[The following case depicts how an individual may think he or she knows what he or she is looking for in a mate and is in control of relating patterns, even though the patterns repeatedly do not work. This case depicts a young woman who was protecting herself from hurt by creating an obstacle to a serious relationship. Part of her defense was
* "coming on strong,"
* acting self-assuredly,
* projecting one's own fault onto a relating partner,
* fear of and separation from true feelings,
* acting in opposition to one's true nature and
* holding onto and justifying behavior that doesn't work.
In essence, many of these case histories depict how singles create obstacles to getting serious or married. Also, this is a case in which the beneath-the-surface-reality of a single is where the relating patterns are determined, beneath conscious awareness, and would go over the head of your typical matchmaker.
This case is unusual in that it accomplished in one session what normally takes a much longer therapeutic process. Since the person involved is a trained psychotherapist by profession and had the integrity and courage to "take the bull by the horns" with unusual directness and rapidity, the case as it actually happened is condensed and to the point. Therefore, it serves unusually well to present a type of defensive pattern that I have seen in some form or other in people who came from cold and emotionally negligent parents, or who had been married to and divorced from a cold and emotionally negligent partner. The people are carrying deep emotional pain, which is typically buried beneath conscious awareness, and which powerfully manipulates and drives their lives, particularly when seeking a serious relationship].
I received a phone call from a woman with a strong but sweet voice. Let's call her Tamar. She heard that I do matchmaking and that I believe in an in-depth approach, which appealed to her. Right away, her description of herself suggested that she is a substantial person.
I asked her to give me a preliminary description of herself and what she was looking for in a mate. I do this when I get a phone call from a single who I don't know, because if I don't know a prospective match who is in the caller's "ballpark," it's not fair to me or to the caller to spend time in a futile full-length in-person interview, especially if the person is travelling a distance to get to me, as Tamar would have. I'll tell the person to call again in a few months to see if I've met anyone who could be a "candidate." If there might be something practical, I'll set up a more in-depth meeting with the single then.
She said she is a therapist in her early thirties and wants very much to find a serious relationship.
Right away, I could tell from her voice that there was some kind of conflict within Tamar. It was something subtle and I could not put my finger on it, but if I could get to the bottom of it, something that was holding her marriageability up could be eliminated. She sounded very human, very substantial. She seemed to have a basically healthy and self-aware personality, yet she spoke in an ever so slightly choppy fashion, just enough to signal, given my psychological training, some kind of separation from her emotional self. Instead of each syllable flowing from one to the next, it seemed like there was a very quick stop between each syllable and the next. It was a bit as if she were on the other side of a door and after each syllable, the door would close then open again. She sounded like she could be emotional but was clearly operating from her intellect. She was intellectualizing her feelings, which I know from my psychological training is a defense mechanism, an unconscious internal psychological maneuver to protect the individual from an anxiety-producing situation.
She started by saying, in a very strong voice, "I have a very strong personality. I intimidate some men. I'm not a demure female. I need a guy who isn't intimidated. I'm very giving and I find it hard to find guys who are able to give back."
Right away, I sensed that this was relevant to the inner conflict that her voice indicated. But, I did not yet have enough data to draw any conclusions. I sensed from a pleasant element in her voice that Tamar was an honest and open person, so I explored further. I was very impressed. She handled herself with integrity, courage and sweetness that is rare in such a potentially psychologically threatening interchange. Since we both are trained in psychology, since she is basically a good neshama and since she sincerely wants to get married, she handled herself like a trooper. What follows evolved spontaneously on the phone. The actual conversation continued for about 75 minutes. Even though the rapid flow of such a conversation is not representative (what was accomplished here could take weeks, if not months or years in conventional counseling), the process of getting to realization of a marriage-blockage will be valuable for the reader.
"So, you're saying that you need a guy who is both very strong and very giving, is that what I'm hearing, Tamar?"
"Yes. Very strong and very giving."
"Tamar, I wonder about this business about wanting a strong guy and a giving guy. I need to know more and I need to know why and how what you're looking for hasn't worked to date. Tell me about your personality, religiosity and life direction and goals, Tamar."
