January 20, 2019

Dating 101: What is a relationship?

I woke up this morning feeling like a loser. Not a loser in life, because I’m a rock star at life, but a loser in dating. I can’t seem to get it together when it comes to sharing my life with a man. I historically date good men who are simply not the right men for me. There has been an occasional asshole of course, but that is how love works sometimes. I’m good at counting my blessings and finding silver linings, which is why I look at past relationships without regret. There is some anger, and certainly some bitterness, but not regret.

I don’t think things happen for a reason, but I can pinpoint the reasons some things happen. Does that make sense to anyone other than me? I woke up this morning thinking about my life and wondered why I am alone. I’m not alone alone of course, but I am not sharing my life with a partner, and that is sad to me. I don’t need a man, but I would like to have one. More importantly, I want a man to want to be with me, not need to be with me. I also don’t want anyone to settle for me or talk themselves into me.

I have been “dating” a man for a few months and yesterday I asked him if we were friends or dating, and he said he wasn’t sure. We talked about our relationship for a quick minute, but when I got home I cried. Not sure why exactly, but it made me sad that after so many months he was unsure what we were. It would have been easy to say we were dating, if we were, but he viewed us differently I guess. His answer was fine because it was his truth, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore.

It is sad because he is great. I don’t think he thinks he is great, but I am a genius and I know for a fact that he is great. Here’s the thing though, if I spend four months dating a man and he is unable to say whether we are dating or not, he is confused because that is dating. Furthermore, if this conversation had happened between a girlfriend of mine and a man she was dating, I would tell her to walk away. If we don’t see our worth, then the men we are dating certainly won’t. It is not about how he sees me as much as how I see myself, and I am quite fantastic.

I will miss this man. We have settled into a comfortable relationship, even though it appears he is not sure we even had a relationship. He makes me laugh every time we speak on the phone or are together. He is educated and witty, clever and sensitive. He is also completely unaware of how lucky he would be, were I to love him, and that is the goal when dating isn’t it? I don’t think it is hard to get laid, or have a man buy me a drink or dinner. It is hard however to find love, but that is why I date. I am shamelessly looking for love.

I spoke to my “friend” last night before I went to bed, and again this morning. Ugh. That will be hard to stop. He is the person I go to for things, my date for events, my sounding board, and in the end a really good friend. He is not however looking for a relationship where he can give and receive love. I think he is worthy, but I am not a therapist or a mind reader, and I don’t know what he wants. I do know me though, and I want more. Want it, need it, deserve it, and certain I will find it. The search continues so I am keeping the faith.

A wedding in Venice

We were touring the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Italy, which is commemorating its 500th year, when I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple, Lana Atlasov and David Mednick, from the San Francisco area.

They had heard me testing the synagogue’s acoustics in my loudest cantorial voice, and they asked me if I ever officiate weddings. 

“All the time!” I responded. 

David and Lana told me they were struggling to figure out their wedding plans. They’d met three years ago and were eager to start this new chapter. It would be a second marriage for both.

They loved the idea of getting married in Venice, but their emails to the rabbi there received no response, so they had settled on a wedding upon their return to San Francisco. But two days into their Italy trip, they found out their rabbi at home had mistakenly scheduled their wedding ceremony for Tisha b’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, a day in which a wedding celebration would be unthinkable. So many plans had already been made.

“All I’ve ever wanted was a Jewish wedding!” Lana said with such longing in her voice. Years ago, Lana had escaped the Soviet Union. This was to be the first Jewish wedding in her family since before World War I.

“Then let’s just do this!” David said. 

“Great!” I said.

My parents got into the conversation to help with details, and we made quick plans for a wedding at 9 that evening in Piazza San Marco.

My sister Annette came over, not having heard this conversation.  She has a degree in fine arts. Could she create the ketubah? At first, Annette didn’t understand. “Do they want to commission me?” No, we made it clear, this wedding is happening tonight. She giddily agreed.

We talked through details such as rings, which they ended up buying later in the afternoon on the island of Murano, where they were staying: two white glass rings that fit them perfectly. They found a wine glass to break in the ghetto. As for wine and cups, we had a bottle of Champagne that had come with our room. I bought a kippah for David to wear. I already had the big tallit for the chuppah since I was in Venice to officiate a bat mitzvah service.

Annette told the story to one of the artists on the Grand Canal and asked to buy a piece of heavy art paper for the ketubah. He referred her to the master, who ended up loving the story so much he gave her the paper as a gift.

At 9 p.m., we gathered in the lobby of our hotel. We went over all of the details together. It is amazing how connected we all felt despite having met only that day. My mom and dad had picked up some red roses for Lana to hold during the wedding. I found out later that my dad had bought out the street vendor of all of his roses for the day. We were all dressed up and ready to go — we signed the ketubah in the lobby. My parents, married for 46 years, served as witnesses. Then we headed to Piazza San Marco. Lana told us she wanted to be by the famous clock tower in the middle of the life of the city. We settled on a spot. The ceremony began. 

We held up the chuppah, rings were exchanged, and they said a few vows to each other, although not many words were spoken, as they were so overcome with emotion. Then I sang the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings, as loud as I could amid the hustle and bustle of Venice’s busiest square. In my concluding words to them, I reminded them that of all the billions of people in the world, and all the billions of people who have ever existed, and all of the billions who ever will, they have found each other, and that is truly lucky. Lana began to cry. Then David stepped on the glass, and we shouted, “Mazel tov!” They kissed. 

Passersby snapped photos. One couple walking by also yelled, “Mazel tov!”  

We heard music playing in the square. Annette suggested to David and Lana that they should have their first dance. David approached the bandleader and requested a tango — they’d first met each other in tango class. They began to dance like we have never seen from ordinary folk. All of the patrons from nearby restaurants came over to watch them. We announced that they were newlyweds. They danced the most romantic and sensual dances of all time. And not just to one song — the band continued and played another tango for them. Tourists video recorded them. They were such a beautiful couple. It was like a movie — that classic Venetian story of romance and kismet, and one that is truly bashert — meant to be.

Todd Shotz is a Jewish educator and film producer. He is the founder and executive director of Hebrew Helpers and often officiates weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.

In honor of Tu b’Av, the love holiday, this column is the first in our new series, Meant2Be, stories of love and relationships. Do you have a story about dating, marriage, singlehood or any important relationship in your life? Email us at meant2be@jewishjournal.com.

Five questions you may want to ask yourself if you are single

Are you afraid of getting close? Do you follow a pattern of backing out of relationships once they get serious? If so, chances are that your relationships are fine, but you have difficulty with intimacy and attachment. Don’t give up the relationship; get help to give up your fear. 

[The singles crisis: Let’s support singles for relationship success]

Are your relationships like a roller coaster? Do you follow a pattern of getting super excited about someone you are dating, only to suffer huge disappointment? If so, you would do well to understand that you have a tendency to idolize your date and then suffer the inevitable disappointment when the bubble bursts. Your deflation does not mean there’s a problem with the relationship.  

Do you practice love by smothering? Do you find that people back away when they start a relationship with you? Perhaps you are squashing and overwhelming your love interest with your intensity. Twenty texts a day is exhausting and risks alienating the one you are so keen to draw close. Respect your partner’s space. 

Do you find it hard to fall in love? Do you meet lots of lovely people, but feel there is no spark or emotional draw? It could be that you have difficulty bonding. There may be nothing you can/should do to change that, but do not withdraw from a relationship when you have the issue. Learn how to connect meaningfully with another person.  

Are there actually two of you? Some people are conflicted and are actually looking for incompatible qualities in a partner. If so, what you need is bigamy! Otherwise, get real. Work out who the “real you” is and focus on getting that one married. Finding a partner often means giving up on unrealistic dreams. Good news: Once you wrap your brain around it, you can enjoy a long, happy relationship.

Israel is swamped with singles

Israelis are known for their gregarious behavior and love nothing more than spending time with their group of close friends. It’s a trait that is wreaking havoc among the quickly mushrooming singles population and threatens to have long-range anthropological effects on Israel’s future society.

“The impact of the singles revolution, or better called ‘the breaking-up revolution,’ is far reaching and has been leaving its mark in recent years on housing, economy, education and even the level of personal happiness,” writes Amit Zahavi-London in a new study on the singles scene in Israel.

Zahavi-London, who manages a dating service, maintains that modernization, pluralism and the rise in the standard of living can actually increase misery. “Perhaps it is temporary misery – a transition stage on the way to a society with new game rules.”

According to the statistics, in 1971 the chance of a 35-year-old woman in Israel being unmarried was 1 in 40. Today, at least one in four women of that age is unattached. The situation is the same with men. Reflecting trends in the West, Israel is also witnessing a sharp rise in the divorce rate.

“A few years ago being divorced was a disgrace, shameful. People wouldn’t even admit they were divorced. Now, in America, one out of every two couples is divorced. It’s a very common phenomenon. In Israel, it’s one out of three,” Prof. Oz Almog, a sociologist from the Israel Studies Department at Haifa University, told The Media Line. “Having a lasting marriage is becoming abnormal, and that’s no joke. We have to adapt.”

Israelis use the Hebrew term Panu’i or “seeking” to describe that growing chunk of the population looking for a relationship around which an industry has been built. According to those in the business, Panu’i is anyone over the age of 24 who is officially either divorced, widowed or has never been married and is looking for a partner. It excludes all those fantasizing or miserable or even happy married folks who just want to hook up with someone new.

The latest figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that 35% of Israeli women between the ages of 35-49 are “seeking.” For men, 42% between the ages of 35-39 are in this category. It drops to 35% between the ages of 40-44, and to 31% for the 45-49 age bracket.

As late as 1980, the Central Bureau of Statistics didn’t even list “divorced” as a category for family status; offering only “single” or “not single.” This drives home the fact that at that time, divorce was still on the margins.
“Dating sites have taken the place of the matchmaker with one exception,” Zahavi-London tells The Media Line. “In the past it was uncomfortable to admit one needed the services of a matchmaker and it was usually done clandestinely. Today, belonging to a dating service is very legitimate.”

