"Finding Your Zivug (Mate)"
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- Thursday, August 23, '01 - Parshas Shoftim 5761

[This case history depicts how being emotionally stuck in a finished relationship can take a person "off the market".]

After a presentation for single and married people about building a loving marriage, a young woman came up to me and asked if she could speak with me privately. I gave her my phone number. What follows is a digest of what actually was eight or ten conversations (which spanned about two months), each of which was about an hour in duration. Let's call her Rivka.

A few months before she attended my lecture, a young man broke off an eight month relationship with her. It was at a point of development that suggested to Rivka that they were on the verge of getting engaged. She loved this fellow deeply and considered him to be perfect for her. He respected her. She was sensitive and he was very giving - both materially and emotionally. He was a gentleman. He was serious about Torah learning. She admired him and his just-about-perfect list of qualities.

It seemed as inexplicable as it was sudden. He told her that they are not for eachother. Since they are religious, they have no business having contact since there is no further prospect of marriage. She is not to call him or have contact with him ever again.

She went to pieces. It wasn't enough that it hurt so much. It was so final, so abrupt and so incomprehensible. And about seven months after his break up, she was no less shattered than when the sky fell on her with the news of their break-up.

She said that she tried to call him, even though he said not to. Didn't he owe some explanation? Maybe if they talked it out they could resolve whatever it was. Maybe he could at least exhibit some consideration for her deep and aching feelings.

If this would have been all that her calls to this man represented (especially if she would have been strategic to make the approach through an intermediary who the man respected), I would understand and sympathize. But that was not all.

She kept on calling the man for an explanation and resolution. He was hard, brief, consistently abrupt. It was over. There is nothing to talk about. They have no business having contact. It's not appropriate to talk to eachother anymore.

Rivka would talk and cry for forty five minutes at a time about how this man was so perfect for her, he had everything she needed, she loved him. What struck me was how incessant her emotional involvement was. There was no let up nor relief.

Since they lived in the same neighborhood, she would see him occasionally in the street or on Shabos in synagogue. He would look away. She would hear from common acquaintances that he was seen dating another woman or socializing at someone's home or event. The fact that he was moving on - and therefore emotionally separated - added salt to her wound.

I told her that if he was perfect for her, and she perfect for him, he'd have proposed instead of disappeared. I don't know him. I never spoke to him. I told her that FROM HER SIDE OF THE STORY he didn't sound so perfect. I did understand his religious position that once the relationship is over they could not have contact. But it did sound like he was abrupt and mean in the way he cut it off with no explanation. If it would have been destined to be a marriage, it would have happened. It obviously was not.

She couldn't take hearing that he dated some other woman, or could be so "perfect" for her and "not see it," or that she loved him so much and could not see that he had to want her, or that someone who could be such a gentlemen could be so mean and detached.

She kept crying over and over again. She needed emotional support and could barely receive it when given. Any time she heard he was seen by an acquaintance, she cried uncontrollably. She kept repeating given things over and over ("we were so perfect," "if only he would talk to me," "he was seen dating someone else," "I love him so much," etc.).

Rivka couldn't provide any substantive reason why he wouldn't want her or why he cut off so sharply, after such "dream developments" with her. I kept wondering what he would say if I could find him. It was very incongruous. About a half year after the break up, she was holding on and pained like it was only yesterday. Rivka was holding on tenaciously to what the man represented, which corresponded to a deep need.

I believe that when a person is so incapable of letting go of a finished or destructive relationship, the relationship relates to some deep, unresolved psychological issue and need. Unless and until it is addressed, e.g. with therapy, the underlying, buried emotion which is evoked by the other person still is in there. The individual is desperate for that which the other person hopefully stands to emotionally offer. Often, it is illusory or unattainable. And, all the while that a person is "stuck" on someone with whom there is no relationship, it takes the individual "off the market" to seek someone else for a real relationship. Possibly, as long as the underlying inner difficulty is not resolved, the single will not be able to have a viable relationship with anyone.

Along a similar line, another woman was in a relationship with a man who she would not let go of. Her father had been very nasty and emotionally abusive. To emotionally cope, her mother and she developed a very deeply entwined co-dependent relationship. The mother passed away and she latched onto her relationship with this man. She was very emotionally needy and loved him very much. Although she sincerely tried to give him a loving relationship, she constantly pressured him to supply intense emotional needs. After a few months with her, he felt drained and depleted. Occasionally he blew up at her excessive demands for his time, energy, reassurance and emotional support. He broke it off two times. She pursued and promised to change. My advice was to work on herself and release and resolve the unhealthy and desperate needs before expecting a lasting relationship that could satisfy normal needs.

Nature abhors a vacuum. I've seen similar unhealthy, persevering tenacity in holding onto the finished or the destructive relationship in many cases. To vary what I wrote at the end of the case above, you can THINK or WISH you have a thousand reasons to marry someone. It only takes one "killer reality" to block it.

