To the Shadchan:
I’m almost 20, and my father says that “we” aren’t ready to start dating. What might be more accurate is that he is not ready for me to start dating, because he is scarred from his involvement in my sister’s dating experience. My father watched, feeling both hopeless and helpless, as my older sister entered an unhealthy marriage. Her marriage ended in divorce, but baruch Hashem, a few years later, my sister is happily married and flourishing in her beautiful new marriage! My sister has already replaced hard times with stunning memories and a bright future, but my father has not been able to do the same.
While I will never be able to feel the pain that my father went through, I don’t want to enter the shidduch world with my father dragging his baggage, too. I am still young, so I understand my father’s hesitation about me starting to date, but I feel like I can’t even decide when I’m ready, because my father’s voice is so strong. He thinks that this decision is totally up to him and that the only way for me to find a shidduch is through him. This means that I have no choice but to wait until he approves (and is emotionally ready).
My mother is in the middle. She wants me to go out, with caution, but feels I could wait until I’m finished with college, in about a year, to start dating. I agree, but I think my father doesn’t want to let me go, and I don’t think his stance will change in a year. I don’t want to enter the shidduch world with my father’s negative filter. What should I do?
Thank you so much!
The Shadchan Answers:
Even though you consider yourself young, at 20, age is not an indicator of readiness for marriage. Some people are ready to get married at 17, and some are not ready at 35. What constitutes readiness? Young adults (not “boys and girls”) must be able to take over the reigns of their own life before contemplating sharing their life with another. They must feel secure in their decisions. They must realize that – unlike some people’s notion that marriage solves all problems – any problems one has will be intensified in a marriage.
If you have read my columns, you know that I also feel that the two principals are the most important people in a marriage and should do what they feel is best for them. This is more important than outsiders intervening, even with the best intentions.
As you write, your father stood by helpless and hopeless as your sister entered into an unhealthy relationship. I suppose he blames himself for her marriage ending in divorce, and even though she remarried and is baruch Hashem very happy, he cannot move on. Your father’s hesitation to permit you to think about dating leads me to wonder why he is so adamant and controlling (“strong voice”). I feel that you and he must sit down with a professional to iron out the underlying problems. Yes, your father is scarred, and these scars have to be removed before he is able to accept that the rest of his children will enter the shidduch world and that what happened to one will not necessarily happen to another. Besides, if he is concerned because of your sister’s outcome, you will never be old enough. This problem is not one of age but of circumstance.
A professional might be able to give your father some perspective on what happened and perhaps assuage his guilt. I am sure that much pressure was placed on him not to interfere in your sister’s situation, because it was assumed that everything would be fine. Even if your father had said something, your sister might not have listened, since she might have been infatuated, and she knew what was best! And if he did major investigations, he may now feel unsure of his ability to ferret out the truth. Yet he should not blame himself. Time and again, we see instances where there were real issues with one of the parties, but they were never spoken about. I once got a call from a mother about her 21-year-old daughter who had just been divorced after a six-month marriage. During our conversation, I asked whether or not she had checked out the prospective shidduch, and she said to me, “Yes, we checked and checked and checked, and it all turned out to be a bunch of lies.” These things do happen, and they may not have been lies, because each person answers according to his or her history and subjective values.
Many parents try to live their lives through their children. They think that only they know what is best for their children. This is wrong on two counts: 1) It is unfair to the child and will not allow either him or her to grow up, and 2) It is unfair to the parents, since they will remain frustrated. We cannot relive our lives through another. I cannot judge from your letter how much of this applies to your father. It could also have been more issues than your father is willing to share with you. This is why I suggest professional help.
Since your letter indicates that you yourself are not sure if you are ready to enter “the parsha,” and since your mother would like you to wait until you finish college, you have some time to work on your father to “let go of his baggage” and accept that life must go on. I feel that your father truly wants what is best for you, but he may have to be re-educated about your role as a young adult and his role as a parent. He fears what can happen in the future, but he has to learn that he cannot control the future; only Hashem can. May the Ribono Shel Olam guide you in the right way, and may your father lead you to the chupa very soon.