Saturday, February 25, 2012

Can we make emotional plans for the future?


When I was in my twenties and getting married, I believed I could control what was to come. I thought I could attempt to apply for insurance against loss, geographical or career changes and divorce  – by marrying “right.”

What does that even mean? I’ve written about the checklist before, and while the items on the list might vary for each of us based on our backgrounds, religion, culture, and the age (or timing in which) we “fall in love” – we all try to find certain qualities in our mate that we hope can inure us against certain hurdles.

They tend to be the kind of descriptors that show up on a dating profile, such as: “Successful as a muther fucker!! Loves travel! And dogs too! Cinema buff. Dinner parties rule! Will be patient while shopping with you!!” 

While these qualities may be attractive on the surface, they have nothing to do with the real person (and by the way, beware of those who lean too long on the exclamation mark key).

I've fallen for these qualities before, encouraged by witnessing friends getting married, having children, and seemingly on the path to happiness.  Why would anyone not pursue the same?

I’ve had a few conversations lately about this topic with friends who questioned why my recent relationship didn’t work out, although I’m hesitant to call it that, as the relationship was quite brief (and why you all didn't hear about it). I wonder if it even lasted as long as it did because of the checklist; because of the on-paper qualities this man possessed that papered the flimsy walls of my hopes and expectations, and the expectations of my friends and family.

Although, one very wise person surprised me by posing the opposite: “The most important question to ask yourself is, do you want to be around this personality in five or twenty years?”

Personality = key word.

I wonder if we have to experience these kind of relationships in order to appreciate what matters most: the intangible. The moment to moment interchanges that feed and sustain - chemistry that noone can see from the outside.

I do think it takes time to come around to what you need and want. My ex-boyfriend emerged in my life a year after we broke up, without ultimatums, pressure, or a promise of what might be. He’s the same person he was a year ago, and isn’t pretending to be anyone else. He didn’t show up at my door with a big poster-board itemizing a new checklist of accomplishments. But he is able to say so. He has the capacity to not make false guarantees about the future. If he did, I wouldn’t believe him (as I might once have). Because how could he?

Today, a close friend asked me what is going on with my ex-boyfriend:  "What's going to happen if you ex out the ex part?"

My response: “At this point in my life...and this isn’t cynicism or resignation...I can’t overfocus on the negative checklist, or the potential hurdles, because those things are mutable.”  (I probably didn’t say it with those pretentious words, but you get the gist).  Point is, a guy can lose his job, his money, or move cities. Falling in love with a checklist, or rejecting someone because of them (and hanging on to them for the same reasons), I believe is foolish, since they have nothing to do with the make-up of that person – the person they are today and will most likely still be in the future.

As I approach the big 40 (to those of you who don’t know me, I’m not admitting how many years more I have), something has changed. Instead of feeling this immense pressure to get it right, whatever that might mean, and tie together some illusory loose ends, instead, for the first time, I feel the relieving absence of that.  Maybe it has something to do with the elimination of too many perceived options (like you have when you're in your twenties) when what you can do or think you should have, overwhelms and paralyzes you. Or propels you into making a decision ie. the wrong relationship, so that you can get some false assurance.

There is also something to be said for being okay without the assurance. For being okay with accepting and embracing where you are. For having faith in what is to come, which is beyond your control. And having faith in how you feel, and what you want. 

Today.

Because do we really know how we are going to feel, or what is going to happen, two years from now? Or tomorrow?

If you do, please message me.






Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Single Divorcee at a Wedding: Part Two.


The last time I went to a wedding, I wrote about what it feels like to be the only single gal in attendance (It was fun, but self absorbed displacement was the theme). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oritte-bendory/how-does-it-feel-to-be-a-_1_b_959085.html

Tonight I went to a wedding too. I didn’t have a date with me, but I didn’t fret. I had a lot on my mind so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I finished the first draft of my book last night (yeah!) and had a loss in my family that trumped self-pity and over-preparation.

I didn’t fret over what I was going to wear, or whether I was going to meet someone. All that mattered to me was being there for my friend on her momentous day. We had gone to high school together and she had endured some hefty challenges that led her to this moment.

She’s Jewish, from an observant family, and the love of her life wasn’t when they met. But he converted. Like, full on.  When you sit at a wedding and see two people make vows to be together for the rest of their lives, it means a lot when you know they’ve gone through a religious obstacle course to get there.

I got married in my twenties. Most of my friends did. For me and my ex-husband, our checklist fit. We were age appropriate, our families meshed, and we had the same backgrounds and religion.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Having similar backgrounds- where it feels second nature- is beneficial. It eliminates the barriers to entry. But when you have barriers, and your commitment to one another - your love - overcomes those barriers...Well, you could say that I might have shed a few more tears at this wedding than I did at my own.

When I walked into the lobby full of people mingling pre-ceremony, I wished I had arrived later. I moved around, pretending I had somewhere to go. I sat down on the couch and checked my phone with purpose. I didn’t know who I knew, and how the night was going to go.

“It’s time to go upstairs for the ceremony!” I realized with relief. I slipped into a seat on the end. And then someone waved to me: a friend from high school I hadn’t seen in twenty years. I jumped up, grateful to have a plus one, or a plus three (she was with some other high school pals of ours).  We immediately began talking about our mutual grievances from that time – how our high school experience was unlike the people we’d since met who went to public school, who didn’t have Rabbis as their teachers. I’m not bashing this form of education, because I know many for whom it’s been fruitful. But for me, it wasn’t.

You could say the evening was a collision of my upbringing, my marriage, and where I am today. When the bride circled the groom seven times, I remembered circling my husband in the same manner, and sensing my sisters’ and mother's presence behind me. When the Rabbi talked about the union of these two people, I vaguely recalled a Rabbi talking to me over ten years ago.

When I was the first to rush to lift the chair that the bride was seated on, and carried her to greet her new husband floating atop the sea of people in his, I remembered myself being lifted up on my wedding day.

When the bride was lowered back down, she spotted me and hugged me. “Did you get the necklace?” she asked. I shook my head no, feeling confused and remiss in my guest of the bride duties, before she was whisked away.

We have the opportunity to be there for others - to connect. And at the same time reconnect with ourselves.  I was seated at a table with a woman I hadn’t seen in years, who used to be a close friend in high school whose house I’d slept over twice a week. I kept a toothbrush there, and knew what shelf the peanut butter was on in anticipation of our late night pig-outs. And now, we were catching up on our lives, in our late thirties. She married with children, and me- not. But I wasn’t sad. We talked about loss, and love, and life, as the bride - our mutual friend - was preparing to give her speech.

We talked about what matters in relationships, day to day. How the inked boxes on the checklist blur and evaporate over time.  We agreed that you aren’t taught those things in high school...or in any school. You learn it through living.

Later, when I came back from the bathroom, my friend was talking to a woman I didn’t know.  “Who's this?” the woman asked my friend. When I told her my name, her face lit up. “I have something for you! I couldn’t find you before!” she said, pulling something out of her bag and then opening her palm. It was an amulet - part of a necklace. I realized it was a diamond studded “Chai,” which in the Jewish tradition, means “Life” (“18”).  She looked at me and said, “The bride wanted you to have this, but I couldn’t find you. She wants you to find peace and happiness, as her single friend here who deserves it.”

I thought I was emotional during the ceremony, but this gesture took the cake (as the waiter deposited a slice of wedding cake in front of me…).

I guess the bottom line is that in friendship, as in love, the unconventional and the unexpected means a whole lot more. And (hopefully) lasts for a long time too.