It’s All Kosher (No. 4): The Double Life Dilemma
I live a double life. Outwardly, I am a respectable Chasidic yingerman but I really don’t believe in any of the Chasidic principles. I stay Chasidic because I love my family. I know I can’t live without them but if they knew my beliefs they’d be devastated. I don’t see what good the revelation will do if I don’t plan to leave anyhow, so I hide like other Chasidic “marranos”. The double life is terribly stressful. I don’t know if I can live my entire life like this. I sneak away from my family more and more these days and I find it harder to spend time with Chasidim. I am afraid I’m drifting away. But where am I drifting to? This question keeps me awake nights.
I’m afraid my double life will explode if I don’t do something. What can I do?
I’m sure if you’d build a hidden staircase behind your bookcase of sefarim and covertly sneak down to a cellar where all double-life marranos congregated to discuss their true beliefs, like the marranos of old, you’d be in very good and sizeable company. There are many, many Chasidic men and women like you, who struggle with the love and limitations of being part of a Chasidic family. Find comfort in your struggle by sharing your angst with them. Participate in online forums, go to Footsteps, listen to the stories of others who have families and faced similar situations. Getting to know like-minded people will help you cope emotionally and give you a better understanding of what your options are.
Think carefully about your various options. Forget the worn out either-or dichotomy of “do I stay or do I leave?” because phrasing your dilemma that way oversimplifies a very complex situation. There are many different steps you can take to improve your life without making a radical break from the community or accepting the full Chasidic Torah of ‘side-locks, socks and beard’l’. Be creative about ways to make your life better. For instance, plant seeds in different financial, professional, and social projects. Keep your life and yourself evolving. Consider attending college or pursuing your dream job. If you live in a very insular community, perhaps you can convince your family to move to a more lax neighborhood. Change your clothing or public persona gradually, while watching for reactions and knowing when to hold off before your next step. Become familiar with secular culture – its language, its literature, its entertainment, its ethics. Speak to a therapist and consult a lawyer about all of this; it can’t hurt to get professional counseling.
These steps don’t have to be the final act; they should be steps to explore and learn. Maybe you’ll find a way to build a bridge between your two worlds, or to carve out for yourself a unique niche in which you feel comfortable. As you navigate and test the boundaries, you will gain clarity about your end goal.
You also need to examine your family life, as it is being significantly hurt by the secret you keep. A secrets of this magnitude can eat away at the fabric of relationships and personal identities. In addition to the damage to your loved ones and to your bonds with them, you also face the possibility of a very messy scandal and perhaps ostracization if your family suddenly finds out about your double life. I urge you to consider volunteering some information to your wife. You were lied to all your life about religion, don’t do the same and lie to your family. You stand to lose a lot should your spouse reject you, but remember: 1) Hasidic marriages are not that easily broken, especially if you are committed to working through it. 2) Your spouse has a right to know. Easing her into the reality of your situation will help decrease the disparity between your two lives. 3) You’ll have time to prepare for the worst case scenario of divorce by retaining a lawyer before speaking to her. 4) You’ll finally give your marriage a fair chance. 5) You’ll allow all issues to come to the forefront and be addressed. 6) You’ll be relieved of the burden of the secret.
Always keep in mind that there is nothing you can do in your situation that will be pain free. You love your wife and your children, but you are afraid that they will cut you out of their lives if they found out the truth about you. Sadly, you were trapped with a gut-wrenching conundrum by the Chasidic system that marries its children at such a young age. There is nothing you can do now that is all peaches and cream or apples in honey. Remain realistic about “the outside world,” because a glamorous paradise of freedom and adventure does not exist. There is no easy escape.
Not even behind the bookcase, into the cellar.
I hope you find a way of life that gives you the happiness you deserve.
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