Zahavi-London manages a dating site called “Shakuf B’Tzafon,” in northern Israel. She maintains that the Internet significantly widens the number of potential partners over the traditional ways of hooking up. They usually offer everything from hikes, to dance parties, bus tours, communal singing, folk dancing and even bowling events. 

But in reality, these events are very often attended by many more women than men; sometimes up to 80% are women.

“Women come to the parties in packs, not alone, whereas a man will come alone,” she explains. “Men are less social and less engaged and are embarrassed to come alone. They are more functional minded. If they come to an event and don’t find someone to go home with they won’t come back. But girls have a good time. If they don’t meet someone, then so what? They had fun and will come back hoping to meet someone the next time.”

Eviatar Ronen, a divorced 49-year-old events organizer with boyish, charming looks, says he finds Internet dating the best way to meet women. However, while he says he has enjoyed it, he suggests that it risks creating a culture of “alienation” from the more challenging real world.

“Dating is easy these days. There are lots of choices and if you don’t like it… click away and go to another group of choices,” Ronen tells The Media Line. “Internet dating sites create an illusion of getting closer to people but really it creates alienation. You just head to J-Date and login and it creates a sense that if things don’t work out, then you can just move on with the idea that you’ll find another one with another click of a button.”

Noga Martin, an editor in her 30s living in Tel Aviv, says she’s practically given up on Internet dating sites.

“I’ve tried. I have stopped counting. When I used to keep a running tally I think I went out with well over 60 guys and the conclusion I’ve drawn about Internet dating is that it reflects exactly what you would find if you weren’t using the Internet. People who are very sociable and outgoing find it very easy to meet people on the Internet and people who are more reserved or shy find it difficult,” says Martin who has big brown eyes and enjoys long walks on the beach.

“If you are in a bar or any real analogue social situation and someone comes up and talks to you, you might not be that interested in talking to them at first but you know, someone can have another chance. Whereas, if someone passes over you on an Internet site, there is nothing you can do,” she tells The Media Line.

Still, Zahavi-London argues that the Internet lets one cast a wider net.

“True, the alienation is easier, but why? It’s because you can reach a wider group of people now. In the past, it was harder to break-up because often you and your spouse were in the same circle of friends, or at work or in the neighborhood. Now, if it doesn’t work out, it is easier to cut-off because you don’t have to see them,” Zahavi-London says.

Ronen says that “seekers” who are put off by the blatant dating clubs and sites use other, more subtle activities to meet partners.

“Meditation classes, Yoga, Kabbalah studies, Tantra courses; it’s a meat market,” Ronen says. “Officially, it’s not a dating site but nevertheless, practically speaking, it is a very popular pick-up place and ironically, that’s because it doesn’t have that stigma.”

Ronen, who has lived abroad for extended periods, says he often finds Israeli single women very assertive.

“Israeli women can be very bold today and will come up to me and ask me for my business card and they ask me where I’m from and say ‘You’re so cute’,” he says. “Many of these are women are freed-up from a miserable relationship. They are saying to themselves that they live only once and they don’t give a damn and they deserve to enjoy life.”

Zahavi-London says that people seeking a partner are not necessarily interested in getting remarried but are mainly looking for a partner to take them out of their loneliness.

The “seekers” population in Israel is growing and not just because more and more people are divorcing, but because, as Prof. Almog, believes, it’s uniquely harder and harder to actually meet in Israel, regardless of the dating clubs. 

“Specifically in Israel we have extra difficulties,” Almog says. “One for them is our very inefficient public transportation network which makes it harder to meet up. Another thing is the lack of clubs and bars that cater for the middle aged, people above the age of 40—like me.”

Almog says this was because Israeli society itself is in-flux and the industry of night life is relatively new.

“We used to meet in each other’s apartment in our leisure time. And now, so many singles don’t have the right place and they don’t want to host someone in their apartment—why should they? Now, for them it’s difficult to adapt, and you know, there are so few bars that provide entertainment for mature people. It has to develop over the years. We have to think about people above forty.”

Almog, who has written extensively on Israeli culture, believes that the number of single people will grow, especially women, who will be inclined to do away with having a relationship altogether. He even believes that in the future women will start to live in communal dwellings, a sort of Amazonian kibbutz.

“They will say, ‘We don’t need the male full time. Let him be my neighbor and come to some arrangement that will gradually replace him’,” Almog quips. “Many people on Facebook do not accept term ‘relationship’. It’s not suitable for them. What we are going to have is a big large spectrum of relationships during a life course. It will be reflected in the different ways we are going to live. Many families will be temporary, they will change, and then we will live in a commune, then we will live alone, and then we will be together, with the kids, without the kids, kids coming back to our house, living with us, urban life, rural life, all sorts of things.”

“We are living in a twilight zone, sociologically speaking,” Almog says. “Researching the phenomenon of singles is actually researching the transformation of the human system.”

Chasing parental boredom while catching some foreign films

I was in seventh grade when my dad took me to see a Turkish movie exploring the lives of five prisoners given a week’s home leave in the aftermath of a coup d’etat.

Why did he take a kid to see the movie “Yol”? To teach me a valuable lesson about suffering? To expand my world-view beyond Brandeis Hillel Day School and ballet class and working weekends at my mom’s coffee shop? No. My dad wanted to see the movie.

And if I wanted to hang out with my dad, that was the deal. Yol.

Not only did I see that movie — which consisted mainly of tight shots of tortured souls walking up hills into wind — but also a multitude of other age-inappropriate films, thanks to my Pops and his bi-weekly Sunday visits during which he dragged me to everything from documentaries about coal mining and obscure folk singers to lengthy Swedish films. At the time, I really cared more about Swedish fish.

Now that I am a parent, I realize that my dad was onto something, and I’m looking for ways to emulate him.

My dad’s concept was to choose an activity that he loved and bring me along, thus he would never be bored or resentful that he was doing something lame like hanging out watching me try on clothes at Wet Seal. If he could convince me to share his love of art house films, he could kill two birds with one long, boring cinematic achievement: He could spend time with his kid while enjoying a favorite pastime.

You might think, wow, what a selfish dude.

Maybe his daughter was exposed to things that were adult and therefore disturbing. Or maybe his daughter was bored. Or maybe he should have sucked it up and gone to the mall, or perhaps to see “Footloose,” which involves teens in perhaps emotional prisons, but not actual prisoners.

To that I say, yes, it was uncomfortable watching some of the films, and confounding at times. On the other hand, I loved hanging out with my dad on Sundays, and I didn’t really care what movie we saw. Maybe, to his credit, because he was doing exactly what he wanted to do, he exuded a certain happiness and calm. And kids read that kind of vibe. So, I never got the feeling my dad didn’t want to hang out with me.

There should be a word for that in Turkish.

As the mother of a 2-year-old, I thought it was a stroke of genius when I saw a father at a skateboard park with his toddler. This little girl was an incredible skateboarder, shredding, as one might say, on a giant half-pipe. When I spoke to the dad while marveling at his girl, he told me they go there four afternoons a week. This guy, I realized, had found his Yol, an activity that wouldn’t suck the life out of him, something that might somehow enrich his daughter’s life (while maybe jacking up her shins or teeth) and one that he could do without too much personal sacrifice. Sure, this guy could have sat through an endless series of tea parties, but he would have hated that, so he taught his daughter to skate and now he has a skate partner for life. Or at least until she is old enough to decide whether to resent him.

So I continue searching for my Yol.

Loving my child is no problem. However, filling toy dumpsters with torn-up bits of paper towel before dumping them over into a plastic garbage truck is more depressing than an Ingmar Bergman film festival (yes, my dad took me to one, so I know). At this point, the things my boy likes to do — play with trucks, fill pails with sand and water to make sand castles, your basic hide-and-seek — well, those are wrenchingly, painfully dull.

Turns out, the word Yol is actually Turkish for “the way,” and I need to find mine. Hopefully, it won’t be headed uphill into the wind.

My Single Peeps: Susan B.

When Susan first e-mailed me, it was to pitch herself to one of my single peeps. One of the pictures she sent me was of her standing, in a blue cocktail dress, one hand leaning on a silver Aston Martin, in the driveway of a beautiful home. Not wanting my peep to think she was high maintenance, she made it clear that the picture was taken at a party and it wasn’t her car.  “The only reason I sent the picture is because my guy friends insisted on it, but I’m much more like the cool girl next door.” I liked the honesty and asked her if she wanted to become a Single Peep.

Susan’s in her 40s — she wouldn’t narrow it down any more for me — and is looking for a guy in his 40s to mid-50s. She sells mobile and Internet advertising to national advertisers. It sounds boring as hell to me, but she says, “I really like it a lot. It’s fun. You get to meet a lot of cool people at the ad agencies, and my clients are really interesting. I also get to travel a little bit.” She tells me she’s a big traveler.

“I want a guy with a sense of humor. A guy who has integrity. That’s really, really important to me. I’m at a phase in my life where I want to give back, and I want solid, stable people in my life. Someone who’s employed is good,” she says, as she laughs. The reason this is so important to her is because Susan has decided to foster a child in a few weeks. In July, 38 orphans from Colombia are coming to Los Angeles as part of Kidsave’s Summer Miracles Program, which brings older kids to the United States from orphanages all over the world and tries to place them in permanent homes. Susan is taking in one of the girls. “The 11-year-old will definitely change things. I’ve been looking for backpacks and trying to find her one. I also registered her for camp.” I ask Susan if she’s ever met the girl. She hasn’t. “We’re Skyping on Friday night,” she says. “Are you nervous?” I ask. “I’m terrified. Mostly it’s the language that worries me. You can’t learn a language in a month and a half.” She’s been learning Spanish by listening to CDs in her car.

I ask her if she’s interested in adopting, and she says she wants to take it one day at a time. “Because I don’t know where this path is going to take me, I want to find someone who is open to more children in their life. A good, solid, honest, menschy guy. I’m really interested in building a family, a sense of community. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but it’s really important for me to form some new, close, permanent bonds.”

I ask her what prompted fostering a child. “A couple of years ago, I lost my father (a Holocaust survivor) and stepmother within two months. I felt like there was this void, and I wanted to give back. Through Kidsave, I saw they were working with kids in Colombia. As advocates, we’re supposed to go out and find adoptive families through press and events for prospective adoptive parents.”

