Leave the house

There’s nothing more smug and insidious than a girl who has finally fallen in love and thinks she now has all the answers. She can save you from your sad, pathetic, damaged love life and cure you of your nasty man-repellant habits. No matter what condescending tip she’s giving you, it always drips with the self-satisfied knowledge that the spinster bullet she so artfully dodged is headed straight for you.

I hate that girl.

I can’t turn into her, and maybe that’s why I haven’t written for the past nine months, since I met and fell in love with the first man I’ve ever been sure about. When it finally happened, it felt much more like dumb luck than brilliant man maneuvering. More dice than poker. I can’t be gloating all the way to the altar because the fact is, I’m just a girl who left the house one Saturday night to have dinner with her girlfriends, saw a cute guy across the room and hit the jackpot.

The only magical insight I can share with you has to do with the leaving the house part. Even Eli Manning can’t throw a touchdown if he doesn’t break out of the huddle. That’s really all I can tell you for sure.

There’s always been a special place in my grudge greenhouse for those who peddle the idea that finding love is a skill that can be graphed, taught and sold. Books about love seem like a whole lot of mess to me, written largely by groovy grifters.

Take for example author John Gray — you know, the “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” guy? The guy who has sold more than 30 million books doling out relationship advice? Well, he married fellow self-help writer Barbara De Angelis, who penned “Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know.”

Between the two of them, you have to imagine this was the most blissful, evolved marriage ever. Too bad they’re divorced. Yet somehow, both still hawk their wares. A special hats off to Gray for combining two brilliant swindles in his latest work, “The Mars & Venus Diet & Exercise Solution.” I couldn’t make up tripe like that.

So, when I ask myself how I finally stopped screwing up my love life, the only answer that comes to mind is the same one famously used by one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters to explain how he went bankrupt: “Two ways, first gradually then suddenly.”

The gradual part was the usual therapy in Tarzana with a nice lady who lets me joke about the therapist next door, Dr. Harsher. Seriously, that’s his name. The suddenly part was meeting a guy who is so boundlessly good-natured and patient that he makes me want to bake him cakes and write syrupy e-mails. For the most part, I stopped being a subpar girlfriend and self-involved jerk, first gradually then suddenly.

In any case, I could have had all of the personal epiphanies in the world and still turned up snake eyes. Some of the most together people I know are alone, and some of the real doozies are paired up. It really does come down mainly to luck. Luck and leaving the house.

Aside from being self-conscious that I would come across unctuous and all-knowing about falling in love, there’s another reason that for the first time in 10 years I haven’t written a darn thing.

I’m … happy? And happy people can be a bit dull, or at least that’s the notion that’s been dogging me. I introduced this concept out in Tarzana.

My Therapist: “Not all happy people are boring.”

Me: “Name one happy person who isn’t boring.”

My Therapist: “The Dalai Lama.”

Me: “Really? Have you read ‘The Art of Happiness?'”

My Therapist: “You got me there.”

Perhaps she should have suggested I set up a session with Dr. Harsher.

Since falling in love and losing what I perceive to be my “edge,” I sometimes worry about being one quaint, self-deprecating tale away from being Erma Bombeck, and I loved Erma, but you know what I mean.

Oddly enough, the answer came from a co-worker. He told me that I was so deeply troubled that even if one part of my life was gelling, the nuttiness runs deep. He said I was like Mike Tyson, I wouldn’t run out of crazy. And that was comforting, and the fact that it was a salve proved it true. I’ve got a backup generator of crazy in case the mishegoss goes out.

So, hopefully, despite the fact that I’m not suffocatingly lonely or in a relationship laced with toxic levels of resentment, I still have a fertile patch of pain from which insights can grow, like that brilliant one I had earlier about leaving the house. What a relief.

Teresa Strasser is co-host of “The Adam Carolla Show,” on KLSX-FM. Three days after writing this column, she got engaged. She is very happy — hopefully, not too happy. Her book, “101 Ways to Win a Coin Toss,” will be out this fall.

Brotherly Advice

In the last year, my younger brother has been asking for and taking my dating advice on an almost daily basis. It’s a fact that continues to astound me. This isn’t to say I don’t have anything worthwhile to say on the topic, despite the fact that I’m married now and raising two kids. It’s more that I’ve simply never had this kind of relationship with him before.

My brother and I were born two years apart. We shared a room growing up, played with “Star Wars” action figures together and coordinated plans to torture our younger sister, but around high school our paths split. He was into extreme sports and living life on a razor’s edge, whereas I was content lounging around the house reading and going with friends to places like Gorky’s to get into philosophical conversations.

The one thing we still had in common was our appreciation for women, but even there we differed. He liked the adventurous party girl, while I was drawn to the moody intellectual type. He ended up converting at age 16 to Catholicism after dating a Catholic girl, while one of my love interests led me to get serious about my Judaism and attend Shabbat services at CSUN Hillel.

My brother and I eventually found ourselves in completely different cities, and our phone calls went from weekly to monthly. As time went on, I was surprised if I heard from him more than a few times a year. We saw each other for the first time in eight years when I flew out to the Midwest to be a groomsman at his wedding in 1999. And I realized how far our paths had diverged when he proudly showed off the printed wedding blessing his in-laws secured from Pope John Paul II.

Like many men, my brother and I relied too much on our spouses, and we willingly sacrificed our male friendships on the pyre of our turbulent marriages. I was left with one close friend when my first marriage crumbled three years later. In 2004, when my brother’s marriage and business were falling apart, he couldn’t name any guy whom he could count as a reliable friend.

Throughout his contentious divorce, we still barely talked. I wasn’t sure what help I could offer him or whether he’d want it. But when he finally opened up to me a few months later about how he wanted to find love again, I couldn’t hold my tongue.

I told him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his life and his self-esteem. He couldn’t offer stability to anyone, and he needed time to find himself outside of the context of a relationship.

“Date,” I said, “there’s no reason to get serious about anyone.”

Naturally, he didn’t listen. He moved in with a new girlfriend who had a tattoo emblazoned provocatively across her chest and observed a three-drink minimum when she visited with our family.

It wasn’t long before my brother started calling me with his doubts and anxieties. She was still chummy with her ex, he said. After he found multiple calls on her cell phone to her former beau, he wasn’t convinced everything was kosher, especially because their love life had hit a rough patch.

“She must have girlfriends to run to for advice,” I said. “Assume she isn’t just ‘talking,’ and tell her to drop him as a friend or you’re moving out.”

And to my surprise he did it. He moved out.

When he got his own place, I told him not to invite women over. He didn’t believe me at first. When he found two women he’d dated staking out his home at different times to see if he was bringing anyone else over, it dawned on him the advice might exist to protect him.

When he blew some first dates by talking too much, my advice was to keep his mouth shut, start listening and asking questions, but without turning it into an interview.

“Women want men to be enigmatic,” I said. “They’ll project what they want onto you. Don’t let your reality interfere with their fantasy.”

The guy who almost always wanted to talk about himself suddenly started taking the back seat in our conversations and shocked me by asking about my life.

After months of living on his own, my brother eventually reached a point where he told me he didn’t want or need a relationship. It amused him to no end that even though he was forward with women about not wanting a commitment, they still pursued him with a dream of getting to see his home — and with the hope of eventually moving in.

My brother has since been called a player — as well as many other names that can’t be printed in a family newspaper — but he learned quickly that many women will keep calling even after they’ve sworn off of him for good. It was a liberating revelation for him, because he saw that he didn’t have to become someone he wasn’t in order to attract a woman.

He’s even started to explore his Jewish heritage. He calls me frequently from the road as he’s on his way to use the gym at his local JCC, asking my advice about how he should handle his evening. And after joining a Jewish dating site, he asked me to recommend a synagogue for him to try on for size. Needless to say, Mom is kvelling.

I’m just excited that he’s also sought out his old friends, reserving a few days each month to play poker or get together for dinner. He tells me that they trade dating advice as they sit around the table, sharing what works and what doesn’t.

Although I’m about 1,600 miles away from him, I’m always by the phone, ready with some advice when my brother needs me. And I’m glad to know that even if I can’t join him at the table with his buddies, at least he’s regularly offering me a seat as one of the important men in his life.

