Next time, I’ll try the pre-nup


Separated is a vague and unpleasant term.

It’s the state of being in flux — the gray area between no longer married but not yet divorced. A divorce decree gives you back your life as a single person, but being separated keeps you in love limbo.

Many guys I’ve gone out with since I separated from my husband have asked about it. They want to know if the ex is really an “ex.” And despite their interest, most of them never bothered to ask me out a second time.

Until Ted.

Mutual friends fixed us up. Ted divorced nine years ago, has a kid and recently made partner at his firm. We talked on the phone several times and exchanged photos via e-mail. He had a dynamic voice and I enjoyed our conversations, so I agreed to a date.

We met for dinner at the Urth Cafe one chilly Friday evening. While seated on the patio, we explored our similarities (age, height, taste in music) and talked about our kids, including what it’s like to have youngsters who were becoming teenagers.

When we moved inside to sit by the fireplace, we leaned in closer as we talked and held hands. The conversation grew more personal by the hour, and before long he asked me what was the biggest lesson I had taken from my marriage.

“I would have gotten a prenup,” I said.

When I asked him the same question, he said he would have never stopped communicating.

With kids at home and a baby sitter on the clock, I told Ted I was nearing my midnight curfew. And like two nervous teenagers, our date ended with a hug goodbye and a short kiss.

In the run-up to our next date he sent me endearing text messages and we talked on the phone daily. During one conversation he casually but directly asked, “When will your divorce be final?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. The dissolution papers were being prepared, but hadn’t been filed yet.

“Hopefully soon,” I responded after a long pause on my end. I immediately filed for divorce, hoping to truly begin the next chapter of my life.

Ted and I began dating exclusively and we seemed to be at the beginning of a beautiful relationship. We hit the hot spots, he introduced me to his entire family and I attended his daughter’s bat mitzvah. We were even there for each other in the off times — I kept him company while he had oral surgery, and he gave advice on handling a problematic house leak.

One weekend, Ted and I went to Catalina as a special treat. As we strolled hand-in-hand along Crescent Avenue, newlyweds in a golf cart honked as they passed us. Ted caught sight of the words “just married” on the cart, stopped in his tracks, dropped my hand and said, “You’re still married.”

My heart skipped a beat. I had no idea it bothered him so deeply.

“Only on paper,” I said, a knot forming in my stomach.

Ted implied that he was looking to get married — and fast.

As we continued to date, he would bring up my pending divorce and separation at odd times. He’d ask about the court hearings and then declare that delays were bound to crop up. He insisted my divorce would take longer than six months.

I agonized over how long the divorce was taking.

Ted eventually told me about his time frame for relationships. He said he generally gave women a six-month window, but because I was “separated” he was willing to “extend” it for me.

A time frame? Six months?

I asked Ted if he could just enjoy our time together and let our relationship blossom. While he got my hopes up when he said yes, his actions told a different story. I discovered he was actively pursuing other women behind my back.

Ted’s intense marriage pressure might have been honest or it might have been a cover. My pending divorce could have been a convenient excuse, a way to keep a good thing going for a while. Whatever the reason, he wasn’t discussing his true feelings with me. It all seemed to boil down to his relationship Achilles’ heel — communication.

While I cursed it in the beginning, I thank the California court system for my “separated” status. The cooling-off period that follows a divorce filing kept me levelheaded enough to eventually recognize what was happening. What if I had been single and available? I cringe at the thought of what would have happened had Ted and I actually married.

I should have known better.

I should have seen the red flags, which rarely ever change color. My heart didn’t hear what my head was trying to tell me.

Next time I’m taking my own advice: I need a relationship prenup.

I plan to lay out all the issues and clearly define boundaries before dating reaches the relationship stage, let alone before there’s any talk of marriage.

Unromantic? Maybe. But there is nothing quite as ugly as love turned to acrimony. The more candid each person is, the fewer surprises there will be down the road. Be honest and tell me what you want. After that, time, circumstance and intuition will guide the rest.

