| Family Diary |

A Matter of Time

We’re all used to hearing  words can heal or hurt, build, or destroy. I was watching that play out in real time




Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer

Toby and Avi were dating, and things were going well. Well, kind of slowly.

Toby was 25 and had been burned once already — an engagement had been called off the day before the l’chayim. So she was taking it slow, but that was understandable.

Avi didn’t seem to mind. He was 27 and had enough experience to know that relationships that instantly ignite were just as likely to suddenly implode. He was happy to give Toby the time and space she needed.

I didn’t think it was a problem either. People like to set rules in shidduchim — six dates or eight dates or whatever random number feels right to them. But rules cannot dictate the needs of a developing relationship. If there was an equation for How Long to Date Before Getting Engaged, it would probably go something like this:

His previous life experience & age & personality


Her previous life experience & age & personality

= the duration of time necessary to reach engagement

That’s a lot more complicated than a single-digit “rule.”

But all was fine. Toby and Avi were moving closer to commitment.

They’d been dating for about four months when Avi took Toby to a restaurant in the city. They enjoyed a beautiful meal, and during the car ride home, Toby told me, she had that “normal” feeling.

“Like it was normal to be with him,” she explained to me. “I just felt so relaxed, so comfortable. Comfortable being me, comfortable with who he is. It was very…” she searched for the word, “reassuring.”

Then the unthinkable happened.

Maybe it was because the restaurant had been dim, or crowded, or maybe Toby was just very wrapped up in the date (great sign!), but she hadn’t even noticed that her friend Chaya was there too. Chaya had noticed Toby, though — she’d seen her, and Avi, and noted how they’d lingered over their meal, how they’d laughed quietly together over a shared joke as they walked out.

Chaya was part of a WhatsApp group that included lots of Toby’s friends and acquaintances — the old chevreh. Looks like Toby’s finally getting engaged!!!!!!! she posted, with an assortment of emoji.

Instantly, Toby’s phone lit up with calls and texts from everyone who knew her.

Maaaaazel tov!


Amazing news, so happy for you!

Make sure to call me when it’s official!

There were other kinds of messages also.

Hey, it’s Dini, remember me? Your BFF since kindergarten? How come I’m the last to hear about this???

Toby, it’s Freida. What’s going on?! I would have thought I’d hear this news directly from you… not through the grapevine…

Toby, please call Tante Bruchie, she’s really upset you hadn’t told her you were getting engaged.

Toby hadn’t told anyone that she was getting engaged because there was nothing to tell. She wasn’t “getting engaged” — at least, not yet.

Once Chaya posted her message, Toby panicked. Now it wasn’t clear that she would be getting engaged at all.

We’re all used to hearing  words can heal or hurt, build, or destroy. I was watching that play out in real time. And Toby was living it.

“I can’t do this.” Toby sounded terrible when I managed to get her on the phone. “Wherever I go people wish me mazel tov or ask if it’s official or just want to know what’s going on. And I have to explain over and over that it was a mistake, and then they want to know if anything is happening, and I don’t know what to tell them.” She was crying.

“I was so nervous when I started dating Avi, I needed the time to work things out. I feel like that opportunity was stolen from me. And my right to privacy was stolen from me, it’s like the whole world is standing around waiting to see what I’m going to do. I can’t handle the pressure — I can’t deal with this!”

It was a real setback. As much as Toby struggled to put things in perspective, her feelings overwhelmed her. Her existing anxiety about making such a big decision, plus the hurt and betrayal she felt, the loss of privacy, and the need to share and explain before she was ready, made it impossible for her to focus and move forward.

Finally, I suggested a change of pace. Toby had relatives in Florida, close enough for an extended weekend, far enough to give her a break. I suggested she go there for a few days and just sit by the ocean. Then we’d decide what to do.

Toby flew out on Wednesday night. By Motzaei Shabbos she sounded much better.

“I feel like I got my center back,” she told me gratefully. “I know what I want to do. I’m ready to see Avi again. I actually spoke to him before Shabbos. His grandmother lives here, he’s going to fly in to visit and we’ll continue dating here.”


The time and distance also empowered Toby to reach out to her friends and relatives, who had been so hurt at being “kept in the dark.” Once they understood the situation, their hurt and accusations melted away, and Toby had her support system back. Tante Bruchie even offered to shop with Toby if there was anything she needed… like a party dress, or something.

When Avi surprised Toby with tickets to Disney World, Toby was thrilled. A light, fun date — just what she needed. When she was getting ready to leave, she discovered that one of her shoes was missing, and she had to wear sneakers instead, but that only made it more fun and relaxed.

After a couple hours in the park, Avi and Toby found themselves in front of Cinderella Castle.

“Life is not really a fairy tale,” Toby remarked, thinking over the last two weeks.

“And I’m not really a prince,” Avi said, rummaging in his bag for a moment. He pulled something out. “But I’m looking for the girl who fits this shoe.”

He was holding Toby’s missing shoe.

Sometimes, fairy tales do come true.


Shani Leiman is a teacher, shadchan, and dating coach. She lives in  Silver Spring, Maryland.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 750)

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