Happiness — maybe it’s not ‘out there’

It all started with the phone call from my Jewish mother in the Philadelphia suburbs about five years ago: “My friend’s son is moving to L.A. I think he has an on-again-off-again girlfriend. But, he’s cute and nice. Anyway, he’s going to call you for coffee.” Innocent enough, or so I thought. Then, as the hours flew by and the age of 28 approached from around the corner, a cold sweat bathed my East Coast family. My 24-year-old first cousin announced her engagement to a nice lawyer from George Washington University.

Here I was across the country, no family, in grad school, living on loans, virtually dateless and in emotional recovery from a Beverly Hills player who thought marriage proposals were a game.

We were entering the danger zone, ladies and gentleman.

It was time to call in the big guns. The yentas held a conference, and mission “marry my Jewish daughter before age 30” began. My cousin’s friend, the pediatrician, was going to call; my dad paid for me to go wine tasting in Malibu; and my Pilates teacher knew a great single Jewish tow-truck driver.

That was around the time I had a nervous breakdown. I knew I didn’t need any help or handouts. I was a smart, attractive, independent woman, and I knew I could find my true love online in a week if I were really serious about it. I posted a profile.

The concept that even Frankenstein got married would often dance through my sleepless head after each grueling online date or night out at a bar. When the 5-foot-tall doctor who had posted a picture of his 6-foot-tall brother asked me to split the bill for coffee, I knew it was time to take a break. Why was there so much pressure? Thirty is just a number. Who really cares? Madonna had kids in her 40s, and look at Demi Moore.

My friends and therapist told me it was “them,” not me. There was nothing wrong with me. I just needed to get out there. That was when it dawned on me, after a yoga class, that maybe “out there” was really just a reflection of what was “in here.” Maybe my frenetic coffee shop drive-bys, obsessively long elliptical workouts by my gym’s basketball court and late-night strolls down the produce aisle weren’t going to help me find what I was searching for “out there.”

That was when something miraculous happened.

Nope. I’m not going to tell some Pollyanna story about how I stopped looking and then found my soul mate at the gas station. The truth is simple. I gave up searching outside myself and committed to my passion.

It was like I had some sort of biblical experience. I was on the plane returning to Los Angeles when it hit me. I knew exactly what I had to do. I was just a couple classes shy of my master’s degree in psychology and had been counseling individuals and couples in a local Jewish agency for about a year.

I had been on more than 200 first dates in Los Angeles.

I’d learned exactly what I was not looking for.

My experience skimming through online profiles helped me master the art and science of weeding out Mr. Wrong with one questionable sentence or phone message. I helped a bunch of my guy friends write profiles and watched as they single-handedly, consistently met girls and got engaged.

All my friends already had been calling me for relationship advice every day since high school. With my background in psychology and the positive growth I saw from working with my clients, I realized that I had what it took to help singles out there save their Jewish mothers from the schpilkes that kept mine up at night. I focused on helping other singles in my psychotherapy practice.

Over the years I have helped young, shy guys find their inner chutzpah, those with poor self-images gain the self confidence to write delete-proof profiles, and I realized that so many of us just want to find the same thing, but our own fear and self-doubt makes us question the ones who see our true inner beauty. As I have helped my clients get past their emotional blocks, I have seen them find what they want. It was like clockwork.

I began to wake up each morning like a woman in love.

That was when the words my grandmother always spoke came true. Yup. This one annoying doctor who kept calling finally met me for coffee one morning. My grandmother said I’d find him when I was not looking. I couldn’t stand this guy over the phone, and I had little to no faith in online matchmaking. But something magical happened that day as our morning coffee turned into a ride up the coast and a lovely dinner in Malibu.

I was skeptical when he told me at the end of the night that he had a feeling we would be spending a lot of time together. Yet, somehow we have been talking every day since. And the love I sought from outside for so long, grew and grew as my commitment to my own success and joy filled up any emptiness or lacking.

Yes, I found my soul mate when I fell in love with my own life – although it happened several months after turning 30.

The moral of my story can best be summed up in my yoga revelation. Stop looking “out there” for the life you want. The happiness you seek is already “in here.”

Live passionately while you are single and life will have a funny way of delivering your heart’s desire – when your heart is already full.

Alisa Ruby is a psychotherapist, a part-time school counselor at Malibu High School and a freelance writer.

Battle of the sexes along the Y-Divide

“Ladies and gentlemen, Rabbi Aryeh Pamensky holds the secret to your incredible, unbelievable and unparalleled happiness,” announces the emcee in a dimly lit nightspot where hundreds of Jews are gathered, each hoping to attain what half of Americans find unattainable: a happy marriage.”

A happy wife is a happy life,” the rabbi says, and so begins the popular one-man interactive show, “Pamensky Live,” which makes its rounds throughout the United States and Canada.

Pamensky spoke to a reporter in Philadelphia after one of his shows.

Pamensky believes he can eradicate divorce and is on a mission to prove he can make marriage into a heaven on earth for both genders. To that end he has created “Y-Divide Marriage Kit,” which includes a DVD and six CDs.

And he has written two books: “Marrying The Y-Divide: Bridging the Gender Gap” and “Ten Top Amazing Marriage Tips.” He is also on the road throughout the year, garnering rave reviews at scores of comedy clubs and other trendy locales. It is not just the married folks he addresses; the 42-year old South African native raised in Toronto targets single audiences nationwide for comparable dating seminars, though his advice differs pre- and post-marriage.

“Pamensky Live,” known as the Jewish version of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” gives the men in the crowd a job. Recognizing that men are not innately what he terms “relationship beings,” Pamensky offers a job description for men looking to transform their existing relationship into one that fulfills their every dream. In an entertaining presentation, the rabbi assures men that they will not have to go through massive personal and interpersonal changes: “I say, ‘You’re a guy and you don’t have to change. Who you are right now can satisfy your wife,’ and they feel a weight lifted off their shoulders.”

According to Pamensky, their eyes open wide and they are baffled that he is not urging them to become sensitive, communicative beings.

Pamensky responds, “If you become that, your wife won’t be happy anyway. She wants to be married to you as a man. So now, you, as a man, can fulfill her. I have tools to teach you how to make it work where you’re at. Now this is how you do it….”

Pamesky believes women are incredibly complicated, but they all need the three As: attention, affection and appreciation, and once they receive this from their husbands, they channel their energy into creating a loving and adventurous affair with their spouse. On this premise, as a woman grows more content and pleased in her marital relationship, her reservations melt away and she opens herself up to pampering her husband. Pamensky’s presentation humorously depicts just what kind of attention and affection he is referring to.

He advises the men to drop whatever they are doing and give their wives undivided attention.

“Don’t tune out,” he warns, recommending eye contact and attentively listening to everything she is saying. By affection, the rabbi is referring to affectionate tones and nonsexual touch. Appreciation generally speaks for itself.

Addressing the women, Pamensky says, “Take a look at your man now, and you will forever look at him entirely different. He is a huge ego with legs. When he does his job [making you happy], stroke his ego over the top. Men live for this. The greatest way to bolster his ego is letting him know how his gestures made you feel for the good.”

He jokes, “We always hear about it for the bad.”

“The Amazing Marriage Seminar,” portions of which are included in the “Live” performance, is the culmination of many years of rabbinical study of the Torah and other Jewish texts, in conjunction with Pamensky’s work as a marriage counselor and personal coach.

“The self-help business is a gazillion dollar business, and so many people who attend are Jewish, so I always wondered, ‘Why don’t they go to Judaism for this stuff?'” he said. “I always had a dream of taking the wisdom of Judaism and putting it in self-help language that is palatable to people who don’t have access to the texts themselves. There is a tremendous 3,500-year-old tradition that’s been passed down concerning wisdom for understanding marriage.”

According to the Pamensky plan, “make your wife feel that she is the most important person in your life; that nothing going on in your life is more important than her.”

In a tone that implies, “Hey, I’m one of you, just a regular guy,” he cautions, “Gentlemen, you’ve got to appreciate that every time you make your wife feel less important than something else in your life, be it work, children, sports, parents, television or hobbies, that thing becomes a mistress, and your wife will fight you on everything that has to do with that mistress.”

