The Haunted Divorce


She was beautiful. She was sweet, smart and reflective. She was a devoted mother of a little girl, clearly able to love and to carry on a bright, thoughtful conversation. We connected, and, in first moments made drunk by hope, we discovered a shared passion for the poet, Rumi, and told each other favorite lines…

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways

to kneel and kiss the ground!”

And…

“Don’t run around this world

looking for a hole to hide in.

There are wild beasts in every cave!”

There was spark between us. There was energy. There was a bucketful of that holy grail of dating … chemistry.

And then the conversation turned to what happened to “the marriage.” I told my sad story. And she told her sadder one — of her tender ex-husband, a loving, charismatic man who also happened to be bipolar. And who, on one bad day, off medication, killed himself.

A ghost.

As a new dater, I suddenly became afraid of ghosts.

Not the transparent kind that say “Boo,” but the opaque presence of lost love, something fleshy that sits in the room between the two of you, crooning to only one of you, “I still love you.”

Setting out onto the yellow brick road of singlehood at 40, I could already see it would be a haunted trail. Those of us, man or woman, who have been married a long time, who have birthed children together, dandled and diapered them together, those of us who thought we were building lifelong partnerships before we were betrayed or bored or desolate or dead inside, cannot help but be haunted.

Clearly, however, there were going to be all kinds of ghosts. To start, married — especially with kids — ghosts feel different than old boyfriend/girlfriend ghosts.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, marriage is based on the exaggeration of the virtues of one woman above all others. Jewish tradition might put it this way: marriage is a decision to hold before you the purest soul that dwells within your partner — no matter how cranky or depressed he or she may be at times — and by this practice, you will weather the inevitable storms of life, and perhaps touch the Divine.

“Harei at mekudeshet li, b’tabaat zu.” With this ring, I make you holy to me.

With apologies to the Catholic Church, you might say marriage, therefore, makes holy ghosts.

For while love — untended — dissipates, holiness is forever. Holiness hands you the parting gift of a permanent spectral companion who whispers in your ear, “Because you knew me, no matter what you hope or dream or believe about yourself — doubt it!”

By this early date, I already knew that I was accompanied by my own ghost, one made faint by long-palsied love. I would get used to it. But across the table, stoked by love interrupted, hers burned with the chilling luster of still holy love.

It was suddenly very cramped. Me. Her. My fading ghost. Her blazing one.

When I was married and miserable, I never understood why people said they hated dating. It looked like so much fun. Bodies in motion. Now I saw that when it’s more than fun, that when something deeper in you suddenly touches something deeper in another, ghosts come out to call and feed.

Clearly, I was a novice at this dating thing in more ways than one. I knew I wasn’t ready for this table for four, so I didn’t call her back. At least I could curl up with my Rumi, who whispered something more encouraging….

“Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.

Don’t try to see through the distances.

That’s not for human beings. Move within,

But don’t move the way fear makes you move.”

It was going to take a lot of practice.


Adam Gilad is a writer, producer
and CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He also teaches creative writing based on Jewish
texts at the UJ and privately. He can be reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

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I, Me, Not-Husband


I am completely frozen.

I have just walked out of a pitch meeting in Santa Monica. Wilshire Boulevard is breezy and gorgeous. It

is 4 p.m. I have been married for 17 years and now, it appears, I’m not. For the last 17 years I had a wife, a family, a home, a dock in the open sea of the world.

Moreso, for the last 10 years, I’ve had chubby, laughing babies to return to, who then morphed into muscled cyclones, ready to hurl themselves onto my back the moment I walked through the door, then preteens, eager to sing me their triumphs, real and imaginary, at school.

At the end of the day, I knew where to go — home.

But this breezy Tuesday afternoon, for the first time in 10 years, I will return to a house without my children in it. I will not read to them, hector them to clean up after themselves, praise their drawings, write with them, do homework with them, tell them to brush their teeth, watch them, listen to their piano practice, remind them to speak kindly, smell their sweet hair, gaze into their impossibly trusting eyes, touch their impossibly tender skin.

After 17 years, the marriage is over. We both came to the same realization on the same day — that in the whirlwind of working and child rearing and bill paying and housecleaning — our love had dissipated like spent steam. She doesn’t want a divorce, but a chance to define herself on her own terms — including in the arms of others — while maintaining the option of coming back to me. To me, that’s not separation. That’s divorce. And although it feels like unburdening myself of 1,000 pounds of pain, I don’t want it. And I do. And I don’t. And I do.

So here I stand on Wilshire Boulevard, more or less a single man for the first time, with no place to go.

And every place to go.

What do I do? When I was married and obliged to go home at the end of the day, I could think of all kinds of great things to do! Disappear into a bookstore and read, visit a friend, walk on the beach, go to a hotel bar and fantasize — just exhilarate in temporary, borrowed freedom, taking a stand for my theoretical independence as a human being. Of course, I never did those things. A good Jewish husband, I went home for dinner.