Susan tells me she doesn’t just want interested men to contact her. She wants prospective parents, or people interested in hosting other children, to contact her, as well. She wants a man, but she also wants to find a child a home. Maybe she’ll find both.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Charles P.

I wrote and starred in a short film, and the director brought Charles in as DP (director of photography). I’ve shot quite a few videos before — always simple setups with a small crew. So when I asked my friend Yitzy if we could use his apartment to shoot a video, I assured him it would be unassuming. Charles, used to working on big-budget TV shows and features, had a different idea. And soon I found myself in Yitzy’s apartment with a gigantic crew, lighting rigs and table after table of film equipment winding its way down the hall. Security called to complain because a huge truck full of gear couldn’t fit in the building’s parking garage. And it went downhill from there. None of this was Charles’ fault. The film, however, turned out looking beautiful.

Charles was born in London and moved to Boston when he was 6. His mother’s a musician, and he inherited her talent. He still plays the saxophone with a band in bars around town. 

He went to college at NYU, but after a year he dropped out. “I started hanging around on feature film sets, making friends with the cameramen. As you can imagine, after watching them shoot ‘Ghostbusters,’ going back to school to sit in a lecture hall was less than captivating.”

Eventually he became a Steadicam operator, and though he was working regularly, he wasn’t getting the big jobs in Boston that he had a chance to get in Los Angeles. So, at 30 years old, he moved across the country. He worked successfully for years — he even bought himself a house in Los Feliz — and last year he decided to transition to full-time DP. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.

He likes FAST women. And by that, I mean the acronym he uses for his ideal woman: Funny, Adorable, Smart and Twisted. “It’s something I keep in my head. I like a dark sense of humor — I like to toss a hardball at them and have them knock it out of the park.” Interestingly, Charles doesn’t come off that dark. He’s more like a lovable goofball.

He continues, “I’m pretty individualistic. I have my own thing going on, I like when they got their own thing going on. I’m not into co-dependency. I like the idea that there are two individuals with a middle ground, as opposed to a squashed orb.”

I ask him how important a Jewish girl and a Jewish life are to him. “I’m not Jewy. I don’t practice. But I wouldn’t mind getting invited to a Seder or two. I’d probably like a girl who’s Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it.” 

Charles loves architecture. “I like urban history. Coming from back East, I’m used to 350-year-old buildings, but I’ll settle for the 100-year-old ones downtown.” His favorite one is the Bradbury Building. “I want to get married there. I got a job to shoot a film there. I didn’t even ask what it was. I said, ‘Sign me up.’ ” He continues, with an odd expression, “That’s what tickles me — going around, exploring architecture,” and then I remember that, even without the accent, he’s a Brit. So maybe it’s not so odd on the other side of the pond. If you can see past a grown man using the word tickle in relation to his feelings, then Charles might be for you.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

Status symbol

Status used to be about social hierarchy — whether you made a good living or were born into the right family or had achieved prominence in your community. But these days, if you say the word “status” to Generation Single-and-Facebooking, you may be understood very differently.

For the novices, Facebook is a social media utility, commonly called “social networking.” This is basically an online community where the youngish and technology-loving assemble, sharing their friend lists, interests and activities with each other toward the creation of a greater social entity — a network. One of the most popular features of Facebook is a “status feed,” a running list of what your friends are up to, updated whenever anyone makes a change to his or her profile. “Tiffany Jewstein joined the ‘All Jews on Facebook’ group.” “Rachel Goldberg is engaged to Shmuley Greenberg.” “David Bernowitz is sooo glad finals are over.”

For Facebookers in their 20s and 30s, one of the trickiest status areas is the “relationships” line. In your profile, you choose how to identify yourself. Are you “single,” “married,” “engaged” or “in a relationship,” or would you say you’re “in an open marriage”? Or are you an “it’s complicated”? What are you looking for: “friendship,” “dating,” “networking,” “a relationship” or “whatever I can get”? You can choose multiple identifiers, since this is a generation of multiple identities, but this can refract the message. You might think “whatever I can get” is funny and shows how open and casual you are, but someone who’s looking for something special might see you as desperate or not serious.

Once you’ve started dating, other minefields await. Back in the day, if you met someone on JDate and you started dating each other exclusively, the big conversation was about taking down your online profile — this meant you were serious and weren’t going to be online during off hours, cruising for someone “better.” This was commitment.

But on Facebook, relationships are not about the vanishing of profiles, because the function of the community is not supposed to end when couplehood is achieved; relationships mean the public declaration of a change in status. And there are levels of such declaration. You can change your status from single to “in a relationship.” You can declare publicly the name of the person with whom you’re in the relationship or, if you’re afraid of tempting the evil eye, you can leave it anonymous for friends to guess or know.

A friend of mine who recently started dating someone changed his status from “single” to “in a relationship.” But his girlfriend hadn’t yet changed hers, so he wasn’t sure whether the relationship meant more to him than to her. And neither of them was sure that they were ready to declare to the world that they were in a relationship with each other — that’s a huge commitment, to go public, because if, God forbid, the relationship doesn’t work out, that failure and loss is also public.

Status is yours to claim, or in the case of one sister-single friend of mine, reclaim. When she first joined Facebook, her status was set to “single.” But this week I got a notification that she “is no longer listed as single.” I assumed this meant that she had met someone.

No, she told me, she was still single, but had decided to reclaim her status. She didn’t like the fact that everyone looking at her page saw her as single, because she was so much more than that. She wasn’t announcing a relationship; she was announcing her reclamation of how she presented herself to the online world.

If only we all gave as much time and consideration to how we present ourselves offline — not in terms of physical appearance, but in how we define ourselves in relation to others, in how we determine our goals professionally and personally and in how we relate to the community at large. Are we conveying that we’re open to new relationships? Are we being honest about our availability? Are we publicly declaring our intentions toward others?

While many of us live online, we shouldn’t forget that even if we spend days chained to our computers and the online representations of ourselves, life is about human — and humane — interaction. Whether online or off, we should learn to present ourselves clearly, identify ourselves truthfully and with an understanding that status is about half in its declaration, and half in how it is perceived by others.

Esther D. Kustanowitz is currently “in an open relationship” with her Facebook Status Feed. Don’t ask; “it’s complicated.” You can reach her at jdatersanonymous@gmail.com. This column originally appeared in The Jewish Week.

JJ LA asks you to be a

Goodbye, my almost

In a moment of pure feminine guilty pleasure I bought the entire first season of “Felicity” at a used DVD store.

“Felicity” was the anthem of my early college years, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the show. I started watching episode after episode, savoring it like a rare find of a favorite ice cream flavor. I didn’t want to watch them all too quickly! I was so amazed to find the sheer innocence that was then considered risquÃ(c) and the amazing advice and life lessons that were intertwined in Keri Russell’s curly hair.

At the end of one episode, we hear the voice-over of Felicity’s best friend, and she mentions something along the lines of how everyone you care about was at one time a complete stranger, even your soulmate was a stranger at some point. The line hit me so hard, not because of its simple truth, but the reverse notion as well. That someone who was at one point in your life so important to you can make the transition back to being a stranger.

In an earlier column I talked about the differences between an “almost” and a “beshert,” and how I will always have a special place in my heart for that “almost” who helped me to find myself and the person that I’m supposed to be with. What I realize now is that as time goes by, my “almost,” just like nearly every memory of old friendships, is starting to fade in importance. When I look back at the things we did, the conversations we had, the arguments and even the laughter, it’s all started to fade into the category of, well, not so important.

Since meeting my beshert I have continuously thought, “Oh, so this is what life is supposed to be like….” No little arguments, no tears, no fighting about everything, no self-doubt about the person that I am and the things that I want in life. At this point, nearly a year after ending things with my “almost,” I’ve stopped thinking about him all the time; I don’t really wonder what he is up to, and when I am in his “neck of the woods,” I don’t look around wondering if I’ll spot him. I’ve stopped thinking about what his friends are up to and if they are getting together for events. All of those cares and concerns have slowly seeped out of my train of conscious thought, and I am now free to experience life anew.

I am constantly telling my beshert, “thank you for happening to me.” Just like Felicity’s best friend said, my beshert, just like every other person, was once a stranger to me and now my “almost” is slowly fading into being a stranger once again.

I just came back from a weekend getaway with my beshert to a spot that my almost and I went to as well. I was amazed that, although we did some of the same things, the entire experience was different. The city seemed like a different place simply because of who I was with there. The memories my almost and I made faded into the background with each moment I was there with my beshert.

Although some people might find the loss of memories sad, or the idea of forgetting a person who was once so close to you a downer, I think it is quite the opposite.

I think it is a true testament to the way life is. People come in and out of your life for a reason, and to know that someone who you thought was “the one,” or who broke your heart, will once again fade into oblivion is a gift that life gives you. I am sure that if I asked any tearful person who has just broken up with his or her significant other if they are comforted by the thought that eventually the one who is causing them so much heartache will fall into the category of “not so important,” I would get a resounding yes.

I salute the people who can remain friends with their “almosts,” though, for me, I found that in the end cutting ties completely was the best thing to do. It seems most people I’ve talked to agree with me. Cutting ties allows you to become a free person once again, a freedom that allows you to reclaim yourself, your memories and the potential for what can be in the future.

My “almost” is now merely a name, a distant memory and a definition of the past. I consider my time with him my “old life,” and I am thankful every day that I am now in a new one. My beshert and I climbed through the maze of the internet, of Craigslist to boot, and have connected in the now. My soul mate is no longer a stranger, and I am in a state of perpetual bliss.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be contacted at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com

Fighting words

“OK, OK, what do you think of this?”

It’s the fourth time he’s burst into my office in the last hour. He’s working on his latest short film script; I’m trying to finish a story on deadline. This is a recurring scene in our saga. Delicately, I trot out the familiar pact that has steadied our balancing act time and again.

“I’ll tell you — if you look at this when I’m done.”

As a reporter, the five-year relationship I shared with a screenwriter was challenging, to put it politely.

Both only children and used to basking in unshared maternal nachas, we came to live by a code of competition probably akin to sibling rivalry.