Now please initial here, here and here, and sign on the dotted line.

Heather Moss is a corporate communications professional and the mother of three children. She can be reached at writeonforever@gmail.com.

I heart Hollywood endings


I met “Mr. Nice Guy” more than three years ago, and I cherish our special connection — he’s affectionate, understanding, a good listener, open-minded, practical …

I could go on and on. I felt fortunate that we found each other, and he indicated the same. We both want the best things life has to offer. At this time in my life he’s the kind of partner I’m looking for. With his work schedule and other commitments, I knew from the get-go I would have to be kind and very flexible. That’s not an issue for me.

“Mr. Nice Guy” said more than once, “I’ll always be your friend.” Now I’m puzzled and confused because I’ve received an e-mail from him saying, “I met someone.” What does that mean? Does it mean what I think it means? He seems to have an odd definition of friendship. I thought I misinterpreted the message, so I asked him to meet me for a face-to-face conversation. I received a reply that he had no problem with that idea and would e-mail me when he got back from his business trip. Well, I’m still waiting.

Our friendship has been somewhat nontraditional and had a life of its own. I’m guessing that this could be the end of “Mr. Nice Guy.” I cannot tell a lie; I’m very hurt — devastated. I feel as if I have been pushed off a cliff (while he was proclaiming friendship), landed on jagged rocks and broken glass and got bruised from head to toe. I lost 10 pounds (not from dieting). You may be asking what his issues are. I really don’t know. I feel I had a secret trial, was found guilty, convicted and sentenced.

In hindsight, I feel I was used and discarded like an old Costco catalogue. Apparently, I’m still naive and too trusting of people when they act sincere. I take people at their word. I don’t take friendship lightly; it’s serious to me. Friendship is a long-term commitment that has meaning; it’s being loyal and accepting the other person as is, the good parts along with the blemishes. Occasionally he mentioned our differences, but when I asked for specifics, I never got a direct response. I pointed out that differences add spice to a friendship.

The other side of it is, we both know we have many things in common. I suggested we focus on the things in common. Over the years, we have shared many things about ourselves and our families. We have traditional values, and family is important to both of us. However, I now have learned a lot about “Mr. Nice Guy’s” character. He’s good at hiding behind e-mail.

I believe our paths crossed for a reason — to bring both of us joy and happiness, not to bring me heartbreak and grief. Like everyone else, we both need to be needed and want to be wanted. Yet I think now it may be time for me to take the advice of a close friend: “Walk away. He’s not worth it.” However, my emotional side is a little slow at catching up with my intellectual side.

These days I’m getting my accolades from doing stand-up comedy. All my tears and pain provide lots of comic material. I’m definitely unique and have a niche. If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be doing stand-up, writing my own material and enjoying it, I never would have believed it. I’m starting to pinch myself occasionally — just to be sure this is really happening. I’m enjoying my new-found skin; however, inside I’m still the same down-to-earth, sensitive, friendly and generous person I’ve always been. I’m playful, fun to be with and funny — that’s all part of my charm and likeability.

And I’m an equal-opportunity offender: people I meet never know when they might become a one-liner in my routine. My friends think this is great — spunky and gutsy of me. They admit they couldn’t do it, and they are supportive.

I love the attention that the laughs and the applause bring. All friends (new and old) are welcome to come along on my journey — it’s an E-ticket ride, an unpredictable adventure, and I know my sons, their families, and my other relatives are proud of me and my many accomplishments. But in private I’m still a romantic, a daydreamer — and I still believe in the old notion of boy chases girl, boy catches girl. I guess that, despite the fact that I’m making my way in the modern world, I still want the old-fashioned, happy Hollywood ending.

Esther W. Hersh can be reached at EWH1121@aol.com

Let’s get personal


People say they don’t really know me.

That’s what the last guy I dated said.

