Dear Navidaters:
I am a 27 year old professional.  I’m getting my PhD and have lots of friends. Guys tell me I’m attractive, but I’m not the “typical” skinny, hot girl. I’m thin, but at 5’9 I’m too tall to be “accepted” in our community.  I know from experience most people only want to redt girls who are a “sure thing” in the looks department, so while it hurt that at age 19, my height caused me to get a lot fewer dates, I was ok with it because I was in no rush to get married. The problem was that the guys I did date were waaay off, so I didn’t know if marriage was going to happen.

hole
Enter the businessman, who was everything I wanted.  Tall, with a successful business, ambitious and with a good family. He wasn’t intimidated by my height or brains and I thought he treated me well…until after we were engaged.  I ignored the red flags because I was excited about his qualities, but I realized that while we were dating he had been “grooming” me.  He planted small insecurities in my head, wrapped up in compliments. I slowly started relying on him for everything. He started telling me what to eat, how to act, what to wear, to never wear heels or an “up do” because he’d appear short.   But whenever I considered sticking up for myself, he’d act hurt and say he loved me and couldn’t believe I thought he’d ever hurt me.  Was it all in my head? I decided to “wait and see”, but when I started truly feeling like I made mistake, I was too caught up to do anything about it.

whirlwind
I was told how “hard” it was for me to get a date, and that I should consider that I’m overreacting, since he’s “perfect on paper”.  I didn’t need to be a girl with a broken engagement because of a few silly misunderstandings. No one saw how he acted behind closed doors. Five months into our engagement, the damage was done.  I felt like a battered woman: smart, capable, but unable to speak up because I was always trying to please “him”.  I thought “Oh, once the simcha is over and we’re not so stressed…” or “Oh, if I just curl my hair the way he likes…” everything will be ok.
One evening, after an awful fight, I mentioned breaking off the wedding.  He informed me that my name “would be mud” and that he would tell people I was promiscuous and I couldn’t do better than him.

ruin you

I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my family, as they didn’t quite know what was happening and could not be objective so I chose to speak to my seminary teacher.  I told her the whole story, and she told me she wouldn’t break up our shidduch, that it’s just cold feet, and if he’s everything I want on paper, I’m lucky and I should get married with brocha.

cold feet

I left her office dizzy, realizing no one would take my side in a battle between him and me, and if I broke it off, he would ruin my reputation and I’d have no chance to marry anyone. Ever. I’m embarrassed to say I went through with it, convincing myself it was the right choice.

Fast forward 2 years.  We moved to his hometown so he could continue his business. I only had a few friends and no job. He told me where to go and what to do. He ripped up school application because he said it would be embarrassing for him to have an educated wife.  He drove me to and from the gym and bought our groceries so I wouldn’t end up “fat like my mother”. The years of emotional abuse that I suffered through still haunt me, but I had no “scars” to show.

manipulation     emotional abuse

Toward the end, I would leave the apartment and sleep in hotels to get away from him.  I hid in closets to call the few friends who knew what was going on so he wouldn’t hear my conversation.  When I finally gathered the courage to change the locks, he walked away and claimed he left ME.  He acted like a perfect gentleman on the outside.  I moved back home, where luckily he was miles away.

I immediately made the choice to take the high road and not speak about him, even to my close friends.  I was especially ashamed of allowing myself to get into that situation, and I didn’t want to start a war.  I did not want to be a “bitter divorcee” so I said it just didn’t work out. I was always “happy” and chose to move on.just want to be happyWhen I started dating, I didn’t get many dates, even though by then I Was down to a size 4 from stress, but now I was too tall and divorced.  I began calling shadchanim, but no one would return my calls.  I met a lovely woman at a wedding who told me about a boy she thought of for me.  I told her I was divorced, and she said that it might be a problem, but maybe she knew someone else. When she started taking down my information, I told her my name and she said forget it and quickly closed her phone and turned away, but I was so confused.

nasty face

I asked her why.  Her response?  “I know what you did.” When I asked what in heaven’s name she meant, she said “your ex and I share a cousin and she told me during your marriage you took secret phone calls and slept over at hotels and he had no idea who you were with.”  Basically, he suggested I had an affair.  Once I realized this rumor had reached complete strangers, I noticed that people had been treating me differently for months.

rumors

While I thought people were impressed by my ability to hold my head up high, they took that as proof that I was in the wrong, and strangers and enemies were spreading this rumor! Now I wear a scarlet “A”. My ex, who on the outside seems only honest and hurt (he’s a very good actor) is now trying to ruin my life.  Meanwhile, he’s dating and acting like he was just unlucky that he was stuck with me.

SO FOR THE QUESTION: do I stoop to his level and tell people the truth? I’m afraid of appearing guilty, or worse, for everyone to know what he did to me and being called “damaged”.   Either way I lose.  How can I handle this elegantly?

(P.S., even if you can’t respond, I want girls in my situation to know they should seek help! These things can happen to anyone-even if you’re tall, smart, skinny, self-assured, a person can bring you down. It’s not your fault. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you can always ALWAYS get out! It’s better to be single and happy than to suffer.  Contrary to what we are taught, marriage is NEVER as important as your happiness!)

