Q: Our 25-year-old son has been “out of the freezer” for the past two years. Recently, he met a prospective shidduch who has everything he is looking for. She comes from a wonderful, frum family. (We did some research and verified this for ourselves.) She has a great job as an occupational therapist at a nursing home.
Our problem is that our son tells us that he is “not ready” to get engaged. According to him and the shadchan, she is ready (and even eager) to go ahead. When we ask our son what is holding him back, he is not specific. He makes vague comments about being uncertain, not being as excited as he would want or expect to be and just not feeling it is the right time. When we play devil’s advocate and suggest that perhaps he should end this and move on, he vehemently protests, listing all of her many maalos.
At this point, we don’t know how to help him. We have encouraged him to consult his rebbeim, which he has done. Each time he comes home after meeting one of his rebbeim he seems more calm and relaxed. The next day, however, their encouragement wears off and he is even more stressed than he was the day before. Can you help us?
A: I most certainly shall try. Let me preface my advice with a personal anecdote. A psychology professor of mine once asked for a volunteer to come up to the front of the class. He asked that student to stand on a chair. Then he asked the student to lift one foot. The student wobbled a bit but quickly regained his balance. Next, the student was instructed to close his eyes. Once again, he briefly teetered and regained his balance. Finally, the professor told the student to plug his ears with his fingers, whereupon the professor rushed forward to catch the student as he completely lost his balance and began to fall off the chair.
The professor explained that the purpose of the stunt was to demonstrate how our sense of hearing is critical to our maintaining balance. My reason for repeating this story is to use it as a metaphor for the decision-making process.
In order to maintain our balance, we must rely on our senses of touch, sight and hearing. Similarly, when we have to make any major decision, we turn to many sources of information. We investigate the facts on the ground. We consider future consequences. And we may even consult others for their opinions and recommendations. The one source of information, however, which is probably the most crucial, is our own feelings.
When we make a major purchase, for example, we will comparison-shop to make sure we are not overpaying. We will examine the item for flaws. And we will handle, wear or try out the item to make sure it is what it appears to be. Last, but certainly not least, we will ask ourselves if we really like it.
Your son, unfortunately, does not appear to be in touch with his feelings. He recognizes that this shidduch may be perfect “on paper.” And he may be terrified of losing out on this shidduch. Since he is not well connected to his feelings, however, he does not have access to a critically important source of information. Like the student volunteer, he is desperately trying to maintain his balance as he is being tossed on the waves of his indecision.
Young people such as your son have been pushed to go ahead with engagements — by very well-intentioned friends, relatives and shadchanim — even when the young people do not feel ready. This is a terrible mistake. Many young couples suffer the tragedy of divorce unnecessarily because a pathologically indecisive person was pushed into marriage before he or she was ready. Ask any Rav who deals with gittin. These were marriages which never should have taken place.
Your son does not need to be pushed into something for which he is not ready. What he needs is help in uncovering the root causes for his being out of touch with his feelings. And only a trained professional therapist can help him do that. Once your son understands why he cannot access and trust his feelings, he can learn how to become more in touch with his preferences and priorities. And once he has accomplished that, he will then be able to confidently decide whom to marry. As Shlomo Hamelech taught, “Davar b’ito mah tov — How good it is when something comes at the right time.” (Mishlei 15:23)
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.