It seems that in the process of revealing myself on the page to total strangers, I’ve lost the ability to communicate myself in person to those who want to get to know me. Read all about it, is maybe what I should say. The last guy — well, I don’t really want to talk about him because that would be too personal — never read up on me until after his father, a big fan, told him about me. But by then it was too late. I hadn’t shared myself with him, we didn’t really connect, and it was over six weeks after it began so promisingly.

Look, I’m not taking all the blame for this one. My experience in the dating world — and if I have anything, it’s experience — tells me that the coming together of two people, or the failure of their coming together, is two-sided. He, being a never-married man of advanced age, probably has issues up the wazoo — commitment, attachment, abandonment — who knows? I wasn’t there long enough to figure them out. So it can’t be all me. It probably wasn’t even mostly me.

But still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had been more communicative.
“You’re pretty much a mystery girl,” he said to me a number of times while we were dating.
I couldn’t understand this at the time, because I feel like an open book.

“Ask me anything, and I’ll tell you the answer,” I said, but that wasn’t his point.
He felt like he shouldn’t have to ask, that I should have volunteered the information as it came up.

Not everyone’s a busybody journalist like myself, who peppers people with questions, questions, questions.

“Sometimes I feel like you’re interviewing me,” he said, also more than once.

I wasn’t interviewing him. I don’t think I was interviewing him. OK, I was interviewing him for the position of my boyfriend (he didn’t get the job), but have I really so confused my job with my personality that I don’t know how to get to know someone without putting on the reporter’s mask?

I am starting to worry about myself. Now that the smoke has cleared from the sadness of the end — yes, I always get sad in the end, no matter how brief, how inappropriate, how missed the connection was — I can see what transpired. And I’m worried I have become my persona, a facsimile of myself.

“You talk a lot but you don’t reveal much,” a new-ish friend of mine recently said while we were having a girls’ lunch. True, she’s not my best friend and probably never will be, but it was interesting to hear this point of view.

“Do you mean I’m full of it?” I wanted to know.

“No, not at all,” she said, “but I don’t really know what’s going on with you — which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s better than a person who tells everything to everyone.”

It’s funny, because I thought I was that person. I thought I was the person who wears her heart on her sleeve — her heart on the page, in my case. But the other woman at lunch, whom I consider a good friend, said the same thing.

“You keep things pretty close to the chest,” she said.

Doesn’t everyone do this? Doesn’t everyone have a very, very select group of people to whom they will cry, worry, rant, rave? Is it just that I have a wider circle of people, professional and personal, who are not in this select circle? Or, in my quest for privacy in a public world, have I become inscrutable?

What really plagues me in the early morning hours — reveal: I have sporadic insomnia — is what would have happened with this guy if I’d shared more of myself? Would we still be together? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing there was something in me that sensed he wasn’t the one for me, so I didn’t open up.

But now I wonder if I’ve got it all backward. Maybe I don’t need to see if someone is right for me to be myself.

Because in the end, after six weeks of a relationship that didn’t work out, maybe I saved myself a tear or two — after all, I console myself, we didn’t really connect, he didn’t really know me — but … he didn’t really know me. And this, this guy, these dates, is less about him than about me.

What it’s about — not only the endgame of finding a life partner, but the entire process of dating, meeting, connecting — is to be yourself.

No.

Matter.

What.

Closing the curtain


In March, I had the privilege of co-starring in the Jerusalem premiere of Neil LaBute’s play “Some Girl(s)” at the Center Stage Theater at Merkaz Hamagshimim
Hadassah. The play follows Guy, an about-to-be-married 33-year-old American writer, as he tracks down his ex-flames to “right some wrongs” so he can begin his new life with a clean slate … or so it seems.

I was cast as Reggie, a character LaBute added between the London and New York performances but who had her debut in Israel. Reggie is the sister of Guy’s childhood best friend. She and Guy meet 15 years after Guy kissed Reggie in a not-so-appropriate way at her 12th birthday party. Understandably, the incident profoundly affected Reggie into adulthood. My scene captured her quest for closure.

