We are caught in the middle of a divorced family’s drama that we didn’t sign up for. My son is getting engaged to a girl from a broken, dysfunctional family. I’m not going to lie — my husband and I were against the shidduch from the very beginning. My son is 21, and the girl is 19. They met in college, and she is his first love. He never had anything to do with girls before. She had a relationship before him, and she maneuvered her way into his life.
We were very nice about it, as best as we could, and when he told us that he wants to get engaged, we insisted on meeting the parents first. Her parents have each remarried but they still hate each other. If that’s not bad enough, they told us that they want separate l’chaims. Is that even normal? There is no way we are going along with such crazy people.
My son told me there was a big fight about who was going to walk the future kallah down the aisle. She wanted her biological parents, and at first they said no, but then they agreed.
I know that she doesn’t get along with her stepfather, and she left her mother’s house when she was still in high school. I don’t know exactly where she lived, and I don’t know if my son even has all the details. The girl once told me on Shabbos (she is always at our house) that she takes Xanax when she gets very anxious and nervous. Considering the life she has, it’s no surprise!
If she would at least come from a balabatish type of divorced family, I could see being more supportive of the shidduch. We are a quiet, easygoing family. We don’t know from shtick, and we don’t want our son to get mixed up with such people. The rest of our family doesn’t understand why my son has to settle for such a life. He will never have a moment’s peace, that’s for sure. Who knows what else they will come up with? However, we don’t want to farshter the shidduch if she is his zivug. Should we just be mevater and go along with everything?
My son is a fan of yours and reads your articles; I told him that I would write to you so that he could get your opinion about all this.
Your family is in a difficult spot. There are lots of moving parts to this situation that are only adding to your concerns. So, let’s take what we know about this young lady, her relationship with your son, and, most importantly, who she really is and where she is coming from, and put it all into perspective.
It is no secret that the young lady did not have a secure upbringing. You said that she left her mother’s home as a teen, and nobody knows where she lived. She is all of 19 years old; therefore, she was quite young when she could not live at home because she “doesn’t get along with her stepfather.” What does “not getting along” with her stepfather mean? How bad was the situation at home that she was unable to live with her mother and stepfather? Why didn’t her mother intercede and try to resolve whatever issues were going on? Is it possible that what was happening in the home was of such a nature that there was nothing to fix, and in an effort to save her marriage she allowed her child to go live G-d knows where so that she can have a happy marriage with this character of a husband? What sort of a man would cause so much anguish to the child of the woman he married? More importantly, what kind of mother would go along with his program?
What’s the story with her biological father? Where was he in this scenario when the drama of her childhood was unfolding? It sounds like he was emotionally (if not physically) absent. So, now that his biological daughter is close to getting married, he wakes up and starts placing demands about walking her down the aisle and two l’chaims?
I am not surprised to hear that she stays in your home a lot. This must be the first time in her life that she feels safe and secure. She now has a place she can call home, and a family she can call her own. It is very nice to be mekarev somebody who comes from tzaros, but there is no chiyuv to take them into the family unit in marriage.
I am glad to hear that your son is aware that you wrote to me for advice, because that means when you show him my response it will not feel as though you did something behind his back. He sounds like a compassionate young man who was receptive to the overtures of a young lady who set her sights on him. The fact that she had a previous long relationship and that your son was totally inexperienced in the romance department was the perfect setup for somebody who is looking to improve her life circumstances.
I have no doubt that your son is head over heels in love with her. Being new to dating, in addition to having met her on his own, inevitably fated him to be flattered by her appeal. It is in such surroundings where this type of shidduch can typically come to fruition. I imagine that by the time you and your family met her, your son’s relationship with her was already a done deal for both of them.
It is clear from the way you are writing that you and your family are good people who want to do the right thing; yet, you also acknowledge that you want to be sure that nobody, especially your family, gets hurt in the process. That said, there are steps you have to take that will hopefully benefit everyone in the end.
For starters, I recommend that your son hold off on the engagement. He needs to get more clarity on the young lady’s situation before he gets married. She will probably object and threaten to break up with him. If so, he needs to understand that it’s just a tactic, and he should not give in. He can assure her that the relationship will continue but that they need to know more about each other, and that love and fun plans for their future together are not enough.
If she agrees, and they continue dating, you and your husband need to find out whatever they can about her and her upbringing. What kind of home was she raised in? What was the relationship in the home where it relates to her and any other children in the family? Does she have siblings, grandparents, other extended family members, and, if so, how involved are they in her life? Where did she live after she left her mother’s home, and where does she live now? Where did she go to school prior to college where she met your son? Did her home life, parents’ divorce, and new living arrangement with her mother and stepfather impact her ability to study in any way? Moreover, was her mental status affected?
You say that she confided that she takes Xanax when she gets nervous. From what I understand, Xanax is typically prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. You need to find out what precipitates her anxiety. Does she experience panic attacks, and if so, how does it manifest? Find out if she has any phobias; can your son deal with that and any other issues she is trying to cope with? Is she under the care of a psychiatrist or a therapist? Based on what she has endured, if she does not have a therapist, then she must do her due diligence in finding one immediately.
I get that your family is unassuming and balabatish, and you would have been content for your son to find a girl with a similar upbringing and family background. There is nothing wrong with such a wish. People feel comfortable with familiarity, particularly when they are meshadech with another family. In most circumstances, I agree that people should try and stick to those who are like themselves. But in a case where the boy and girl have met on their own, they usually do not care about such matters and instead focus on each other.
If everything checks out, and she is emotionally stable enough to get married, then I would not discourage an engagement in the future. However, your son needs to know exactly what he is going to be confronted with down the line, and he will need to make peace with it.
With respect to having two l’chaims to accommodate the biological parents who can’t stand to be in each other’s presence, you don’t have to be mevater. You are under no obligation to go along with that. If they insist on two parties, then it’s on them to deal with it on their own, as long as your son doesn’t mind. Nobody has any right to place demands on you that make you uncomfortable.
Can people who come from very different backgrounds have a successful marriage? It depends on whether they each understand one another and desire to help each other when different situations arise. Maturity and tolerance will play a big role in the success of their marital relationship. Even though their upbringings are different, if they are compatible with each other about the important things in life, they can rise above those differences. My final thought on the matter is that your son needs to have his eyes wide open before he commits to putting that ring on her finger.
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 email@example.com.