I have often said that I have the best staff around. I handpicked all, and all have different backgrounds, but we mesh like one big happy family. My senior staff member is the youngest daughter of a very chashuve rav. Another long-time staff member is from a prominent Belz family. Then there’s Alex, who kind of fell into my lap and I’m very grateful for that; he’s a part time Protestant minister when he isn’t a full-time health insurance navigator. Another staff member is the mother of eight. I can go on about the rest of my staff, but you can see that we are all as different as can be. I do have to mention one staff member in particular: my little sister Chaya (her actual name). I call her this because she is young, about 23, very innocent, dare I say naïve about life – and all I want to do is protect her. She has come to me for dating advice, academic advice (You get that degree, girl! And yes, I do proofread some of her term papers and correct her grammar, because I don’t want grammar mistakes to cost her a good grade.) I even went so far as to write a letter to her parents saying how their daughter’s work is appreciated, what an asset she is to the office, and how she can succeed in life by working hard and getting her degree. You get the picture.
Right before the social distancing began, and working in our office came to a (temporary) end, Chaya came to my office. She was very excited. It was all but written across her forehead. She had been dating someone for a few months and she thinks they are starting the process of getting engaged. I was so happy for her. I closed the door to my office, we hugged, and I asked for details. Chaya is Persian and told me that things are done differently in her culture than for Ashkenazim when it comes to getting engaged. Chaya went on and on about the fellow, how in sync they were, and how he listens to her and wants the same things out of life. Some things that she was saying sounded familiar, and a little needle started poking me in the back of my brain. “Chaya, is this the one you dated last year and broke up with?” BINGO!
It turns out that after Chaya and this fellow broke up, he called back months later, telling her how much he missed her and wanted to try again; he’s made some changes in his life so they may be more compatible now. You can guess the rest. Chaya needed time to reevaluate dating Moshe (fake name) again. She said she spoke with her dating advisor, her parents, her rav, and spent many hours davening and saying T’hilim. This I believe, because she is always reciting T’hilim in the office, and I joke when we all go in and buy a lottery ticket for the office, “Chaya, I bought the ticket, now you daven for the ticket to win.” Finally, she decided to give this fellow a second chance. She said she spoke with Moshe regarding exactly what went wrong last time. They had a long discussion, but she said she did see the change in him and agreed to give him a second chance. They had been going out for many months and she truly believes this is her “right time” with him and before wasn’t right.
Who am I to argue? But Chaya is my little sister and I remember her heartache from when she broke up with Moshe last year. I told her that she should be sure of everything and not have any doubts and get all in the open now. But if she was happy, then I was happy for her. So, the meetings of the families began and then so got COVID.
While being a part-time teacher, full-time mother, as well as activities coordinator for my children during the last two months, Chaya and I would sporadically check in with each other. She was excited; things were progressing and she was caught up in it all. I hoped she was making the right decision. If her parents, rav, and dating advisor gave the green light, I didn’t want to be the one responsible for spoiling anything. All I said was, “If you feel he has changed and treats you well, then I’m happy.” But if you saw my face as I texted or spoke with her, you would question how happy I was. So, what happened? Last week, while I was practicing walking with my son, which is code for “Let’s tire him out so he sleeps well,” Chaya called me. Turns out Moshe really hadn’t changed all that much, and she just called off the pre-engagement and felt wonderful about it. She said she davened and davened and knew this was the right answer.
“B’kitzur,” Chaya said that once she had accepted his pre-engagement proposal and all the meetings of the families began, Moshe reverted to his old ways. I’m not exactly sure what the “old ways” were, but if they weren’t good enough for Chaya, I trusted her judgment. She said that she knows that even though the time of becoming a kallah is an exciting one, it’s a time of pressure and anxiety, as well: wanting to make good impressions on all you meet, and balancing your normal responsibilities with the new excitement of the new life you will have. You don’t have to add social distancing or COVID-19 in order to feel the pressure. She said she was coming home from dates (Dates? Yes, he did not think they should be distant) in tears. It wasn’t that Moshe was being mean; but he was giving off the feeling that he thought she wasn’t as smart as he was and that she was annoying him with her silly questions. She said he would occasionally give her the silent treatment, and she felt like a five-year-old during those moments. Moshe wanted Chaya to know that he was annoyed and for her to think about what she did, but never actually came out and said it. The more I heard, the worse I felt.
She said that she wasn’t as happy as she had been in the beginning or happy at all. The issues that were the cause of the breakup last time that she specifically spoke about with him and said she could not accept if they were to move forward this time, came back full force. Chaya said it was only when her parents told her that she shouldn’t be crying during this time at all that she realized they were right. Yes, she should be busy, nervous, anxious – but excited and happy, as well – and she was not.
