Tag Archives: marriage

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.

Confessions of a Cheater

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It’s funny how we excuse some things but not others. Take Lea*, for example. We’ve known each other for a very long time, surfing in and out of contact for ages, reconnecting on Facebook, and ultimately our childhood friendship has been crystallized,  glorified as the years pass.

We recently touched base and had a fascinating theological discussion but in case that’s not your bag, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, I was advocating a Torah lifestyle while my friend was knocking it to some degree.

None of that phased me, but as we were speaking, Lea mentioned how boring marriage is. I assumed Lea meant that having passed the honeymoon phase, marriage now required plenty of work on her own character, investment of time and effort, sans the glitz of romance and excitement.

Before I reacted, I asked Lea to elaborate. It was as if she had been waiting for someone to ask her to elaborate.

Marriage is a prison. I’ve been married for years and please don’t give me some fluffy advise about working on pumping up the electricity because I’ve been there and done that. I’m tired of the same spouse- it gets old. People were not built for monogamy. I want to connect with new people, live new experiences. Whenever I bring up the topic to my husband, he loses it and demands to know why he’s not enough for me so I drop it. There are so many reasons to stay together: the kids, money, comfort, fear. Some people have discovered the joys of an open marriage but most don’t do that. Everybody cheats or wishes they could cheat but nobody admits to it. Now I’m stuck feeling resentful towards my spouse for making me feel stuck.

Reading this conversation in an article likely dilutes the shock value I experienced when listening first hand. Will you reread this and imagine your childhood friend saying the same words?

I was surprised on more than one level. I thanked her for her honesty- after all, do you know many people who would express a struggle that private?

What most surprised me was how far she had gone to rationalize her feelings. Lea is bright, no question about it, but to intellectualize cheating by insisting that humanity is not built for monogamy? To comfort herself with the illusion that everybody does it? The whole discussion brought to light how far down a rabbit’s hole any one of us can go when we think long enough for our brains to regress to our bodies. It’s a lesson for me in other areas of my own life.

 

But back to infidelity….What about the trade-off? How many new, even pleasurable experiences will be worth one meaningful life-long relationship? No one doubts that the novelty of a new person (for one evening) creates more of an adrenaline rush than the umpteenth time our spouses walk through the door. But at what cost? And how can we be so blind as to not recognize the beauty and greatness that our spouse has? This is the one person in our family we actually chose!

I do not judge my friend at all, I just wanted to express my feelings about her choices in the hopes of catharsis (for me!). My friend has dug herself too deep a hole to attempt to climb out though I hope she does take that first, painful step. She knows I only have her best interests at heart and, again, hats off to her for her honesty.

I doubt any readers would dare agree with her on facebook or any public forum but if you ever want to debate this privately, I am game.

 

*some details have been changed to protect my friend’s anonymity.

What I Don’t Tell My Spouse (and what you shouldn’t either)

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I probably should start by saying that my husband and I are always talking. I have a close friend -with a wonderful marriage- that is completely different from mine and I don’t understand it at all. She tells me that while she’s home with her husband they don’t see each other or speak to one another much. For the record, they live in a small apartment with young children. Each one of them, though, is busy doing his/her own thing and there’s very little contact. I believe her when she says that they have a great marriage- but I can’t wrap my head around it! My husband and I don’t stop yakking. I consider my marriage pretty great and I understand marriages come in different shapes and sizes- no one necessarily better than the next. It just so happens that our dynamic is, well, a pretty verbal one.

That said, I do try very hard to not speak to my husband about some things (admittedly I fail at least as much as I succeed). I avoid topics of negativity that take the form of kvetches, sadness, bitterness, irritation, anger, etc. The upside is that with all our shmoozing, we avoid bringing up lashon hara (negative/damaging speech). The advantage that I’d like to highlight here is that I don’t spread the negativity. Again, this is a work in progress.

So, to wrap up, do I (should I) vent to my husband? In a generation that glorifies full self-expression, I’m proud to report that I have censored(!) myself many times this past week in an effort to keep our atmosphere at home upbeat and cheerful. There were a few challenging moments (totally not connected to my family) that I opted to keep to myself. Y’know what? I don’t feel repressed or squelched or stifled or inhibited. I feel liberated. Taking control of my mouth in the face of strong emotions leaves me completely empowered, in the driver’s seat.

While my friend says she doesn’t talk much to her husband (and hey- if that works- gezunterheyt!), most couples I encounter TALK. A LOT. While our cultural standard is to give couples carte blanche to disclose every thought passing through (sort of like Twitter…), I propose we utilize a little good judgement before we communicate to our spouses.