Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
I am a teacher who has stepped in to offer support to a former student of mine who has recently lost her father. She is currently of shidduchim age and the family is anxious for her to begin dating. They feel that she should "move forward" and have been exerting significant pressure on her to begin. I was wondering if you can give me some guidelines as to when that would be considered healthy. I imagine it isn't just a time thing but rather has something to do with how she is doing and how well she is processing things. Or perhaps they are right, and as painful as it is life needs to move forward and she is in that stage. I would appreciate some guidelines and advice in this area. Thank you.
You likely don’t need anyone to tell you this, but the only person who can truly know if they are ready for a major life change is the person themselves. The underlying question is whether your former student should be (or should feel) compelled to do something for which she is not ready.
I don’t know how recently her father died, but I do know that everyone mourns differently. For adults, the “official,” maximum “normal” period of time for intense emotions relating to the grieving process is one year. However, this is of course arbitrary.
You mentioned the fact that this person’s family is pressuring her to begin dating, but you didn’t discuss her own thoughts and feelings. Does she want to begin dating, but is constantly assaulted by overwhelming emotions? Is she considering beginning to date, but she wants to take a little time? Does she have a sense as to when she might want to begin? Does she not want to date? If so, is her father’s death the (only) reason, or are there other reasons for this?
How has she been affected by her father’s death? You don’t seem to be discussing intense emotions that are significantly affecting her life. Rather, you seem to be referring to sadness and a normal emotional adjustment to a traumatic loss, but I don’t know this for certain. Does she feel traumatized? Is she experiencing intense feelings on a regular basis? Is she physically or emotionally isolating herself? Does she feel numb, or that life is meaningless?
Even if she is going through the “normal” grieving process, and has no severe symptoms or reactions, this does not mean that this is the time for her to make important life decisions. Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean that she shouldn’t, but any transitory changes in her feelings and thought process should be taken into consideration. Just as we should not make decisions when we are angry or hurt, care should be taken to avoid making decisions based on feelings that are specific to a temporary situation.
It appears that this person’s family is concerned about the consequences of delaying the dating process. Of course, consequences may exist. For example, she may miss opportunities. Or perhaps they are concerned that she may become complacent about the delay. As with most decisions, however, consequences exist on both sides. These consequences are different for everyone. When faced with a decision, making a list of possible consequences (positive and negative) for each choice can help to clarify the situation, making the decision easier. It is especially important to focus on short- versus long-term consequences, giving the appropriate weight to each.
As you can see, much of my response consists of questions. When I see a new client, at least the first session consists largely of questions, not answers. The purpose of these questions is, in large part, to help the client become more introspective, thus allowing them to identify their own answers. After all, it’s their life we’re talking about. No matter how smart we may think we are, we shouldn’t be telling others what they should think, how they should feel, or what choices to make. When someone comes to me looking for answers, my job is to help them reach a point at which they are better able to make their own choices.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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