Now: Wilshire Boulevard. 4 p.m. Me. Ideas tick through my head. I could actually go the bookstore and read for four hours. I could go to a bar (but what would I say?). I could take a walk, go to a restaurant, call a friend, stroll the beach, go to a movie, listen to music, open the L.A. Weekly and see what the hell it is that people do at night. Are there sex clubs in Los Angeles? Hmmmm. Ideas tick faster. I could go to Vegas. Never been. I could drive to San Francisco — and back! I could go shopping, gorge myself on chocolate, sit at an outdoor cafe and knowingly nod at passersby with a faux Italian "buona sera."

To paraphrase Milton, the whole world lay before me.

Only, I don’t know which way to turn.

And so I stand.

And stand.

And stand.

Is this what single life is going to be like? Frozen? A pillar? Like Lot’s wife who turned to salt for looking backward?

Eventually I unfreeze. I start driving toward — where else? — home, but spot a Gelson’s and think one thing is for sure: I will need food. I grab a cart and it dawns on me that this time, I don’t need to buy her 8,000-grain bread, her weekly round of broccoli, chicken, etc. It hits like lightning. I can buy anything. I can eat anything. I pick up a bag of brown rice and ask it, "Do I like you? Or do I just eat you because that’s what we eat?"

I query the romaine lettuce and the Mueslix. I ask the organic milk if we really have a firm foundation between us worth that habitual extra dollar. I need, I tell the Empire chicken, to know just what our relationship means.

And so I stumble into the best metaphor I’ve inhabited for years. For two and half hours, I move slowly up and down the aisles of Gelson’s, scoping out the food, introducing myself to pastas and sauces and exotic fruits. I feel like the biblical Adam, new formed, stepping out of the Garden of Eden, destined to start from scratch.

Thus I begin the process of redefining myself. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to eat. I will come to understand what it is that I, me, not-husband, like to do. And I will come to understand, in stages, what it is that I, me, not-husband, value in a woman, a lover, a companion and, if there is such a thing, a soulmate.

But first, I will have to go on a date.

As it turns out, this will cost me a whole lot more than this trip to Gelson’s.

Adam Gilad is a writer, producer and is CEO of Rogue Direct, LLP. He can be
reached at adamgilad@yahoo.com

He Said: Ready for Second Time Around


I spent months planning our weekend trip to Las Vegas: from an indulgent massage at Mandara day spa and dinner at Mon Ami Gabi to "Mamma Mia" at the Mandalay Bay. Wendy was having a fabulous time.

But when I suggested we go to the top of the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris, where we were staying, my Francophile stopped me cold at the elevator.

"We need to talk," she said.

My heart sank as I tapped nervously on the ring box in my pocket. She knew what was coming next and suggested we find someplace to talk over dessert. The momentum of the evening was lost.

Part of me wished that she would have stepped into that elevator with me and not looked back, but we’re both seasoned veterans. Young and impetuous didn’t work too well for our first marriages. We knew that taking that ride up would change our lives in ways that required some deeper introspection. Instead, we kept our feet on the ground.

We talked the rest of the night and into most of the next day about her marriage fears and mine. We wrestled with our anxieties as we strolled through the Venetian and the Bellagio’s botanical gardens. Was I ready to become a stepfather? Were we ready to marry again? What would we do differently to keep a marriage together?

Ending a marriage is painful, and difficult to recover from; the term "civil divorce" seems an oxymoron. But like a forest after a wildfire, love inevitably sprouts again from scorched earth. The trick is to keep from getting burned again.

According to the Stepfamily Association of America, 75 percent of divorced people will remarry, but 60 percent of those marriages end in divorce — it’s a statistic that guided much of our discussion. Divorce was hard on both of us the first time around. The last thing we wanted was a sequel.

In her book "Starter Marriage," journalist Pamela Paul interviewed more than 60 GenX couples that divorced after a few years of marriage. She found that many of them were children of divorced parents who still held marriage up as their ideal. However, they lacked a realistic expectation of what marriage can and cannot offer.

We both took our first marriages as far as they were going to go, but that doesn’t mean that they were failures. According to relationship expert Dr. Barbara De Angelis, if we had stayed in a failed relationship that would have been a failure on our part. Instead, we look back on our first marriages as learning experiences that teach us how to improve ourselves and our relationships.

Compatibility is key. Wendy and I refer to each other as our "evil twin," but I prefer to think that we bring out the best in each other. It doesn’t hurt that we want the same things in life or that I love her kids. We’re active listeners and open with our feelings, and we’ve both been down the same road, so we know what the bumps and the potholes look like.

Our relationship on many levels is so beshert that Wendy once gave me a long look and said, "I waited for you. What took you so long?"

When checkout time came and went, I was left to wonder what the future would hold for us as a couple. As we waited for our bags and our ride to McCarran airport, Wendy turned to me and said, "You should do it now."

Assuming she meant that our bags were ready, I started walking over to one of the attendants.

"No," she yelled, motioning for me to come back to her. "Ask me the question."

I know that when Wendy and I sign the ketubah and exchange our vows and rings, it probably won’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped. According to the the Yiddish aphorism: Man plans, God laughs. The cake could arrive late, someone might end up in the pool during the reception or — please, no — it could rain.