To get into character, I decided to draw from my own life. The question was: Could a relationship I’d had with an Israeli serve as a model for a play that dissects the relationship habits of a “jerky” American? I asked LaBute by e-mail if Guy’s behavior is categorically American, to which he replied: “I don’t think American men corner the market on being jerks, but we certainly know how to make the market work for us. American men are usually better at ‘smoothing over’ their jerky side ….”

Indeed, looking back at my relationship with one Israeli man, there had been no “smoothing over” of anything. The closure was raw and real, just like the life-altering experience that had troubled me for so long.

Reggie “never spoke to anybody about it,” and I, too, had kept silent. While our encounters were very different, both had aroused hurt, shame and confusion. By writing now about the experience, I’m acting out one of Reggie’s fantasies. Also a journalist, Reggie comments: “This would make a hell of an article.”

I met Israel, not his real name, at a karaoke bar in Tel Aviv. At the time, I was questioning my modern Orthodox lifestyle — and I was vulnerable, curious, and, yes, hormonal. Israel was handsome, charming, muscular — the picture-perfect, macho Israeli. He even worked as a manual laborer — how sexy.

I invited him to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv for our second date, and I kept telling him I couldn’t understand why I liked him — he wasn’t this great intellect I had imagined I’d fall for. Needless to say, he was offended, and he began to toy with me, to tease me about being a virgin, to tell me about the wonders of sex. Talk about torture.

After a long, demented courtship, we did it. The act wasn’t so tender or loving. He didn’t stay the night. I didn’t really care — I was too physically relieved. I called him a few days later to see “what was up,” and he just made crude jokes. Immediately, my self-assured satisfaction turned into upset and confusion — and I balled him out for being so insensitive. I didn’t see him again after that, and I decided to process this loss of innocence on my own, just like Reggie.

She held onto the memory of her first adolescent kiss and let it influence who she became. I can sympathize with her description of how she turned out: “smart, cute, hardworking … sexually appropriate at a pretty early age, just making it some days, and other times off-the-charts and laser sharp.”

As a reaction to sexual encounters we experience before we are truly ripe we often become more self-aware and more sexually active as a means to take back control of our identity and sexuality.

Back in Israel, four years later, I called Israel to, as Reggie put it, “clear the slate … see if we could, I dunno, sort it out somehow.”

We met at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. I wore black slacks and an elegant, burgundy angora V-neck (a top I tried on as a costume) to assert my new, sophisticated, wiser self. Israel was still handsome, but shorter than I remembered, less muscular.

He told me he’d become a Scientologist. No matter what people say of Scientology, his new religion had definitely made him a better person. Sitting across from me was an emotionally intelligent, highly communicative and honest man.

The pace of our conversation perfectly mimicked that of the Reggie scene. I didn’t bring up the looming “subject” right away, getting through small talk and memories before the conversation turned intense and tearful. Israel listened deeply and admitted to taking advantage of me, to avenging my snobbery and to fulfilling his thrill of “popping a cherry.”

He eventually said “I’m sorry,” which are also among Guy’s last words to Reggie. Yet Israel was more forthright than Guy, and since I had been an adult at the time of our earlier encounter, he was able to press me to recognize my own failings in my dealings with him — and with myself.

I left feeling exhilarated and gratified, almost as if I’d gotten my virginity back. Two-sided closure is wonderful.

Our reunion took place about six years ago, and while I am now completely at peace with what happened, and Israel and I are friends, I didn’t stop making some bad relationship choices. There are still some men with whom I wouldn’t mind having a long chat, but I doubt they could achieve Israel’s level of sincerity. There are times when that notorious Israeli bluntness is a blessing. Ultimately, however, as Reggie suggests toward the end of the play, closure begins with taking responsibility for our own choices.

For now, I’ll take my performance and the reflection it triggered as my vicarious, catch-all closure, and I’ll be satisfied with that.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.

Unmarried Counseling


My neurosis is like a Ferrari. I can go from 0 to 60 in under four seconds.

