You’re on the third date with someone you really like and you need to reveal classified information, be it a medical condition or a family secret. How to go about it? Those who have been there, share the right and wrong way to break the news, as well as personal stories of the agonizing process.
t was a teensy-weensy white lie, or maybe just the slightest touch-up of reality.
When the boy Nechama had been seeing for weeks asked her point-blank about her age, she breezily replied “there’s just a month between us.” It was true. Except, that “month” demarcated a difference of almost a year: Levy had recently turned 25; in one month, Nechama would be turning 26.
Three weeks later, Nechama’s finger boasted a shimmering two-carat diamond, and the dreamy-eyed couple began planning their future.
But, when the truth soon emerged — thanks to a surprise 26th birthday party organized by Nechama’s well-meaning friends — the long-awaited shidduch nearly fell apart.
“How can I marry someone I don’t trust?” Levy asked. At this point, her exact age was immaterial — what made him nearly cancel the wedding date was the deliberate camouflaging of facts, the intentional gilding of truth. To salvage the relationship, rabbis and mentors stepped in, and succeeded in guiding the couple towards the chuppah.
Nechama learned the hard way: Telling the truth can be difficult, but when it comes to your future life partner, it’s far better than the alternative.
In Nechama’s case, her big secret was that she was older (gasp!) than her prospective spouse. But the skeletons in the closet that some singles have to divulge, are often far more consequential — touching upon potentially serious medical or psychological issues.
Letting the Secret Out
When Naava was dating, she had to fess up that her mother has a hereditary, but controllable, condition. “It took a ton of guts,” she says. For Kayla, the secret was type 1 diabetes, which she had contracted during her seminary year. Then there’s Bracha, who hails from a dyslexia-prone family, and is a likely carrier. Joel, on the other hand, had to reveal that he’d had a type of cancer that is linked to infertility (see sidebar).
“I was terrified,” admits Daniella, who had to disclose while dating that she takes a mild anxiety medication. “The fear of shidduch repercussions was so strong, that at first, I didn’t want to start treatment. I dreaded being stigmatized; I thought, You can’t do this to your future! It took a while to realize that not getting treated doesn’t erase the issue.”
Eventually, Daniella learned to equate her problem with a physical condition. “If you don’t treat diabetes, it will continue to affect you negatively,” she explains. “With noxious thinking, it’s easy to convince yourself: ‘I’m just like any other person having a hard day.’ By admitting ‘I need medication now,’ you’re creating for yourself an official medical condition — and that’s awfully hard when shidduchim is just around the corner.”
Before dating her first boy, Daniella had been advised by a prominent posek to divulge the classified info after the third date. On her very first date, however, by seemingly sheer coincidence, the young man began animatedly discussing the subject of mental illness.
“You know, I have a friend with OCD,” he said. “I worked so hard on encouraging him to finally seek help. I said ‘Shmulie, you can’t be ashamed; to the contrary, I’d think so highly of a person who takes this step in the right direction, despite what ‘the world’ thinks. You’re doing the right thing!’$$seperatequote$$”
Daniella could hardly believe her mazel; her very first boy was someone so astute about mental conditions! “After such a lecture,” she figured, “surely I could be forthcoming about my situation even earlier on.”
On the second date, Daniella gently let the boy know, and he completely panicked. “Is this the normal you?” he asked, aghast, “or the medicated you? I don’t know, I have to ask my parents, this is really not simple,” he rambled. “I once heard about a mentally ill woman who committed suicide after she became pregnant!”
Daniella calmly offered her psychiatrist’s direct number; the flustered, red-faced boy crumpled the paper into his pocket, and made a speedy exit.
“That horrific date was just before Tisha B’Av,” she remembers. “I spent almost the entire fast day davening and crying. I had mixed feelings — on the one hand, I knew I had done the right thing (both by getting help and sharing the info), but on the other hand, the prospect of rejection was so painful.”
Motzaei Tisha B’Av, the news arrived: the shidduch was kaput. “A part of me said, ‘Yup, you blew your chances by starting to take medication,’ but a part of me said, ‘No! You are a better, happier person now.’
“The shadchan was furious. She said, ‘What did you do to yourself? This medication business will ruin your life!’ I replied, ‘This is who I am; I’m happy I took this step.’
“I think people have totally misconstrued perceptions of mental illness: they don’t understand that there are shades of severity. Obsessive thinking and bipolar are not in the same league. What I was experiencing was a certain perseveration, a tad above what you can control with mental exercises and positive thinking. Davka — because happy, healthy, functioning is so important to me — that’s why I opted to take medication.