"You're right. Something isn't working. Hmm. Good questions. My personality, eh? Okay. I'm self-assured. I'm in the world. I'm a psychotherapist and I work in a clinic. I see it all. Violent crime victims. Abuse victims. I know what's going on in the world. When people in dating or social situations ask me about my work, and I tell them, they can't take it. For example, several shaboses ago I was at a family I know for one of the shabos meals. They had several guests at the table. Someone suggested we go around the table and say what we each do. When I said what I do, the person who said to go around the table cut me off in the middle and told the next person to start speaking. I've recently learned to simply say that I'm a therapist. If they want to know more, they can ask. I answer any questions briefly and to the point. If they want to know more they can keep asking and I'll answer to the extent that they keep asking. But I don't like when people ask and can't handle when I answer. I want a guy who can let me talk about my work or about my day. I need to be able to talk about what's on my heart and what has happened during my day.
"I recently went out with a guy. It was a blind date. He was big like a football player. You could see that he was a strong personality. As soon as I opened the door, he picked up on my strong personality and he said to me first thing, 'I don't intimidate easily but I get alienated by a girl who makes me feel like I should be intimidated'."
I replied to her, "You talk about a giving and a tough relationship. Can you tell me how that works? I don't hear giving and toughness coming too readily together. How is it - tough and giving at once?"
"Well, when I'm in a relationship, the tough and the giving are not at once."
"Oh? Not at once?"
"What I mean is, I start out tough. If I a guy proves himself..."
"What do you mean 'proves himself'?"
"If he's not intimidated by my being strong, my saying what I have to say and his being there for me as I need, I warm up, and become very giving."
"Then that's not toughness. That's insecurity. A giver wants to give from the start. I can tell that you're not a taker. Your intrinsic nature wants to give. You want a giving exchange all along but you can't trust that your real inner needs will be given to. You see giving right away as threatening. You'd be vulnerable. A giving guy would relate givingly. How giving do you find the tough type of guy to be?"
"Not really giving. Rabbi Forsythe, I thought that I knew what I needed in a guy. But in your getting me to talk about it, I see that the date with the guy who wasn't intimidated at my door didn't work. It was a pretty bad date and I thought he just wasn't for me. But in thinking about it, I don't think it was capable of working."
"Tamar, it sounds like there was a wall between the two of you. It also sounds like you're in conflict. There's something conveyed by your voice like the proverbial person who is tied to two horses who are whipped and run in opposite directions. You sound like you're being pulled in opposite directions. Your voice sounds very intellectual. You're talking about something that should bring a person to considerable emotion, yet there's a noticeable absence of feeling. You're obviously a sensitive person but where is the mass of emotion that goes with a sensitive person in your situation?"
"Rabbi Forsythe, you're on to the right things. When my supervisor at the clinic does reviews with me of my work, he also says that I talk about things that happen - which should make one have emotions, like seeing a crime or trauma victim - intellectually. He asks me, 'I heard what you THINK about it, now what do you FEEL about it? Where are your feelings?' I try to work on myself. I'm working on feeling. I have feelings."
"You're not accessing your feelings. You have deep feelings. How has this conflict impacted relationships with men? It would seem that if you're as giving as you say you are, if I may be frank..."
"...it would seem that you select men who are strong, macho types. True?"
"How are strong macho-type men when it comes to giving to you?"
"You come on tough. You set up toughness as an axiom of relationship. You make it of paramount importance. It doesn't work. You say you are a giver. You're a giver and a toughie, right?"
"How can YOU be a giver AND a tough cookie at the same time? You say you are toughness and giving together. I hear more of that subtle conflict in your voice and, besides, I don't believe you."
"I'd like to know why you don't believe me, Rabbi."
"You're sensitive. I believe you when you say you have a giving nature. You're handling yourself very generously in speaking to me. I'm being blunt with you because I discern you really want to overcome your conflict and you sincerely want to get married."
"I sure do."
"And, I discern that you can work constructively with the truth and that you know to take my straightforwardness positively and you are working with it commendably."
"Well, I am a therapist."
"Tamar, I've seen therapists get explosive, when it comes to them. You're impressive, believe me.
