Trust Your Instincts – Abusive Relationships
by Mrs. Chana Silver
What I am about to share with you is probably the most bizarre experience that I have ever encountered.
Close to two years ago, I started going out with a boy who learns in Lakewood. Before going out, I had a very good impression of him. My mother knows his brother and likes him. From the way my cousin and others described him, he sounded like a sincerely frum, growing, nonmaterialistic guy with really good middos. I also knew that he’s very bright and tops in his learning, and nice looking too ( which never hurts!)
The truth is, it sounded a little too good to be true, and I admit I was a little dazzled by what I heard. I was also amazed to find the first few dates fun and interesting. He also seemed very honest, sincere and bright, and had a great sense of humor. (I do remember feeling that he seemed a little rough around the edges, but wasn’t overly concerned about that.) After the fourth date I was feeling very positive. But somehow things started changing by the fifth and sixth. I started getting mixed messages (at certain points he seemed interested, other times he spoke in ways that gave the impression he wasn’t interested) and at the sixth date he said a few things that astounded me. The only one I can remember was that we were sitting in some mall and he had just said something that disturbed me (cuz he was making fun of a guy he accidentally discovered I had gone out with.) When he saw my expression, apparently to stop me from saying something, he told me to get him a drink.
I can’t remember everything that was said, but I can remember at the end of this date feeling very confused and then coming up with a funny feeling that this guy wants some kind of dysfunctional relationship. I called the shadchan and said I didn’t think he was interested, and it was over. Then a couple days later she calls me back and tells me he was floored that I felt that way, he was very interested and she was quite pushy herself. So I told her I’d call someone. I decided to call a mechaneches who is also a social worker. (Unfortunately she didn’t know me.) But I figured if I told her the worst things that were said, she’d surely tell me to stay away and then the shadchan would leave me alone.
After each thing I described to the mechaneches, she practically attacked me. I was made to feel that I was being judgmental and That I should work on that. She felt that him telling me to get him a drink was being refreshingly playful, something she would personally appreciate. She didn’t acknowledge that his behavior was unusual, and didn’t seem interested in hearing more details or taking my concerns seriously. She said maybe I was too sensitive for him but she didn’t seem to have any problem with the things he said.
I was so surprised by her reaction that I started to doubt my own feelings. Maybe I was too sensitive and there was really nothing wrong with him. So I would try again. Maybe I can get used to the way he speaks like I have with other people when I get to know them, and if not, so I’ll end it. From this point and on, my parents were basically divided about this, (my father thought I should end it and my mother wasn’t sure.)
I went out some more and again, I had fun, it was interesting, but there was always at least one or two things that he said on the date that troubled me. It actually felt a little verbally abusive. We’d make a little progress but it would be 2 steps forward and then 3 steps back.
I didn’t feel comfortable or feel that I could trust him. On the other hand, there was a lot I could appreciate and respect, which is something that usually deteriorates as I continue going out with guys. But I was feeling that time was going by and we weren’t getting anywhere. Around this time, I was a tutor in a kiruv program for girls. So I took advantage of some of the frum staff that was there. After speaking with the younger less experienced one, she didn’t like what she was hearing, she asked me if he was kind and caring and when I couldn’t answer “yes”, that clinched it for her. And I was very ready to take her advice. But then when I spoke to an older person who was much more experienced with giving advice to girls about shidduchim, she encouraged it. She said guys are very immature, especially when in yeshiva and older, and that he is an unfinished product. She also gave me an excellent piece of advice. She said I should speak to a rebbe who knows him well and speaks with him about his shidduchim. She felt it would be a good idea especially at this time, that a rebbe could give very valuable information and shed some light on things. After that, I went out once more and there was something he said that was extremely disrespectful and not tsniusdik, and I told him so. His reaction was the same as usual when I let him know something he said bothered me, which was to laugh. (Letting him know something bothered me didn’t stop him from repeating the behavior soon after.) After that date, I told him I would need a number of a rebbe he speaks to about shidduchim, and he gave me the number of a rav from one of his yeshivas in Eretz Yisroel. This rebbe spent a half-hour on the phone with me, telling me he could tell this guy likes me more than the others and that he has a problem with dating but that he was a really good boy and would make a wonderful husband. He urged me to help him get through his problem.