At each performance, Pamensky reminds men that their wives will support them on their every endeavor so long as she feels she is more important than any other person or thing.

For singles, he takes a different approach.

“Dating sets you up for a bad marriage,” Pamensky said at one of his packed singles events, which was sponsored by Discovery Productions, a New York-based nonprofit Jewish outreach organization. The dynamic is all faulty from the get-go, he maintains, since dating is always on a man’s terms. “That’s how you begin the relationship, and women think that once they get married, it is going to switch, but you have already set precedents. The skill set for dating,” he continues, “when applied to marriage causes bad marriages.”

“Most of marriage is about fulfilling the other person’s needs, and this is why dating is not a good training ground for marriage,” Pamensky says. He adds that since there is no alternative, “you just need to learn how to date smart.”

He says one of his most rewarding moments came when a woman ran up to him in gratitude after one of his performances, tearfully exclaiming, “How do I thank the man who saved my life?”

With a chuckle, Pamensky says, “You see, that’s how women speak about relationships!”

For more information, visit

Let’s confront, I mean, let’s talk

Men will do anything — and I mean anything, from changing their phones, emails and even primary residences, to joining the army during wartime — rather than
confront a woman. By “confront,” I mean, “talk directly to.” They just don’t like it.  

Boutique Teaches Brides Love Lessons

Where there’s a bride to be, there’s a bachelorette party. And for many Los Angeles women, that party means just one thing: The Love Boutique. For 25 years, the shop has entertained and educated parties of women about sexuality and sensuality. The Love Boutique parties are like Tupperware parties, but instead of selling kitchenware and sharing recipes, the consultants are selling romance gear and exchanging advice on how to heat things up in the bedroom.

“We provide women with an honest, authentic sexual education,” Love Boutique founder Judy Levy said. “We teach women everything their mothers didn’t and discuss everything that women are afraid to talk about.”

Levy, who describes herself as a nice Jewish mother, wasn’t always in the sexuality business. A graduate of Palisades High, this former B’nai B’rith Girls chapter president spent 15 years as a schoolteacher. While teaching in Europe, she was inspired by stores that sold sexual goods in a traditional retail environment. In January 1981, she brought her version of that liberal European attitude to the Los Angeles area, opening The Love Boutique in Tarzana and hosting home parties. Levy, who celebrated the shop’s 25th anniversary with a charity gala on Feb. 2, has since opened a second shop in Santa Monica and now hosts more than 100 parties each month.

The Love Boutique sells everything from massage oils to lingerie and romantic board games to self-help books. In keeping with the store’s philosophy, these items are merely tools to help women feel elegant, sexy and self-confident.

“The nighties are just the wrapping paper, you are the gift inside,” said Love Boutique party consultant Sophia Silver, who attends Stephen S. Wise. “We want to help women feel good about themselves and their relationships.”

But Levy’s Love Boutique parties aren’t promoting promiscuity or suggesting that women play the field.

“When women understand and respect their bodies, they will find partners who honor, appreciate and respect them,” Levy said. “Only men who understand this will get to be with us.”

Love Boutique consultants teach that sexuality is normal, healthy and fun. They explain that women will feel more powerful, creative and happy when they are comfortable with their sexuality, and that this sexual knowledge will lead to more successful relationships.

While Love Boutique’s parties and shops will have its detractors, Levy believes this education is important for all women, but especially young brides.

“Girls tend to focus on their wedding and forget about their wedding night and the nights after that,” said Levy, who was a virgin bride at 21. “It’s important that women think about how they’ll keep up that connection in their relationship.”

That’s where the Love Boutique’s bachelorette parties come in. The parties teach women to open up lines of communication and be proactive in their requests for what they want emotionally and physically. And attendees say they’re just plain fun. Hostesses invite 25 to 30 friends (over the age of 18) for lots of giggly, girly bonding and what else — shopping.

A love consultant arrives at the hostess’ home with a tablecloth, products and goodies. The party opens with a sexuality quiz. From there, the consultant opens up the conversation, allowing women to share stories and ask questions in a comfortable environment. The consultant leads the guests in games and discussions that help women learn about their own romantic needs. Then she walks the guests through the products available at Love Boutique.

The goods range from aphrodisiac candles to edible body frosting and some items that made this reporter blush to witness, let alone write about. Party consultants are aware that hostesses’ comfort levels may vary, and they will work with the hostess before the party to find a tone that works for her and her guests. At the end of the party, the consultant discretely meets with each guest individually to take orders to ensure that each remains private. The bachelorette receives a free hostess gift and a gift certificate valued at 10 percent of the party’s total sales.

Levy, who participates with ORT and Hadassah, believes her business meshes well with her Jewish beliefs. Many of her party consultants and hostesses are Jewish, and she says her work helps Jewish couples fulfill a Shabbat mitzvah.

“Every Friday night, my husband and I light Shabbat candles and stay home together,” said Levy, who belongs to Makom Ohr Shalom in Tarzana.

For Levy, who recently spent two weeks in Israel, tikkun olam (healing the world) is personal passion. The Love Boutique’s recent 25th anniversary party at the Jewish-owned Erotic Museum in Hollywood doubled as a benefit for Children of the Night, which rescues children from prostitution. During the month of February, 2 percent of all party, online and Love Boutique sales will go to the nonprofit.

Levy is thrilled to be helping the community at large and Jewish couples in particular through her business.

“We’re helping couples connect emotionally and physically, and it’s that connection that sustains a marriage,” she said.

To book a Love Boutique bachelorette party, call (310) 586-0902 or visit

Mama Said…

Taking relationship advice from your Jewish mother is like heeding a shiksa friend’s advice about curly hair gel. It’s not their area.

Besides, your mom has an agenda: to get you married. Sure, she wants you to be happy. But in her mind, the two may or may not coincide. Consider the following well-meaning but misguided maternal advice:

You Can’t Love Somebody Else Until You Love Yourself. Of course you can! Granted, you may not love the person in a healthy, much less reciprocal way. But you’ll think you’re in love, and the power of a delusional mind and desperate heart are a formidable combination. Besides, love and hate are far enough apart on the scale of emotions that they come full circle and become the same thing. Your self-loathing turns into other-loving, so that the more you hate yourself, the more you love the other person. Don’t wait for self-esteem to kick in before pursuing romance. That could take years of therapy and remember, you’re not getting any younger.

If You Marry for Money, You’ll Pay the Price. Not really. Money’s good and, the fact is, no matter whom you’re with, you’re bound to be disappointed eventually. Wouldn’t you rather be disappointed and rich than disappointed and broke? Think of it this way: You can be disappointed on an estate in Malibu or disappointed in a crappy, roach-infested studio apartment in Reseda. Besides, what better way to drown your disappointment than in a shopping addiction?

You Won’t Meet Anyone by Sitting Home Alone in Front of Your Computer. Actually, I’ve never met more people more quickly than by sitting home alone in front of my computer. It’s like being at a fabulous party, but looking my best (courtesy of a JDate photo taken three years ago) and not having to deal with freeway traffic or second-hand smoke. In fact, my fondest dating encounters recently have taken place from the comfort of my Aeron chair.

Just Be Yourself. Do our mothers really expect us to get to a second date by being ourselves? Will any guy show interest in a judgmental intellectual snob who visibly rolls her eyes when her date says he doesn’t know who Thomas Friedman is? On the other hand, most guys will go ga-ga over a woman who says, “No way! Me, too!” when her date declares that “Tommy Boy” is his all-time favorite movie. So if your date thinks David Spade is an underrated genius and you think David Spade is a moron, feel free to borrow your date’s opinions. If he gushes about Aqualung, gush back for the sake of simpatico. (“Aqualung? Yeah, I love Aqualung!” — even if you’ve never heard of Aqualung.) If he says his favorite movies are “A Clockwork Orange” and “Raging Bull,” there’s no need to mention that yours are “Amelie” and “Lost in Translation.” If he says he’s a vegan who doesn’t eat junk food, stop yourself from talking about your love of Big Macs and Cold Stone chocolate sundaes. (The implication being: We both like healthy food, therefore we like each other.) It’s advisable to take on alternate personalities as we try to guess what type of person might appeal to the object of our affection. Be yourself, on the other hand, and you’ll be by yourself.

