My sister and I inherited our light eye color from our parents. My sister married someone with similar color eyes and now has four children with brightly colored eyes. I married someone with a darker eye color and have two children with gorgeous brown eyes. I used to joke that by marrying someone with brown eyes the family portraits will be ruined! But it was only a joke, and eye color didn’t stop me from dating or marrying my husband. Truthfully, I can’t imagine my little munchkins having any other eye color than their beautiful shade of hazel.
I joke about eye color, but family genes do play a role in shidduchim. I was sent an email once from a woman who was dating a fellow whose father passed away from a heart attack. She said that she knew heart disease is genetic and didn’t want to marry someone who she knows is “predisposed to having a heart attack.” Those were her words, not mine. A person cannot be faulted for the genes that they have, that were passed down from branch to branch in their family tree. Many people pass away from heart attacks when there is no history of heart disease, and even when they live a healthy life. I included that in my response to her. For the most part, we have some control over who we date and choose to marry. We all have to ensure that the good outweighs “the bad,” and there is always “bad.” By “bad” I refer to things we don’t love or like about the person. You can always try to improve the way your spouse dresses or point out that his or her table manners may be a bit lacking. Things like that can be fixed, but genetic makeup is permanent.
Without getting into specifics, yes, I know that there are organizations that do genetic testing, and the majority of people do find out if they are genetically compatible with someone or not. Such tests can inform you and your potential spouse if you are at risk for having children who will develop Tay-Sachs or other such diseases. In today’s world, you can test for hundreds and even thousands of diseases, and you then can make an informed decision on how to proceed with the potential bashert: marry or break up.
Recently I was speaking with a friend of mine, and she was telling me of her younger sister (whom I will refer to as Toby) who was “seriously dating” someone and recently found out information that has made her rethink the relationship and how to proceed. Toby found out that the fellow she is dating has an older brother who was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago. The fellow told Toby that his brother takes medication daily and sees a therapist regularly, but at times has a “relapse” and spends days if not weeks in bed. According to my friend, Toby was never informed by the shadchan or any of the references she had called about the brother. My friend said that Toby was now torn. She knows that mental illness can affect several members of one family. Toby is now worried and doesn’t know what to do. According to her sister, my friend, Toby doesn’t want to marry into a family where one is already affected by a mental illness and fears that her children may carry the gene should she choose to marry into the family if asked.
It’s hard to say what to do in a case like this. Mental illness is an illness; it is not something that can be pushed aside or ignored. Now that Toby has found out the information, she is now faced with making a decision she never thought she would have to make. My friend and I discussed how many illnesses are passed down genetically, but that a physical illness isn’t seen or “judged” the way a mental illness is. I am not getting into a discussion or debate about mental illness in the column, as I have written before; but this is a very real problem for others, including Toby. She has found out that mental illness is a reality in the family she may become part of. Does she continue seeing the fellow or does she break things off with him?
I have my own opinion of what I thought Toby should do. My friend said that she and her parents told Toby that this is something that isn’t planned for, but has to be dealt with. There is a very real possibility if she does marry into the family that she may discover other family members are affected by mental illness. But can we lay blame or fault the fellow she is dating for his brother’s illness? No. You can only do so much to protect yourself from catching a cold or stomach bug. You can wash your hands regularly with soap, not eat anything of questionable origin (or smell)… but you can’t prevent every illness – even the common cold, at times.
I had to ask my friend if Toby would have the same reservations about moving forward in this relationship had the illness been a form of cancer or if a family member was in need of an organ transplant. Is it more acceptable to slow down and think carefully about how to proceed in a relationship where there is a history of mental illness in the family than if there was a physical illness in the family? I don’t know. This is an example of an issue where there is no clear-cut answer. Toby has to make a decision and then live with it. She can choose to break things off and then “be safe” from having children or marrying into a family with mental illness (although I don’t think that exists) or she can move forward and take the risk and hope that her husband and children will not be affected by mental illness.
This is food for thought. No one plans for something like this to pop up, but it does. What if the mental illness was more severe than depression? What if a family member was diagnosed with schizophrenia? What then? This is an opportunity for people to think about what they would do in such a situation. You have to do what feels right for yourself and not anyone else – but be prepared to live with the consequences of your decision. (Not all my articles are happy or funny ones, because shidduch dating isn’t always happy or fun.)
Hatzlachah to you all.