Tag Archives: dating

Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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Made or Broken: We didn’t sign up for this life. Now what?

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I was the only woman in an office filled with rabbis when the phone rang. Someone was calling. I picked up the phone.

At 23 years old, my job was to create inspiring programs for Jewish women on the Upper West Side (I was elated). The caller was female and would only speak to a woman. She sounded upset and I wanted to help. I’ve replayed that call many times in my mind over the last decade and know that the responsible thing to do would have been to ask someone older and wiser to call her back. Luckily, I was irresponsible.

Sarah was brought up in a religious home. She was a sweet little girl with her family and a good student in school. She was kind to others and had friends. As she got older, she volunteered in after school activities. She knew that she was a “good girl” and expected to have a good life in return for her efforts. Sadly, in her teenage years, she was exposed to an adult male character who was no good at all. Following high school, when she traveled to Israel for her gap year, she experienced another negative incident.

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Sarah was a good girl and wanted a good life so she tried to shake off her unpleasant encounters. At 21, she was set up with a nice Jewish boy and married him. They had a few children and she tried to build her home and move on with her life. Despite her best efforts and what should have been a happy stage in her life, she felt trapped in her pain and sadness.

Why had God put her in a position to suffer? She was a good girl, after all.

Despite my youth, I knew to validate Sarah’s pain and listen. When she was finished, I told her what I was sure she already knew. Life is not meant to be a stroll in the park. We’re here to work. Life is full of pleasures and we should savor every one but we are meant to climb and develop, rung by rung, to reach the greatest heights we can reach. At times, those rungs come in the form of painful circumstances. We are made or broken by those circumstances.

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She asked what happens if that’s not the kind of life she signed up for? It was not the life she wanted. She preferred to follow the rules and, in exchange, be granted shelter from sadness, anger, and pain. She came into this world with an expectation of an unspoken deal with her Creator. If she’s obedient, then she’s protected from heartache.

We spoke for a long time and ended up keeping in touch for years. I relate to Sarah in that we both share a false expectation. The human experience seems to be hard-wired with a cycle of process, milestone, and then process again. We think we have everything figured out and in that very moment of confidence, the rug is pulled out from underneath, leaving us disoriented and forced to adjust to a new reality. It often comes as a shock and just as often humbles us to our core. I would argue that the rug-pulling may be for the express purpose of jarring us from our feelings of security, confidence, and (perhaps) complacency.

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So many examples come to mind.

  1. Dating- You work so hard to meet The One. When you do, no matter your education, a part of you is sure you’ll ride off into the distance together. Details for the ride are fuzzy. GPS not included.
  2. Parenting- You spend your childhood (just me?) sure you will be the best parent. Then you have a child and realize you are clueless and the most knowledgeable experts in the world have less insight than you do about your child. (Note: That shouldn’t stop us from consulting them).
  3. Personal Development- I finally figured out how to be a good person after years of study and practice only to realize that I’ve mastered an exceptionally narrow lane and I have miles to go.
  4. Reputation- After significant effort invested in community service or professional endeavors, I make a mistake or suffer a humiliation in the presence of others.

I’m really glossing over these big categories but you catch my gist.

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Sometimes, nothing goes wrong but the things that were supposed to go right just never happen. We wake up and look at our lives through the eyes of our past selves. This is NOT what I signed up for. 

If you’re reading this – or if you’re not reading this- you did NOT sign up for your life. You were supposed to have kids by now. You weren’t supposed to get divorced. You were supposed to have a great job that you love. You weren’t supposed to be this old. Your finances were supposed to be better. You weren’t supposed to suffer with physical pain or illness.

So what now?

Dear family, friends, and me: Our lives are not what we signed up for but they are exactly what we need. Your life is tailor-made for what you need right now. The big gaping holes and the terrible messes are by design. So what is life asking of you right now? What are you supposed to be doing?

Maybe you need to focus on healing. Maybe you need to focus on sharing. Perhaps more time doing and less time thinking (perhaps more time thinking and less time doing). Move faster. Invest more. Slow down. Be deliberate. Whatever circumstance you have in front of you, there is something important being asked of you. Someone is calling.

Pick up the phone.

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Soon By You!

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Looking over the shoulders of fellow dancers, I just barely saw my friend’s shining eyes, her glowing face and perfectly curled-and-set hair. I couldn’t help but reflect her broad smile as she straightened out her lace white bodice and wiped the sweat from her brow.

“Aw, don’t worry!” A loud voice boomed over the blasting live music, shaking me out of my trance. “You’ll get there! You’ll get married too!”

Huh? I wasn’t sure what motivated *Rebecca who knew me as an occasional Shabbos (Sabbath) guest in her home to approach me. I quickly composed myself and grinned in her direction. “Thank you” I responded, trying to look gracious instead of shocked.

I turned back towards my friend, the bride, and tried to refocus myself in the moment but it was tough. I had never voiced my desire to get married to this woman. She knew I was working and enjoyed my job. Why in the world would I be absorbed in myself instead of rejoicing in my friend’s happiest day? And yet, in the wake of Rebecca’s comment, here I was, analyzing and growing increasingly self-aware of my single status.

Being single, when I stepped back to think about it, was a little lonely. I felt I was missing something, something vague. I didn’t know his name or his personality or what he looked like. I felt he was unattainable both in thought and in reality.

Still, with all that, I felt fulfilled. My job took up so much of my time and lent meaning to my life as I was able to connect and reach out to fellow Jews through my work. My evenings were often filled by events that I had either recruited for, created, or planned. Shabbos was tough, trying to figure out whether to travel and stay with someone or keep things very low-key with bakery challah, deli and a good book in my apartment.

I asked a rabbi/colleague of mine, “Do you think it’s okay that I’m happy not being married?” and he smiled and reassured me that I was emotionally healthy. A different rabbi, unaware of that conversation, called me into his office and declared with concern, “You can’t be married to an organization”.

I had dry spells when there was not a single mention of the opposite gender for weeks- months- on end. Other times, I found myself juggling more than one suggestion. Three weeks, three dates, three minutes- various times were required to sum up that “he” was just not for me. There was no consistency and I found dating a drain on my energy, my time, and my money (hair, nails, and clothes ain’t cheap).

More makeup, less makeup. Bigger hair, straighter hair. Skinnier, and…well, skinnier. The superficial expectations were taxing whether meeting men or meeting women who could introduce me to men. (Being totally honest, there wasn’t much expectation in the way of internal growth. As long as I could be polite and generate pleasant conversation, I felt little pressure. Any character development I took on, was for me alone.)

I wasn’t an old single by most standards but I reached a point of balancing annoyance against gratitude with every mounting “Soon by you!”.

Of course, when very close friends announced their engagement, a shrill unrecognizable voice in the back of my mind reminded me that with each passing day, I was falling behind in the Great Race of Life.

Still, this friend, at this wedding, I never felt we were in competition. She was someone I met and connected with only a couple years prior to her wedding. Sweet from the first time we spoke, I felt unbridled joy for this joyful bride.

So, as I worked unsuccessfully to shake off Rebecca’s well-intentioned and insensitive guarantee of my imminent betrothal, I paused for a beat. I should remember this moment, I decided. When I am married with children (if I ever do get married), I will never get too caught up to speak without thinking and forget how I felt when I was single.

 

 

 

 

 

*Name changed to avoid Lashon Hara, negative speech.