I truly believe the email writer when she writes that she is trying to help a co-worker. I don’t think the dilemma is hers. I think she wants to help her “co-worker.” But sometimes you will find out that one doesn’t necessarily want or need advice, but is completely happy in an unhealthy relationship. And I think the email writer should realize that her co-worker does not really want her situation to change because she continues to give ultimatums and deadlines to the boyfriend; deadlines pass and the co-worker never follows through on the ultimatums she herself set.
Read along and you can decide for yourselves. I could be wrong.
About three years ago a new woman started working in my office. I’ll describe her in order to paint the picture: blonde hair dye with dark roots showing, but not in the hombre style. It’s more like she hasn’t washed or colored her hair in weeks. It always has the same look to it: in need of a wash. She wears acrylic nails that are at least two inches long (the whole office hears her clicking on the keyboard as she types) and she leaves the office once an hour for a cigarette break. This woman can’t go without her cigarettes for more than a half hour or so, because that’s when she starts to get antsy. Her skirts are just an inch short of her knee, her shirts/ blouses always have a stain. Now let me get to the issue.
Right after she began working, we were in the kitchenette at the same time and, out of the blue, she started asking me about different levels of frumkeit. At first, I thought she had questions about herself, but then she said, “My boyfriend is from a chasidish family.” In short, she told me that her parents are Reform Jews and raised her and her siblings as Reform. She said she met her boyfriend through a friend. He was divorced with a ten-year-old son and was chasidish and because of that, she was sort of the “secret” girlfriend. She showed me a picture on her phone and there the two of them stood. Even though he wore a polo shirt and jeans, you were able to see his Yiddishe neshamah. He still had a face beard and his pei’os were short but tucked behind his ears.
Our conversations continued over time, and I’d say we are work friends, sort of. We talk, but mainly about her situation. She told me that she has been dating her boyfriend for close to four years and, “There is always an excuse as to why he won’t propose to me.” My heart broke for this woman. She may not be my type or the type of person that the family of her boyfriend thinks of when they think of him getting married, but she doesn’t deserve all this.
She said her boyfriend was raised in a chasidish family in Williamsburg. He married and was divorced a few years later and shared custody of his son with the ex-wife who is still chasidish. He walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but isn’t a duck – he plays the part of still being chasidish at work and with his family. When he’s with her or away from home, he acts differently, according to her. She has had the discussion about getting married with him many times, but as I wrote, there is always an excuse why he won’t propose now but promises he will “soon.”
The first excuse was: His son wouldn’t understand his new lifestyle, plus if he got married right away before his son adjusted to his way of life, he may cause trauma to his son. Then the excuse was that the boyfriend didn’t tell his mother about his true lifestyle; some siblings knew, but he couldn’t propose to her until he eased his mother into the idea that he does not live a chasidish life, and to get her used to the idea of him having a girlfriend… You can guess the rest. So that bought him some time. But now his son is 14, his mother knows about his lifestyle and about her, but that is about where it starts and ends.
One day, she came in and told me she met his parents the previous night. She had said the meeting went well. She was introduced as the girl he was “dating,” but then that was it. I didn’t want to ask because I could see she was hurt. Then she told me he wanted her to meet his son and spend some time with him before they got engaged. She met the son and they spent time together, but nothing happened. Then one day she told me that her boyfriend told her that when they can go one week without having an argument, he will propose. I almost burst out laughing. Even married couples can’t go a whole week without having a small argument! Relationships have ups and downs. By then, I was already thinking that she was being strung along and even suggested it to her. But she insisted that her boyfriend loved and wanted to marry her.
After Sukkos of this year, she told me that she gave him the deadline of Chanukah, and if he didn’t propose by then, she was going to break up with him. Chanukah came and went, and she was still with him. She told me that he said he was going to propose soon because he knew she was serious when she threatened to leave him on Chanukah. He just needed the right moment, so he presented her with a necklace instead. When Pesach rolled around and still no ring, she voluntarily told me that he wanted her to spend time over the last days with him and his son – to get the son used to having her around for Yom Tov. Then Shavuos came and she told me she gave the ultimatum, “Ring or I’m outta here.” He calmed her down by saying he was trying to find the right moment to tell his parents about the engagement, so even though he didn’t give her a ring, she can consider herself engaged, but she can’t officially tell anyone until he tells his parents, which will be “any day.” C’mon, seriously?