“There’s a real lack of education about mental illness,” Daniella continues. “If people would just temporarily quiet the alarm bells ringing furiously in their brains and actually research the medication or condition, they could at least make an informed decision. They need to take a quantitative, unemotional look at the situation.”
Daniella’s next date — and future husband — was the son of a psychiatrist, the epitome of a “mentally educated” individual. This time around, Daniella waited until the fourth date (“like a good girl”) to bare her secret. Her husband told his father, who, upon hearing the name of the medication, took an hour to double-check — and then gave a fast go-ahead. As Daniella says, “My in-laws respect the steps I’ve taken to function as a better human being.”
Timing it Right
In most cases rabbanim recommend disclosing this sort of weighty info around the third or fourth date or sometimes just “when things start getting serious.” This asserts well-known Lakewood shadchan R’ Meir Levi is a protective fence: Once the fifth date rolls around both parties are usually way too emotionally involved to make unbiased judgments.
For Bracha possible carrier of dyslexia things got serious sooner than she’d expected. “At the end of the fourth date my future husband asked if we could meet his parents. That was my cue — I thought Yikes! Better say something now!”
Bracha spilled the beans — and then spent seven interminable days waiting while her future husband consulted with neurologists and educational experts. “It was one of the hardest weeks of my life” she remembers. “I couldn’t sleep; I could barely eat; I was sick from the tension.
“By nature I’m very indecisive. I always assumed that choosing a life partner — a hugely momentous decision — would be incredibly hard. And though this shidduch was going well I hadn’t fully made up my mind yet. But suddenly when I realized that I stood a good chance of losing him it became crystal clear that this was the man I wanted to marry. The thought of the shidduch falling apart was agonizing.”
After a week Bracha’s future husband finally got back to her with a “yes.” “When the shadchan called to say he was ready to continue that was it” she relates. “We were unofficially engaged that evening.”
In Kayla’s case however revealing her diabetic condition early on actually prevented needless anxiety. “I’d been told by my rav to tell before a real relationship developed” she says. “I followed these guidelines and so — even when my future husband was deliberating — I didn’t feel much angst I wasn’t ready to get engaged yet anyway. He was a nice boy it looked positive but that’s where it ended.”
Jake was a successful 31-year-old Flatbush accountant who had earned a reputation as a serious ben Torah. Impressed by a slew of reports and references indefatigable Manhattan-based shadchanSandy was determined to set him up with Tova the accomplished older daughter of a close family friend.
Tens of phone calls and two years later the date finally happened — and the couple hit it off instantly — finding numerous shared interests and beliefs. Three meetings later however Jake revealed that he’d had a seizure at age 25 (seizures can sometimes indicate personality disorders). He hadn’t had any symptoms since; the situation was under medical scrutiny and he was a beloved completely functioning member of his community. Tova discussed the issue with her parents and ultimately said “No.”
“I was so disappointed” recalls matchmaker Sandy. “And Jake? He was devastated. He called three months later and begged me: ‘Can you ask them to reconsider? I really liked her and I know she liked me too.’ ”
Sandy made tireless efforts over the next few months tactfully suggesting that the family rethink the decision — but they were for naught. “Five years later both Jake and Tova are still single” she states sadly. “It’s a sorry story that hasn’t ended.”
In Reuven’s case, he was the one who had to say “no” when he met a girl with real potential. As his aunt Binah relates, “My nephew is a great boy with one liability — a very strong personality. Shidduchim did not go easily for Reuven, so when he finally met someone he really liked and who really liked him, I was thrilled. Things went very smoothly, and I began making plans to have my sheitel done, when suddenly my sister called and said, ‘It’s off.’$$seperatequote$$”
“She dropped him?” Binah asked in shock.
“No,” her sister said miserably.
“He changed his mind?”
“No,” she said. “It’s just not going to work.”
A few days later, the truth emerged. Apparently, the girl had an unwell father — and when Reuven’s parents found out there was a slim chance that the condition was genetic, they dropped the shidduch instantly.
“Did they speak with any doctors?” Binah asked her doleful nephew, still reeling from the developments. He shook his head.
“Research the condition? Ask an expert?” Another shake. Binah was speechless.
“My sister and I have a long-standing policy of not meddling into each other’s business,” recounts Binah, “so, I kept my lips zipped. But it was heartbreaking to see my nephew lose a shidduch that he was so excited about, for reasons that were very possibly not justified.
“It took a few more years, but my nephew is married now. However, his marriage is not a smooth one. And sometimes, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if my sister would have been less prejudiced, and he could have married the girl he was sure was the other half of his neshamah.”
