Life is funny in that you never know if people whom you meet early in life will come back to “visit” you later in life in another type of role. Let me explain. My sister had a best friend while growing up. She and the best friend would get together all the time, every Shabbos in fact. The best friend had a cousin, and occasionally the cousin would be visiting, and so my sister would end up spending the afternoon with the best friend and her cousin. Fast forward many years later to my brother-in-law’s best friend getting married. Surprise! He married my sister’s childhood best friend’s cousin. So now my sister and the cousin have become really good friends and now see each other all the time – because of their husbands.
Let’s play this out in a dating scenario. My family attended a bungalow colony, Moonlight, for 22 years. All of my childhood and teenage summers were spent there. Fast forward to when I was redt to Pinchas ______ (I will leave his last name out). I was out with Pinchas and having an “okay” time with him when he started asking me if I was still in touch with any of my bungalow colony friends. I didn’t remember discussing the bungalow colony with Pinchas and asked how he knew I went to Moonlight and who my friends were. Pinchas looked disappointed and asked if I recognized him. I tried to piece together Pinchas with my summer memories – or any of my memories – and he didn’t fit in. Pinchas reminded me that he spent two summers there with his uncle who was the head counselor. All of a sudden I blurt out, “Pinny? You’re Pinny?” Pinchas smiled and said “Yup.” The memories came flooding back so quickly. He was known as Pinny then, was five foot nothing, with a mess of hair and an annoying personality. How would I know that Pinny is Pinchas who is now almost six feet tall, balding, and not as annoying as I remembered? He said he knew who I was from the first moment my name was mentioned to him, and was disappointed that I didn’t know who he was.
Now let’s take it to another shidduch scene. I recently received a letter from a young woman about her brother and her chasan. To some it may seem comical, but to others, including her brother, it was reliving a nightmare that he would have to live with or make peace with for the rest of his life. Read on and judge for yourself.
What I am writing to you may seem like a made-up story, but I promise you it’s true. It’s not so much a dating issue as I’m looking for advice. I know you’re a social worker, so maybe you can help because this is a complicated issue – I think.
I recently became a kallah, and when it came time for our families to meet at the l’chayim, I was excited. I have three siblings, but I am closest with one brother, Chaim. We’re only 14 months apart, so my mom called us her twins. We would do everything together. He was my very own playmate and I was his. We still are very close. I should mention that Chaim is…sensitive. Chaim’s a little shy and takes things to heart. He doesn’t brush things off or let things go like I do. I never seemed to mind, and he was always fun with me, so it didn’t really make a difference. But now it does.
It turns out that my chasan, Mordechai, used to tease my Chaim when they were at camp. Mordechai and Chaim were in the same bunk and apparently my chasan and his friends used to play small pranks and jokes on my brother. The worst part is I remember one summer when my brother (and the camp) called my parents to say that Chaim was having an issue with some of the boys in his bunk. I don’t remember the details, but my brother came home from camp at the end of the trip saying that he hated his bunk and didn’t want to go back next year if he was bunking with those boys again. I never knew their names, but Chaim would tell me about the different pranks they played on him, like short-sheeting his bed, hiding his shampoo, etc. Chaim and Mordechai were 12 or 13 at the time. I know it was a long time ago and that age can be tough on boys, but you can imagine how surprised I was when Mordechai, Chaim, and I were talking at the l’chayim and Chaim realized who Mordechai was. Mordechai was also surprised. Mordechai laughed at some memories. Chaim didn’t laugh, though. Mordechai then apologized and said it was a long time ago and he’s sorry if he hurt Chaim.
Mordechai and his friends were the reason why Chaim never returned to that camp. He started going to a different one. Chaim laughed, but I could tell it was a fake laugh and said something about all being forgotten, but I know that’s not the truth. I know that Chaim is bothered with the fact that Mordechai will now be a part of his life. I can only imagine how I would feel if someone who bullied me as a child came back into my life. Yes, the past is the past, but feelings are real. I think Chaim has started remembering everything that he had tried to forget years ago.
I feel awful for Chaim, but Mordechai is my chasan. Chaim hasn’t really said anything to me, but my father has told me that Chaim spoke with him and can’t believe that my Mordechai was the one who laughed at his expense. My father said that Chaim is trying to make peace with it, but it’s hard, because Chaim is a “sensitive” person and I should give it some time. What can I do? Obviously Chaim doesn’t want me to know that he’s upset because he spoke with my father and not me. Usually he tells me everything. I know he’s happy for me, but he will be reminded of unhappy times whenever he sees Mordechai or at least he will be for a while. I don’t want to bring the subject up with Mordechai, because I don’t want to start an argument. I don’t think Mordechai is at fault now, but boys are boys. Right? It was a long time ago.
Can you help?
Abigail, Mazal Tov to you on your engagement.
Yes, I can understand how you must feel stuck in the middle about this. You have always sided with Chaim, your “twin,” but now that you found out that some of Chaim’s troubles were caused directly by Mordechai, even if it was years ago, you feel torn in two.
I was not always the confident, witty person you read before you every week. This version of me was born in college, so to speak. Had you met me when I was 13, you wouldn’t believe that I would morph into this version of me. I was chubby and was therefore made fun of by others. Many times, my school books were taken by others and then miraculously found days later right in my locker (where I obviously looked for them several times, but now the teacher thought I was a schlimazel). Yes, boys will be boys, as you wrote, and kids will be kids, and, yes, time does dull the hurt that was so sharp at one time. But you never really forget. Years ago, I came face to face with my nightmare. I referred to this person as my nightmare because she made my life hell. I won’t go into detail as to what she did to me, but use your imagination. But here we were decades older, wiser, and more mature than we once were. We didn’t mention the incidents in which she sent me home where I secretly cried, but I remembered them. All came flooding back.
Because of my past experiences, I can understand what Chaim is feeling to a certain degree. But, once I left the simchah we were attending, I no longer had to face my nightmare as I have never run into her again. But that’s not the case with Chaim and Mordechai. They will be running into each other for many years to come. It must be very difficult for Chaim to see his best friend, his twin, with the one who he felt terrorized him all those years ago. I agree with you: He wants to be happy for you, but doesn’t know what to feel now. I’m not sure what you mean by Chaim being “sensitive,” but if it means taking things to heart and being emotional, then I can only imagine the emotions he is feeling right now.
I don’t think you would be starting an argument if you were to broach the subject with Mordechai. I’m sure if Mordechai knew how Chaim felt back then and how he feels now, he would apologize in earnest. Mordechai wouldn’t want to cause Chaim any further pain. I don’t want to sound too much like a social worker here, but maybe all three of you should talk. You can sit with two important men in your life together and bring up the subject, letting them talk about it. And by you being there, Chaim may feel as if it’s a safe place for him to speak about his feelings. Chaim can say how he felt and how he feels now, and Mordechai can listen and try to understand how his actions affected Chaim. But I wouldn’t do this as a surprise. I would speak with Chaim and tell him that you are sorry that he’s hurting, but you would like for him and Mordechai to start off fresh. Chaim may not be open to the idea, but you can try. Telling Chaim that you care about his feelings and that you are not trying to brush them aside may be very important for Chaim to hear. But let’s not forget that you are engaged to Mordechai, and no matter how Chaim reacts, he will have to make peace with it somehow.
Hatzlachah to you all!