I was friends with a young mother whom I would describe as being quite easygoing and mellow. One day we were schmoozing in the kitchen when her three-year-old son opened the fridge, grabbed a fruit and started biting into it. To my utter shock and disbelief, my friend’s face became contorted with rage, and she shrieked with fury at her child for taking food on his own – without her permission.
I thought that what he did was praiseworthy, an act of initiative and independence, and not at all deserving of his mother’s anger. (To put things in perspective, as a single mother of very young kids, I always worried how they would manage if I passed out or fell, and was thrilled when my oldest was strong enough and aware enough to access food on his own if necessary so he and his siblings wouldn’t starve until someone noticed I was incapacitated.) So for my friend to be outraged at her child’s resourcefulness had me shaking my head in astonishment. But even if what he did was against the household’s rules, her ferocious anger did not fit the “crime.”
I knew that that she and her husband were not financially well off – but a child grabbing a snack between meals surely did not warrant such wrath. Did she have an anger management issue? In public was she “nice” but in private, an explosive, hot-tempered, verbally abusive individual? Was she tragically repeating emotionally destructive parenting that she may have been exposed to?
I was never asked to be a reference, but I like to think that I would have had the integrity to say that she was a very sweet person, however, I had once witnessed behavior that gave me pause, with the caveat that she might have just been having a “bad day” and sometimes even the calmest people “lose it.” Then again, both sides of her could be real.
Unfortunately, people with personality disorders are usually cunning enough to put on a relatively normal persona in public. It’s not unusual for them to be well-respected, viewed as ehrlich and approachable. They are able to convince the people they associate with that it is a spouse or child or parent who is difficult to live with and the one who is “crazy” and unreasonable. They portray themselves as the abused parties. Since they have a distorted view of reality, their lies are convincing; this is actually how they interpret their world.
That is what is so scary about shidduchim. References can be manipulated, fooled and misled and thus quite innocently say favorable things about a very sick person. That is why it is reprehensible when those who do know that the individual has serious issues are silent.
I think it is crucial for future chatanim and kallot to be taught to recognize certain “red flags” that could indicate that a date has serious problems. It would be a huge mitzvah for psychologists and other mental health specialists to have sessions in the girls’ high schools and boys’ yeshivot and seminaries to teach what to look for. Someone who, for example, loses his temper at the waiter because his soup is lukewarm is not necessarily personality disordered, but it is a behavior that should be watched to see if it is part of a pattern.
Further investigation, for example, is warranted if a young lady is overly critical about trivial matters or speaks disrespectfully and condescendingly about her parents or friends as the relationship progresses. If she disparages these people, chances are she will be critical of her future spouse and children.