I love you guys.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing your story with us.  It is an honor to be trusted with your past, your feelings surrounding your experiences and with the virtue of responding to you at your impasse.  To live through an abusive marriage and have the strength to leave is a testament to your courage and resilience.  To have the desire and will to share your story so that others can learn and possibly avoid such a relationship is a testament to your character, middot and fortitude.  All of the above speak volumes about you.  Not only did you survive, you are carving out a life for yourself in which you aim to thrive.  He may have ripped up those school applications but you are going for your PhD now.  Amazing!  The Navidaters think you are quite a catch and that any guy would be lucky to take you to dinner.

you're a catch

I am going to first respond to your “P.S” and then address your current situation.  When you met your ex-husband, he must have been quite charming.  Tall and attractive, a businessman from a wonderful family.  Very often, charming and sweet guys are just that… charming and sweet.  It’s the real deal and they will probably treat you properly until the end of time.  But sometimes charming and sweet is the cover for the wolf in a sheep’s clothing.

wolf in sheep's clothing

How can you tell the difference?  Here’s the answer:  If something feels off or not right, even if you can’t put your finger on it or put it into words, it probably is off.  DON’T IGNORE THE FLAGS and don’t ignore your intuition.  As with our writer’s story, she felt something was off.  She approached a seminary teacher with her feelings and was told she was having cold feet.  I am sure her seminary teacher is a lovely and wonderful person who only wanted the best for our writer.  But she is not a professional who could have helped our writer process her feelings in a safe, empathic and objective environment.  To the women out there in similar situations reading Anonymous’ story, speak to someone now.  The issues will not go away and will only get worse once you are married.

don't ignore the flags

Your ex began to plant seeds of doubt and insecurity in your head.  Like so many women, you logically thought that if you agreed to his demands everything would be wonderful and maybe even go away once you were married.  If I just lose that extra pound, or curl my hair just so, or not burn his dinner this time, or pay extra attention to him or cut that friend or relative out of my life (the list is truly endless) I will make him happy.  Spouses in abusive relationships are very often confused and begin to believe the abuser because they are very convincing and/or they are afraid of the repercussions of not obliging.  By the end of your two years together, you found yourself hiding in closets just to make a private phone call and escaping to hotel rooms.

abusive relationship

You mention that you are “embarrassed to say I went through with it, convincing myself it was the right choice” after he threatened you with slander.  This is what abusive men do; it’s part of the MO.  Threats, lies, punishments etc.  I have worked with domestic abuse victims and the stories are all similar.  The spying, controlling and twisting of truths are attempts at manipulating their victims into a state of helplessness.  Victims of abuse generally feel ashamed; ashamed of their choices, ashamed of “allowing” it to continue and ashamed of staying. You were put in an extremely difficult situation and did not have the support you so desperately needed.  My wish for you is to rid yourself of this shame.  It is his final hold on you.  Which leads me to your reason for writing in to The Navidaters.

shame brene brown quote

Here you are, a beautiful, attractive (since when is 5’9 not an envious height?  I must be living under a rock), bright and ambitious young woman who would like to remarry.  Since your divorce, you have wanted to take the high road and not speak about the abuse you endured.  It has now come to your attention that your ex-husband has been doing a lot of talking!  His slander and false reporting has come back to haunt you because people refuse to set you up on dates.

First and foremost, if I understand correctly, you have not told anyone about what happened to you.  Regardless of your dating situation, I think it is imperative to talk to someone.  I am so happy that you have moved on and chosen happiness.  Again, a demonstration of your character.  However, it concerns me that you haven’t spoken to a trusted person about it.  If for no other reason than to figure out why you ignored your intuition so that you never find yourself in a similar situation in the future, it will be time well spent.

q and a

“So, for the question: do I stoop to his level and tell people the truth? I’m afraid of appearing guilty, or worse, for everyone to know what he did to me and being called “damaged”.   Either way I lose.  How can I handle this elegantly?”

As I see it, you have three choices before you.  You can continue to speak nothing of your past to shadchanim.  This option frees you from “stooping to his level” and allows you to behave elegantly.  There is great reason to follow Option 1.

You can let the shadchanim know your side of the story.  This may make you feel as though you are being pulled back into your past, into the abuse and that you are not rising above his foolishness.  However, it frees you and may restore your shem tov (good name).  However you risk being seen as “damaged goods” as you write.  Option 2 is good as well.

self acceptance

The third choice is to tell people on a need to know basis.  As I see it, you are not stooping to his level by sharing your story.  This isn’t a game and there are no levels.  You survived an abusive marriage to a toxic individual who could have completely destroyed you had you stayed.  Keeping this a secret may unfortunately wind up damaging you both internally and in your future relationships.

The shadchan you encountered behaved extremely unprofessionally and hurtfully. Shame on her!  Unfortunately, I see so much of this in the shidduch world and secular world as well.  These abusive story-telling men and women tell tall tales of how awful their ex-spouses were and people eat it up and make assumptions.  In dealing with future shadchanim, should the issue arise you may want to have a line or two prepared that you can deliver without thinking too much.  For example if someone should say to you, “I heard you were having an affair” or “You didn’t act like much of a wife,” you can respond with “When I am confronted with these hurtful rumors I am never sure if I should set the record straight or not entertain them because of how ridiculous they are.”

There are no guarantees that the choice you make will turn out to be the right one.  Ultimately you have to make this decision and be able to live with your decision. Each choice has merit.  But know this, you cannot run away from your past.  It is part of you but it does not define you.  I am wondering if the “shame” you felt all those years ago is still playing a role in some way, shape or form in your current situation.  If you feel it is, or think it might, please speak to someone.  What does your intuition tell you?

intuition

You ignored it many moons ago, and now again is the time to listen.  It will no longer be ignored.  Even if it is unclear or garbled, even if at this point it is only a feeling that can’t be put into words… sit with it, and listen until you understand it.

Sincerely,

The Navidaters

516.224.7779

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