A young engaged kallah recently shared with me that some newlywed couples have sought a psak on when to start a family. The reason for this “out of left field” attitude is the growing number of pregnant or new mothers shlepping newborns and infants with them to receive their get. It is beyond heartbreaking as these babies are likely going to be the subjects of vicious custodial tugs of war, or even cut off from one side of their biological family, either because of an indifferent parent or a misguided court order.
Bolstering what this young lady told me was a comment made by a friend who had half-a-dozen friends over one Shabbat afternoon. She noted that half of them had children who were divorced with children. I asked her why her one particular single mother with a number of children had not moved back home so she could be near her family, but I knew the answer. The courts want both parents to have easy access to their children and are reluctant to allow one parent to move beyond a certain mile limit.
Several years ago I suggested that newlywed couples speak to their rav about family planning. The first year of marriage is when most couples get to know each other – let’s be honest, going out a handful of times, getting engaged, and then married a couple of months later is not conducive to knowing a person well. Everyone is on his or her best behavior when dating and often what you see is not what you get.
If one or both spouses are immature, has a personality disorder or is rigid, narrow-minded and uncompromising – “my way or the highway” – in their thought and action, then ending what arguably will be a contentious, even toxic marriage is much easier when there are no children. Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.
Sometimes the husband and wife are both normal, lovely people, but are not on the same page on crucial issues – frumkeit or where to live (West Coast or West Bank for example) – that are hard to resolve. In that case, they can have a friendly parting with no collateral damage.
Now and then we hear of a broken engagement, sometimes just days before the wedding. While it is devastating to both parties, I have to applaud the bravery and integrity of the chassan or kallah who listened to their gut feeling and called the wedding off, despite the mindset of those who see this as a taint.
It takes great courage and self-esteem to walk away from a path you sense will lead to a dead end. I know too many people who caved in to parental pressure, or believed it was just nerves, and ended up in matrimonial quicksand that took years of mental and physical stress, and thousands upon thousands of dollars, to extradite themselves from. They and their children paid an excruciating price for something that was preventable.
Perhaps rabbanim should encourage young people to date longer. Often there is an expectation that a handful of dates will lead to an engagement. If there were less pressure, a young couple would be less likely to prematurely “seal the deal,” and instead take their time until they felt confident they were making the right choice.
None of us would want to be on an airplane whose pilot took a handful of flying lessons and was then given his “wings” on the optimistic belief he knew what he was doing. How much more so should a fairly inexperienced boy or girl – who has very little social interaction with the opposite gender – not jump into marriage without more “training?”
One can argue that each date is vetted beforehand and a million questions are asked and answered to wean out unsuitable suitors. But speaking to several references and doing intensive research down to the number of dental fillings the boy or girl has isn’t a foolproof method of ensuring that two people are compatible. All those young couples on their way to marital therapy or to the bais din for a get went out in the first place because they “passed inspection” and were deemed “dateable” and worthy of a meeting.
On the flip side, it can be pointed out that there are couples who have known each other for years and their marriages didn’t work out. Conversely, there are happily married couples who met briefly, perhaps a couple of times. There are no guarantees that a marriage will work no matter how long you’ve known each other. But I believe that more dates over a period of time provides opportunities to see the potential spouse in different circumstances and situations, something that may reveal his or her true nature.
Years ago I went out with someone who was highly educated, bright and earned a good living. We were on the same page on many religious and political issues and we had similar interests. He was quite generous and “wined and dined me,” but I realized that he was condescending and stingy with others, giving a small tip to the waiter at times or berating the parking valet for taking too long. His rude behavior to what he considered his inferiors was a red flag to me. If he had acted that way only one time, I could rationalize that he was having a “bad day,” but he was denigrating even when he wasn’t stressed.
Men have commented on some of the traits they saw in women even on first dates – like ordering the most expensive item on the menu. Others were bothered by having to wait or always being late for a show because their date was rarely ready on time. They wondered if the young lady was being inconsiderate, thoughtless or pathologically unorganized. Some of these girls were considered “top” girls, and highly sought after.
Some nuances of behavior take time to be revealed, and may be missed if there is a short dating/engagement time frame, but noticed in the first few months of marriage.
What might have earlier been tolerated as quirky behavior has now become unacceptable. While it was charming, for example, to hear her talk animatedly about her interests, it now borders on being narcissistic, as she shows no interest in anything that doesn’t revolve around her. She resents your volunteering at Tomchei Shabbos because if you loved her, you would want to spend all your time with her and not help out strangers.
While you admired his tailored suits and matching ties, you now realize he lives beyond his means and has no financial self-discipline.
That first year of marriage should be spent becoming a couple. I know that the whole point of marriage is to build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael – but in order for that to happen, there must be a strong healthy foundation on which to build. It is better to find out sooner rather than later that the pillars supporting the “dream” home are incompatible. Better there should not be any children potentially buried in the rubble of a broken, non-viable home.