If He Can Have the Milk for Free, He Won’t Buy the Cow. Our moms clearly forgot about the sexual revolution. Nowadays, no guy will marry you just for the nooky. So if you’re going to be manipulative, choose something else to withhold. Like the truth about who you really are. Because if you give him that, he’ll probably want to trade you in for a less dysfunctional cow.

Put on Some Lipstick, Mascara and a Cute Outfit When You Go Out for Your Morning Coffee — You Never Know Who You Might Run Into. Nobody wears makeup and a matching Juicy Couture get-up when they roll out of bed on Sunday mornings unless they’re Britney Spears or the Hilton sisters. If I’m all dolled up in the Peet’s line, it doesn’t matter who I run into — guys will be running away from me.

Honest Communication Is Key. Both honesty and communication can wreck an otherwise peaceful courtship. Nothing ends a relationship faster than getting the truthful answer to “What are you thinking about, sweetie?” and having him reply, “I was thinking about what the 19-year-old college student who works at Kinko’s looks like naked.”

Act Uninterested — It’s a Turn-on. A turn-on to whom? We’ve all had our objects of infatuation act uninterested, and it didn’t make us like them more — it just made us like ourselves less.

No disrespect to our mothers, but courtship rituals have changed since they were dating. So forget all their antiquated rules. Except the one about never criticizing your boyfriend’s mother, no matter what. If he secretly hates his mother, he’ll end up hating you instead for merely broaching the subject. In fact, he’ll probably accuse you of hating his mother, and say that he can’t love anyone who hates his mother, even though in truth he loves you and hates his mother. Or else he loves his mother so much that he hates you for demanding a portion of that love. Either way, you lose.

So shut up about his mother. Because this is one area Mom knows something about.

Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the author of “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.” Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.


Is Tomato Sauce a Vegetable?

"I hate this healthy food. It’s tasteless and disgusting," says Gabe, my 17-year-old son.

He’s protesting the culinary revolution taking place in our kitchen. The white rice that is now brown, the white bread that is now whole wheat and the Cheetos that have morphed into Lite Cheddar Puffs.

But the most egregious of the new foods, in Gabe’s view, are the soy meatballs, which, breaking every rule for developing a trustworthy parent-child relationship, I try to pass off as turkey, hiding them under a pile of spaghetti.

He takes a bite and runs to the sink, where he spits out the offending mouthful.

"What is this?" he demands. "Why can’t we have normal foods?"

Yes, normal foods. To Gabe, who has never eaten a fruit or vegetable in his life, unless you count tomato sauce and onions, these are french fries, bagels, sodas and pizzas. Foods that have contributed, the surgeon general says, to tripling the number of overweight adolescents over the last two decades to 14 percent of all 13- to 19-year-olds.

My husband Larry and I don’t want to add to these statistics. Nor do we want to contribute to the $238 billion already spent annually, according to the American Obesity Association, for weight-related conditions.

It’s a tough "re-education" process. But one not unfamiliar to Judaism, which gives us the concept of shmirat haguf, the obligation to guard one’s physical health. As Maimonides says, "One must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger." Or, as we used to say in the ’60s: "You are what you eat."

The laws of kashrut assist in fulfilling this obligation, not, as some people assume, by ensuring that the foods we consume are hygienically safe but rather by elevating the act of eating to a spiritual realm. And even those of us who don’t keep strictly kosher (though we vegetarians are practically there), as Jews, ideally, we have a reverence for life and an awareness of pure and impure foods.

"You shall not eat anything abhorrent," the Torah (Deuteronomy 14:3) tells us. And while the Torah is referring to camels, rabbits, badgers and pigs, I would today include foods that that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value. Foods that have been injected with hormones and antibiotics or treated with pesticides. Foods with a shelf life longer than the average life span.

"The more you can eat foods in their original state and the less they are messed with, the better," my friend Debby says. "But try telling that to any red-blooded American adolescent."

We get mixed messages in the United States, the land of overabundance and overindulgence, where, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans are overweight. Yet another 32.9 million Americans, including 11.7 million children, live below the poverty line, often facing barren cupboards at the end of the month when paychecks and Food Stamps run dry.

But this is the United States, where the abhorrent has become the obscene; where food is grabbed, gobbled and guzzled on the run; where single servings are super-sized; and where advertisers hawk green and purple ketchup, neon blue "funky" fries and pizza that magically (read chemically) changes colors.

Judaism gives us no mixed messages, however. Judaism teaches us, unequivocally, that the act of eating is holy: that we must be thankful for our food, that we must be reverent toward life, and that we must feed the hungry.

But to complicate matters, Judaism also gives us, save for the fast days, no occasion in which we don’t eat. In fact, Judaism practically mandates specific holiday foods. What is Shabbat, for example, without noodle kugel? Or Chanukah without latkes, Purim without hamentashen or Shavuot without blintzes? And try making a low-fat, healthier version of these favorites, as I did with noodle kugel.

"No offense, Mom," says Danny, 13, "but this isn’t very good."

Nevertheless, Larry and I continue to battle our kids’ propensity for junk food, reinforced by peer pressure and scores of food-related advertisements, all with unhealthy messages, that bombard them on a daily basis. And we receive no shortage of well-intentioned advice.

"Eat more protein," my pediatrician recommends.

"Eat five or six mini meals a day," a nutritionist advises.

"Eat carrots," my grandmother used to say.

But there are no easy answers — only temptations, good intentions, bad eating days and difficult choices. And those days when drive-though fast food is the best we parents can manage.

And, of course, there is the issue of balance.

"Why does everything have to be healthy, healthy, healthy?" asks Jeremy, 15. "Why don’t you ever have a double scoop of ice cream and a caramel Frappuccino? Live it up and be happy."

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

The Friend Zone

Jay and I met watching college hoops at Maloney’s in March. He’s a Syracuse fan who came to believe his team would only win when my tush was on the bar stool next to his. Apparently, I give good karma. Hoping to get lucky, Jay had me sit next to him for the entire NCAA tournament. It was the start of a beautiful, well, friendship.

See, I assumed Jay and I would quickly be making our own March Madness. But five months and an Orangemen national title later, Jay and I still haven’t kissed. Oh, we hang out 24/7. We catch games, watch movies, grab dinner. We basically do everything but grab each other.

Do you know where you are? You’re in the friend zone, baby.

Jay isn’t my first foray into the friend zone. I basically pitched tent here. I’m a girl with three brothers who learned early on how to play nice with the boys. I used to think it worked for me, but now I know it works against me. Sure, men dig me, they just don’t date me.

Guys like Jay spend hours talking to me about sports, music, movies and — grrrr — other women. I’m the cool chick who can help them pull other chicks. But why do they need other chicks when they have me? I can be a full-service station.

Frustrated with my always-the-best-friend-never-the-bride status, I turn to these very men for advice. Who better to explain how I end up in the friend zone than the ones who banish me there? So guys, why aren’t I dating material? Why can we have an amazing friendship, but not a relationship? Like any single woman, I immediately assume it’s because….

"You’re not fat," said Rich, my college buddy. "You’re hot. I’m sure Jay thinks you’re hot. I’m sure Jay thinks of you naked. I mean, I have. We’re guys — that’s what we do. Jay just hasn’t done anything more than think about it. Neither have I."

Great. Not only has Jay considered hooking up with me, then exercised his out clause, but now I know Rich has, too. Thanks for the pep talk, Coach Buttermaker. Feelin’ oh so much better about myself now.

"Maybe, you’re giving out the friend vibe," suggested Matt, my old roommate. "Does Jay know you’re into him? Are you hinting? Flirting?"

No, I just wear low jeans, tight tanks, and reveal my midriff because I’m hoping to get cast on a WB show. Of course I’m flirting. I majored in flirting. I rule at flirting.

"Maybe it’s because you act like one of the guys," suggested Paul, as we downed beers at a Dodgers game. "I mean, you did meet him in a sports bar. And, problem is, guys date girls who can hang with guys — not hang like guys."