Like Reuven’s would-have-been-fiancé, Dorit also faced the sting of rejection — but for a reason entirely unrelated to health. A Sephardic Brooklynite, she’d begun dating Ezra, a fellow Sephardi, and things were going splendidly. On the fourth date, however, when she “revealed” that her great-grandfather was a ger, the shidduch hit choppy waters.
Ezra’s mother is Syrian, and in the Syrian community — due to a troubling pattern of inauthentic, marriage-driven conversions prevalent in the early 20th century — there is a powerful mesorah of rejecting geirim, an injunction so fierce that it excommunicates those who’ve intermarried with geirim or their descendants. Dorit knew this fact, but since Ezra’s father was Moroccan, she never dreamed it would be an issue.
Ezra broke off the shidduch. Dorit was heartbroken. And their shadchan, Aviva, felt sick. “I can’t judge his decision, but I wish Ezra would have warned me about this precondition before we set things in motion,” Aviva says. “This was preventable anguish. If there’s a criterion so critical that you’d turn down an otherwise perfect match in its absence, you should let the shadchan know in advance — even if it’s a remote possibility.”
All in the Packaging
There’s an art to revealing classified information. You have to present the condition (or family situation or gene) in the most accurate, but least perturbing way possible. “You can’t give it over as a deep, dark secret,” warns Kayla. “You have to be confident and exude a glowing positivity.”
Her advice: Put a pleasant smile on your face and say warmly “I’d like to share something personal with you.” Show your date that you are 100 percent functional despite the issue and — if applicable — tell him why you’re grateful for this condition over others. “In my case, I said: ‘If I have to have something, I’d take diabetes. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything; I just have to take extra good care of myself.’”
Kayla, now the happy mother of a toddler, also recommends readily providing names of doctors, rabbanim, and mentors who can vouch for the authenticity of your statements. “When you’re open about your issue, your date becomes less wary,” she says.
On the other hand, counters Daniella — sharing the advice of her posek — particularly in cases of mental illness, where the mere mention of certain words sends people running, it’s not always necessary to use crude, unpalatable terminology. For example, she shares, instead of saying “I had a problem with obsessive thinking,” her Rav advised her to say “I had a little ‘too much’ yiras Shamayim; I needed to learn to relax, to have joy in my avodas Hashem.”
Of course, more detailed information, or specifics from the doctor, should always be furnished upon request. But during the actual disclosure, this posek maintained, some degree of lacquer is a good thing.
For Naava, whose mother has a hereditary, controllable condition, using words to broach the sensitive issue was just too scary; instead, she handed her date a piece of paper. “It was a letter from my mother’s doctor detailing the problem,” she explains. “This method was also efficient — my future husband simply took the note home, and showed his parents. There was no broken telephone.”
Kayla, too, was big on complete clarity — in fact, she opted to do a hands-on, live demonstration. “On one of our dates, I actually brought my insulin kit along and showed my future husband what I do. It may seem a bit strange, but I think it made him more comfortable with the whole thing; plus, we met in a restaurant, so I didn’t really have a choice!”
The Right Response
Divulging secrets is hard. But being on the receiving end isn’t simple either. The best way to respond, advises Daniella, is with “humor, humor, humor. In this kind of super-tense, awkward situation, a pinch of humor is life-saving. In my case, after I finished my whole spiel about the medication — explaining how it makes me feel better, act better, and live better — my future husband said, ‘Wow, sounds good — can I have some too?’
Bracha, too, was grateful for her future husband’s jocular response. “Well, I’ll look into this, but you haven’t scared me off yet!” he said with a smile.
Staying unruffled and expressing concern about the issue, Bracha adds, are not contradictory goals. You can be warm, and light, and empathetic, while still conveying the fact that the news is significant and will require serious thought.
Remember, too, that being in the role of jolted recipient is still a lot easier than vulnerable secret-sharer. When Kayla was dating, she constantly fed herself lines of bitachon. “I kept telling myself: Hashem is the One who gave me this condition; and it’s no harder for Him to find a shidduch for me, than for my neighbor who doesn’t have a “problem.” I knew that the more I internalized this reality, the sooner I’d find my shidduch. The menuchas hanefesh that emanates from a baalas bitachon automatically makes her a more attractive partner.”
As for facing rejections — “If the boy said ‘no,’ I told myself it was a brachah: this way, I didn’t have to agonize over the decision myself. It was clear the shidduch was not for me.”
Kayla adds, “Hashem runs the world. In His book, diabetes, mental illness, cancer — they don’t mean much. He can do anything.”