"You said that you'd like to know why I don't believe that you are BOTH tough and a giver. The answer is in the Talmud. In one place the Talmud says to be soft and bendable, in another place the Talmud says to be gentle. The giving part of you clearly shows that you have a soft, very human inner essence. This happens to be the natural state of a Jew, especially once a mature adult. You can't be soft and tough together. It's a contradiction. You are defensive, not tough."
"You have to be tough in life."
"Tamar, a soft person who is healthy knows how to be tough on those rare life occasions when toughness is called for. Part of being healthy is balance. The Hebrew word for personality trait is 'mida.' Mida, translated literally, means 'measure.' Every trait has to be possessed in appropriate measure so that you have it in 'inventory' for the appropriate time and place. But the healthy person's general demeanor through the majority of life is humble and gentle.
"There is something in you that, deep inside, hurts. You've put up a protective wall around that inner hurt. In a relationship with a man, you have some psychological association with the cause of that hurt. And, you will put on the tough front to keep potential attackers away, and keep that hurt place in your heart safe. You want to approach a man as tough so that he'll be signalled to not hurt you. You're being 'strong' is broadcasting that you are not one to mess with. If anyone's going to do the hurting, it's you. You want a giving relationship because the intrinsic you, beneath the hurt, wants a warm, human, close and secure relationship. But you choose men who should tolerate your toughness, because you consider yourself 'safe' when they accept your toughness. They won't hurt someone tough. But, they are shoved away by the tough way you present yourself, so it can't ever escalate to a serious, giving relationship. Is there anything in your past or family that could have caused you such deep hurt that can cover you heart with a protective wall?"
"Well, both of my parents."
"What do you mean, Tamar?"
"They are both very stoic, unemotional. The most striking sign of this is that I never once saw them fight."
"Even behind closed doors? Late at night?"
"Never. No emotion in my house. Not even anger. I remember, too, that my grandparents were not emotional. Everything was on the surface. The whole family. I remember that if I ever wanted approval, I had to show how smart I was or how excellently I could achieve. That was the only way I got lo..., I can't even say 'love.' Approval." She paused. "You're right. I have never been loved. I can't feel loved."
"How does that make you feel?"
She paused. "Your right. It hurts."
"Are you afraid to hurt?"
"You really want a loving and giving relationship, don't you?"
"Do you think you're going to get it from a tough guy or a soft and giving guy."
"Soft and giving."
"You called me up in my capacity as a shadchan. You said you knew what kind of a guy you wanted. You were sure. You said you were self-aware. Does the typical shadchan set you up on the basis of the face-value of what you say?"
"What impact has that had on your dates?"
"If your life would be analogous to a book, you call a shadchan and say, 'I'm on page 196,' when you're 'on page 2.' If you want your life to be 'readable,' what do you suppose you have to do?"
"Work on myself more."
"I don't know, Rabbi."
"Would you consider therapy."
"Do you think it would help?"
"Tamar, as a therapist, you know it would. Do you know why you asked if it would help?"
"Are you afraid to hurt?"
"Might not therapy bring up hurt?"
"Facing hurt is a part of therapy."
"Imagine if you were diligent and courageous in facing your inner pain? Your situation is subtle. If someone were actively abused, there would be much more clear-cut hurt. Your hurt comes from your sensitive emotions never having been nurtured and loved."
"That's very true."
"That makes it harder to see clearly, especially by yourself. Don't you expect you will gain with professional help? I may be too far away from your location to do it for you. What effect would you expect if you mustered up the courage to address this diligently?"
"I could get in touch with my feelings, learn what my motivations are and what doesn't work in looking for my husband."
"Are those goals that you would like to achieve?"
"Well, Tamar, for it to work, you have to really do it, really be diligent and stick with it, really be brave and honest in facing your inner self. But, you know what?"
"Your true inner essence would make the right guy very happy, and make him very happy TO MAKE YOU VERY HAPPY. You'll have to get access to your inner essence before a man can access it. That inner essence that you've been covering and protecting is just what the right guy is waiting for, is yearning to meet and exchange with. That's the inn