Take his encouraging first words about my career, as a new couple: “It’s great that you’re a writer and you know I’ll support anything you do. But if you start writing screenplays, we’ll have to stop dating.”

We met in college at Boston University, between midnight coffee runs and Sunday night scrambles to churn out term papers and scripts. We bonded over favorite movies, musicians and books. One year, I got him to attend Yom Kippur services with me at the Hillel. My parents were pleased my seeming soul mate turned out to be Jewish — by birth, if not in practice.

After graduation, he and I moved to Los Angeles. Pets and bills became subplots in our narrative. Taking our first tentative steps into opposing writers’ job markets — both of them unstable and oversaturated — we tried to complement each other as much as conflict.

Critiquing each other’s work was both rewarding and maddening. We each knew we could trust the other to be brutally honest when needed, but there were a whole slew of external factors (who forgot to take the laundry out, how many dirty bowls were stacked in the office, when the last time we had sex was) that could wield unpredictable influence over how harsh that brutality got.

Between his late nights and my early mornings, jealousy over each other’s schedules also played a part in our receptiveness to each other’s work. I’d be in bed by 11 p.m. to catch some Zs before my 7 a.m. alarm; he’d pace heavily in his office until 4 a.m. and then noisily collapse into bed, sighing because I’d once again rise well rested while he sacrificed more beauty sleep for his career. Then I’d yank myself out of bed at dawn for the morning office rush, scrubbing my teeth in envy of the gurgling snores that I knew would dampen his pillow until noon.

“Lucky,” we each grumbled.

For, there being 24 hours in a day, there was really only a short window in which it was safe for one to approach the other and ask, “Can you read this?”

He asks two hours into an article-writing session, and I’ll point out every missing apostrophe and incorrect spelling of “than” in his pages with palpable glee. I ask during a particularly intense round in “Super Mario Galaxy,” and he’ll give that tight, impatient smile and a barely inflected, “Yeah, that was great.”

“You only spent four minutes reading it.”

“It was that good.”

“It was a 3,000-word piece.”

“I read down the middle of the page. Remember, most of your target audience probably does too. You’ll really have to start catering to the decreased attention spans of the multitasking, modern media consumer.”

He, on a less perceptive day, would sometimes coerce me into reading one of his scripts after a fight (I hold grudges; he does not). I’d rip his plot to shreds, call his characters two-dimensional and stagy. I’d tell him that clever bit of dialogue he was so proud of reminded me of “Punch Drunk Love.” That would be enough — he’d slink back to his computer and skulk around the apartment like a wounded deer the rest of the night. Then I’d feel guilty and offer a balm like, “I really got a sense of what X’s home life must have been like before he found that beached seal.”

Even after five years of this, our egos remained surprisingly sensitive to each other’s input.

Maybe that’s because the bliss was so sweet when he’d finish one of my stories, turn to me, and say, “You’re incredible. Publishers should be fighting for this.” Or when I’d parse his latest draft and remember why I’d always believed in him: His ambitious spirit and ability to sift the quirky beauty from the demented collection of scenes we called “us” always pierced a tender chamber of this critic’s core.

It’s been three months since we called it a wrap. We’d become different people than we were and outgrew the priorities we used to share.

To say I’ll miss his sarcastic jabs, one-ups or whoops of victory when he opens a single paycheck worth half my yearly salary — that would be a stretch. But the competition did push us to improve our craft, to excel, to outdo ourselves, along with each other.

If only cleaning up after Shabbat dinner had inspired such zeal.

Rachel Heller is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and can be reached at rsheller@gmail.com.

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.

What is chivalry?

Once, I went out with this guy who was really traditional — not Jewishly, but when it came to dating. He believed in chivalry: If we drove somewhere, he would
always run around to my side and open the door, even though it took longer and I was perfectly capable of opening it myself.

I used to worry about encountering a mud puddle, anxious that he might try to put his coat over it and encourage me to walk on it, resulting in an extremely well-intentioned disaster for both me and the coat. He also insisted on walking between me and the curb, because he said that was the tradition in days of old, to protect the woman from the dangers of the road.

“But what if someone comes at me from the other side and pulls me into an alley?” I wondered. (We’re not together anymore.)

I’m a pretty big sucker for romantic gestures, but there’s something so antiquated about a level of consideration that puts the “court” back in courtesy. I’m all for courtesy. If someone wants to hold the door for me, bevakasha (please). I hold doors for many people — men and women — in the course of a given day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not dating most of them. If “all the people of Israel are responsible for one other,” then why wouldn’t we treat each other with respect, regardless of our marital status and with or without chivalry?

According to Wikipedia (the modern writer’s research tool, indispensable despite questions as to its accuracy) chivalry is “related to the medieval institution of knighthood … usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honor and courtly love.” Originally from the French (chevalier: one who rides a horse), today, chivalrous is “used to describe courteous behavior, especially that of men towards women.”

Today’s chivalry, if it exists at all, would have to be very different in action, if not in principle, from its medieval progenitor. One JDatersAnonymous.com reader said that for her, chivalrous behavior would consist of “asking for a woman’s number and calling her.”

She related that she had e-mailed someone on JDate, who responded with “I’m not a computer person, you call me.”

She found this e-mail “disturbing.”

“Whatever happened to chivalry?” she asked. “Whatever happened to the man asking for the woman’s phone number and calling her? I find that JDate and other online sites are killing romance and chivalry.”

While I might find it personally inconvenient (or even annoying) when someone claims to “not be a computer person” in today’s technology age, I understand that not everyone prefers the same mode of communication. Some people are not “phone people,” but they get over it because they have to in order to communicate. If the profile interested her and if she felt comfortable, I advised her to be a little more forgiving. If it was so important to her that he make the first call, she should offer her number. Or she could tell him that she’s more comfortable handing out her number after a few e-mail exchanges. That reframing still indicates her interest, but also conveys that she’d like him to initiate communication.

Another reader went on a date with someone who did not pick her up and didn’t offer to buy her a beverage or anything to eat. To her, chivalry was simply “when the male picks the female up and walks her home. It means she feels cared for. It means she is offered a bite to eat [does not need to be expensive] or at least a drink.”

If chivalry is dead, it’s because of a conspiracy — with shots coming from the men in the book depository and the women on the grassy knoll and maybe some communist sympathizers — rather than a lone gunman. We wonder how today’s more equal social and economic ladder between men and women changes the rules of courtship. Some women are uncomfortable with chivalry, while others expect it. Men never know what’s expected of them. And everyone’s confused.

Maybe chivalry is not about holding a single door open or paying a dinner check. It’s about being made to feel like someone would ride a horse to get to you, and then treat you with respect even above the normal level they’d show a stranger, transforming your relationship with that person to a different level, one that’s more special — a love for the ages and a courtship of connection.

Courtesy The Jewish Week.

I am not a fixer-upper!

Do I have a sign on my forehead that says, “Fix me up”?

I hope not, because then I’d really have a hard time meeting guys.

But every so often I get a phone call from a friend or relative, or my mom’s friend or co-worker, and even from people I meet on the street: “Orit, I want to fix you up with someone.”

Hello? Did I ask to be fixed up? Did I shout on a loud speakerphone that I’m looking to date or get married right now?

For them, it’s enough to know that I’m 30 and single, and that the potential match is in his 30s (sometimes 40s) and single. Most of the time these amateur matchmakers hardly know anything about me, at least anything that really matters for a successful relationship, such as my interests, values, preferences — and the creative work that expresses those: the novel I’m writing.

At first I used to indulge these fixer-uppers — I don’t know if it was for their sake, my sake or the guy’s sake.

Like that time my mother’s co-worker wanted to set me up with her cousin. He’s smart, good-looking, put together, she assured me. So I agreed to meet him for coffee. I should have taken the first phone call as a sign that he wasn’t right for me. He was sweet yet clumsy, clearly lacking a confidence and suaveness that would have accompanied a guy who was smart (at least socially smart), good looking and put together.

We met, and the date ended, at least in my mind, after the first sip of coffee I didn’t really care to drink. He was exactly what I had imagined he would be: socially awkward around women, balding, two inches shorter than me — and the schnoz was huge. Don’t get me wrong, I have gone out with balding men who have imaginative noses, but they had other balancing intellectual and physical merits. This guy had a desk job at a cellphone company — not one to understand the life of an adventurous writer and artist.

Note to matchmakers: I don’t do charity dates.

After a few more close encounters of the dull kind, I decided to conduct rigorous advanced screening, asking very specific questions about the person and requesting a picture over e-mail. Does “smart” mean he is book smart? Socially aware? Emotionally intelligent? Does “good looking” mean that his mother thinks he’s good looking? Would a girl who sees him walk down the street say: “That is an above-average looking man”?

But there was only so much interrogating I could do without sounding overly picky. So I went out with a few more dates after at least getting the basics down, but the dates generally didn’t lead anywhere. Usually we did not have enough in common, and when we did, the guy wasn’t interested. Go figure.

Finally, I decided to tell these hopeful matchmakers I’m not interested in meeting anyone. And maybe, when it comes down to it, that’s the real reason behind the dating failures. At this, they were shocked.

“I’m dating the novel I’m writing,” I told one newly married fixer-upper. She replied: “It doesn’t matter. You should still be open to meeting people, because you never know.”

I wondered why she cared so much. Does she need me to marry someone to validate her own decision?

“I like being independent, exploring the world on my own. Once I get married, I won’t have this opportunity,” I told a single potential fixer-upper who was actually taking a course on “how to date.”

She replied by psychoanalyzing me: “You’re just saying that to comfort yourself in your loneliness.”

Then, with self-pity, I racked my brain wondering if I am rationalizing my singlehood.

“I’m not ready for marriage right now,” I recently told a married acquaintance.

She replied by lecturing me: “You’re too picky. You should consider guys you wouldn’t normally consider. You know how many people get married from the Internet?”

Huh? Did she even listen to me, and did I ask for advice? Just because she’s married with two kids at 31 doesn’t mean I should be too.

People can’t seem to fathom that a single, 30-year-old woman doesn’t necessarily define success in life by her mate. They think by definition a 30-year-old woman must be hungry for a boyfriend or husband, and if not, there is something wrong with her.

