Shaindee knew that she wanted to participate in “The Layers Project” when her sister Shani explained the goals of the blog. When we first spoke she said, “When I go to shul, or people from the community see me, I know they are wondering where my ring went, why is my hair not covered and where is my husband? I want the opportunity to tell my story.”
Like Shani (blogpost #1), Shaindee was adopted at birth. She spent her early years enjoying the same warmth and feelings of acceptance as her sister explaining that her parents made her also feel “chosen” and “wanted.” Yet when Shaindee was ten, she was sharing the story of her adoption to a friend on the school bus. An older boy interrupted her and said, “Don’t you understand? That means your real parents didn’t want you.” Up until that moment, she never considered that she was brought up as an adopted child and that meant that “someone else might not have wanted her.” “My whole world collapsed. Real parents? What do you mean real parents? I had never questioned where I came from. That thought corrupted my world.”
This scene began a critical struggle for Shaindee between feeling wanted or rejected.
Additionally, Shaindee felt that she faced challenges fitting into the mold. All through high school and during her gap year in Israel, she continued to feel that she was disappointing those who expected her to conform to strict community standards. Shaindee had questions about religion and lifestyle that she felt were never being answered. Shaindee, always striving to be “good,” was frustrated by her seeming inability to “be good enough.” She wanted to express her uniqueness and individuality in a conformist environment. “The school rules did not make sense to me, like forbidding makeup or nail polish. How did these restrictions help me learn how to be a good person? At 15, it was my time to begin experimenting with how I want to express myself, and I felt restrained. How was I meant to express myself? By the book sock (cover) on my chumash?”
When Shaindee returned early from the gap year in Israel, she began dating a young man from a different Jewish culture, who had been her friend. “Everyone kept asking me, ‘When are you getting engaged? When are you getting married?’ Those comments pressured me to feel like that was the inevitable next step.” After a whirlwind six months of dating, Shaindee became the first woman from her high school graduating class to get engaged. “It was the first time that I felt that I, as a person, was being validated by my community, and I mistook those feelings that I had about ‘finally doing something right’ (according to the eyes of the community), as the feelings that I was supposed to be feeling of love during engagement.” She added, “I definitely cared about him and loved spending time with him. He made me happy when we were together. He was my best friend. At that point though, I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel.”
Shaindee knew that she was succumbing to the pressure that many young women in the Orthodox community face to get married at a young age. Though she was not sure that she was in love, all the accolades and validation coming from her peers and community made her feel that she was finally fitting into the mold, because someone had chosen her and designated her as special with a ring. She felt that perhaps this made her finally worthy of acceptance to the community.
As soon as the engagement was official, her fiance began to act like a different man. As he became quick to anger, Shaindee began having doubts that she should proceed with the wedding. Everywhere she turned, people were minimizing incidents that concerned her, and normalizing moments that were red flags to Shaindee. “Everyone expressed that I was going through normal things. Arguments are normal for young couples. I was 19 and had never been married so how was I supposed to know what is normal? Every time we would go out, he would put on a smile, and I think that people saw what they wanted to see. It made me consider that maybe couples have real challenges behind closed doors and yet they have found happiness. Maybe we could still be happy.”
As the wedding drew closer, Shaindee grew more unhappy and worried that she was too far into the situation to pull herself out. “It was going through my head that all my friends already knew about the wedding, the invitations were out, I had the wedding gown, venue booked, and the flowers ordered. I just kept thinking, I am going to be such an inconvenience to people if I cancel and become a social pariah. I thought everyone would say, ‘Did you hear Shaindee canceled her wedding?’ This would be, in the eyes of my community another example of something that ‘Shaindee couldn’t do right.’” She felt trapped. At the last minute, her Rabbi convinced her fiance to sign the halachic prenup, so at least if “things didn’t work out,” she would be protected and received her gett (religious divorce).
When the wedding day arrived, Shaindee was terrified. She did not want to be there, especially not knowing what to expect from the new culture of her husband’s family was so drastically different than what she had ever known. Everyone had told her that her pre-wedding nerves were normal, and that once she had walked down the aisle, she would feel relieved and happy. She desperately hoped that their advice would be correct, as Shaindee genuinely tried to feel optimistic. As she walked back up the aisle and the pit in her stomach did not release, the rest of the wedding she spent feeling devastated. “I felt like a guest at my own wedding. So I just sat at the table. I couldn’t dance. I just felt so trapped. I went to the bridal suite after the glass was broken and I wanted to take off my dress and run away.” She could not return the smiles and excitement that was lavished on her during the celebration. She went back to their newlywed apartment that night, locked herself in the bathroom and wept as she pulled the pins out of her hair.
After three months of living with under the tyranny of emotional volatility, and one “accident” too many, Shaindee waited for him to leave for work and called her parents to come pack up her things and bring her parents’ home. The couple then began counseling but made little progress. “I definitely cared for him even after everything and I was hopeful that maybe we would be able to work things out but at a certain point, it was just impossible.”
After a short while, they resolved that the marriage should be dissolved. With the support of her family, and a friend who had been through a divorce, Shaindee trembled while she waited for the shaliach (messenger) to bring her the gett. When it was finalized, Shaindee began to understand the choices that she had made, “Now, at 21, I’m finally learning to trust myself and make decisions on my own, instead of depending on others for their opinions. I feel that this experience has taught me to trust my own gut.” Instead of feeling rejected, Shaindee is now able to embrace her own intuition and direction.
Shaindee is taking control over her own life. She is finishing college and looking to pursue creative enterprises within the biotech field. As soon as she was living on her own again, she began to make decisions based on what her intuition and experience were telling her, Shaindee had made a career switch from pre-med and is excited for her future and all the potential it holds. “When some people see me now, I want them to know that I am more than my marriage and divorce. My future is more than that one chapter I lived.” Shaindee now wants to be seen for the potential that lives within her to do good in this world
When I left Shaindee after the first time I met her, I was convinced that she would be able to create a future for herself that would be fulfilling and filled with happiness. Her resolve and ability to accept the good and challenging of her life choices was inspiring. Most of all, the innocence and sweetness that Shaindee has kept through all the hardship, has been preserved by her desire to be a good person, to love and be loved.