I can go on and on. What do I do? I really feel that her boyfriend is stringing her along, giving one excuse after another. I can only imagine how his family and friends will react if he gets engaged and marries her. I’m sorry, but it’s just the truth. He may think he isn’t chasidish anymore, but when push comes to shove, he can’t commit to her and her lifestyle. He may just be mixed up and confused, or he may truly love her and be afraid of marriage because of what happened in his first marriage. I’m tired of all of this. And I don’t think it’s fair for her to be treated like this, which I have said. She’s in her mid-30s and wants children of her own. What can I tell her? Do I tell her?
Thank you for your email, Sara F.
Before I address anything, let me begin by saying that even if you truly don’t care about your work mate’s relationship issues, you are doing a tremendous chesed by allowing her to vent to you. She feels like she has a confidante in you, and you may be able to understand her struggles. That feeling alone is priceless. Know that just by listening, you are helping your co-worker. I say “co-worker” and not “friend” because something about your email did not give me the warm fuzzies that make me think that you are actually friends with your work mate, and because you never referred to her as “my friend,” except once when you wrote “sort of friend.”
I think you are right about the situation. It sounds to me as though the boyfriend may be stringing her along. It’s been years, and while I can agree that a divorced individual with a child may want to take things slow in a new relationship, this isn’t a new relationship. She was introduced to his mother as “the girl he is dating”? I will categorize it for you. If you are dating someone for years, you are that person’s boyfriend/girlfriend! Someone you’re dating sounds like you have been going out for a few months and the relationship isn’t a serious one. The fact that your co-worker didn’t tell you how hurt she was by that or if an argument ensued afterwards, I can’t speak of. But I can say that if I was introduced like she was after years of dating, I wouldn’t say anything in front of his parents, but you can lay down money that we would be having that “conversation” in the car on the way home.
My heart is divided here, but not like how you may think. The boyfriend sounds like he is living two lives – a public one for friends and family, and a private one with her. He may be confused. He may know what he is doing and is just enjoying himself. I can’t speak about that, because I don’t know what is going on in his head about frumkeit; but if he really wanted to take the next step forward and he loves your co-worker as he claims he does (which I am guessing that he has said that to her – if not, why would she stick around), he would speak with her about his anxiety/fear of taking the next step or speak with a therapist or visit a couples therapist with her. Just the fact that he told her that if they can go one week without arguing he would propose, is laughable, but it bought him time.
Your co-worker has given ultimatums as well as deadlines. He has failed to rise to the occasion and propose, and she has failed to follow through on the ultimatums she set. She seems so firm on telling you, “If he doesn’t propose by ___, I’m leaving.” But he hasn’t proposed, and she is still hanging around. Yes, it’s hard to go from being a part of a couple for years to being on your own and starting fresh, but it’s healthier than staying in such a relationship. I don’t like to talk about who has the “power” in a relationship, because a relationship shouldn’t be about power. But she has in essence given her boyfriend all the power: “I don’t have to propose. I’ll give her a gift, or stall and she’ll stay. So I still get to stay in this situation/relationship.” Maybe, at first, his son was the real reason for not proposing, but that excuse isn’t viable anymore, so now he’s grasping at straws.
If your co-worker is serious about wanting to get married and have children of her own, in my opinion, she should leave the relationship. If she wants children of her own and a husband who loves her and can say it in public and in the company of family, her boyfriend isn’t giving that to her and she should leave. But she has had ample time, opportunity, and cause to leave and hasn’t. The longer she stays, the longer she is turning a blind eye to the truth and not being honest with him or herself. She may like being the victim and the wronged one in this situation. She may thrive on the sympathy of others.
Whatever it is, Sara, you have been good to her. You can continue to listen, but if you can’t stand the merry-go-round anymore, then extricate yourself by saying something about not being able to handle the roller-coaster of emotion her situation causes you to feel. But, again, sometimes people just want the sympathy and not the help. I just don’t know enough about the two people here.
Hatzlachah to you all.