I’m enjoying every minute of my single life and all its advantages: getting to know myself deeply, being free to travel on my own, having significant mental and physical space to finish my novel. Sometimes I think I’ll only meet the “one” once I have actualized myself in a way that implicitly broadcasts the kind of guy who would suit my needs.

Women are living longer these days; technology has improved fertility. We can wait until the mid-30s before our biological alarm clock starts ringing. In the meantime, thank God for “snooze”!

Yes, there are the moments when I think, “God, how great would it be to have a boyfriend.” Like a few weeks ago when I enjoyed, as a travel writer, an all-expense paid vacation in a romantic bungalow in northern Israel. It would have been wonderful to have a traveling — and sleeping — companion.

I recognize the phenomenal values of relationships, which unfortunately I don’t see in enough couples. I would enjoy a trusted, intimate support system; sex on a regular basis; a social companion; sperm (for when I’m ready); hopefully someone handy around the house, and, most of all, people will stop bugging me!

But I’m holding out for the best for me. I’m going to work on myself — happily — finish my novel and continue to become the woman worthy of the man I seek.

I know people have good intentions, and I don’t oppose fixer-uppers altogether, but they should at least be mindful and set me up with men whom I would consider for friendship regardless of my single status — not just another man they assume to be desperate as well. And why not introduce us at a party or social gathering? I’m sick of coffee.

Otherwise, stop bugging me. I’m busy being single right now.

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached via her Web site: www.oritarfa.net.

It’s about the marriage, not the wedding

It’s the marriage that’s important, not the wedding.

When planning my wedding, I repeated that mantra each time wedding details began to overwhelm me. Hors d’oeuvres, centerpieces, flowers, music, cake — the to-do list kept growing.

A few days after Ron proposed, I told him I wanted to avoid the inevitable stress involved with planning a big wedding.

“I just want something simple,” I said.

“Great, me too,” he replied, cautiously eyeing the big stack of wedding planning books I had just checked out of the library.

After skimming through a number of these books, I learned that even planning a simple wedding can be complicated.

In order to make the process as simple as possible, I spent an hour at Borders selecting the most appropriate wedding organizer. On Page 14 is a wedding planning checklist and the first heading is “Nine months and earlier.” The only thing on the list we’d accomplished so far was selecting a date — six months away. I hadn’t yet reserved the ceremony or reception sites, booked a photographer, ordered my dress or selected a color scheme.

All that to do and I haven’t even gotten to the second heading: “Six to nine months before wedding.” We were already behind in booking the caterer, musicians, videographer and florist.

But a conversation with Lori Palatnik, an author and Jewish educator, reminded me that I shouldn’t let details like flowers and wedding cake distract me from the real purpose of the wedding.

“You should spend as much time planning your marriage as you do your wedding,” she advised.

So that means that in between choosing invitations and centerpieces we should also focus on what happens after the glass is broken under the chuppah? Hmm, good idea. But how?

First of all, Palatnik says that engaged couples must throw away misconceptions fed by the movies.

Marriage is “not like the movies,” she said. “You’re not going to feel ‘wow’ every day.”

In fact, if a person thinks their fianceé is “perfect,” it may be a case of infatuation rather than love, since of course nobody is perfect. Love is both eyes open, she said. You see the virtues and acknowledge the challenges, then decide if you still want to go through with it.

“Infatuation feels like love and looks like love, but it’s counterfeit,” she said.

However, infatuation after marriage is ideal, she added. Then it’s OK to put on the “rose-colored glasses” and see only the positive qualities of your spouse.

“Love is the emotion that you feel when you focus in on the virtues of another person and you identify them with those virtues,” she said. “Unfortunately, what people end up doing a few years into a marriage is you start focusing on the negative qualities and you forget the positive qualities. They’re still there, but you made a choice not to focus in on them.”

The second aspect of marriage that Palatnik mentioned was a person must make what’s important to his or her spouse important to them.

Her third piece of advice is: The more you give, the more you love.

“Giving leads to loving,” she says, and compares it to the love mothers have for their babies. “For the first few months, what do you get back? Sleepless nights and throw-up down your front. And yet you love this thing more than life itself.”

However, most people make a mistake with his or her spouse and move away from this attitude.

“If you focus on giving in your marriage, you will have a loving marriage,” except in abusive situations, she said.

Palatnik has been married for nearly 20 years and has divulged the “10 Secrets to a Great Jewish Marriage” across the United States, as well as Canada, South Africa, England and Israel, for six of those years.

“It took me over a decade of marriage to really get it,” she said. “And I’m still working on it.”

Palatnik, former host of the Toronto television show “The Jewish Journal,” offers one last bit of advice.

“The No. 1 piece of advice I would give anybody — I don’t care if you’re about to get married, if you’re thinking about getting married or you’ve been married for 20 years — learn the wisdom that the Torah has about how to have a good marriage.”

In the first 18 months Ron and I knew each other, we went to seven weddings (two of those couples also met on JDate). Whether held in a formal ballroom or in an informal intimate garden setting, each wedding was beautiful. And they all ended the same way — with two people ready to begin their new life together.

And that’s what’s really important.

Almost . . .

As Thanksgiving approaches, I can’t help but stop and think about what I’m thankful for.

So much has happened since last year, relationship-wise, and it
struck me that as thankful as I am for what has happened, I’m equally thankful for everything that didn’t.

That’s right, I’m thankful for that bad date that left me shaking my head, for those terribly dull IM chats and for that awful phone call that left me wanting to fall asleep.

I’m thankful to all of the “almosts” and “not quites” that I’ve experienced this year; after all, if I hadn’t experienced those, I never would have found my way down this twister path to my beshert.

There is a great line in the movie “Because I Said So,” when not too geeky to be hot Tom Everett Scott is asked why he is still single. He replies with the standard “Just haven’t met the right girl” line, but then adds “There are a lot of great ‘almosts’ out there …”

Everyone out in the dating world has met or has been an “almost.” The differences between “almosts” and “beshert” are subtle, sometimes taking months or even years to be discovered. It’s like someone else making your mom’s Thankgiving turkey recipe. It tastes good, but is just not quite the same as how your mom makes it. There are subtle differences, some nearly untraceable, but to the sensitive person they are there, sitting and waiting to be discovered.

Being an “almost” is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, most “almosts” are really great people. People with whom, for a portion of time, you saw yourself for the long run; you envisioned your happily ever after — dating, vacations, weddings, kids…. You imagined your life around this person. And things were great, for a while. But then those little missing ingredients started becoming more and more apparent — little details that started to tear things apart.

I dated my “almost” for more than a year and a half. We dated, we laughed, and we fell in love; he braved the family seders, and I vacationed with his friends. He welcomed in the High Holy Days with us, and I experienced my first Christmas eve with his friends and pseudo-family. But then, little by little, things started to change. The details of life started to overwhelm the happy relationship that we had had for so long.

The most difficult part of dating an “almost” is the time when you start to recognize that’s what it is. It’s really a three-part process — the realization, the battle, then, lastly, the acceptance. The acceptance is by far the hardest part; it takes courage and a crazy amount of strength to tell yourself — as well as your “almost” — that things just aren’t working. As they say in the song, “breaking up is hard to do …” And when you are breaking up with an “almost,” it can be devastating. It’s so scary to let go of something that has become bigger than just the relationship — friends, shared activities, weekend jaunts, all your memories with your “almost” become tainted. It’s so hard to be so close to something you’ve always wanted, only to realize that it isn’t meant to be.

However, the uplifting thing about an “almost” is the realization that there are good people out there, that if someone exists who is so close to your ideal, then your ideal might be just around the corner. Dating an “almost” gets you primed; you’ve experienced how good life can be, and now you are aware of those key ingredients that need to be properly measured. That extra bit of laughter, that dash of silliness, and that little pinch of understanding, all of those things you learned from your “almost.” As time passes, the memories that you built with your “almost” lose their tainted nature, and you can once again smile at them. Life changes, and before you know it, you walk around the corner and into the arms of your “beshert,” and all you can wish for is that all of your “almosts” will find theirs as well. So while I’m sitting around with my family this Thanksgiving, I’ll be sure to add a silent thank you to all of my “almosts,” as they helped me find what I’ve been searching for.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Van Nuys. She can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

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.

Delilah drives me wild

Hello, my name is Caroline, and I am in love with my car … there I’ve said it.

Until recently, I had never really understood why men fawned over their cars, why they gave them female names and washed and polished them to a shine. I had a friend in college who treated his truck better then he’ll probably end up treating his future love interests. He would pose her in front of pretty backdrops and take pictures of her, snapping away at every angle, admiring the beauty of his Toyota truck.

I, of course, was sitting bored in the front seat, slightly annoyed that we had to stop our off-roading adventure for an impromptu photo shoot of his beloved “Yota.” I couldn’t imagine what he was going to do with those pictures; it’s not like the truck was going to smile at him or tilt its head in a certain way — it was a truck!

But, then, it happened to me.

Recently, I bought my first new car. She was named Delilah within a day, and we began a grand adventure as we got to know each other.

As I slowly explored all of her cool features and hidden compartments, I began to realize how much I had in common with my “crazy” friend Tom. I was obsessed with keeping Delilah clean and sparkly, making sure that I parked her perfectly so as not to get bumped. I drove her cautiously and smoothly to make the most of her gas, and I slowly began to fall in love.

Now some people might be concerned with the fact that I was falling in love with my car, after all, it’s a car, not a nice Jewish boy. But if they would just stop to hear me out, they would understand how the bond between a car and its owner is, hands down, the perfect relationship.

The only thing my car needs on a regular basis is gas and oil. She isn’t picky about brand names. She is always there for me, waiting for when I will need her. She turns on when I need her to and off when I’m done.

She never makes demands about where to go, and she never criticizes my driving. She keeps me cool at the press of a button and offers me a variety of music to listen to.

My car doesn’t get annoyed when I talk on the phone, she doesn’t protest if I tap her wheel along to the music and she’ll even take over the gas pedal for me if I get tired. She is a pleasure to be in and around, and on top of it all, she’s purple! I ask you, what’s not to love?

