What’s the protocol for when a boy bumps into the parents of a girl (or the girl herself) after having been on a few dates and the shidduch ended respectfully and/or mutually:
B) Turn red, avoid eye contact, and reverse course.
C) Give a quick nod and move along.
D) None of the above.
I’ve experienced this awkward situation time and again and would appreciate your guidance.
Loathe though I am to do so, insofar as a notably similar query was posed in this column in August of 2017, much the following is a verbatim repurposing of my response at that time.
That said, while I can certainly understand and appreciate the unique discomfiture of the presented scenario, which can quickly marshal a nonplussed state-of-being, I believe the correct answer lies somewhere between a close approximation of option C and option D.
To elaborate a bit further, at a minimum, the nod should be gracious and accompanied by a polite smile, as opposed to being austere and rushed, which essentially expresses a clear and palpable sense of urgency to depart the immediate vicinity of the human being that one has just encountered. And, to perhaps go one step further, a brief “Hello, how are you doing?” might be in order. This is certainly appropriate in the case of coming across the parents of an individual whom one had dated, and – depending on the nature and norms of one’s community vis-à-vis tznius, along with a qualification which will be addressed shortly – it may also be applicable regarding the young man and woman themselves.
Indeed, part of being an adult is having the ability to face those with whom one had some sort of prior relationship, and conduct oneself in a calm and courteous manner. Whether it be an employer/employee affiliation that has ended, a discontinued business partnership, or a friendship that was lost over time, when two people who have since parted ways happen upon one another, one must be capable of handling that meeting with mentchlechkeit.
The same is true of a shidduch that just did not go. Having the capacity to appreciate that the match was not meant be, and still remain mannerly towards both the person and their family, is a core life-skill to develop. As such, a kind greeting, be it verbal or one of gesticulation, would be the fitting course of action.
Nonetheless, with respect to past daters communicating with one another, I feel it critical to note that one must be sure not to conflate some form of reception with becoming enmeshed afresh in a relationship that was rightfully terminated. When a shidduch concludes, after any degree of meaningful connection was cultivated, each person must then summon the strength to detach, so that they can establish a new relationship with someone else.
As harmless and innocuous as a friendly salutation may appear, if repeated or prolonged, and left unchecked, an otherwise innocent exchange may unwittingly lead to a clinquant emotional reattachment to the very person from whom one had previously endeavored to disengage. And when such a bond is recreated, it can make it quite challenging to continue dating someone else with an unobstructed and open heart and mind. Additionally, while one might feel confidently free of this concern, that is no guarantee that the person on the other end of the interplay is commensurately in the clear.
Consequently, and despite genuine obligations of derech eretz, if and how to interact with someone whom one had formerly dated is also a judgement call that ought to take into account the feelings it may engender within oneself and for the person towards whom they are extending the acknowledgment.
May the Moshel Bigvurah grant prudence and fortitude to us all as we navigate the nuances of delicate and uneasy confrontations.