From time to time, I have nagging feelings of guilt with regard to two girls I went out with. I said “no” to them both.
Today, I am married, boruch Hashem. However, I feel bad that after going out with two particular girls, one five times and one six times, I had no choice but to reject them. It was an awful feeling both times. [The fact that neither of them are married probably contributes to my feelings of guilt.]
My wife and mother both say that the guilt is due to my sensitive nature; there is truth to that. I would really like to reach out to the girls, however, to ask them for their full forgiveness. To be clear, I did nothing wrong at any point. I treated them both kindly and courteously, but simply did not feel that they were for me. Yet I am plagued by guilt.
How can I go about reaching out to them and expressing my apologies for having been the cause of some pain and disappointment? Do I do it directly or through someone else? Or is it not appropriate for me to do anything altogether?
Before delving into a response to your questions, I would like to first commend you on having a lev tov, and for being open to consider the feelings of others. Utilized properly, and with sechel ha’yoshor, such sensitivity can be immeasurably valuable.
Nonetheless, I believe there are three precursory questions which you must ask yourself and reflect upon, before even beginning to address those you have presented.
1. Is your primary motivation in reaching out to these young women borne of a true longing to eliminate the pain they sustained, and may still be enduring, as a result of rejection, or is it more to assuage your own personal feelings of guilt?
From your use of the phrases, “nagging feelings of guilt,” “It was an awful feeling,” and “I am plagued by guilt,” it seems to be the latter. Which is fine, and should be attended to. Experiencing ongoing guilt resulting from inflicting pain on another is perfectly human, and, in your case, might even be exacerbated, since the measure, and even existence of harm, is unknown to you.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few distinct possibilities as to how your communiqué may be received, and how that may then play out for you.
If you discover that your rejection was indeed responsible for considerable pain, it is quite imaginable that you will be met with antipathy from those you harmed, leaving them unable to express unconditional mechila at this stage of their lives. Or, you may feel the mechila you are given is merely lip service. Should that transpire, your quest will have failed and, in all likelihood, you will be left with feelings of worsened and increased guilt.
Alternatively, you may be unable to get in touch with these women, thus prolonging your mission, and the reality of their pain remaining amorphous to you.
Finally, even if you are vouchsafed a sincere and genuine mechila, and are assured there are no remaining hard feelings, or, better yet, that there never were any to begin with, there is still no guarantee that you will feel any better about your perceived misdeeds.
Although forgives often does relieve feelings of culpability, being that guilt resides internally, and forgiveness comes from external sources, obviation of wrongdoing approbated by the injured party does not always correlate in an innately cause and effect manner with the eradication of remorse from within the offending party. Especially when one is suffering from deeply entrenched feelings of guilt.
More simply stated, the stamp of approval of these women on your petition is no sure-shot pathway to your breathing easy.
2. Have you considered whether or not an apology is wanted by these women, along with the consequences for them in re-experiencing those feelings of rejection?
As noble as your intentions are, there is no assurance that they will be received warmly, or even marginally amiable. It is certainly conceivable that a call from one’s rejecter, or simply being reminded of the rejection via an intermediary, may foment internal distress on the part of the rejected, and perhaps may even interrupt an otherwise smoothly transpiring shidduch they may be involved in.
Should the apology end up backfiring in any way, it may ultimately do more harm than good to these women – transforming into further pain, rather than the reduction of pain.
3. Do you have any reason to believe that these women experienced any unusually severe degree of pain due to your rejection?
Painful as rejection often is, it is still very much a common component of dating, in almost all circles and societies. Man meets woman is no simple task, nor one free of latent potential for injury. Consequently, it is entirely plausible that these young women handled the rejection with the full understanding that such is the nature of dating.
Furthermore, your narrative states, “I did nothing wrong at any point. I treated them both kindly and courteously, but simply did not feel that they were for me.” As that is the proper way to end a shidduch, and for a proper reason, is there any compelling reason to believe that they did not appreciate how you handled yourself, or the reality that it simply was not the right match? Rejection is hard, but can be swallowed when the delivery is soft and the reason for it can be readily grasped.
In conclusion, what must be discerned is whether this is an endeavor of self-care or care of others. Both forms of care are exceedingly important, yet require vastly different approaches to achieve success and spare anyone involved from additional anguish.
As such, lacking an explicit request for an apology from these women, and unless a true gadol b’Yisroel directs you to ask for mechila to combat a g’zeira min-hashamayim, I would not recommend reaching out with an appeal to be absolved.
Rather, I believe you are best served by speaking with a rov, mentor, or professional to process your feelings of guilt, so that you can best direct your innate middah of rachmanus in the here and now, and in the future, as well, should you experience the resurgence of similar feelings, due to the invariable vicissitudes of life.
May the Melech Rachamim see that you achieve deserved and requisite self-compassion so that you may forgive yourself for your past decisions and actions.