Why? Don’t guys want to date girls who share their interests? I mean, Adam shared a friggin’ rib with Eve. All I want to share is some game highlights. Besides, I may have a soft spot for "SportsCenter," but I also have more curves than Mulholland Drive — and they’re just as dangerous to ride. So while I might fit in with the boys, there’s no mistaking me for a boy. When I throw on a sundress and let my long hair flow, I make heads turn.

"But you also make yourself accessible," said John, last year’s major crush. "Guys like a girl to be a challenge. You’re an open book. You should be more mysterious, and less flexible." So I’m not exactly shy and I don’t bother playing coy. But my flexibility? That’s an asset, baby.

I also heard "You’re too chatty," "You’re too ambitious" and, my favorite, "You’re too intimidating."

Intimidating? I’m 5 foot 2. Still, survey says, all I need to do to land a man is become an unapproachable, game-playing flirt, who doesn’t talk, doesn’t have goals and doesn’t know a tight end from her rear end.

I don’t want to be that girl. I make fun of that girl. I hated that girl in high school. Besides, an extreme makeover won’t help me break through the friendship barrier. Jay’s my friend ’cause he likes me. Changing who I am won’t turn his like into love.

So what will? What will make guys look at me the way they look at other girls? Should I try to be a more traditional Jewish woman? Cook dinner, bake challah, make chicken soup? I heard guys date girls who make a mean kugel. Can I flip a switch? Wish upon a star? Click my high heels three times? How do I become the object of men’s affection?

Truth is, there’s nothing I can do but accept that some men and women are destined to be just friends. I have plenty of male pals who I’ve never once considered courting. They’re good guys who show me good times and always keep me laughing. I truly treasure their friendship, but I don’t want to jump them. No specific reason, there’s just no click. No vibe. Plus, they have no hair. I’m kidding about the hair — sort of. But I’m serious about the lack of spark. Guess that’s how Jay feels about me.

And I can’t force him to feel something he doesn’t. A man’s got to sense that snap, crackle, pop all on his own. Maybe one day Jay will wake up and realize I’m the one that he wants. But more likely, he’ll tell me about some other girl he wants.

And then it’s friend zone quid pro quo. I won’t drop Jay’s fun friendship over my unrequited like. But I will expect his tush on the bar stool next to mine, telling me that somewhere there’s a man looking for a Cubs-cheering, sundress-wearing, spunky, sarcastic, slightly neurotic, overly chatty Jewish chick and assuring me that next year my UCLA Bruins will win the national championship. All while ordering me an ice-cold beer. Now that’s what friends are for.

Carin Davis is a freelance
writer and can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com


Five Elements of a Fairy-Tale Marriage

“The Committed Marriage” by Esther Jungreis (Harper San
Francisco, $23.95).

At first glance, the title of Esther Jungreis’ new book,
“The Committed Marriage,” seems a bit redundant. After all, isn’t commitment
the whole point of getting married?

But what Jungreis explains is that, too often, husbands and
wives end up living separate lives in the same house — and even those marriages
that begin on the best footing as joint ventures often lose their way.
“Marriage” addresses a variety of challenges along the continuum of marriage,
from what to look for in a prospective partner to navigating a marriage at
midlife and beyond.

Jungreis’ new release is meant to build on her 1998 book,
“The Committed Life,” in which she discusses how making a commitment to a Torah-based
lifestyle can help people become healthy, wealthy and wise. In some ways,
“Marriage” is an improvement on the earlier work; it is better organized with
stand-alone chapters.

The structure of the book is simple: using as a framework
the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who sent his five most devoted
disciples out into the world to discover the important qualities for a good
life, Jungreis examines how each of these qualities together comprise a good
marriage. Each section addresses a different element the disciples found
essential: to have a good eye, to be a good friend, to be a good neighbor, to
develop the ability to project the consequences of one’s actions and to have a
good heart. Jungreis then relates the element to couples she has counseled.

Among the advice she imparts are:

On being friends in marriage: “The Hebrew term for
‘loving, kind friends’ is re’im v’ahuvim. The word rei’m is derived from the
Hebrew ro’eh, which means shepherd. The relationship of husbands and wives
should be that of shepherds … always keeping a loving, watchful eye on the

On acquiring “a good heart”: “There are myriad little acts
of chesed [lovingkindness] that can go a long way to generate a good heart and
give us our much-sought-after happiness. You can send an e-mail composed of
just three words: I love you. Make a point of smiling at your mate … as you
pass her chair, you lovingly touch her shoulder, just to let her know you care.
These little gestures require no expenditure, no special energy, but they can
change your life.”

For marriages gone awry, Jungreis tells how Moses dealt
with Korach, a cousin who fomented rebellion against him: “Instead of arguing,
Moses simply said, ‘Morning — wait until morning and we’ll settle it then.’
When troubled couples consult me and one of the spouses is bent upon divorce, I
have often succeeded in forestalling disaster simply by prevailing upon them to
wait until morning. There is always the hope that, if we can buy some more
time, they will perceive their folly and reconsider their decision.”

Despite her sometimes long-winded tales, Jungreis’ ability
to weave Torah and talmudic commentary into each chapter offsets many flaws.
One chapter in particular, “Communicating Without Hurting,” where Jungreis
teaches an especially contentious couple how to talk to each other in more
positive ways, should be required reading for every newlywed.

Jungreis was married to her third cousin, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi
Jungreis for 40 years, and throughout the book describes their relationship in
almost fairy-tale terms. It can be difficult to believe in marriage in such a
wholehearted way, especially when today’s world often seems to offer no such

But maybe it can’t hurt for even those predestined pairs to
have someone like Jungreis in their corner. And for anyone seeking some
old-fashioned wisdom about love, this book may yet have you believing in the
possibility of your own fairy-tale marriage.

How Not to Date

Look, I’m not going to tell you how to find “the one,” how
to radiate that “I’m available” light, how to register for wine tasting
seminars and join networking groups.

I have no dating advice. None. I won’t suggest clever phrasing
for your personal ad or how to choose a photo to post on JDate. I’m not an
expert on any of these things, but without bragging, I will admit I’m truly
excellent at one thing: how not to date. I’m aware this skill won’t get me a
book deal or a segment on “Good Morning America.” But it would be selfish of me
not to share the wisdom I’ve garnered in the past year of cutting myself off
from all romantic possibilities. With a subtle yet unswerving dedication, I’ve
raised being single to an art. Just in case you’re interested — say you’ve been
hurt, maybe you haven’t dealt with anger at one or both of your parents,
perhaps you just fear intimacy — I’m here for you.

If you’re horrified by the image of yourself huddled in the
corner of some singles event, clutching a plastic cup full of cheap Merlot,
staring at the “Hello, my name is Dave” sticker on the pressed lapel of a
dentist from Canoga Park, listen up girls.

Let’s start with the small stuff. First, you really want to
make sure your daily life doesn’t bring you in contact with any new single men.
Avoid gender-neutral coffee shops in favor of places that serve CarboLite and
sell bags of Pirate’s Booty. Frozen yogurt is your friend. It has magical
men-repellent powers that I could never explain.

If you must go to the gym, steer clear of the weight room
and instead opt for classes heavy in choreography. Look for names like Latin
Grooves, Booty Ballet, Abs Abs Abs and Cardio Funk Attack. At this point in
American culture, yoga is no longer safe. I repeat, yoga is strictly off-limits
— straight men have found it and they know you’re in there with your low-slung
sweats and no bra. If you must go to yoga, let’s say you just can’t make it to
Burn & Grind, get there late, leave early and don’t look around. Keep your
hair dirty and your eyes on your mat.

The evenings become a little more complicated. If you crave
male attention, maintain a coterie of ex-boyfriends with whom you can go to the
movies from time to time. You will look and feel “taken.”

Eschew invitations to parties in favor of dinner with
married girlfriends. Better yet, make sure you have several married friends
with newborn babies you can visit on Saturday nights.

At this point, the only attractive single men you will meet
are deliverymen: the mail man, the pizza guy, whatnot. Without being rude, you
want to adhere to a strict sign-and-slam policy.