So here I am, admitting my undying love of my new car. I know in time her sparkle may fade, her interior may get dirty and she might need some maintenance here and there. But she’ll always be my perfect Delilah, and whoever ends up loving me for eternity will have to love her, too. After all, we are a package deal now.

Caroline Cobrin is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She can be reached at carolinecolumns@hotmail.com.

‘Tis the season to be sorry

Just so you should know, the reason I did it the way I did was because I didn’t want to get into it. Really, what was the point? It’s not my job in life to change people or tell them where they’ve gone wrong. Besides, people don’t really want to hear about their faults anyway.

So that’s why, seemingly out of the blue, I ended it with Josh with no explanation, save the vague, “I just don’t feel we’re exactly right for each other.”

And I did it on his voice mail.

Before you say anything, let me tell you that this guy was mean. He’d said some questionable things on the first date (“I found your writing amusing”), elaborated on it on the second date (“What did you want me to do, lie? Did you want me to say that I fell on the floor laughing? I mean, we all have dating stories!”) and was too critical to merit a third. But it took me a while to figure this out, so when he first called me after to tell me what a wonderful time he’d had (with whom?) I said, “Me, too.”

I lied.

Then I called back and left that vague message on his answering machine. Another lie — maybe a white one, but what was I supposed to say? “You’re a critical idiot with a Napoleonic complex, and your money doesn’t impress me!”? Still, I feel bad. I feel bad that Josh thought it was going so well and then this.

I’m sorry for that.

I’m also sorry I said I wouldn’t write about him, but I am.

It’s the season to be sorry. It’s that time of year when we go over all of our deeds, things we have done to others, to God, to ourselves and ask for forgiveness — and grant it to those who need it from us.

What does it mean to forgive someone? “Let it go,” is the big New Age mantra. “If you don’t forgive someone, it’s like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person,” these Zen people proclaim. And it’s good advice in relationships to forgive our loved ones. But in the dating world — in this modern day of fly-by-night, I-can’t-remember-your-name, didn’t-we-go-out-once-already? dating — miscommunications, slights, insults and downright mistreatments can pile up in a year.

So how do you repent with people you’ll never talk to again?

Sometimes you just talk to them.

For example, Jon tried to contact me a number of times in the year since we split, but I avoided him; he’d lied to me. But when he wrote me an e-mail beginning with, “I really hope you’ll read this,” saying how he was really sorry, and he knew he messed up, I said it was OK.

And it was. Somewhere along the way, I’d realized he was only being his messed-up self and wasn’t doing anything to me. I was just in the path of his tornado.

But forgiveness has its limits too; I absolved Jon, but I wouldn’t date him again.

Eric, on the other hand, I not only forgave, but became his friend. He’d never lied to me or anything; just sort of neglected for a while to tell me we were breaking up, hoping I’d get the message the passive-aggressive way. That stung pretty bad, too, but after a couple of weeks of wailing to friends about the crappiness of it all, the hellishness of dating and whether or not I lost weight in the ordeal, I realized it was just Eric’s way of being.

OK, I’m not really that centered. What happened was that Eric called me and said he really, really wanted to be friends, and I went out with him with the hopes that maybe we’d get back together. Somewhere during our téte-a-téte, I realized he wasn’t interested, and that I was OK with that. It was the rejection, not the loss of him, that had bothered me, and besides, there was someone else I was involved with who was about to reject me.

I’m joking. Not everyone rejects me. I do my fair share of rejecting, too. If I am going to be honest — and you can’t really lie in during the Days of Awe — I also do my share of rejecting, insulting, snubbing, avoiding, flaking, slandering and (white) lying, too.

And for these things, I ask forgiveness. Just as I will search inside myself for all those petty hurts that have built up over this year of dating and release them, I hope others will do the same for me. And while all this chest-beating over my past is cleansing, the most important step is the future.

Because teshuvah — real repentance — means admitting what you have done wrong, apologizing for it, and vowing never to do it again.

Of course I have little control over how others behave toward me. Nevertheless, this Yom Kippur I vow to behave better toward them. And hope that it will be my last year of dating.


Film: Opposites attract — and seek therapy — in ‘Ira & Abby’

Jennifer Westfeldt is gracious, even humble, in accepting the compliment that starts this interview. She has been told that a recent essay on cineastes — “Jewish Humor, After Woody” — called her “the most intriguing candidate to forge a career of intelligent, dialogue-driven films about the comic possibilities of modern relationships.”

In other words, she may be the next Woody Allen.

And “Ira and Abby,” the romantic comedy she wrote, executive produced and stars in, may be, well, reminiscent of “Annie Hall.” It’s about a neurotic, heavily analyzed Jewish young Manhattanite (Chris Messina) who falls in love with a spacey, sexy, emotionally vulnerable and thoroughly non-Jewish health club worker (Westfeldt). They marry, which is only the beginning of their relationship difficulties.

The film debuts theatrically Sept. 14, after winning the Audience Award at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Westfeldt previously starred in and wrote with Heather Juergensen the film, “Kissing Jessica Stein.”

On television, the 36-year-old Jewish-raised, Yale-educated actress stars in the sitcom, “Notes From the Underbelly.” On Broadway, she recently was nominated for a Tony Award for her work in a revival of “Wonderful Town.”

But while she is gracious, she isn’t quite buying the Allen comparisons just yet.

“Some of his early romantic comedies are among my favorites,” Westfeldt says of Allen, “along with ‘The Apartment’ by Billy Wilder. So when it came time to write, my natural voice was as a romantic comedy writer.

“But I identify myself as an actor primarily,” she explains. “Both of my films have come out of my attempt to control the type of role I can play and want to explore as an artist. At the same time, I don’t feel tremendously confident as a writer.”

Besides, she points out, “Ira and Abby” isn’t specifically Jewish. Not only is the word “Jewish” never uttered or discussed, but Ira’s last name — Black — is somewhat ambiguous. His cultural identity is more inferred by his milieu and personality traits than by anything overt in the screenplay.

“This is maybe where the Woody Allen question comes in,” Westfeldt says. “The film is set in the New York cultural climate of the classic overthinker. And that is something familiar to me in my life in Manhattan. I certainly have a lot of smarty-pants friends. They are so inside their heads they can be overwhelmed by their own brains and sometimes get paralyzed thinking through every last possibility.”

Westfeldt’s familiarity with that world began with her mother and stepfather, both Jewish and therapists working in Connecticut but with many Manhattan family and professional connections. Her father, a non-Jewish electrical engineer, left when Westfeldt was 3 and lives in Colorado. Growing up, she visited him every Christmas.

In “Ira and Abby,” Westfeldt pays tribute to her mother and stepfather and their world in two ways. Ira’s parents are both therapists. And among the bevy of other therapists and professionals in the film — everyone seems to be in therapy — are ones with names like Dr. Morris Saperstein (Jason Alexander), Dr. Rosenblum, Dr. Goldberg, Dr. Friedman, Dr. Goldman and Dr. Silverburg.

“Obviously, I’m poking fun,” Westfeldt confesses. “But there are a lot of therapists in my world through my mom and stepdad, and I also have friends who see therapists and analysts. I’m sure there are a zillion therapists in New York who aren’t Jewish, but based on the people in my world, that’s a cultural comic riff.”

In the film, Ira’s parents (Judith Light and Robert Klein) are also borderline burnouts — he, a pessimist with a mordant wit, and at one point utters, “We’re old and mean and very tired.” And both have had affairs that have hurt the other.

Westfeldt is quick to emphasize they are nothing like her own mother and stepfather. But there is one dialogue line that is taken from her mother. When Ira is despondent, talking to his mom on the phone, she asks with alarm if he’s thinking of suicide. (He isn’t.)

“That’s one thing that came from my mom and from growing up with a therapist as a parent,” she says. “They’re so used to dealing with people in crisis and suicidal teens. They’ve worked in psychiatric institutes and schools for troubled teens and handled some pretty unbelievable things.

“So when I had the ups and downs of being a teenager, her reaction would be, ‘Are you suicidal? Should I call a hospital?’ It’s an overreaction based on the kind of things they deal with everyday,” she says.

The institution of marriage doesn’t come off especially well in “Ira and Abby.” Though the film’s titular characters try it, they struggle with it. So do the film’s secondary characters.

Westfeldt, it turns out, has severe doubts about marriage’s viability. She and her boyfriend of more than nine years, actor Jon Hamm (AMC’s “Mad Men”), live together in a house with a dog but so far have stayed unmarried.

“I’m a child of divorce,” she says. “There’s a crazy amount of divorce on my father’s side, the non-Jewish side. Almost everyone in my dad’s nuclear family has been married three times, including my dad.

“And the year I wrote this movie, I went to nine weddings, while four of my closest friends got a divorce in their late 20s,” she continues. “It’s always interested me that statistically, we’ve failed as a society with this institution, and yet nothing has evolved in the way we approach our wedding vows and ceremonies.

“If anything, it’s just as sacred and idealized as ever, and people say the same things at their second wedding as at the first with no trace of irony,” Westfeldt notes. “Could we find some more honest, if not as romantic, paradigm for coming together as a couple? I feel like it’s worth some debate.”

Author’s advice on sex and intimacy makes her hot stuff

I open Esther Perel’s new book on the bus, and I know that my seatmate is staring at the cover photo of a man and woman in bed not touching beneath the red sheets.

“Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic” (HarperCollins) has caught the man’s attention, but he maintains the bus rider’s code and doesn’t ask about it. Perel’s book has also captured the attention of large numbers of readers, journalists and producers.

Recently, the Belgian-born psychotherapist has been profiled in Vogue, covered in People and featured on Oprah. She’s talking a lot about sex and intimacy, and the talk often turns to sexlessness among committed couples.

“Love flourishes in an atmosphere of closeness, mutuality, and equality,” she writes. “We seek to know our beloved, to keep him near, to contract the distance between us. We care about those we love, worry about them and feel responsible for them.

“For some of us, love and desire are inseparable. But for many others, emotional intimacy inhibits erotic expression. The caring, protective elements that foster love often block the unself-consciousness that fuels erotic pleasure.”

