By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’m sure you’ve heard everything by now, but I doubt you’ve ever heard anything like my crazy, terrible story. I just don’t know what to do. I feel shocked and almost paralyzed with anger.
I recently turned 22. Last year, my cousin introduced me to a friend of his. Up until that time, I had been dating men that my parents selected for me through various connections of theirs. Most of these men were sons of successful men, who would ultimately go into their father’s businesses. For now, they were learning and planned on learning for a couple of years. Though I did meet some nice guys, there really wasn’t anyone that excited me, and I rarely went out with anyone more than once or twice.
When my cousin introduced me to Ben, I was immediately drawn to him. Unlike the others, Ben was a self-made man. He didn’t come from a successful family, but he worked very hard and did well for himself. He drove a nice car and dressed beautifully. His work didn’t leave him time for much learning, but he always said that he eventually would like to get back into it.
When he first officially asked me out, my parents were not at all happy about it. They tried very hard to discourage me from dating him. To begin with, they were upset that they didn’t have a hand in arranging the date. They also were not impressed with his credentials. Definitely not the type of guy they would have picked for me. And his family, which they looked into, left them feeling even less enthusiastic. But they saw that I was determined to go with him regardless of what they said. I think they figured that after one date I would see on my own that he wasn’t for me, since we have such different backgrounds and lifestyles.
But I was smitten with Ben from the first date. I loved everything about him, and we had such interesting and exciting conversations. He was so much fun to be with. I felt as though I could finally be myself and not play a role. With all the other guys I had gone out with, I never felt real with them and they didn’t bring out anything in me that I felt good about. And according to what Ben told me, he felt the same way about me.
I knew my parents weren’t happy about our relationship, but Ben and I did privately talk about getting engaged. We talked about what our life would be like together. About having a family. About all the things that two people in love talk about. My hope was that once my parents got to really know him, they would also come to appreciate him, even though he wasn’t the type of guy they had intended for me to marry.
Three months ago, from out of the blue, I got the equivalent of a “Dear John” e‑mail from Ben. Basically, he told me I am a wonderful person but he realized marriage could never work for us and I should move on; he would never be calling me again. When I read the e‑mail, I thought I would die. I couldn’t understand how he could send me such a note. The previous week we had gotten together three times, and each time was great. There were no problems, no red flags. Everything was perfect! We were happy. We were in love. We had a future.
Since then, I’ve been pretty depressed. Moping around, not interested in anything, and despite my parents lining up guys for me to date, totally not interested in going out with anyone.
Last week, I bumped into my cousin who had originally introduced me to Ben. He saw how depressed and angry I was. He swore me to secrecy and revealed to me that Ben told him my father gave him a large sum of money to go away, to just disappear from my life.
I was so horrified hearing this that I didn’t know what to do. How could my father do such a thing? Does he think he is G‑d? And how could Ben take the money? I don’t even know which one of them I am more angry with. But right now, I’ve lost all faith in men. I never want to go out again. I’ll be an old maid, just to spite my parents. Besides, how could I ever trust anyone anymore? I feel so betrayed.
Because I’m sworn to secrecy, I can’t even confront my father about my feelings toward him. But I also can’t even look at him anymore.
I don’t even know where I go from here. I’m so miserable I don’t know what to do.
What a terrible story of betrayal. I can certainly understand why you feel so angry and despondent. You feel forsaken from all sides. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be you at the moment.
There is no way for me to sugarcoat your story, no way to view it through rose-colored glasses. And maybe it is way too early for me to even begin this conversation, but it is my duty to say that no matter how obvious a situation appears, ultimately everyone has their own side of the story. Maybe I can just plant a few seeds right now that you may or may not be willing to entertain. But since there is nowhere else to go with your experience at the moment, I’ll throw out a few possibilities.
Could it be that your father knew certain things about Ben that horrified him and he was trying to protect you? Then again, maybe he saw things or found out things about Ben that were horrible for him but would not be for you. Is it possible that your father tried to communicate his concerns to you, but you were so “smitten,” as you say, that you didn’t give him the time of day to share his concerns? Of course it’s possible that your father had a vision for what his son-in-law should look like, and since Ben didn’t comply with that vision, he was determined to take charge of your life and make it about what he wanted.
Whatever the case, whatever is possible, I agree that his handling of the situation appeared arrogant and insensitive, to say the least. But perhaps these were the actions of a desperate, frightened man who was grasping at straws. Maybe from your father’s perspective, it was not an act of betrayal, but rather an act of love because he felt he was protecting you from a future with a man that would play out horribly.
Now let’s look at Ben’s position. I don’t doubt for a minute that he cared for you every bit as much as he told you he did and you felt he did. Nevertheless, you have a young man, working hard to create a life for himself, approached by a seasoned, mature, successful man, who wants him to get lost. We know your father offered Ben a large sum of money, but we don’t know what else took place during their encounter. Is it possible your father threatened to expose him in some way? To destroy his chances of making it in this town? Perhaps he threatened that if Ben should marry you, he and you would never be welcome in his home. Who knows what kind of threats were made. Is it possible that because Ben loved you so much, he felt he was protecting you by ending your relationship? Maybe he didn’t view it as a betrayal but as an act of selfless love so that you could eventually live a happy life without your father intervening and creating havoc in your married life.
Lots of maybe this and maybe that. Lots of questions that are impossible for anyone to answer right now. But it’s understandable that you feel the need to mourn the loss of what you had with Ben and a promise of a wonderful future together. However, despite how sad you are feeling right now, please don’t make any long-term decisions about dating and marriage based on a short-term situation that is still so unclear.
My hope is that when you feel up to it, you tell your father that you need to have an honest conversation with him about what happened. You don’t have to betray your cousin, but you can say that you believe your father must have had something to do with the shocking cut-off you received from Ben from out of the blue. There can be no other explanation. Perhaps having this conversation in the safety of a therapist’s office would be the best way to act on this. I do feel that the two of you have much to discuss about what really happened.
Additionally, there need to be serious conversations about what healthy expectations and boundaries should look like between a father and a daughter. The two of you have an awful lot to work through together. And if you are both game to doing the work, you will both benefit from enjoying a healthier relationship together.
Where Ben fits into this prescription, it’s impossible to know at the moment. Perhaps he’s gone for good and someday you’ll understand why it was the best thing; or maybe he is destined to be a part of your future. But, for the moment, the focus has to be on you and your father getting real with one another and developing a deeper understanding of who you both are and what you both need.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.