say, you did not end your first marriage because you were happy with your husband. And now, having endured a bad second marriage, you now second-guess your decision about the first one.
You indicated that there wasn’t a big span of time between your first divorce and your second marriage. However, you do not say when some of your children stopped being frum. If it happened right after your first divorce, that is not uncommon. Divorce is traumatic for everyone, and even more so for children. Aside from the pain of the fractured family unit, in frum circles, children feel an acute social stigma. After a divorce, children commonly experience a sense of isolation and shame that now they are different from their peers whose parents are still together. Having lost their sense of security, these children understand there is nothing they can do about it.
One of the things children often do when they feel they have lost control over part of their life is to rebel. Rebellion gives someone the upper hand, because attention is now drawn to them, and their loved ones are now at the mercy of their behavior. Children sometimes rebel because it forces the parents to communicate, and in their minds, they think it will somehow mend the rupture of their home and family life. Other times, it is not unusual for people who are angry to turn away from Hashem and religion.
What we also frequently see is divorced people rushing into a second marriage soon after the first one ends. Sometimes it’s a result of loneliness; other times it’s the rebound effect, the need to prove one’s desirability, whether to society or to oneself. Such remarriages, sadly, have a high rate of failure.
You do not say what role your first husband has in the children’s lives. I am hoping he is there for them in every way they need, and that for your sake, you are both doing whatever it takes to help them heal emotionally and spiritually.
It sounds like your children doubt your ability to make enduring life decisions where your love life is concerned. Perhaps they did not like your second husband and voiced their feelings or warnings while you were dating him, yet you did not heed their words. After that marriage failed, they might have expressed in words or deeds that they told you so. In fact, you acknowledge that you are “not the best” at making decisions about your life.
Loneliness is a profound state of mind, and the stress of feeling alone and unwanted can potentially damage one’s physical health as well. Even for those who are busy with their children, a lack of connection with a significant other can be emotionally crippling. Depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and other problems are prevalent in lonely people. It is no wonder that although your children do not want you to make another mistake, your need to date other men overpowers consent from them. It is normal and natural for you to want interaction with another adult you find attractive. That is a level that neither your children nor anyone else can substitute.
I get that you have no plans to get married any time soon, and that you just want to date for social reasons. That is why you feel comfortable hiding it from your children. The problem is that even if you find a frum man willing to date just for the sake of hanging out together, he will not want to feel as though he is a shameful secret you are keeping. It’s not a good feeling for anyone to know they are being kept hidden from others, whether due to embarrassment or any other reason. My question to you about the relationship you just ended is whether you were open and honest with the man about your reasons for dating, or if you gave him the impression you were serious about marriage and later, when your true reasons were revealed, you just discarded him. If so, your actions do not speak well of you.
Whatever your intentions in life, the moment you get another person enmeshed in your issues, you must be totally upfront and transparent about your goals. Deliberately misleading a person is cruel, selfish, and halachically a form of geneivas daas, a form of deceit. This is something I see when divorced people date, in both genders. Deluding another person’s perception of reality or dealing dishonestly is “stealing a mind,” and thus, stealing precious time from their life that can never be replaced. There is no way to ever rectify such an offense.
Here is what I recommend to you if you ever plan to remarry or date for the purpose of remarriage. Typically, I always advise divorced parents to not introduce the person they are dating to their children. There are several reasons for this that have to do with individual family dynamics. But the main reason is the fact that most dating relationships, especially among divorced people, will end at some point due to various irreconcilable factors. When that happens, the children who are cognizant of the relationship suffer the brunt of the breakup. Moreover, as you saw what happened with the rupture of your second marriage, your children feel they cannot trust your judgement anymore. That said, divorced parents, whether their children are young or adults, living at home or not, have no reason to introduce their significant other to the children until both have decided that the relationship is taking a serious turn. There is no reason for the children to be involved in the dating life of their parents. It’s unnatural, and in my opinion, emotionally unhealthy. Not only that, but if one or more children are against the relationship, they will do whatever it takes to mess things up. When the relationship has taken a strong position, it will have a better chance of weathering negative influences.
Where do you go from here? You need to determine if you are fully healed from both your marriages and divorces. I hope you are in therapy to assist you in progressing to a healthy state of mind. When you get to that point, you have to ask yourself what you want to do with the rest of your life. Marriage should never be regarded as a cure for emotional ails. If you are looking to fill your time to prevent feelings of loneliness, there are many other options available.
When you come to terms with wanting to remarry again, make sure the next time around that you have the proper guidance to help you recognize red flags that you might have missed in the past. Do not under any circumstances cause another person to feel as though they are being kept a secret. Rather, explain to them that you prefer to keep your dating life private from your children until such time that you both feel comfortable in expanding the parameters of the relationship, at which point it will become important to determine if blending families can work for all parties concerned.
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. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, and WVIP 93.5 FM HD2 and talklinenetwork.com. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com.