When friends and family offer to fix you up with their
“incredibly attractive neighbor they can’t believe is still single” — believe
it. With the understanding that these offers come from a place of true
generosity, you must reject them in such a way that no more fix-ups come along.
Sometimes a nonverbal response is best. What I do, but please feel free to
improvise here, is wince, let my chest cave in until the flow of air is
constricted and look around at the ceiling. I allow this to go on for an
uncomfortable amount of time before mumbling a non sequitur such as: “Does
anyone really know why Reagonomics failed?”

All of the above may be obvious, and I owe you more than

The need for emotional connection is a cunning foe. Keep it
in check by having some sort of e-mail/phone relationship with someone totally
inappropriate for you who lives far away. What’s working for me right now is a
25-year-old man-child who lives in New York City. You can freestyle here, as
long as you make sure that some part of your soul is tethered to a person who
will never, ever be a real boyfriend.

You may wonder how I put these principles together,
airtight, succinct, elegant. Like most great discoveries, it was accidental.
One day there was moldy cheese, next thing I knew: alone-a-cillin. The turning
point came when, after resisting it for years, I actually peeked at an Internet
dating site. I saw pixilated despair, a need so plain and terrible that I
wanted to slam the door on it like a particularly fetching FedEx guy. It was a
scary discovery. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but fear is its
abusive foster parent.

True wanting, openness, availability, those are scary
things. Those take courage. I however, take a chocolate-vanilla swirl with

Look, you can put yourself out there, I’m not saying it’s a
bad idea. However, this is just a slice of what I’ve learned about how not to
do so. Because when chance comes, he ain’t serving frozen yogurt. 

Teresa Strasser can be seen Saturdays at noon and 10 p.m. on
The Learning Channel’s “While You Were Out” and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.

Advice on life and relationships

The Stranger She Divorced

Dear Deborah,
I have been divorced for four years – I left him – and am still in a state of shock by what has become of my ex-husband. I married an honest man who became a liar. I married a kind and caring man who became cruel. I married a responsible man who became a flake. I married a man who always put his children first and now, although he loves them very much, makes it clear that he does not consider them first. He has lied to me, his family, our children and G-d. Each year before Yom Kippur he asks my forgiveness for anything he “may have done” to hurt me. I have avoided his request for forgiveness these last three years. How can I begin to respond when he has no idea of what he has done or become?

Dear M.R.,
All divorce hurts. Yet when a divorce is savage, anywhere from zero to “War Of The Roses,” the bewildering shock that someone whom you once entrusted with your life and the lives of your children has become a hostile stranger is devastating. These aftershocks may last a lifetime and always trickle into the vulnerable psyches of the children who are jolted from the family bedrock.

Perhaps the problem you have in forgiving your ex-husband is that you believe he did not and still does not claim responsibility for his actions, or perhaps even understand what those actions were and are.

When he asks your forgive-ness before Yom Kippur, you might ask him to help you out by describing what he feels he “may have done” that needs to be forgiven. If he is unable or unwilling to do this, tell him you are working on it – both the understanding and the forgiveness.

Requesting forgiveness without accountability and actual atonement is as hollow as Anthony Soprano’s confes-sions in between hits.

Perhaps you could work on forgiving the part of your ex that cannot understand. And perhaps he will one day understand and forgive you for having left him. Have rachmonis (compassion) upon the person who looks into a mirror and is blind to the stranger he – or she – has become.

Capricious Community

Dear Deborah,
As we get to know more people through our children’s school and in our neighborhood, my husband and I are puzzled by the behavior of some of our peers. Parents and neighbors we encounter and interact with on repeated occasions show no sign of recognition upon meeting, or one spouse is friendlier than the other. Some of these people are people we have done favors for, have attended our children’s birthday parties through the years and know us from an earlier stage of our lives and were friendlier then. What do you think is going on?

Dear Puzzled,
There are a couple of possibilities here. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that as the community of children has grown, their parents’ lives have become busier and more complex so they have less time/interest/attention or energy for socializing with their children’s friends’ parents. Either that, or they (the other children and parents) have grown and remained closer with some and not others, and you and your husband are among those others.

The only certainty is that you are perplexed and stuck on focusing on rightness, fairness or how things should be. In other words, your expectations of how others ought to behave are disappointing you. The solution then is clear. The only factor over which you have any control is your expectations. Focus on strengthening the connections you have or building new ones that better meet your needs for community and friendship. Check out your synagogue’s chavurah program or some such group in which the desire for community is the common goal.

Fishing for the Truth

Dear Deborah,
I recently joined a computer dating service for Jewish singles, and the majority of my experiences have been pretty positive. I have found that through the questionnaires and communication via e-mail, even before you meet someone, you can avoid a lot of Ms. Wrongs. That is, if they are truthful, and usually they are.

But – and this is a pretty big “but” – I got involved with a lovely lady whose picture and profile I liked and who described herself thoroughly as a potential dream woman. She had many of the same values, interests, etc. Her profile said she preferred someone who is not particularly observant, and that matched mine. We went back and forth with little e-mails and finally set up the big date. It was terrific. There was loads of chemistry, a rare and big plus. We began to date and by the third date, just as I was beginning to imagine introducing her to my friends as a “potential,” she dropped the bomb. She isn’t Jewish.

I asked her why she joined a Jewish dating service. She said she prefers Jewish men and finds them smart and attractive. When I give her the benefit of the doubt, I imagine she thought if she said she was “not observant,” it meant religion wouldn’t matter. She had “planned” on telling me right away, but she was so crazy about me she forgot and then during the second time she lost her nerve.

I have requested that this Internet service add the direct question “Are you Jewish?” to its questionnaire. In the meantime, if your readers belong to a Jewish dating service and assume they are fishing in a kosher pond, think again. Also, have you ever heard of this before – from Jewish men or women?


Dear Floundering,
Thank you for sharing your experience and alerting fellow Jewish singles to encounters with alluring but treif denizens of the deep who are trolling for a gefilte-kind of guy or gal. I hope online Jewish dating services heed your request, but if not, assume nothing. Ask.Readers, have you encountered this or other types of fishiness in seeking a Jewish cybersweetie? Please share your stories with readers.

Dear Deborah

Roller-Coaster Life

Dear Deborah,

I have had a strange, traumatic, roller-coaster life, but I havefinally settled down with a truly wonderful man. The problem I haveis that I cannot understand why I feel so empty and have no sexualdesire whatsoever for my prince.

When I was small, my mother was subject to horrible mood swings(my grandmother thinks it was because of the constant diet pills) andmy father, a “businessman” (gambler) of questionable morals, draggedus around from city to city to keep ahead of loan sharks, year afteryear. My mother died when I was in my early 20s, and I have losttrack of my father.

My 20s were spent running from one destructive relationship to thenext, job to job, city to city — basically, it was more of the same.

I thank God every day for my husband of four years. He is stable,financially responsible, honest, handsome and adores me. And, yet, Ifeel like a caged tiger and fantasize about running away or having anaffair. Why? What can I do?


Dear N.W.,

My dear woman, you wouldn’t recognize how to be in a stablerelationship if it left teeth marks on your tush. Your problem seemsto be an addiction to adrenaline. Unless life feels familiar — inother words, fraught with danger of any sort — you don’t know whatto do with yourself.

This predicament is not easy to solve. It may involve learning howto have some legal thrills in your life (every try hang gliding?) orin your marriage (ever try sex while hang gliding?). Or start talkingtachlis (bottom line) with your husband about how you feel,and see what you can come up with together. And if you get stuck, trycounseling.

The one immutable fact about all this is that unless you choose toteach your brain mastery over your adrenal glands, your life will endup looking a lot like those of your parents. Good luck.

Man and His Doll

Dear Deborah,

My adult son, a never-married, successful 46-year-old attorney,has brought upon us this family’s worst nightmare: She is blue-eyed,blond, half his age, and has two small children and an ex-husband whodoesn’t pay a penny of child support. She is uneducated, a totallydim bulb and, most importantly, not Jewish — although she says thatshe is willing to convert. They became engaged after a shortcourtship.