Things so rarely go according to plan. But if our wedding is anything like our engagement, it will still be perfect to us.

Aunt Coca’s Ghost


Did you have an Aunt Coca? My auntie, to
whom I am not genetically connected, was a lady we kindly invited to family
gatherings because she was alone. It was silently understood that she was an “old maid,” one of those
unfortunate women who did not marry and have children.

My Aunt Coca, from my child perspective, was an “old” woman.
A distinguished blonde lady, a member of the adult clan who clumsily pinched my
cheeks and brought gifts. What seemed old then, is close to home now. Like her,
I am an unmarried, 40-year-old woman, and I sometimes painfully feel the same
loneliness and single-woman stigmas as she did.

My four closest girlfriends are also not married. One of
them is 38 — but we still love her. Another has returned to the chevra (group)
after going through a divorce and becoming a single mom. She at least has a
record of having “sealed the deal.”

In our achievements and independence, we are very different
from Aunt Coca, who I believe spent her life working as a secretary. I am
reminded of our professional competence as we sit for our weekly Coffee Bean
& Tea Leaf shot of friendship. Our skills are varied: a lawyer, a doctor, a
writer, another lawyer and a high-tech wiz.

Our chevra was bonded and sealed through our 20-year
adventures in Los Angeles single Jewish life. In our 20s and 30s we all dated
many men, had some near-misses, attended young leader retreats, Shabbatons,
traveled to exotic destinations and busily became ensconced in Los Angeles
Jewish life.

As we chat and interrupt each other, I think of our common
denominators besides being 40: we are smart, kind, interesting and always
chasing those extra 10 (or 15) zaftig pounds. Our exchange does not have
commercial breaks:

“Jewish men are looking for playboy bunnies who read Torah.”

“Los Angeles is not Kansas City! There are so many women who
look fabulous here. Anyway they want women in their 20s to have a family.”

“Bull, they are just dirty old men”

We exchange JDate horror and victory stories. My friend
Debbie, who was not even looking (she had a top-level marketing job), got
married to a great guy through JDate.

Our PalmPilots sit on the table as we pick them up to
proactively pencil in social opportunities to be aware of: “Makor has a 40-50
singles group.” “What’s their Web site?” “Are you going to The Federation
leadership event?” “Too young. The guys are looking for 20-year-olds.” “LACMA
has free concerts on Fridays.” “MOCA has a singles group.” “It’s 20-something.”
“Did you go to Friday Night Live?” “The UJ has a 39 cutoff for their discussion
group.” “I am taking bridge lessons.” “The Fountain Theatre has a great play.”

We network activities for an hour. Our loneliness, though
populated with (diminishing) marriage prospects according to researchers, is
densely populated with friendships, philanthropic involvements, cultural
activities, family events, the gym, our pets and occasional nights at home.

Midweek I met my friend Elliott in the magazine area of
Barnes & Noble. By his own admission, he is a Jewish prince who fears
commitment. His (generally blonde) relationship attempts fail regularly and he
lives on antidepressants, while attending every single event listed (and not
listed) to find his muse. Though my friends and I would probably fit his needs
better than his relationship résumé, he would never consider dating a woman
like me. “Kind” is not one of the criteria he seeks in a woman. He wants a
young, beautiful, successful, slim, amazing, funny, superlative fit.

I leave Elliott and feel angry at men like him. Of course,
there are lot of good men who are more real, but it does certainly seem like
there are many Elliotts around. What’s a girl to do? Have fun and enjoy life
anyway, is my answer. I do feel shame not being married, but I do not feel
desperate or bored. There are times when I feel that I live on another planet
from my Valley friends, who are consumed with diaper and carpool concerns.
Mostly, my throat tightens and I feel particularly single at family Shabbat
dinners and holidays. My brothers have supplied the grandchildren, not I, the
Jewish daughter brought up for marriage. Luck? Fear of commitment? Who knows?

Am I that different than my Aunt Coca? Is the organized
Jewish community life aware of the great number of mature singles —
particularly women? Is anything being done on a community level to integrate us
into a fulfilling role other than being an alien in a synagogue world dedicated
to family life? I hope that Jewish leaders and rabbis will hear our message as
they look at Jewish life today and tomorrow.

It sometimes feels like the Orthodox community is making a
more concerted effort to reach out to older singles. Some question their
motives, but the consistency of their outreach voice is undeniable. My friends
and I often trek to Pico-Robertson to experience Shabbat with Jewish families
and feel the warmth of community sharing.

My options are different than Aunt Coca’s. To address my
ticking biological clock, I could adopt or consider other options. I can enjoy
the benefits of independent life and choose other ways to contribute socially
than by having a family and children.

However, tonight I finish my fun
Scrabble game on PlaySite.com and then switch to JCupid to see if their Web site has more
options than JDate.

Five days to the next girlfriend caffeinated meeting.


Annabelle Stevens is a writer and the public relations director at Gary Wexler + Associates | Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes. She is the mother of the infamous Black Jacquie the cat.

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