Chaya said that she spoke with Moshe about this, face to face, and he said that she was misinterpreting his actions because the “world is crazy now.” But Chaya, being as innocent and naïve as she is, is very intuitive. She knew that she was seeing who the true Moshe was, and the “changed Moshe” was just a facade. Chaya returned all the gifts she had been given, and still Moshe refused to accept her decision. The previous evening, before our discussion, Moshe showed up at her home wanting to “talk.” Kol ha’kavod to Chaya’s father: He told Moshe she was busy with her schoolwork and he would not let Moshe in the house. Chaya said that her father asked, “If you are making my daughter cry now, what will you do after you’re married?” Moshe needed to accept her decision and they had nothing else to discuss. Chaya said that Moshe argued with her father and tried to distract him from the real issue. But Chaya’s father sent Moshe on his way before he started to spew a web of lies regarding how he will change, and he really did love Chaya.
My little sister Chaya, who barely weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, who still comes to me for help with her college work, stood her ground and told Moshe that she was taken in by his charms once and then a second time, but now sees that he hasn’t changed at all. He turned one of the most magical times of a girl’s life (engagement) into a cry-fest. She was now not listening to his lies, but to what her heart and Hashem said, and this was one decision she was sure about without any lingering doubt. When I heard that, my heart soared. I pumped my fist into the air! Chaya had met his family (siblings, grandparents, etc.), gifts were exchanged, it was basically a done deal; but Chaya knew things weren’t right and “If he’s like this now, what’s gonna happen later? Why am I crying because I’m hurt now and not tears of joy?” Many would have ignored these signs and have chalked it up to everyone acting weird because of coronavirus, but not Chaya. She was able to see past the shiny polish of Moshe’s words and see his true character. It takes a strong person to end things then, basically after all has been agreed upon. But Chaya didn’t want to be one of the stories that you hear about, a couple who got divorced less than a year after standing under the chupah. Chaya had many people advising her on what to do; all had given her the green light with Moshe, but only Chaya knew what was going on during their dates and how Moshe’s actions were making her feel. It just goes to show you, you can ask advice from 20 people, but you are the one in the situation and you need to think and come to a decision for yourself.
Decades ago – I must have been eight or nine – I vividly remember the phone ringing one Motzaei Shabbos. The conversation lasted seconds, and after my mother hung up, said, “Sara’s daughter called off the wedding for tomorrow.” Yes, the night before, the calls went out. The kallah had a change of heart and did not want to go through with something that didn’t feel right. This kallah is now living in Israel and is a grandmother. She found her true zivug. I don’t know why she called off her wedding less than 24 hours before it was to take place, but she made a decision that she felt was right for her and didn’t care about what others thought. Yet, there’s another story of my parents attending a wedding and it was known that the kallah had “cold feet,” but no one was really listening to her and before sheva brachos were over, she moved back to her parents’ house. That kallah may have let herself be talked into going through with the wedding and told, “It’s just nerves; you’ll see, it’ll be fine.” Or maybe she wasn’t strong enough to make the decision and to disappoint the many people invested emotionally in the wedding. She let herself be led down the aisle, kicking and screaming. I truly don’t know what the reason was and I don’t want to guess anymore.
I also know someone who divorced his wife two months after the wedding because he would have rather been “divorced” than known as someone who broke an engagement. I don’t even know what to say to that. I mean I have what to say, but where do I start?
I am here to say that if you, male or female, have any real doubts regarding the person you are dating or are engaged to, speak up and speak up loudly so you are heard. You need to discuss your feelings with someone who is experienced with helping those with matters of the heart, and its best to do it with an uninvolved third party if possible. If you feel something isn’t right or that you aren’t “feeling it,” do something! Don’t worry about all the people who think you’ll be making a mistake if you don’t commit, or whom you will be letting down by ending the relationship. It is your life and only you will be living it. Others give advice, they go home, and you end up being an afterthought. You will be the one stuck in the situation if you make the decision based on what others want for you. My little sister Chaya, whom I just want to protect and keep under my arm like a cute dog, stood up for herself when it counted, before she got pulled down deep into the rabbit hole. She said it surprised her how strong her words and tone were to Moshe, but she was fighting to live the rest of her life – not as she had been living the past few weeks. I applaud Chaya. She didn’t care what others thought. She did what she felt she had to do, and I want all to learn from her and to do what you truly want. It may not sound romantic, but when my husband and I got engaged, I felt as if I had pulled into the perfect parking space. I can’t describe it any other way – it was just a perfect place for me to be. If you aren’t feeling that way, talk it out and do not feel pressured to stick it out because “people already know” or “the platters for the vort have been ordered.” No one will remember the petit fours or fruit salad they ate at the simchah, but you will dread not canceling it when you had the time.
I always say that you live with your spouse and not his/her family, but you also live with yourself. You must be happy about decisions you make. If you aren’t happy (for whatever reason) with whom you married, are you going to want to start a family with him or her? And no, children don’t make a rocky situation better, it just adds to it; but now you have an adorable lovable innocent baby to think about, which further complicates the situation.
All I say is: Think about it and yourself before you think about the event planner or how your Bubby would love to see you married. Think about how you are treated by this person and how you feel about this person. If things aren’t feeling right, then pull out of the parking spot, if that is the answer for you.
Hatzlachah to you all.