By Esther Mann, LCSW
I got divorced seven years ago. Thank goodness I have fulfilling work, great friends, and terrific children. So even though I’ve wanted to remarry almost from the get-go, I haven’t been desperate for company.
Over the years I’ve been set up a number of times. I’m grateful that people think of me and try to introduce me to suitable men. My friends all know that I feel lonely, and more than that, I crave a wonderful, fulfilling relationship because I never experienced what it’s like to be with a man I truly love.
Some of the men I’ve met rejected me after a date or two, but I think I’ve rejected most of the men. As anxious as I am to remarry, I won’t settle. If I was just interested in a warm body, I could have stayed married the first time around. This time I want true love, and I’m not willing to settle.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but I’m feeling lately that my friends think I’m being unrealistic and are getting tired of trying to find someone for me. They just don’t seem to understand where I’m holding and why I want what I want.
Just recently I was set up by a good friend with a man who, on paper, seems perfect for me. After pushing it to four dates, even though I knew after the second date that we had absolutely no chemistry, I called it quits. My friend who set us up is angry at me. She is harassing me to keep dating him, to give it another shot. And furthermore, she insists that I’m not being realistic. According to her, most people aren’t all that thrilled in their marriages, but they make the most of it. It’s not perfect, or even close, but most mature people just somehow make it work. She thinks I’m waiting for Prince Charming.
I’m not sure what is motivating these friends to take such a hard line with me. I try not to be too much of a kvetch, so I don’t think they are getting tired of my complaining. As I try to figure out why the negative attitude lately, I wonder if maybe they are tired of hosting me so often on Shabbosos, though they’re always insisting that they enjoy my company and it’s no extra work. Or could it be they think I have no right to raise the bar so high and that I’m living in fantasyland? Sometimes I wonder whether they are dissatisfied in their own marriages and feel like I have chutzpah to expect more than what they are getting. I know this sounds kind of nasty, but it has occurred to me.
I don’t even know how to respond to them anymore. They make me feel like a spoiled child who is unwilling to settle for second best. How can I make them understand that though I feel lonely at times and would love to meet the man of my dreams, I’d rather be by myself or with friends, children, or grandchildren than with a man who bores me to tears?
I felt that this last man I went out with had no clue about who I was. He didn’t understand me; he didn’t get me. I would say certain things and he looked at me with almost a puzzled look. I found him provincial and uninformed about current issues that interest me greatly. Though he is a decent enough fellow, makes a good living, and seems nice enough, he’s as simple and boring as white bread. I want to make it clear that I’m not looking for someone tall, dark, and handsome. I’m also not looking for someone who is extremely successful. But I want someone with whom I can be myself and feel understood.
Do my friends have it right? Am I out of touch with reality concerning what marriage is all about? Will I wake up in 20 years from now and realize that I missed out on some good-enough possibilities and find myself alone and miserable?
Dear Not Settling,
Although I cannot predict the future, I feel confident validating your story. I understand what you are saying, what you need, and why you are unwilling to settle for someone who doesn’t feel right for you.
We all have different criteria for marriage. And often those criteria change at different stages of life. But marriage is about different things for different people. And for second-timers, the requirements are that much more personalized and specific.
For some people, it’s a matter of finding a solid, responsible individual who is on the same page as they are when it comes to basic lifestyle choices. They are looking for a partner they are able to respect and who will respect them. Most people certainly want basic needs to be met, such as a man who can provide a living, someone who is a mensch, and an all-around nice guy. But they don’t necessarily need a best friend thrown into the mix. They don’t absolutely need a spouse who they can pour their hearts out to, explore their emotions with, analyze the world with—in other words they don’t need to “go deep.” Maybe they have zero need for that type of connection in the first place, or maybe they get that depth and validation from their friends.
It sounds like you are looking for a true soul mate. Your friends may have what they consider successful marriages, but perhaps they never expected from their husbands what you are looking for and therefore cannot relate to your desires. But it’s no one’s place to tell you what you should want or need.
As long as you are being honest with yourself and realistic about your motives, I can respect what you are saying. I suspect that you enjoy your own company and would rather spend an evening alone than with a person whom it takes effort to converse with. Some people don’t mind that kind of work. Clearly, you do.
Obviously, it’s not the title of “Mrs.” that is your objective, but rather being with someone you feel the right chemistry with. Nothing short of that will ultimately get you to the chuppah. A good question to ask yourself when you start getting to know a new man is whether you feel your life will be enhanced by having him by your side or whether you feel your life will be compromised in certain ways. Frankly, everyone should ask themselves those questions. Sadly, some people feel they can’t be alone; they jump the gun, and often that’s when terrible mistakes are made. Occasionally, people go into a second marriage with their eyes wide open regarding the flaws, but are determined to make the marriage work because being single is just too unbearable.
Only you can contemplate what your life might look like down the road, 20 years from now. Will being single (versus being married to a good man who isn’t exactly introspective, profound, or on the same page as you) sound like the best place to be, all things considered? Sit with this image for a while and make sure you feel comfortable with the reality. It’s important to be true to yourself. Understand that the more selective you are, the greater the possibility that you may wind up alone. If that’s all right, then that’s all right.
Regarding your friends’ attitudes, I can’t tell you for sure what they are thinking. Perhaps they have put a great deal of energy into constantly asking around for you and think you aren’t taking it seriously enough. My guess is that you acknowledge their efforts and, though none of these guys has been “the one,” make sure they know that just by setting you up on a date, they have already succeeded on a certain level.
Perhaps they believe that you are more unhappy with your current lifestyle than you really are. When you share with them your sense of loneliness, maybe they are feeling a desperation from you that you are not actually experiencing. Again, talk about it with them so that they understand how OK you actually are.
Finally, it’s possible that what they need in a husband is vastly different from your needs. Either they can’t relate to what you want, or maybe it’s hard for them to deal with your hopes and dreams. Possibly, when they picked their husbands way back when, they were less in touch with who they truly are and didn’t even consider the things that you are now considering. As we mature and experience more of life, different things seem important to us. Though their marriages are not in a shambles, there are definitely those people who will tell you that if they could do it all again, they would choose differently. So perhaps when you reject perfectly nice guys, it triggers some uncomfortable feelings within them.
The bottom line is that all too often, life boils down to priorities. No one can tell you what your priorities must be. So when determining your priorities, be honest with yourself, realistic that the soul mate you crave may never come your way, and be confident that you have carefully weighed the risks versus rewards of being as selective as you are. Know with certainty that the direction you are choosing is one that will not lead to regret down the road. Finally, be true to yourself.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.