What this rav said definitely put his puzzling behavior into focus for me but I still didn’t want to go out with him again. (I didn’t exactly relish the idea or consider it normal to become the guy’s therapist and take such a chance with a guy who treated me this way.) Finally my mother spoke to our rav. He didn’t even have a chance to hear about some of the craziness, because after hearing how long we were going out he felt strongly that I should end it. And I did. The day after I ended it, the shadchan called asking me to reconsider because the boy had called her and was very upset. I have to say that being conscious of shmiras halashon particularly with shidduchim made things extremely difficult. She wouldn’t let me off the hook, and wanted detailed explanations. Then when I finally gave into the pressure a little, she said we probably shouldn’t speak lashon hara, and I agreed,but she refused to give up on this shidduch. She called again about 5 or 6 times during the following months. I kept insisting that it’s over each time, but she wouldn’t let it go. She would call my mother and try to convince her how nice he is. This past summer after I came back from Neve, I received a call from my cousin’s wife on the boy’s behalf, trying to convince me to go out again. As if that wasn’t embarrassing and annoying enough, right after that he had the wife of a good friend of his call my mother. This wife grew up on my block She likes him a lot, said he eats by her all the time and she feels he’s such a good person etc. My mother became convinced that maybe I SHOULD reconsider and go out again. She couldn’t understand that even if he’s very interested, it won’t change his behavior, no matter how many times I tried to explain it to her. (I also argued that people don’t just change so easily with such problems.) This unfortunately created a lot of stress and arguing. I can’t totally blame her, it’s not a normal way to behave. (And she is emotionally involved in getting me married.) This kind of thing is hard to believe or understand unless one has personally experienced it. When our former neighbor started calling it made matters worse, since we know her and she was pretty convincing with my mother. I’m convinced that he acts like a really nice good solid person when he’s not on a date. I’m only grateful that Hashem spared me from getting engaged or Chas V’shalom married before becoming aware of this serious problem.
After several more calls from his friend’s wife and the shadchan, my mother mentioned that he said he was sorry for things he shouldn’t have said. This was the first apology I ever heard from him. But I still wouldn’t consider it. However, I was so sick of this constant calling and pressuring, I figured maybe there’s a reason I’m constantly harassed about this. Maybe there’s some unfinished business that I didn’t take care of. So I made an appointment with a woman who I trust who’s shiurim I’ve been going to this year. I felt she got to know me a bit and she might have some ideas.
I spent 2 hours describing everything, and at the end of it she told me she thinks I should try going out with him again. I could tell she really seemed to understand, she acknowledged the strange behaviors but felt there might be something to work with. I figured at this point that it can’t hurt to go out on one or two dates and see if anything changed. At least then he won’t harass me anymore. So we went out and he acted even more crazy than before! I think his problem has become worse, if anything.