The book, her first, is theory, cultural analysis and practical advice. Based on more than 20 years of research, as well as counseling couples of all backgrounds and ages, straight and gay, married and not, the book includes many stories of real people in loving, long-term relationships who find that increased intimacy has been accompanied by decreased sexual desire. Not all of the stories have happy endings.

Esther Perel
“The challenge for modern couples lies in reconciling the need for what’s safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what’s exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring,” she writes.

A couples and family therapist in private practice, Perel, 48, does a lot of work related to cultural identity and ethnic and religious intermarriage. Having grown up in Antwerp, attended university in Jerusalem, lived in the United States for more than two decades and traveled around the world, she sees herself as a cultural hybrid, observing from the sidelines.

She doesn’t hold to what she says is a very American belief, that all problems have solutions. Rather, she tries to show different ways of looking at issues, trying to promote understanding.

I met up with Perel recently in a Manhattan cafe, just before she was off to Brazil to launch the Portuguese edition of the book.

Perel doesn’t easily sit still — she jumps up to clear a table when she spots an opening in a quieter corner of the cafe. She speaks rapidly, in an accent that’s not easily identifiable, perhaps a blend of the eight languages in which she is fluent. In her therapeutic work, she uses most of them, sometimes changing languages every hour. She deals with Europeans, Haitians, West Africans and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“I live New York in the full sense,” she says.

Perel is direct and articulate, comfortable talking about sex and eroticism, and her life’s journey from Louvain, the ancient Belgian university town where she was born, to the loft in Soho that she shares with her husband, Jack Saul, the director of the International Trauma Studies Program at Columbia University, and their two sons, ages 10 and 13.

She met her husband when she came to study in the United States for what she thought would be one year, after graduating from Hebrew University. Saul was her unofficial thesis adviser and a mentor.

Perel is the child of Holocaust survivors, and she relates her perspective to her parents’ outlook on life. Growing up in a community of survivors, she came to recognize a certain type among them, a bit unusual, like her parents. The sole survivors of their families, and who came very close to death themselves, her mother and father were decidedly connected to life. They lived with exuberance, reclaiming their spirit of adventure and enjoyment.

While she knows nothing about their sex lives except that they had two children, she senses that they had a deep understanding of the erotic.

“Though I doubt they ever used the word,” she writes. “They embodied its mystical meaning as a quality of aliveness, a pathway to freedom — not just the narrow definition of sex that modernity has assigned to it.”

She also speaks of discovering talmudic stories that she found “utterly brilliant” in their understanding of the tension between the domestic and the erotic. In the book, she retells a story about Rabbi Bar Ashi, who would stand before God every night and beg to be saved from the evil urge. One day, after overhearing him, his wife dressed up as a prostitute and met him. Later on, at home, he confessed to his wife, and when she admitted that it was she, he was still distraught as he “intended the forbidden.”

The author points out that Judaism never embraced a culture of celibacy. When asked about whether the traditional laws of family purity, with their prescribed separation, are a protection from the kind of overfamiliarity among couples that she describes, she dismisses that as a modern interpretation.

Perel’s family’s background is ultra-Orthodox, although her parents left that world. She’s related to the Gerer Rebbe and does a lot of work in the Orthodox community. Among her clients are those who have sex frequently, with desire not located in the self but in the larger mitzvah, something holy and transcendent. But when they come to see her, “the system isn’t working.” When she works with these couples, she also deals with their rabbis.

“They come to me because I’m not Orthodox. I speak Yiddish, but I’m not an insider,” she explains. “Being a Jew is the central part of who I am, my world view and sensibility, how I think. I consider my Jewish identity the ultimate cosmopolitan identity. I have a very European view. I don’t belong anywhere, but I have access to the world.”

She doesn’t identify as an American Jew, nor with the experience of the hundreds of American Jews she has worked with over the years. But she’s likely to identify with a Jew from places like South Africa or Argentina “in a second.”

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.

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

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.

Working Girl

I’m a multitasker. I can type an e-mail and conduct a conference call; I can watch a reel and read a memo. I can rub my tummy and pat my head, or pat your tummy and rub your head — which sounds like a lot more fun.

Point is, I can do two things at once and do them both well. But not everyone thinks so. Last week, my friends and I were downing Thai at Red Corner Asia when my married buddy Marc asked, “Carin, why do you think you’re waiting to get married?”

“Top answer on the board? Can’t marry myself.”

“Well, that. But I thought of you today,” he said. “I read that a lot of women now spend their 20s focused on their career, not on dating. Then they wake up one day to find themselves successful, but alone. It’s a tragedy.”

A tragedy? Come on, “Othello” is a tragedy. My social life? A comedy. Well, maybe more like a one-hour dramedy. Like “Ugly Betty” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Ally McBeal” — except not ugly. Or desperate. Or stick skinny. You’re picturing my tight curves now, aren’t you? Pretty hot, huh? Well stop dreaming and keep reading.

I’m an accomplished exec. I worked hard to get here. I work hard for the money. But work never gets in the way of dating, and dating never gets in the way of work.

Yet suddenly, this working girl feels defensive. If I just happened to still be single, it’s a matter of bad luck, bad timing or bad boys. I’m not to blame. It’s just how life goes on for me. But if I’m still single ‘cuz I focused on my job, then it’s my own fault I’m hauling around that “Miss” before my name.

According to Marc, I could be married by now, if only I’d been a huge failure.

Why, oh why, couldn’t I be a huge failure? Why did I have to be born witty and smart? Graduate Phi Beta Kappa? Earn my VP stripes? Why did I have to be confident, competent and driven? If only I’d remained entry level, I could be happily hitched by now.

Maybe Marc’s right. Maybe I should switch up my focus, take time off of work to concentrate on dating. That’s the ticket. I’ll walk into HR and ask to take my maternity leave early. What? Equal rights — why should some women get a three-month leave and not others? Instead of spending three months playing with a new baby, I’ll spend three months looking for a new man. Miss Hathaway, hold my calls. I won’t be in today, I’m going on a bachelor hunt.

C’mon. My work never stopped me from working it. If anything, men find my success sexy. They like a woman who can pay for her own meal — and kiss like no other. So it’s not that I’ve been waiting to get married; I’ve been waiting for my prince to come. And waiting. And waiting. Still waiting….

Actually, why I am still waiting? Why hasn’t a hot chick like me been swept up? Where are all my sweepers and suitors? And since when do I wait for anything? I’m a skip -to-the-front-of-the-velvet-rope kinda girl.

Maybe there is some truth to Marc’s statement. After all, we are the girl-power generation. We were told we could do anything, achieve everything, and be all that we can be. Where our moms had a wedding and kids right after college, we all got an apartment and a career. We were in no rush to get married. Now I’ve got an office and an assistant, but not a husband and a house. I didn’t intentionally avoid wearing the white dress while I cracked the glass ceiling. I know all work and no play makes me a dull Jew. I’ve dated a lot; I just haven’t closed the deal. I guess I always figured marriage would just kinda happen.

Sure, sometimes I worry that all the good ones have been taken. But I’m not taken, and I’m a good one. I’m a Tony the Tiger grrrreat one. Someone will be lucky to have me. So it’s more a matter of meeting my mensch.

Perhaps I should approach dating like I approach my job. Be a firecracker, be proactive, go after what I want. Start recruiting some fresh candidates, move meeting men to the top of my agenda. It’s nice to be successful; it would be nicer to celebrate that success with someone. To me, being married means being partners. It means supporting each other’s careers. It means sharing the joy of a new job, sharing the letdown of a layoff and sharing most of my new raise.

Life doesn’t have to be an either/or. I can have it all. I can do two things at once.

I can get engaged and get promoted. I can rule in the boardroom and the bedroom. I can take on a relationship and rock my power suit.

Or accept your rock and take off your power suit — which sounds like a lot more fun.

Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com

I’ll love him like a brother … in-law

When I was growing up with two older sisters, the only thing I ever truly wanted was a brother — someone who could torment my sisters when I was tired. After realizing that I was the only reason my parents wouldn’t have another child, I was tempted to pray for an “accident,” but I quickly aborted that mission because the possibility of a younger brother wasn’t worth the agony of another sister.

It seemed as though my childhood quest to find a brother was hopeless until nine months ago. My wildest dreams came true when I received a call from my oldest sister saying she was engaged. Somebody up there must like me.

It also seemed that my years of being the butt of my sisters’ jokes were about to end as this man brought a much-needed gender balance to my family. But getting to know my sister’s fiancé was a very delicate procedure. I wasn’t just testing a potential suitor. I was also testing a potential brother.

During their year-and-a-half courtship, I examined our every encounter carefully, from how many ice cubes he used to the point spread after he beat me in basketball.

I knew what I wanted in a brother. He had to have three things to make it as a male in my book: intelligence, class and courage. Intelligence to appreciate a man like me. Class to train me how to be a player in the George Clooney mold.

And courage to protect me when the super villains discover my weakness.

Before he even proposed to my sister, he had already passed one of the tests.

The first time we met I wasn’t sure what to think of him. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you, Jay,” he said. The man was a Mensa-level genius.

When he proposed to my sister, I waited for the perfect time to test his class: the Las Vegas bachelor party.

This information-technology professional, whom we were expected to wine and dine, ended up beating the pants off me in poker at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.

I had lost to him in b-ball and cards — not necessarily my strongest games — but I’d test him in an area where I excel.

As the seven of us entered a gentleman’s club off the Strip, I was thinking payback. I wanted to see how easy it would be to embarrass my future kin. This surplus of sin would truly prove to be an adequate environment to test his limits. Now he was playing in my court.

Compared to the rest of us, he was as reserved as a handicapped parking space. My sister would have been proud of his all-smiles-but-no-touch policy. The brotherhood we shared was apparently more important to him than the bountiful A-list “dancers” who surrounded us. Class? And then some.

I was shocked at how well he handled the situation. At that moment he truly deserved a hearty “yasher koach.”

As impressed as I was with him following the bachelor party, I still wasn’t totally convinced he would measure up to my expectations of what a big brother should be.

As the wedding approached during Memorial Day weekend, I knowingly put myself in harm’s way to see if he’d swoop in to rescue me. Would he exhibit the courage to square off against his own fiancée?

