My daughter is engaged. With the wedding being three weeks away, I am in severe emotional agony over a situation that happened 28 years ago. When I was young, a boy that lived in my neighborhood and I dated secretly because our parents didn’t approve of it. Eventually, we decided to run off to Israel and get married without our parents’ consent. About one year into the marriage, we realized that we made a mistake, and both sets of parents arranged for us to get divorced quickly with a get.
Not soon after, I met my now-husband and have been living a beautiful life together with our children. I never told him of my brief marriage. Throughout all these years, I had no contact with my ex-husband, until now. My daughter is engaged to his son. When the father of the chassan walked into our house, it was a complete shock to me.
My mechutan is pretending to have never met me previously, as it seems that he, too, kept our brief marriage a secret. My parents, who are elderly at this time, feel that I should leave the secret buried, as he too seems comfortable with the idea, and that telling my husband and children will open a can of worms, and cause much hurt to everyone.
I can’t sleep at night carrying this huge secret, especially since I will now have constant contact with this man. What should I do? Should I make believe that this man is just my mechutan, the father of my future son-in-law, or come clean with my past and tell everyone that he was once my husband?
The Panelists Respond
The human brain is astonishing in that a person can experience an event, yet go through life as if it had never occurred. Mental-health professionals cite examples where this is common in traumatic situations. Having been young and dating a guy whom your parents disapproved of must have been difficult for you. Running off to Israel to marry him, only to face and admit defeat to the very people who initially disapproved of the situation, must have been an exceptionally hard blow to sustain.
When the father of your daughter’s chassan walked in, and you realized that you had previously been married to him, it must have felt as though your world was closing in. But still, you showed incredible strength and a sense of selflessness as you began to ponder the honor and responsibility of truth you owe to your husband and children.
It is comprehensible that your parents feel that you should leave the situation in the status quo. They are afraid that your admission of your past can possibly cause havoc in your life.
However, my concern is about the young couple about to get married, and that is where you need to focus your attention.
Although you believe that your ex-husband-now-mechutan seemingly pretends to have never met you, you cannot be sure that he never revealed the circumstances of his past to his family. My advice is that you need deal with the situation as though it is common knowledge.
Enlist the assistance of your rav and privately tell him of your situation. You need his advice and guidance in how to present this to your husband in a way that minimizes the negative consequences.
You must similarly reveal the entire story of your past to your daughter, the kallah. Her heightened state of excitement in being engaged will aid in her ability to absorb the details with ease.
The rugged and laborious aspect to this situation will be when both sides of the family will sit down together, along with your rav being present, and openly discuss this painful dilemma that has been buried for so long.
There will be all sorts of emotions running amok. However, you must all not lose sight that a young couple is about to embark on their future. This chassan and kallah deserve all the joy that is coming to them. Previous actions and judgments, or lack of thereof, should not be allowed to stand in their path of happiness. You must do so for the sake of the couple. Do not allow your bruised egos to create a rift in their relationship. When all is said and done, the test that both families need to pass with flying colors is that you will all embrace the upcoming wedding with dignified gladness in the privilege of being blessed to walk your children to the chuppah.
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.
What a shock it must have been to see that your ex-husband is your mechutan!
What concerned me about your story is the shame around your first marriage. Holding on to shame about what we’ve done in our past can be corrosive. When you let go of a secret that you’ve held on to because of shame, it can be quite liberating.
I suggest that you first work through your feelings of shame, perhaps with a therapist. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You were young and in love, and you did something impulsive by following your dream to marry this man in Israel. That took courage! It also took courage to end the marriage when you realized it was a mistake. Luckily, you met a lovely man soon after and have lived a wonderful life. That’s more functional and balanced than most people’s lives!
My feeling is that since your husband and you have a wonderful marriage, he’ll be able to handle your disclosure. It will probably be a shock at first, but imagine the relief at not having to hold on to this secret any longer. You will now be seeing your ex-husband much more frequently. I think the secret could eat away at your core.
Whether you need to tell your kids is up to you. Again, if it’s about shame, work through it. I’ll bet your kids can handle the truth.
Sandy Weiner is a Certified Professional Life and Dating Coach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. v
In each installment of the Five Towns Jewish Times Dating Forum, a question pertaining to contemporary dating issues will be addressed by our diverse and experienced forum panelists. Questions and comments can be submitted to email@example.com.