This time, he didn’t even hide his issues from the shadchan. After it was over the shadchan told me he left some crazy message on her machine, complaining about some stupid thing about me and claiming that I was responsible for what happened. She finally decided that she’s not setting him up anymore. His friend’s wife spoke to my mother after that, and she said the same thing. From what he said to her, she realized he had sabotaged things. She told my mother she felt bad that I had to go through all of that. Also, the mentor I had spoken to told me she felt bad for advising me the way she had. She had spoken to someone else about this recently and that woman had said these problems tend to repeat themselves. The main reason I wrote you about this is that I think it’s crucial that girls, especially younger ones, be made aware that while it’s very important to speak with people for aitzah about their shidduchim, they MUST trust their own instincts. Shidduchim can be VERY confusing, and during this vulnerable time, people’s well-meaning opinions and pushing have a way of messing with your brain. Ignoring your own feelings can sometimes be dangerous. Even if the mentor knows you extremely well, they can’t possibly have a complete picture of what is going on during the dates. Only the person going out does. Also, dating is a very individual thing, it’s important for the person and the mentor to remember that every feeling is valid and should be taken seriously. It’s also important to articulate specifically what is making you uncomfortable about the person and perhaps if the feeling persists to make notes of these things after each date while the details are fresh in your mind. I’m not saying it’s not important to ask aitzah, or that people shouldn’t pay attention to pushing. I can think of at least 2 examples of girls who needed to be pushed and they are B’H very happy. On the other hand, I can think of at least 2 examples of girls who were pushed and ended up with very messy divorces. Interestingly, the girls who were pushed and are happy were 25 and 35, and the girls who were pushed and got divorced were both 19. But I think a girl’s personality plays a role as well. Another reason I wrote about this parsha is because it brought up something that I think everyone in shidduchim struggles with, and that is Shmiras Halashon. It’s a very tough thing to know how to deal with the sensitive issues that come up. Before a shidduch, but especially during a parsha. Many people in shidduchim, shadchanim and others involved aren’t knowledgeable about halachos of shmiras halashon, which makes it that much tougher. (For example, through my own shaalos I’ve discovered that the only time a person can say anything at all negative about a person they went out with to a shadchan is if they are convinced that anyone this person marries will end up getting divorced. As a rav said to me, if Hashem makes one like that, he can make another! ) I think it would be a great subject for discussion on JemSem.
Thanks so much for reading this… I know it’s lengthy, but it is such an important topic.
Name and Seminary withheld
Dear JemSem Reader,
WOW!!!!!!! A frightening situation indeed. Thanks so much for sharing it, there’s alot here to learn from.
Much of what I would say, you summed up beautifully in the paragraph ” The main reason I wrote you”.
It is very good that you did seek out advice from people, a person can’t do it alone, but what is interesting in this case is that you really did ask several qualified people and they came up with different answers. At the end of the day, they are not on the dates with you and may misinterpret information. It doesn’t mean not to ask but one must give over info as clearly as possible. It is also very important to have some time in between the dates to have time to process what is really going on – Think!!!!
Most importantly – trust yourself and your own gut feelings. Do aspects of the date leave you with a ‘choking feeling’ or a knot in your stomach? Is something going on that is making you uncomfortable? Do you feel safe to be able to bring it up? When you are having a discussion, do you feel validated or put down? Is he hearing you? If you do have a feeling of discomfort- how often does it come up? Analyze this feeling – are there patterns? If there was conflict between the 2 of you [which certainly is normal at times], how did the conflict feel? How did he react to your not agreeing? How was it resolved? Did you feel safe? A woman’s home is supposed to be THE safest place for her.
You mentioned that you were pulled in 2 different directions – on the one hand you didn’t feel comfortable or feel that you could trust him, but you did respect him in certain ways. Yes, it can be very confusing! But, the 1st sentence here is a bit of a red flag to me. If after several dates and the natural process of opening up and trust can truly begin to take root – and you have feelings of discomfort .. well, that certainly needs to be figured out. By talking it out with that mentor or 2, thinking things through on your own and looking for patterns.
You can take an active role in the dating and decision making process! There’s not any ONE thing that will necessarily tip you off, again you are looking for patterns, and also really trying to get in touch with your inner self – about how he makes you feel. Communication plays a big role in dating [and in marriage for that matter!] and there are of course many times when there is a misunderstanding and he didn’t mean what you thought, and you totally took it in the wrong way – or you misinterpreted his reasoning for doing something etc. That is why over a bit of time you can see if certain things repeat themselves.
There a many types of abusive patterns and some may be quite subtle. It would be nice if we could say it doesn’t exist in the frum world – but we can’t say that. If anyone is going through a situation and wants a great listening ear, advice or perhaps to be put intouch with a counselor, therapist, or Rav, The Shalom Taskforce Hotline is the place to call. 1888-883-2323 or in the NY area 718-337-3700.
As far as the Lashon Horah aspect in shiddchim- we will try to do a future column on Jemsem.
Hashem should allow to you find your bashert Zman B’karov and I hope he will be a caring, sensitive and warm Ben Torah.
With Warmest Wishes,