| Family Diary |

Trust Me

"Each time, I really think this is it and I’m sure I’m going to make this one work, but at the last minute, I can’t go ahead with it"


Shani Leiman with Zivia Reischer

"This is the fourth time!” The woman on the phone was distraught. “The fourth time this is happening! My son is about to get engaged, and he’s going to walk away. Again!”

She took a deep breath, and then continued in a lower voice, “There’s something wrong here. I didn’t want to admit it for a long time, but there is definitely a problem.”

Shimmy was already 34, she told me. “I’ve bought four kallah bracelets and returned three of them. I can’t believe I’m going to have to return this one too.”

The last time this happened, she shared, was particularly upsetting. “My husband and I were on vacation — just a short getaway, which we desperately needed. We’d been caring for our elderly parents, they had been in and out of the hospital, and life had been very, very stressful for a long time. It took herculean efforts to arrange coverage so they would be cared for while we went away, but we did it.

“Then Shimmy called and told us he was ready to make it official. We cut our vacation short and flew back home.” There were layers of pain in her voice. “Don’t think I hadn’t asked him a hundred times if he was absolutely sure this time. He insisted that this was it. But by the time our plane landed, it was over. He couldn’t go through with it. He said it ‘didn’t feel right.’ ”

Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I was so angry at him. How could he do this to us? To her? To himself? That was three years ago. And now it’s happening again!”

Her anguish and frustration were painful to hear. “Debbie,” I said gently, “I know how hard this must be for you. You should know, though, that Shimmy isn’t doing this on purpose. When he backs out, it’s because he really believes he can’t go through with it. But it’s probably going to keep happening. He doesn’t know how to break the cycle.”

Fear of commitment can run deep. There’s an internal war raging: On one hand, such people will insist they want to get married and will go through the motions of dating. But as the relationship develops, it becomes increasingly more difficult for them to progress.

Shimmy called me. He seemed intelligent and accomplished; he had a degree in finance and a great job.

“I’m very lucky,” he told me frankly. “I was offered this great position when I was 28, straight out of school. I’ve been there ever since — about six years.”

“Nice! What do you do in the evenings?”

“I have a chavrusa every night. We’ve actually been learning together since my yeshivah days.”

I found it interesting that the concept of a long-term commitment was not foreign to Shimmy in his professional life or personal development, but somehow this didn’t extend to his dating relationships. I asked him about his dating history.

Shimmy launched into a rehearsed speech. “I’ve been in numerous serious relationships. Each time, I really think this is it and I’m sure I’m going to make this one work, but at the last minute, I can’t go ahead with it. I know everyone is upset at me, but I’m not doing it on purpose. I really can’t do it!”

“I believe you,” I told him.

I explained to Shimmy that fear of commitment frequently stems from a previous relationship you either experienced or observed that causes you to have anxiety about being close to someone. In some way, you’re afraid of having a close relationship because you’re scared of history repeating itself.

Another possibility is that you may be extremely private and need to build close relationships very slowly and gradually. Rushing the process can cause you to panic and back out.

First Shimmy denied having had any such experiences, but after I gave him some examples, he shared something he remembered.

“Once, when I was six years old, my mother hired a babysitter to watch me for a few hours after school. The babysitter was supposed to be at our house by the time I got home, but she got a flat tire on the way and I sat on the front steps for what felt like hours, waiting.

“I was only six years old and terrified that everyone had forgotten about me. For years I had a fear of coming home after school to an empty house. Even now, when I pull up to our house and there’s no car in the driveway, I hate it.”

No one can commit to marriage without a strong sense of trust in the other person. Trust that they’ll be committed and not abandon you. Trust that they’ll be there for you, even when they inevitably discover things about you they hadn’t known and may not like. Trust that they’ll stand by you even when the going gets tough.

“Look,” I told Shimmy honestly, “I’m a shadchan and a dating coach. I can help you try to understand yourself a little bit, but it sounds like you might have some trauma that you never worked through.

“It may be due to this experience, it may be about additional experiences. What we do know is that it’s there beneath the surface, affecting your choices and decisions. It may make sense to see a therapist to work through this. It could make a world of a difference for you.”

For a long moment Shimmy was silent.

“I never viewed my life experiences this way before. Maybe I really will see a therapist, like you said.” Then he added, “Thank you so much.”

I stretched; this had been a looong phone call. “Shimmy,” I said, “can I ask you a favor?”

“You name it.”

“Please keep me posted. I have a lot of confidence in you. You can make it work. Text me when you get engaged. I just may crash the l’chayim.”

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

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 745)

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