I am a 27-year-old Modern Orthodox guy, and there is a girl I have been dating for almost two years. When I first met her, she was just starting to become frum. It’s not that she was completely irreligious—her family is on the traditional side—but I guess I was the frummer of the two of us.
Over time, she became more frum. She wants to be shomer negiah, and plans on covering her hair when she gets married. I respect all that. I always wanted to marry a girl who will cover her hair. The problem is that I cannot go anywhere with her anymore. Every restaurant we walk into, she insists on speaking to the mashgiach. It does not matter to her that the certificate of hashgachah is posted on the wall. It drives me nuts.
She has been giving me ultimatums to get married. Last week, as I was driving her home, she said, “Either you propose to me right now, or we break up.” I got nervous and proposed. Truth be told, she really looked great that night. I guess I caved in.
The thing is, it was an accident. I really did not mean it. But she announced to everyone that we are engaged and I had no choice but to go along with it. So far, I have not agreed to an engagement party, but my parents and hers are pressuring me to agree to a date for that as well as for the wedding. I’m going crazy here.
I love her, but there are issues I am worried about. What will our life be like if we get married? I do not plan on being more frum than I am now. What can she expect of me in the future?
By Baila Sebrow
You sound like an intelligent young man, so I am surprised that you suggest that your engagement was accidental. I can understand how an ultimatum can cause a reflex reaction. There are numerous cases where one of the parties in a dating couple became fed up with schlepping around and decided to take the bull by the horns and declare, “Marry me or we break up.” But proposing to someone and declaring it a mishap is extreme.
I am not a fan of engagements by coercion, even if the outcome is a happy one. Though you claim that you did not mean to propose to her, the reality is that you did. The first thing you need to do in order to solve your situation, for better or worse, is to take responsibility for your actions. Please do not blame this girl for your proposal. You have heard her complain numerous times about not yet being married after dating for so long. The last time she appealed for marriage, you admit to “caving in,” because you say that she looked especially good that night. And you hold her culpable for that? Seriously?
Let’s put the mistaken proposal aside and deal with another significant issue, that of compatibility. Nowadays, singles who are Modern Orthodox find that they have a more difficult time with shidduchim than their “more to the right” counterparts. Most shadchanim who deal with Modern Orthodox singles will agree with that. Those who feel compelled to introduce a right-wing single boy or girl to someone for marriage do not feel duty-bound to help a modern single person in a similar way. When asked, they often respond, “Modern people meet on their own.” Those singles who are modern understand what I am talking about. The myth that modern singles have it easier needs to be debunked. Not only are there fewer places available to meet a morally upstanding modern person, but finding someone with common ground is extremely difficult.
That said, you, as many on your hashkafic level, feel well-matched with someone who is not necessarily that frum, but is willing to grow. When the two of you initially met, and she was still learning the ropes of Yiddishkeit, you were at ease with her status at the time. A ba’al teshuvah or one who becomes more observant in halachah finds additional hardships in dating. Unions similar to yours are common. The shortcoming of such a relationship is the tendency for the person who is growth-oriented to outgrow the modern frum person. These irregular growth curves have caused discord, and oftentimes breakups, in relationships.
You say that this girl was raised in a home that, although not irreligious, was lacking in certain aspects of halachah. Being growth-oriented and driven, as she has clearly demonstrated during the course of your relationship, she continuously worked on improving herself.
Quite often, those who successfully shift to the Orthodox way of living tend to be less lenient in matters of halachah. So while those who have been frum from birth may be satisfied when they see that there is a reliable hechsher, those who are ba’alei teshuvah will not necessarily be complacent. They are frequently observed speaking to the mashgiach in a food establishment. Some who have been very frum their entire lives may also do the same thing, but the scenario you describe is quite typical and I have heard of it a number of times.
I understand where you are coming from. It is not just her scrupulousness of hashgachah and the zealousness in halachah that is troubling you. You are both on different pages. You are currently comfortable in your status of frumkeit, as you feel that you are following the codes of halachah. Yet, while she is growing further, you are not sure, and neither can she be at this point, as to what degree her religiosity will develop. Furthermore, you fear that after marriage the spiritual and halachic growth of this girl will intensify much more than you are comfortable with.
Being keenly aware of halachah and probably sensitive to issues relating to being shomer negiah, it is not surprising that she has been actively encouraging the relationship to be brought to culmination with an engagement. Yet you have had doubts about the relationship and whether you feel comfortable marrying her, so you’ve been pushing that off.
You openly state that you love her, which is why you have not broken up with her even though there appear to be major differences in hashkafah. I also believe that although you fear what the future holds, deep down you do not want to lose her. True, you have not agreed to propose to her in the past, but the last time she made that demand, you claim to have “caved in.”
As is normal in these situations, you are likely reflecting back to that night when you proposed to her. And you are surely trying to bring to mind all details that led up to the proposal. Intimating that you succumbed to the pressure because of her pleasing appearance that night is a copout way of rationalizing your actions. The truth is that you proposed to her because you feared losing her.
It is not easy for anyone to find someone whose company they might enjoy for almost two years. That is a big deal. And you do not sound shallow enough for me to believe that you remained in the relationship explicitly for her looks. There is surely more to your relationship with her. That said, you were right to hold off on a formal engagement party after you came to feel that proposing to her was a mistake.
My advice is for you and the girl to seek the guidance of a rav and a therapist, assuming she is amenable to the idea. When you speak to the girl, be forthcoming about your feelings for her and your relationship. State confidently that you are comfortable with the manner in which you conduct yourself religiously, and do not see yourself growing anymore. Gently put in the picture that you respect the way she has flourished in matters of being frum, and discuss your fears in this area. There is also nothing wrong with mentioning that you are bothered by her actions in restaurants.
Be prepared for the possibility that she might decide to break it off with you. But if both of you are willing to work at this relationship, with the help of professionals, you might be able to respect each other and find common ground. Do not rush anything. Take it slow. Who knows? You might even decide to propose to her of your own accord.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. v
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