One second, I’m nervous I may have said the wrong thing in a meeting; the next I’m convinced that the best way to deal with how horribly I’ve botched the situation is to toss myself off the Staten Island Ferry like Spalding Gray and be done with the whole mess.

Because of my superior emotional acceleration, I can’t take my mind to just any mechanic; I need someone good. And I need regularly scheduled maintenance and premium fuel. But to put the brakes on this metaphor and get to the point: I love therapy.

I’ve been to a baby-faced cognitive behavior specialist on New York’s Upper East Side (where they keep all the best therapists and where a Jew with a few problems can feel at home), a Buddhist in San Francisco got me through my early 20s without any felonies or lasting venereal diseases or suicide attempts. I’ve been to a “science of mind” practitioner in the Hollywood Hills who only takes referrals and once taught me how to buy a used car. I even went to a child psychologist when I was 8 and saw my cousin nearly drown. She was pulled out of the pool and revived, but I was traumatized. Thus began my trips to Lucy, a kindly older woman with a vaguely European accent who let me play with blocks and listened to me yammer. When it comes to head shrinking, I say, if you need it, go early and often.

Yet only now, after countless billable hours of therapy and multiple broken relationships, have I finally combined my two interests — men and mental health. Consider me officially “in couples counseling.”

That’s right, I’m not married, I’ve never been married, and yet I’m forking over $100 a week to sit on a nice woman’s worn leather couch in Tarzana and see if my relationship can be fixed.

I’ve only been twice but I’m already a fan. I’m not sure it’s going to patch up this particular relationship, but if it’s going to end, why not orchestrate a mature, gentle, thoughtful exit that doesn’t involve tossing someone’s belongings on the lawn and saying “good day.”

The truth is there are only so many perfectly good guys I can dispense with the second they bother me, annoy me, bore me, aggravate me or hurt me. I’m already on my zillionth serious relationship in life. Yeah, yeah, my parents had a scorched-earth divorce and historic custody battle, but if I want to figure out how to have some sort of “life partner,” I better get over it and figure out how to sustain the bad times without bailing. Because as it turns out, there will always be bad times, especially for me.

“You’re going to have these problems no matter what relationship you’re in,” said our new therapist, one of my best ever.

I suspected this, but she was so matter-of-fact about it, as if she were saying something as obvious as “the magazines in the waiting room are three months old.”

She also told us that when we fight, he’s a 12-year-old and I’m a 5-year-old, so it’s no wonder I feel bullied and he seems juvenile. This may shed some light on the fights we have, where he snaps at me and I cry for a couple hours, but the damage may be irreversible. When I sat next to him on the couch, I experienced the kind of rage that makes you light-headed, like you’re going to faint, or punch a wall, or roll your eyes right out of your head.

She zeroed right in on the problem, which is part of the spooky magic of therapy: “You’re confused. You don’t know how much is too much to put up with, what pain is from the past and has nothing to do with him.”

Isn’t this always the question? When is it time to go?

In my case, the answer has always been to run at the first sign of distress. I leave men, I leave jobs and I leave cities. I take my hand out of the fire before it burns, because that’s all I know. Now I have to figure out what happens if I leave it there.

“He isn’t a bad guy or I would tell you to leave and we’d have a separation discussion,” said the therapist, legs crossed, leaning back in her chair. “He just has terrible communication skills.”

After our first therapy session, we drove home feeling relieved, hopeful. Less than an hour later, we had a petty fight when he snapped at me for asking him twice whether he wanted a roll with dinner. There went the fantasy of the quick fix. Pass the butter and a whole new helping of resentment.

It’s normal for things to get worse right before they get better, according to the shrink. Of course, things also get worse right before you break up.

Teresa Strasser (www.teresastrasser.com) is an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She will be appearing at the University of Judaism as part of “The Gender Smackdown” on Sunday, Dec. 4. For information or to R.S.V.P., call (310) 476-9777, ext. 473.

 

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.