“WILL YOU MARRY ME? I HAD CANCER”
Though Riva Pomerantz had been hearing about a young man named Joel for several years, it was only when she agreed to go out with him that she found out he had had testicular cancer as a teenager — a very treatable, common cancer in young men, that can affect fertility.
For Riva, who decided she wanted to marry Joel on their first date, the reality of his medical background — while significant — was not an obstacle. “A part of it was that I was young and naive; I didn’t think too much into it. I was just out of seminary, where we’d learned that fertility is one of Hashem’s keys — so I just knew I’d be okay. But don’t get me wrong: I was not a tzadeikes — I didn’t chap what it would potentially mean not to have children.”
Though everything else about Joel seemed perfect, Riva’s parents and mentors were highly concerned about the ramifications of his illness. They insisted on viewing the medical records and speaking to his oncologist, who couldn’t offer any conclusive statements, other than the fact that Joel had been cancer-free, baruch Hashem, for several years. The likelihood of recurrence was slim, but there was a certain risk of infertility.
“No one could say 100 percent either way,” she remembers. In the end, despite the apprehension of some, Riva and Joel joyfully walked down to the chuppah. Twelve months later, their daughter, appropriately named “Bracha,” was born.
“When you marry a person who had cancer, you’re not marrying the average Joe,” adds Riva. “This is someone with more depth, this is a person who has really suffered and has a different perspective on life — more sensitivity.
“Some people don’t want to touch a shidduch that has anything to do with cancer, but let’s face it: there’s always going to be something, some skeleton in the closet. And, it’s a lot easier living with a cancer survivor than, say, someone with a middos problem.
“I think people have to reevaluate their perspectives here,” Riva maintains. “The label ‘damaged goods’ when it comes to past illness is awfully presumptuous and egregious. This is a person; not an illness. He never asked for this — this was given to him by the Ribbono shel Olam — just like any other nisayon. And, this is very possibly a special, wonderful person. How can you say ‘No?’ What if he’s your bashert?
“Of course, there are no guarantees, but unfortunately, we know that even couples who marry without a history of extenuating medical circumstances sometimes discover, r”l, fertility and health problems later on, only after marriage. When all is said and done, it’s in Hashem’s hands.”
Some basic guidelines for shidduch revelations, from Rav Yaakov Reisman shlita, rav of Agudath Israel of Long Island in Far Rockaway, New York.
When it comes to medical and personal issues, there are many levels and shades. When is one obligated to tell a prospective spouse, and when can one withhold the information?
If the secret involves something that (a) happened long ago (b) no longer affects daily functioning in any way and (c) won’t possibly show up in the marriage, one is not obligated to reveal. However, a good eitzah is to share this condition with someone whom you look forward to sharing your life with. It could be shared later in the process, or before you get engaged.
As a general rule, one is more likely to be told they must reveal a medical issue than a familial issue (e.g. a sibling’s divorce, or a sibling who is longer leading a Torah lifestyle).
At what point during the dating process should one disclose the information?
According to a kabbalah I received from Rav Shach ztz”l, it’s best to reveal after two solid dates.
If a particular boy or girl’s issue is well known, is one allowed to share the facts when giving shidduch information or redting a shidduch?
For example: There was a girl who had suffered from cancer, but the shadchan didn’t mention it — because the girl promised to reveal it on the third date — and her family didn’t want the boy to know about it before the shidduch even got off the ground. But, almost immediately after the boy’s parents began doing research, they found out from a community member that the girl had been absent for all of 11th grade, due to her illness.
The “revealer” was shocked that the parents had not already been told; after all, “the whole world knows!” The shadchan ended up looking like a fool for trying to hide something that most of the community knew about. In such a case, where the shadchan fears losing his credibility, may the shadchan tell the other side in advance of the third or fourth date?
If the reality is something most of the community knows about, the shadchan is permitted to share it. However, he should state only the name of the condition and not go into details, for his version may not be accurate. He should ask the affected party to provide a doctor’s phone number and simply proffer this contact information to the concerned party.
When giving shidduch information, if a person is asked directly, “Does this boy/girl have any kind of medical issue that you know about?” and she knows the boy/girl does, what should she say?
She must respond truthfully. She should name the condition but provide no additional details, and follow the above protocol for providing medical contact info. We must remember that when providing information, there’s also the obligation of “Ve’ahavta le’reacha kamocha.” Think to yourself: How would you want others to respond if you were the one doing the research? Would you want them to cover up the truth?
Note: The above guidelines are general. Every individual is obligated to consult personally with a rav upon encountering these situations.