Hopeful Romantics

When you’re still “flying solo” and your 35thbirthday comes a-knocking, suddenly, the pitifully comic titlescrowding the self-help shelves of your bookstore seem less like jokebooks and more like required reading.

I should know. Just days away, that landmarkbirthday is feeling more like a land mine. It makes me want to smackthe characters of single women portrayed by the likes of JuliaRoberts, Jennifer Aniston and Calista Flockhart, who stressuncontrollably about being over-the-hill at 28. With concerns aboutcareer and life experience taking priority, many women do not feelthe panic of aloneness setting in until well into their 30s.

These, it seems, are also the observations of author andrelationship consultant Helena Hacker Rosenberg (pictured at left) inher book “How to Get Married After 35: A Game Plan for Love”(HarperCollins Publishers, 1998). Having finally met and married hertrue love in her early 40s, Rosenberg serves up a didactic recipe formidlife marriage, based on her own romantic trials and tribulations.She uses her experiences to blaze a trail for others who are tired ofbeating their heads against their proverbial walls — and are readyto resort to practical action.

Geared for women (although applicable to men), thebook explores why women remain single into their late 30s, 40s andbeyond, while also acknowledging the divorcée or widow who isre-entering the dating scene after 35.

Rosenberg outlines unconscious behavior patternsthat run rampant in these women and lead to long-term singlehood. Sheshrewdly points out how some of us unwittingly sabotage ourrelationships due to underlying fears of intimacy and commitment, andhow unrealistic hopes and fantasies compel us to choose capriciousexcitement over lasting fulfillment.

“Our Own Little Pharaohs Keep Us in Bondage,” achapter that includes a personal profile for the reader to fill out,aims to help women become aware of how old habits and behaviors canrestrict social opportunities. At first, advice about stretching outof your “comfort zone” and adopting a new mind-set may make youwince, but like a spoonful of medicine, you’ll want to take itbecause you know it’s good for you.

“The Velvet Web” charges “cozy attachments,” likethose we have with parents, friends and even pets, with keeping usfrom making romantic relationships a priority. Having had more thanone ex-boyfriend declare his jealousy of my cat, I am prepared toadmit the validity of this chapter. However, Rosenberg overlooks howsuch a “competition” can bring a woman perspective about herfeelings. Sometimes, measuring up to a favorite pet can meanbeshertstatus.

Or maybe you are cavorting with one of the endlessvariety of “Nowhere Men,” on whom, Rosenberg suggests, we often wasteall our child-bearing years. From the “Reluctant Adult” to the “PhonyManipulator” to the “Casanova,” this chapter is a loser-friendlyguide for evading Mr. Wrong.

As a thinking-woman’s “Rules” book, “How to GetMarried After 35” presupposes that its readers are self-respectingwomen who want to cultivate healthy relationships (rather thaninsecure manipulators who need game-playing antics to “land” ahusband). The book includes time-saving tips and insights, such ashow to read between the lines of personal ads and how to decipher ifa man is a prospect in only 15 minutes. If you have misgivings aboutthe practicality of such short cuts, know that such guidance isgeared for the woman who no longer feels that time is on her side andwho wants to make sure she’s using it productively.

Some of the advice outlined in the book isn’t newrevelation, and may seem familiar if you’re up on the current datingdogma or find yourself a frequent visitor to the self-help shelf. ButRosenberg does succeed in providing an impetus and a road map forwomen who are ready to emerge from an emotional or social rut andfind a spouse, as she jokes, “while they are stillambulatory.”

Using true, inspirational stories of courtshipending in nuptial bliss, Rosenberg offers hope, but reminds us thatwe have our work cut out, and we shouldn’t expect the right partner– like a 35th birthday — to just come knocking at our door.

Finding Love, Marriage and Judaism

At about the time Helena Hacker Rosenberg made thedecision to change her dating ways and find a marriageable man, shealso found herself rediscovering Judaism. The wish to feel more”connected” by seeking a mate who shared her values and desire forchildren, also impelled her to find deeper spiritual meaning throughthe teachings of the Torah. She explored that need in classes at AishHaTorah.

“I started getting much more in touch with thepart of me that had always been there, but hadn’t been nourished inyears,” says Rosenberg. “I got back to a values-based way of lookingat life.” She also found herself getting in touch with the things shetruly needed, instead of focusing on the things she thought shewanted.

This learning experience and many others gleanedfrom her Jewish studies, helped give the book its foundation. “Inever call it a ‘Jewish book’ since it was written for a secularaudience, but the truth is there’s a lot of hidden Torah in it,”admits Rosenberg.

The book proposes some of the same solid valuesthat religion strives to teach, like evaluating a marriage prospectby his inner worth, rather than superficial concerns, and not playingthe victim, giving up, or blaming society for the lack of fulfillmentin our lives. Also acknowledged, is the spiritual importance ofreflecting more and doing less — something that isn’t always easy inour busy lives. “I learned to be in the moment and appreciate thesanctity of time,” says Rosenberg. She suggests slowing down to giveourselves those moments of reflection that allow us to make gooddecisions, and help us find our beshert.

It was on her way to holiday services at AishHaTorah, that Rosenberg finally found hers. — B. T.

Bonnie Trachtenberg is a free-lance writer inNew York City.