What can we do to convince him of this huge mistake? Why would anintelligent, educated man choose such a bimbo and suchresponsibilities?

Grieving Mother

Dear Mother,

Why would a man choose a woman whose IQ is about room temperature?Well, perhaps her beauty seems to him an even exchange. Or who knows?Perhaps her IQ is a relief to him, a soothing, gentle breeze after aday of brain torture. Then again, there have always been men whoprefer to flaunt a trophy wife above all else.

Look, you’re probably never going to know why he chose her unlessthis mystery reveals itself over time. Who knows, with a little luck,maybe you’ll find a mensch beneath the peroxide and learn toaccept his choice.

Do not, however, under any circumstance, think that you can showhim the error of his ways. You may use your Mom license once, andonce only, to let him know that you are concerned about his choice.If he asks why, tread ever so carefully on these egg shells. “She isyoung, and then there are the children, and will the conversion bereal, or will there be an Easter egg hunt the third day of Passover?”But do not even consider touching the IQ business, as you will proveyour own to have fallen off a few points.

Your son is a man making his own life, choices and mistakes. Asdifficult as it is to stand back and quietly watch this story unfold,remember: The “bimbo” you scorn today could be the mother of yourgrandchildren who will scorn you tomorrow.

United We Stand

Dear Deborah,

My fiancé and I have decided to have a Sunday-afternoonwedding, a small reception and then a formal dinner. Partly due toexpenses and partly due to personal preference, we have decided tonot include children at the dinner.

We want a quiet, elegant affair. The children will be welcomed atthe reception. For dinner, we have arranged for qualifiedbaby-sitting, games, videos and pizza up in a suite at the hotelwhere the wedding will be.

The family is in an uproar over this. One sister-in-law hasthreatened not to come. When I asked why, she said that she feltuncomfortable handing her children over to a stranger. I encouragedher to meet and spend time with the baby sitter the night before sothat the children could get to know the sitter, but she still wasunwilling. A cousin already declined because she disagreed, inprinciple, with our no-children decision and fears that her daughterwill feel hurt. She thinks that it is not a proper simchawithout dozens of children in attendance. The whole family seems tobe ganging up on us. Should we cave in to the pressure?

Nuptial Nightmare

Dear N.N.,

Choice A: Give up the “quiet, elegant” wedding dinner of yourchoosing and replace it with a shrieking, pint-sized progeny party.Then be prepared to continue giving in to these rude, disrespectfullouts the rest of your marriage.

Choice B: Stand united in your choice to have the wedding youwant. Some of the less mature adults will not attend, will hold itagainst you awhile or, in an act of unbridled passive aggression,will do something as spectacular as spilling red wine on the bridalgown. So big deal. A pox on their minivans.

On the other hand, they may get over it and learn to respect yourchoices now and always. Good luck.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author

All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only inthe newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S.Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also sendE-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

Dear Deborah

“No Relationships, Please,” pastel by Carole Kerchen. From Painting with Passion, 1994

Marriage Material?

Dear Deborah,

I have been married two times, the first time for three years and the second for five years. I have no children from either marriage, and, although I want children, I am afraid to have any because of my track record.

I am now dating a wonderful man who has proposed and wants to have children. I am 35 years old and know that I cannot just give the marriage a few years to see how it turns out. Is it right to marry someone and have children just because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have children, even if I don’t have much faith in my own chances of happiness in a long-term marriage?


Dear R.B.,

When comedienne Rita Rudner said, “Whenever I date a guy, I think, ‘Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?'” she might have been speaking your language.

You ask if it is right to marry someone and have children in order to not miss that window of opportunity. Well, whether it’s right or wrong, women have been doing this consciously or unconsciously from time immemorial. The biological alarm clock rings, and, suddenly, the next man looks pretty good.

So why didn’t your marriages work? Are you a poor judge of character, or are you a poor judge of marriage? Do you expect marriage to be easy, fun, what? I highly recommend premarital counseling, or a program such as the University of Judaism’s “Making Marriage Work,” in which all aspects of marriage — including your expectations and compatibility — are addressed.

The extra few months you spend learning about marriage now before making a decision won’t take you too far off track and will be a sound investment in your future.

Great Wall Of Singles

Dear Deborah,

I didn’t appreciate your flippant remarks to “J,” who asked for advice on approaching women who stand in groups at singles events (“A Single Mission,” May 16). I have found that many, if not most, people (men and women) who attend singles parties are there mainly to hang out with friends on a Saturday night. So they clump tightly together in their little cliques and show no interest in meeting new people outside their group. Someone who walks in to one of these events alone and not knowing anyone is bound to have a difficult time.

My own suggestion is to avoid any “event” whose only purpose is to provide a stressful setting for mingling. Nonetheless, because there are so few places to find a large number of Jewish singles, there are many who feel the need to attend these events. I suspect that groups of friends choose these venues to hang out because it provides the illusion that they’re making the effort to “meet someone,” and thus satisfies parents and others who are “nudging” them.

If you have any real insight or useful suggestions to offer for dealing with this ubiquitous phenomenon, I’m sure there are many of us who would appreciate it.

No Cliques

Dear No Cliques,

The subtext to my “flippant remarks” was that to be successful in said venue, one needs moxie and a good sense of humor. You sound as if you’d rather build a full-scale model of the Second Temple with toothpicks than attend such an event. So don’t go.

Find Jewish singles events with purpose and structure, ones that include all participants — such as classes, workshops, charity work, et al. You may not get the numbers you would at a dance, but what good have the huddled masses been to you anyway, if you cannot approach them? Make friends with one new person, male or female, with whom you share a classroom and, therefore, presumably an interest, and observe your social circle expand.

As for your “nudging” family theory, I have yet to meet a reasonable single who attends such mixers more than once for that reason. If it’s a waste of time and doesn’t accomplish the goal of meeting people, most adults should be able to explain that to his or her parents.

Divorce Avalanche

Dear Deborah,

I am a parent with three teen-age children, and I am trapped in the middle of a nightmare divorce that keeps on getting worse and worse for everyone involved. Every time I go to my lawyers, I commit to spending increasingly insane amounts of money, and, in the meantime, my soon-to-be ex ups the ante by getting a team of lawyers to challenge my every move.

We are spiraling out of control and wasting the children’s college fund in the process. My lawyers can’t seem to hear what I’m saying and only seem to create more wars between us. To make matters worse, our youngest son’s bar mitzvah is coming up.

My husband and I can barely speak to each other without our lawyers present. How are we going to plan a memorable family event that our child will enjoy, rather than staging another battle in the war?

Dumpy Divorce

Dear D.D.,

It is indeed unfortunate when divorcing parents cannot seem to get a hold of themselves for the sake of their children. After all, you will forever have to parent these children –together or apart — and how you do so will forever affect them.

If, as you say, you have “spiraled out of control,” then perhaps it is time you take a deep breath, dial the Jewish Family Service and ask for the Divorce Mediation office. Sally Weber, project coordinator in Los Angeles (818-587-3333), provides an experienced lawyer-counselor mediation team that will deal with issues, ranging from the divorce mediation to custody issues, and will even help with bar mitzvah peacemaking. This service charges an hourly rate, does not require a retainer and is designed to break the endless, expensive, litigious cycle of acrimonious divorces. “Save the family — even if you cannot save the marriage,” is the philosophy behind the program.

So, unless you and your husband would prefer to pay for the college funds of your attorneys’ children instead of your own, and unless you would both choose to pollute the bar mitzvah and many future simchas with divorce fumes…it’s worth a shot.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

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All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address and telephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names are used in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

Dear Deborah

Dear Deborah,

My husband and I were very depressed this past Mother’s Day. Both of our mothers passed away years ago, my husband’s by suicide. Also, both of us came from parents who divorced when we were young, and neither of us had very good relationships with our mothers.

We do not have children, so we have no reason to celebrate this holiday–and no grandmothers either. We are both left feeling either sad, guilty, angry or just plain depressed every Mother’s Day, as if we’ve stored up all our feelings for our mothers for one day of the year, although I also feel sad on her birthday.

I do not want next year, or any other year for that matter, to turn out like this. Do you have any suggestions?


