| Family Diary |

Line of Fire

"She shot me questions one after the other, like I was on some kind of game show or something”


Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer

S ruly Geldwirth called me on the way home from his date. “That was not a date,” he told me. “That was an interview!”

I could hear a honk and the squeal of tires.

“And not just any interview,” he continued. “An über intense interview. She shot me questions one after the other, like I was on some kind of game show or something.” Now I could hear him honking. “Watch how you drive,” he muttered. Then, “I didn’t have a second to catch my breath. This was, like, the most unenjoyable date ever.”

“Sounds pretty bad,” I said.

“Yeah.” I could hear the ignition dinging, then a door slam. The background noise faded.

“No redeeming factors?” I asked.

He sounded a little calmer now that he was home. “I liked her parents,” he said. “How’s that for irony? I could tell they were special people, so normal and considerate. I enjoyed talking to them. In fact, I even felt like we ‘clicked.’ ” He laughed. “I would rather have dated them than their daughter!”

I was at a loss. I had set up Zeldy many times and never gotten the feedback Sruly was giving me now. What had happened?

“Maybe your expectation was for a relaxed date,” I suggested tentatively, “and Zeldy was more focused? So you felt, um, attacked?”

“Attacked. Exactly. Her questions were more like bullets than bullet points,” Sruly joked.

“Look,” I said, “I understand why you might have felt uncomfortable, but this intense reaction is just… strange for a first date.”

“The whole thing was strange.”

“Did she seem very tired?”

“I don’t know,” he said wearily. “All I can tell you is that I was on edge the whole time, I couldn’t relax.”

Well, most people can’t relax when they’re being interrogated. I called Zeldy.

“I blew it,” she said bluntly. “I know I did, you don’t have to tell me. Mrs. Leiman, I’m a mess. I need a break from dating.”


“I can’t deal with this whole long, drawn-out process! I can’t deal with first and second dates. I just want to cut to the chase and get it over with. I want to know what this guy is about, what’s his deal. I know I was kind of relentless on this date. Is that what he told you?”

“He may have said something to that effect.”

“He’s right. I feel bad. You don’t understand what happened.” She took a deep breath. “Like an hour before he picked me up, I was getting ready, and my friend called. My really good friend. She called to tell me her engagement was off. I think…” Her voice wavered. “I think I just took it all out on him.”

Then she lowered her voice and whispered, “I just don’t like guys, Mrs. Leiman.”

I struggled not to laugh. “I think you’re going to have to work through that somehow,” I said. “I mean, only if you want to get married.”

She muttered something under her breath.

“It’s hard to watch your friend suffer a broken engagement,” I said, more sympathetically. “I get how it could make you want to get even with the entire male population. But I think we can both agree that your friend’s situation has nothing to do with Sruly per se.”

Zeldy laughed nervously. “I know, I know. I feel bad for how I treated him.” She paused. “How bad is it? Can we do some damage control?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “Let me speak to him and get back to you.”

Sruly was reluctant to meet Zeldy again. I explained the circumstances as best as I could, stressing that Zeldy acknowledged her mistake and felt terrible. “And you really liked her parents!” I reminded him. (Never in my life did I think I would use that argument to get a guy to say yes.)

“Fine,” he said finally. “I’ll give her one more chance.”

I knew Sruly would be extra sensitive, and I tried to prep Zeldy before the date. “When you ask a question, your tone rises at the end of the sentence, where the ‘question mark’ is,” I explained. “A rising tone injects stress into the conversation. It may be minor and usually imperceptible, but it’s a stress. A lot of questions is a lot of stress.”

“So no questions?” she asked.

“You can find out about the other person without direct questions,” I pointed out. “And that’s much gentler, and builds the conversation organically. Listen to the difference: Let’s say a guy tells you he’s a lawyer. You could either say, ‘That’s cool, what’s your schedule like?’ or you could say, “That’s cool, tell me what your day is like.’ Do you hear the difference?”

Zeldy digested this. “It’s less harsh the second way,” she said.

“Exactly. Questions — especially lots of questions — are demanding and create tension. Statements are gentler, more inviting, and inject the conversation with a sense of relaxed curiosity.”

Both Zeldy and Sruly reported to me that she did much better on their “second first date.” Still, Sruly was disinclined to continue. This time, I accepted his answer.

But I was worried for Zeldy. I wanted to set her up with a guy I had just met — Freidler from Brooklyn. But was she ready to date positively and productively? Could she maintain the new, careful attitude? Or would she get too impatient and blow another chance?

I got an email from her a few days later.

Hi, Mrs. Leiman,

I just wanted to thank you again for your help with the whole parshah with the Geldwirth boy. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you told me. I don’t want to be one of those older singles who get all crusty around the edges. I decided to practice the statement-technique, so it becomes a habit.

You know I’m a speech therapist. I work in a school. Yesterday I was called to join a meeting. One of the kids I treat was acting out and the principals and teachers had him in the office. They were all shooting questions at him, and he was just sitting there, refusing to talk.

I sat down next to him and instead of asking questions, I started making statements. I said, “It sounds like something really bad happened today,” and “You probably want a chance to tell us about it in your own words.” He turned toward me and immediately started talking. My supervisor was wowed.

I’m sure she was. And me, I was relieved. The Friedler boy had just said yes.


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

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 749)

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