I received a phone call from a woman who heard that I do lectures, workshops and shabatones for singles and that I do matchmaking. Referred by a friend, she called to describe herself and asked if I might have a man for her. I asked her to give me a preliminary description. If I felt I had a possible "candidate," she could continue with a more elaborate and extensive description. As it turned out, I had no one "in her ballpark" so I simply told her to call back and try in a few months. She called a second time and I still had no ideas, so I kept it short because my research, writing, counseling, public presentations and workshops are time-consuming.

As it turned out, she called a third time about a month or two later. She said she had called Rabbi Meir Fund (the same one in the story above) who referred her to me. She took the liberty of calling again. I sensed that there was something more here than a simple mate-quest. She was very diligent and driving. Superficially I could have seen it as pushy and obnoxious, but it wasn't exactly that, so I stayed on the line to explore. Something more was going on. We spoke for what turned out to be about an hour. Let's call the woman Chavi.

Rabbi Fund told her that I do singles programs and matchmaking. She is a divorcee in her forties with two children who both live on their own. She is very lonely. She wants a man in his fifties, who is "normal," who will be emotionally supportive, who likes classical music or good art. She then said very strongly that he has to make a good living. She won't have one of these guys who stays in bed till 11:00 expecting her to support him.

It struck me how her tone changed and she said her stipulation about a good livelihood with a steamrolling, pushier tone. I have heard gold diggers before. She wasn't expressing greed. It was defensive. Having psychological training, I could pick up that it was something beneath the surface.

Plowing further, I asked her what weaknesses she has that a man would need to be able to live with to get along with her. She basically said "none." I asked her what attracts her about a man. She said she wants someone artistic.

I said to her that it was no wonder that she's not married. She has a pure taking-orientation and she is putting up an obstacle to obtaining the man she wants. "You just want a man to be there for you and you want to relate on the basis of superficials. Art has nothing to do with a man's goodness or character. Everything that you've expressed demands that a man care for you and you are flawless. Your emphasis on the man is too defensive. There's something more to it. No religious man sleeps till 11:00. He's got to go to shul at 7 or so in the morning to pray. You're grouping all men into a category that no religious man fits into. To want a responsible provider who is a mentsh is an appropriate goal for a marriage, but your attitude is too hard and what it means to you emotionally is too much. There's more to this than you're saying on the surface."

She started crying. She said that her first husband was an alcoholic. He never worked. He never did anything. She had to work, take care of the house and kids. She had to do it all. She got nothing emotionally from him. She doesn't want to let it happen again. She's painfully lonely. She doesn't want to be alone. She doesn't have friends. She yearns to be married and cared for.

I told her that a relationship is two people giving to eachother. When two people have a giving orientation, choose eachother, and relate to eachother so as please the other one, you can have a lasting marriage. Her past hurt her and put up a protective wall around her. She is desperate to not have the negatives of her drunkard "ex," and to grasp the positives for which she feels the proverbial vacuum which nature abhors.

I told her that the way in which she would get the responsible, compassionate, supportive provider that she wanted was to give up the compulsive pre-occupation with defending, grabbing, demanding and pigeon-holing her needs. She's too rigidly on the lookout to take her needs and to protect herself from her scarring past mistake. She chose an artistic man who attracted her who turned out to be a bum. She's running her life around protecting herself from "another him," rather than being a vessel to receive a "non-him." Because she is so busy protecting herself from the pains and disappointments of her past, she is not allowing herself to have the joy and fulfillment that she longs for in the present. She was "looking at the present through past-colored glasses." I told her to focus in-depth on the painful emotions that this marriage put into her to face and resolve them, rather than spending her life trying to evade them. Those emotions, and their grip on her behavior, won't go away by hiding from them. I told her that only when she ceases to be on a campaign to control acquisition of a non-him and ceases to construct her need list on a taking basis, will she find a relationship that gives her what she wants.

I told her to keep herself busy by making more girlfriends. I told her to try what I said for a month. Face her feelings and fill in lonely times by seeking out girlfriends. Choose and value all relationships on the basis of heart and character.

I made a point throughout to speak softly and with emotional supportiveness. For the first half hour or so, she spent much energy justifying and clutching onto her views, but gradually started seeing that what she was going after hasn't been working and contained contradictions. After a difficult hour she said she would try to widen her horizons. I told her that she could call me back in the future to report how it was going. This event happened just as I was writing this segment of this book (August '94), so it is too soon to tell if there will be any developments. These things can go either way. Some people make stunning changes like the man in the previous story, others stagnate for years like the woman in the forthcoming story. Let's learn all we can from these recountings. The fourth chapter of Pirkei Avos tell us, "Who is wise? The one who learns from every person."