Dear Blue,

Why try to chase away your blues when it is perfectly natural for you and your husband to feel sadness about your mothers on Mother’s Day? Instead, create some ritual in which you actually do have an arena in which to feel sad and reminisce together without it becoming an unbearable wallow-fest. A visit to each of their graves or an annual revisiting of your family photo albums are examples of possible rituals.

Then afterward you might celebrate how fortunate you are to have a supportive partner with whom you share so powerful a common bond. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or nursing home to bring some comfort to some mothers who are down-on-their-luck or forgotten. In comforting one another as well as others, you partake in a powerful cure.

Un-Real Estate

Dear Deborah,

I am a single 34-year-old divorced woman, successful in my work, competent in the world, yet stuck in the middle of my parents like a 5-year-old. My parents haven’t gotten along all my life. They claim to stay together because of money…of which there seems to be plenty.

Five years ago, my father bought a house “for me.” What I thought that meant was that he’d paid the downpayment and I’d pay the mortgage and repairs. I thought it was a gift.

The truth is, he seems to have bought it for himself. He and my mother live in a different city, and he comes here whenever he likes to get away from her –and he stays with me. At first I didn’t mind, but now it’s really putting a crimp in my social life and my sense of peace. He just shows up whenever he wants, and it’s gotten to the point where he’s staying with me almost half the time. Also, he treats me like he treats Mom, expecting me to provide dinner, do laundry for him, etc. Lately, my mom has started showing up to get away from my dad. Also, each complains bitterly to me about the other all the time.

I’ve tried to speak to him, but he says it’s his house too, and I have no right to turn him away. His name is on the deed, not mine, but he says I will inherit the house. In the meantime, I’ve invested so much in the mortgage and upkeep, I feel like I should have some claim on it.

Can you help me to figure this out?


Dear Crowded,

Sounds like it’s time for a thorough spring-cleaning of your little bed-and-breakfast as well as your psyche.

Let’s get this straight. You make the mortgage payments, pay for the repairs and run an inn for some very demanding guests — in addition to your full-time job. You feel incapable of saying no to their demands, and the benefit is…what? In 40 years you get to keep the house? Is that what you want?

This house has become a metaphor for your role in your parents’ marriage. They take turns dumping their marital debris on you, just as they heap demands upon your hospitality. And as long as you continue to allow it, you are purchasing this house on the extortion plan.

Here are your choices:

1) Tell your parents that not having privacy or the choice about whether to have guests and when to have them is not acceptable.

2) If they are unwilling to respect your wishes, offer to buy them out.

3) If they say no, offer them to buy you out.

4) If all else fails, move out, rent an apartment until you have saved up for your own home, and learn that you had to spend several years, great effort and thousands in mortgage payments on the lesson that you refuse to be a human garbage dump and that, in order to grow up, you need some boundaries with your parents.

If these choices seem a little overwhelming now, picture your future. Same house, white picket fence, spouse, children — and your parents’ rotten marriage still parked in the living room.

Davening For Dollars

Dear Deborah,

Our son is invited to the bar mitzvah of a successful, bright classmate. The boy has announced to all his friends in school to please give him cash only because he wants to save up for a trip to Israel, which his parents cannot afford. We were surprised by this behavior and wonder if his parents know that he is busy shnorring from his friends. We think it is pretty tacky. What do you think?

J. S.

Dear J.S.,

The boy is asking for what he wants, and one must admire his chutzpah and determination. One might also note that he is not asking for money for a fantasy road trip to follow a Smashing Pumpkins’ tour. If, however, what you want is an etiquette opinion, you’ll have to take it up with Emily Post or Miss Manners.

Bottom line is that the young man may not know which one is the fish fork, but odds are, one day, you’ll be reading about his accomplishments in the Wall Street Journal — or perhaps The Jerusalem Post.

I vote for cutting the boy a check.

All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address and telephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names are used in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

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Dear Deborah

Dear Deborah,

I’m in love with a woman who broke up with me a year ago and has moved on to a new relationship that looks serious. Two years ago, I won her back from the same man. We’ve been together on and off for three years, and when she’s not with me, she’s with him.

She said the reason she’s with him and not me is not that she loves him more or finds him more attractive. She’s with him because he’s stable, doesn’t travel as much for work as I do, is very good to her, wants marriage and children now, and is even-tempered. I admit that I am moody, but I know that I love her, and she loves me. Also, I admit that I didn’t want to get married, because I felt too young, and I did occasionally tell her that I felt trapped by the commitment. But now that I’m 30, I am almost ready for marriage. I am living in dread of the announcement of their wedding that is sure to come.

She phones me occasionally, and we get along so well. We flirt, don’t talk about anything serious, and then when we hang up, I am depressed all over again. I just feel stuck…. Everyone I date I compare to her, and, needless to say, they all look pretty bland. Should I risk humiliation and pour my heart out to her once again, or should I give it up?

Broken Heart

Dear Broken Heart,

Why would you listen to me if you never have been able to listen to your ex-girlfriend? Nonetheless, if you were to pay attention, you’d understand that the only thing you haven’t done here is make a decision.

If stability, marriage and a family are something you are absolutely ready to offer, go ahead and pitch her one last time. The only thing you have to risk is one more rejection, but, at least, you’d be forced to get on with your life, and, eventually, you’d get over it.

If, however, as you say, you are “almost ready,” why not look into the mirror, get real and call it a day on this fantasy? The great “love” you shared was not enough then, so why would it be enough now? If you proposed marriage without the real goods, in no time, she’d find you once again moody, “trapped” by the commitment and a little too “young” for her tastes.

Speak No Evil

Dear Deborah,

I made the big mistake of confiding to my good friend of 25 years that I thought her husband was never good enough for her. I cited several examples of this to support my theory. At the time, my friend took these remarks as they were meant — to empathize and commiserate with her during a period of severe marital difficulties in which they were considering a separation.

My friend and her husband got counseling and decided to try it again, but my friend has been avoiding me ever since. I am afraid that she may have told her husband all the unkind things I said about him, and I am so upset that I don’t know what to do?


Dear Stymied,

It’s hard to think straight when your foot is still stuck in your mouth, isn’t it?

You’ll just have to call or write her a letter and explain how embarrassed you are…that you were trying to be supportive but got carried away. If you think of anything nice to say about her husband that she’s likely to buy, add that. Being honest and contrite is about all you can do.

The bottom line, however, is that you botched this one big time, and all you have to rely on is your friend’s mercy.

Big lesson here, readers. It’s not a good idea to talk badly about anyone, if you can help it, but never, ever dis a friend’s spouse — past, present or future. Those words inevitably bite back.

Dignity in Death

Dear Deborah,

I am old and live alone. I am too uncomfortable to wear anything when I sleep, but when I die, I don’t want to be found nude. I’m sure that many women share this fear. Is there a solution?


Dear Grateful,

First of all, it is essential that you be as comfortable as possible while you are alive. This means that should you pass away during the night, you may be found nude; however, if you have done some planning, you will remain so only for a brief moment, and treated with the utmost dignity.

Rabbi Zalman Manela at the Chevra Kadisha, the Orthodox burial society, as well as Ms. Fran Krimston of Hillside Memorial in Los Angeles agreed that if you make advance plans with a Jewish funeral home, you will immediately be wrapped in a white shroud.

Rabbi Perry Netter of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles addressed the issue of modesty by explaining that Tahara, the ritual washing in preparation for the burial, is performed by women for women. At the end of the ritual, the woman leading Tahara states that she has prepared the deceased according to the laws of our people, and then asks forgiveness if, in any way, the deceased has been embarrassed or offended by the process.

If, as you say, you are alone, you must also consider who will find you. It is imperative that you have a female friend, relative or landlord who checks in on you regularly, who is aware of your plans and wishes.

Finally, you might consider leaving, on your night stand or some other prominent spot, a well-marked letter that includes the phone number and address of your contact person and your specifications and plans in case someone other than your friend finds you.

Thank you for your letter. May you find comfort in the fact that you have helped to clear up the mystery for many others in your situation. *

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author.

All letters to Dear Deborah require a name, address and telephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course, be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names are used in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses can be given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss, 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You can also send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com