This is one of those times when I must get serious and send out a PSA to readers. Yes, most parts of dating can be characterized as “fun,” but dating is a serious topic. Besides looking for “the one” to spend the rest of your life with, you are looking for someone who is a mentch, who will love you and treat you well under all circumstances. This is a letter from a concerned friend about what she is observing with her best friend.
I’m writing for my friend. It’s really my friend and not me in disguise. I’ll call her Bracha.
Bracha is my best friend. She is engaged and getting married very soon. Because I know her so well, I know when something is wrong with her, and something is definitely wrong now. When I was engaged, I was happy and nervous all the time. I expected Bracha to be the same in her own way, but everything that Bracha and I thought she would be doing when Bracha would become a kallah has not happened. In fact, the opposite is happening. I need some advice. I’ll just list things that I find as being “off.”
- Even with little decisions (about her new apartment), Bracha has to consult Chaim (fake name for chasan) about everything. She refused to buy the cutest set of His and Her mugs until she showed Chaim and he gave his opinion. On mugs? Couldn’t she just have made them a little cutesy gift? Apparently not. It seemed very weird.
- She isn’t as bubbly as she used to be or how we expected her to be when she would find a chasan. Bracha smiles when she talks about wedding plans, Chaim, and everything else, but the smile doesn’t seem to reach her eyes.
- We don’t speak as much anymore. It’s normal for a kallah to talk and spend time with her chasan more than friends, but I specifically call when I know Bracha is available; but I either get sent to voicemail right away or a quick text, “Can’t talk.” But she almost never calls me back.
- Bracha’s wedding shower is two weeks away and a couple of other friends and I are planning it. We want to play the type of matching game that every shower has. We want to ask Bracha the same questions we ask Chaim and see if their answers match up. Bracha said that Chaim wouldn’t want to be a part of the shower and to leave him out of it.
- When I saw Chaim and Bracha in the pizza shop a couple of weeks ago, I went over to say hi. Bracha looked like she wanted to kill me. She gave me “that” look. I took the hint and said goodbye, thinking they were in the middle of a serious discussion.
- I’ve asked her countless times to invite Chaim out for dinner with me and my husband so the husbands can get to know each other. She keeps delaying it by saying she or Chaim are busy or maybe after the wedding.
- She isn’t as bubbly as she used to be, and when I tried to speak with her about this, she told me to “Let it go.”
I’m not a professional in this field, except I am a professional friend. Something feels wrong. It’s a lot of little things. Lots of little things add up to a big thing. I don’t want to upset Bracha again by bringing it up, and I absolutely do not want to speak with anyone who knows her, because I don’t want to start a rumor or anything that can lead people to talk about something that I hope I’m wrong about. I didn’t even bring it up to our other friends who have raised their eyebrows and looked at me when Bracha says something “off.”
I’m turning to you. Do you think something is going on with my best friend and her chasan? I can’t sleep at night because this is all I think about. I hope I’m wrong, but what if I’m not? Can you advise?
Briendy* (fake name)
Briendy, thank you so much for your letter.
Yours is a very important letter for everyone to read. And give yourself lots of credit; you are a friend looking out for another. You’re willing to risk friendship by seeking help for Bracha, rather than just sitting by and saying, “I’m probably wrong, and if I’m not, she would tell me.” You are a wonderful professional friend.
I am not a professional in regard to this topic, so I can’t tell you anything for certain, except if you see or think something, say something. But say it to the right people in the right way. As you said, you haven’t mentioned your fears to your other friends even when they raise their eyebrows themselves. I am so glad that you wrote in.
I will begin by saying that you can and should call Shalom Task Force to discuss Bracha’s case. The person picking up the phone is specially trained to deal with issues such as this. Keep in mind that everything is kept confidential. From the smallest of details to the biggest facts, nothing will be shared.
Before I write my opinion, I want everyone out there, men and women, to take note of this letter. Physical abuse leaves marks where others can’t easily see them (on ribs, back, upper arm, etc.), or if the abuser doesn’t care, then on the face or on the hands. Verbal and emotional abuse leaves its mark just as much as being punched, pushed, or slapped. Shalom Task Force came to speak to my high school class as we prepared for our graduation, because soon after we graduated, some were entering right into the shidduch parshah. It’s important to know what to look for to stay safe. I think all girls’ high schools should have someone from Shalom Task Force come and speak to their seniors. Unfortunately, some need to hear what is said and they never hear it, until they are the ones calling the hotline and it’s only when they have experienced things firsthand.
I’ve done my fair share of research into this topic, and have read in a few sources that one in four women – and one in six men – experience the effects of some type of domestic violence in their lifetimes. Yes, men as well. Those odds are high and not only applicable to the secular world. Many frum people can tell you that domestic violence happens in the frumest of homes, and the abuser may have the longest beard, give the Daf Yomi, or cook the best cholent. Sometimes the abuser hides this side of himself or herself in the dating and engagement phase of the relationship, and sometimes they don’t; little bits ebb out so that something may indeed feel “off.”
Some signs that your friend may be in an emotionally abusive relationship are:
- Pulling away from friends and family, isolating him/herself from others and a change in behavior. You had mentioned that you don’t speak with Bracha as often as you used to – but that could be due to her being busy with her chasan and plans, along with her regular life responsibilities. You add that she keeps delaying a dinner with you and your husband, and she doesn’t seem so bubbly anymore. This is your best friend; wouldn’t she want you to share in this exciting time for her, even ask you for advice since you have gone through it?
- Not being allowed to make decisions on his or her own. It struck me as odd that Bracha wouldn’t buy the mugs without Chaim’s say so. But that could be for several reasons (although I can’t think of any right now).
- Stonewalling others. This involves refusing to communicate with another person. Intentionally shutting down during an argument, it is also known as the silent treatment. You wrote that when you tried to question her about her change in behavior, she told you, “Let it go.” Stonewalling happens in the emotional abuse relationship, as well, when one stonewalls, shuts down, or gives the silent treatment to the other for long periods of time.
- Defensiveness. Has Bracha been excessively defensive about her change in behavior or about Chaim’s behavior? The Shakespearean play Hamlet comes to mind with the line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Why be overly defensive to convince others of something or of nothing?
Briendy, these are just some examples. I can go on, but I think you are on the right track of wanting to speak with someone about this, especially if Bracha won’t speak with you. It’s also admirable that you don’t want to discuss this with just anybody for fear of a false rumor getting out. If all of this happens to equal to a great big nothing, great. But I urge you to call Shalom Task Force and tell the person all you have written, plus anything else you can think of. You will answer their questions, as well. Hopefully a plan can be formulated of how you can handle this situation and speaking about this to Bracha.
Never be afraid to speak up. I’d rather be wrong and make a fool out of myself than not say anything if I was in your position and something happened to my friend. She has not married Chaim yet and, if you are correct, Bracha needs to be stopped before she marries into this abusive relationship.
Always remember: Abuse doesn’t always leave scars.
Hatzlachah to you all.
PS. Breindy emailed me a few days later. She made the call to Shalom Task Force and is working with a professional to try to get to the truth of what’s going on with Bracha.