My sister and my future bro were fighting in the living room of our parents’ Pittsburgh home. As they were debating a minor sticking point about the placement of the kids’ table, I suggested they move it close to the bar.

My sister glared at me, the lasers in her eyes charged and ready to burn a hole right through me. He smirked at me, and then turned to face her down in the ultimate one-on-one battle.

“Baby, it’ll all work out,” he said, adding that he’d be there for her.

I realized then how much courage it must take to marry a woman in my family.
I still felt a little uneasy about accepting a new member into the family, even though he passed my three-pronged test. But when I saw my sister walk down the aisle with him during the ceremony, it dawned on me that it didn’t matter if I accepted him.

When I saw how happy my sister was, I realized that this wedding experience wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about creating a gender balance in my family. It wasn’t about gaining a big brother.

Instead, it should have been about my being a good brother.

As I stood by the chuppah, holding back tears that would have surely embarrassed me as well as the other men in my family, I thought about how much this man and I have in common. He is also the youngest child. He also has an older sister, but no brother. And he’s also a nice Jewish boy, like yours truly.

But more importantly, I knew he’d make a great husband for my sister.

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


Looking for a few good men — or at least one

When my friend Lisa dropped by to report on her blind date, clutching a bottle of antacids and sporting a brand-new twitch in her eye, I sensed that it hadn’t gone well.

“What happened this time?” I asked.

“I should have known better,” Lisa said. “He sounded so normal on the phone, but the e-mails were a giant red flag, and I ignored them.”

Lisa’s e-mails from “Lou” had indeed revealed a darker side. The first e-mail wasn’t, as Lisa had hoped, a note to say that he looked forward to their date, but a list of alarming questions about her feet, her toes and her high-heel collection.

I shrugged. “Guys like women in high heels.”

“Yes, but what about guys who want to come over and wear your high heels?”

I saw her point. “Why did you agree to meet him after that?”

Lisa rolled her eyes and harrumphed at the same time. “You married women have no idea how hard it is for single women my age to meet men,” she explained in self-defense. “I need to be open-minded.”

And so Lisa kept the date. Lou’s remarkable phone impersonation of a normal man finished imploding in person. At every opportunity, she said he wriggled in questions about Lisa’s shoe collection and her range of undergarments. When he began talking about his favorite nail polish colors, Lisa bolted from her seat, told Lou that she just remembered an emergency collagen appointment, and ran out.

Unfortunately, Lou was just another in a long line of loser lotharios who had marred Lisa’s date book for the past year.

There was bait-and-switch Bruce, whose picture on the Internet dating site bore an uncanny resemblance to Pierce Brosnan. In person, he was a dead ringer for Danny DeVito.

There was cheapskate Chris, who boasted to Lisa of his stunning entrepreneurial successes. On their first and only date, he said, “Order whatever you like. I’ve got a coupon.”

There was nervous Neal, who kept telling Lisa about his ex-wife, a Brazilian with anger-management problems, while looking around furtively, as if expecting the ex to materialize and scream at him.

Lisa was dazed and confused. After a dating sabbatical during which she dipped down to Costa Rica for some discount cosmetic surgery, she sprang back into action at a singles event for men and women between the ages of 35 and 50. While sipping a glass of chardonnay, Lisa was told by a man who regaled her with stories of the landing at Normandy that she was too old for him, as he wanted more children. As the geezer turned and walked away, Lisa noticed that he had neglected to tuck in his shirt.

Yet none of these men created as much heartbreak havoc as Ward. Lisa and Ward had “met cute,” as they say in the movies, on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Mutual interest was registered while the captain turned on the seat belt sign; by Salt Lake City they had laughingly traded their best dating war stories; by Omaha they were smitten.

When they parted in Chicago, Lisa was sure that he was “the one.” They spoke on the phone daily, Lisa’s infatuation becoming more feverish with each call. When Ward flew out to see her, she was so excited she maxed out her credit card on a color consultant and a new wardrobe.

Lisa was a glamorous vision when she picked him up from the airport, her newly paved face smoother than single-malt Scotch. But over dinner, Ward decided to come clean. He had been meaning to tell Lisa something for a while, he explained, but the timing just never seemed right.

Lisa had the sudden feeling that $10,000 of cosmetic surgery had just been thrown out the window. Between hearty bites of his rib-eye steak, Ward fessed up to his past as an ex-felon.

From time to time, some good business opportunities still arose with some old cronies from the mob. He hoped that Lisa wouldn’t be as unreasonable as some women and find that problematic.

Would she?

“Why can’t I meet just one normal guy who doesn’t have a fetish, a criminal record, or a condition named after him in the Annals of American Psychiatry?” Lisa asked plaintively.
“There are good men out there,” I tried to assure her.

“Sure there are. They’re all married to my friends.”

However, Lisa remains undaunted in her campaign to find lasting love. On a tip from another single that men from India appeared fairly neurosis-free, Lisa decided to borrow a page from corporate America and outsource her romance needs as well. She’s signed on to an Internet dating service specializing in Indian men, and so far the only big disappointment was a man who turned out to be a Navajo. “I didn’t think you meant that kind of Indian,” he said sadly.

Lisa is now dating a guy named Raj, reading the “Bhagavad Gita,” and learning to make tandoori rice. “Think about this,” Lisa said. “If this works out I’ll never have to call Microsoft tech support ever again.”

I’m glad that things are finally looking up for Lisa. And the other day, when I was on the verge of chastising my husband for missing the laundry basket, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

There are a lot worse fates than that. Specifically, Lou, and Chris, and Neal and Bruce, and Ward, and Mike, and Mitch….

Judy Gruen’s popular “Off My Noodle” column and her new book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement” (Creative Minds Press, 2007), are available at judygruen.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.




‘Love 101’ from the teachers at Tel Aviv’s dating school

Michal’s story of dating frustration is undoubtedly common among singles living in Tel Aviv, or any major population center of the United States.

“I’d often go out on dates and meet guys hoping to create a relationship. I’m good-looking, smart, fun, communicative, but I’d end up alone,” the 44-year-old divorcee said. “Then I noticed something in the system that didn’t work. I wasn’t doing something right.”

The practitioner of Chinese medicine decided that maybe she needed a little education in the field of dating. This led her to Tel Aviv’s Date School, the only psychotherapy-based dating program in Israel — and perhaps the world — which literally teaches people how to be more effective, self-aware and informed daters.

Date School was developed by the Center for Sexuality in Tel Aviv, a psychosexological clinic that treats couples and individuals who have difficulties developing and maintaining healthy sexual relationships. The weekly workshops are conducted by center director Dr. Ilan Biran and cognitive behavioral therapist Vered Merzer-Sapir, and combine discussions and exercises that implement the center’s cognitive behavior therapy approach.

The 10-week pilot course opened in March to nine participants who, throughout the course, are each assigned “professional daters,” psychotherapists who simulate dates with the participants so that they can determine and study behaviors and actions that may contribute to their dating failure.

“There are many attempts to teach people how to date,” Biran said from the couch-lined room where the workshops are held on the 15th floor of a Tel Aviv medical building. “These efforts fail because … there is no textbook approach. What works for one may not work for another.”

The workshops teach that dating is an art, which first and foremost involves identifying the good in one’s self and knowing how to market those assets, Biran said.

“This can only be done with individual treatment. Second, there is no effective learning without practice and feedback, which is achieved best by dating a ‘professional dater,'” he added.

To protect the privacy of the participants, the Sexuality Center prohibits journalists from sitting in on workshops. In fact, Biran explained that discretion and anonymity is so vital that he cleared the hallways of patients before our meeting.

The center screens all prospective participants, and Biran notes that they consist of professional, educated and intelligent singles who encounter problems in dating due to factors such as social anxiety, bad past experience, or just plain bad luck.

Michal, the only female participant in the workshop, pinpoints her failures in part to her approach: she would always judge and eventually disqualify men based on superficial qualities, particularly appearance.

“I’m gaining the ability to get to know the soul of a man who can be a person of great quality, but who I wouldn’t normally choose because he’s bald, has a big nose, or a pot belly,” she said.

She also discovered that, in part because of her free-flowing personality, she opens up excessively on the first date, often intimidating men with an overflow of information.
“I’ve learned to limit myself on the first meeting, and open myself more at later dates,” she said.

Biran and Merzer-Sapir don’t think there are any magic formulas or tips they can offer frustrated daters, but they point to common pitfalls and misconceptions.

“Many people, especially those who come to us, have a big dream about what they seek to find in a date,” Biran said. “Mainly, they come with the vision that they will find the love of their life. On the first date, he is already asking if this person will be the mother of his children. You can’t do that on a first date and even trying to do that will necessarily harm your behavior and/or your decision making.”

He attributes the unnecessary pressure and disillusionment dating may cause in part to the individualistic nature of today’s society. “We live in a society that is more alienated. Concomitant with that is a lot of pressure to find happiness and love without compromising. I think it’s a problem that only gets worse — they are in stress when they go out on dates to find their love, and it doesn’t work.”

Irena Netanel, a psychotherapist and “professional dater” in the workshop, slams another myth: “Many dates fail because they decide right away that it doesn’t work because there is no chemistry.”

A date, the professionals emphasize, is about getting to know another person and one’s self. Four basic parameters should be checked upon the first date: biographical details, personality, behavior and appearance.

“If a participant says something doesn’t work, we have them pinpoint why it doesn’t work,” Merzer-Sapir said.

Many dates often go no further than the first coffee cup because men and women make superficial assessments and judgments without examining the many facets of the person sitting in front of them.

Michal has recently begun dating someone she met online who she would have normally rejected prior to attending the workshop. While she doesn’t like considering a date as “practice,” she’s already started implementing this rational approach to dating and is pleased with the opportunities now open to her.

“Every person has a ‘type’ they seek. The guy has to be like this, dress like this, look like that. When you give a chance and don’t disqualify a guy who isn’t so good looking, but who has a lot of emotional intelligence — is funny, smart, fun to be with and makes you feel good — then you see something else, the other side of the soul. You can fall in love with a person like that.”

Orit Arfa is a freelance writer for ISRAEL21c, a media organization focusing on 21st century Israel.

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.