Maybe she was embarrassed about it, I thought. She certainly wasn’t willing to share it with me
Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer
Kayla was 26 when she started dating Yechiel, who was the same age. “He checks off all the boxes,” she reported after their third date. “And the conversation flows, we don’t run out of things to talk about.”
The fourth date was intense. “It was one long hashkafah conversation,” she told me. “But it was good, we agree on the main things. And I appreciate that we’re able to really talk through an issue together.”
Dates five, six, and seven went well for both of them. Kayla started saying things like, “I wonder if this could really be it?”
Yechiel wasn’t asking that question; he was saying things like, “When do you think she’ll be ready?”
But suddenly Kayla changed her tune. his could be it turned into something’s bothering me. But she didn’t seem to know exactly what it was. “I just can’t put my finger on it.”
I urged her to try to figure it out. “You connected with Yechiel in a way you’ve never connected with a guy before,” I reminded her. “Figure out what’s getting in your way and see if you can work it out.”
“I’m not really sure,” she said vaguely.
For their ninth date, Yechiel took Kayla to a nice restaurant, but it fell flat. “I wish we could go back to how things were in the beginning,” Kayla moaned. “Something feels off now.”
“Kayla,” I said, “are you comfortable with Yechiel’s appearance?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Attraction is not an issue?” I pressed.
“Not at all,” she insisted.
I thought for a minute. “Does he have a lisp? Or a speech impediment?” I tried. “Or something like that?”
“No,” Kayla insisted. “I’m telling you, it’s just a feeling.”
I tried a few approaches to help Kayla figure out what was bothering her, but she wasn’t willing to admit to anything concrete. Maybe she was embarrassed about it, I thought. She certainly wasn’t willing to share it with me.
So Kayla and Yechiel continued dating. They went out 11 times. Twelve times. Thirteen times.
By their 14th date, they had morphed from “almost engaged” to “going nowhere.” Yechiel was frustrated and confused. “Why is this happening?” he asked me. “I feel like I lost her somewhere.”
I called Kayla. “We need to figure this out,” I said.
“Fine.” She was quiet for a minute. “I’ll tell you what it is, but it’s going to seem really stupid to you.” She stuttered for a minute before blurting out, “He blows his nose really loudly.”
“It sounds like a foghorn,” she said, giggling nervously. “Whenever it happens, I blush. It’s embarrassing. Like one of those old men in shul with those handkerchiefs.”
“I hear,” I said.
“In the beginning I didn’t notice it so much,” she said. “But at some point… I just… it really bothers me. It doesn’t happen often, but I keep thinking about it, and when it does happen… It makes me embarrassed and uncomfortable, even if no one is around.
“I know what you’re going to say,” she went on, “ ‘this is why you’re not married.’ ” She put on a nasal voice and mimicked, “You’re too picky!” She dropped the tone. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy.”
When it’s your friend or daughter turning down a good boy because of hair that’s too curly, a nose that’s too big, or a chin that’s too pointy, it does seem crazy. But as a shadchan, I’d seen this pattern before.
The problem had nothing to do with his nose.
Often, when it begins to sink in that the person you’re dating could potentially be “the one,” it’s like a switch flips, and your brain goes into hyper-analytical mode. Suddenly, everything matters very intensely. Minor things take on great meaning and get factored into the ultimate decision.
Kayla herself acknowledged this. “It would never bother me if it was my brother, or my friend’s husband,” she said. “But somehow, it really disturbs me here.” She sounded defensive. “It’s not just in my head!”
“You’re absolutely correct,” I answered. “Yechiel does blow his nose loudly. Don’t fight it, it’s there.” I paused. “And now you need to make a decision. Make a list of Yechiel’s maalos and chesronos, including this nose-blowing thing, and let me know what you think.”
“He doesn’t have that many chesronos,” Kayla said. “It’s this one major thing and maybe another one or two little things.”
Kayla decided to talk to a mentor. She called me back to report that her mentor had said she just had cold feet and she should “keep dating until the nose blowing stops bothering her, and she feels excited to get engaged.”
At this point Yechiel and Kayla had gone out 18 times. I knew that more dates wouldn’t make any difference. Kayla didn’t need to become more comfortable with Yechiel. Kayla needed to become more comfortable with herself. She needed to accept the imperfections she saw in him, and decide for herself whether his maalos outweighed the chesronos.
I called the rebbetzin.
“I know you don’t want to hear this from me, because I’m ‘the pushy shadchan, who just wants to make a shidduch,’ ” I told her, “but I respectfully disagree with the advice you gave Kayla.
“Under normal circumstances your advice is good. But in this case, what’s happening is that she’s extremely nervous. She’s hyper-focusing on this one thing, out of anxiety that comes with taking a very big step.
“When there’s a real issue that has to be worked through, you can keep dating and see if things fall into place. But that’s not the case here. Kayla needs to sit alone in a quiet room and figure herself out. Some time and space, no pressure, and steady emotional support should be enough for a person like her to get clarity.”
I told this to Kayla as well. “You know everything you need to know about Yechiel. It’s decision time. Take a week off to think about it: Are you going to give it up, or accept it and go ahead?”
A week later Kayla gave me her answer: No.
“I think I’m supposed to marry him eventually,” she defended herself, “but my rebbetzin said I should keep dating for now, and that’s what I want to do.”
Yechiel wasn’t willing to continue dating at this point, and I didn’t push him to. People think that “cold feet” means running away when the boy proposes because you’re scared to commit (or, in the case of a boy, disappearing and never proposing). But cold feet looks like this too — when a relationship has real potential, but you start finding reasons why it can’t be the right one because of fear or anxiety. I’ve seen Kayla’s version of cold feet many times, and the person herself is the only one that can cure it.
It was over. Yechiel stopped calling Kayla. I stopped calling Kayla. Kayla stopped calling her rebbetzin and her friends and her sisters to rehash every new development. Without all the drama and pressure and hyperarousal, Kayla’s emotions settled down. She was able to review the experience with more clarity. Four weeks after she said no, she called me back to say yes.
By then Yechiel had spent four weeks trying to get over her. He felt rejected and hurt, and his defenses were up. But after some consideration, he agreed to see Kayla one more time.
to be continued…
Shani Leiman is a teacher and shadchan in Silver Spring, Maryland.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 698)
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