Five years ago I wrote an article that caused quite a stir even though it felt quite insignificant at the time I penned the piece. It was picked up by dating sites and Aish HaTorah, experienced several “name changes” and inspired dozens of people to write to me.
Primarily an exercise in musing out loud, I talked about the unexpected shocks that resulted from becoming suddenly single after decades of marriage. How after five years of being alone the idea of being an extra at another Passover seder was nearly unbearable. How painful it had become to dress and primp for dates while standing upon the cusp of hope only to realize, again, that the polite man who was trying so hard to make a nice impression was not what I was looking for or, oftentimes, not interested in seeing me again.
In the years leading to and after I wrote the article, the only thing that changed was me. While I made certain to remain “findable” by staying on dating sites and participating in interesting social activities that attracted energetic and intelligent people, I stopped “looking” through lowered lashes and asking friends to “find someone” for me. My children needed me; I was not financially solvent; I gently wafted between a few religious outlooks; I struggled with guilt.
Say what? I felt guilty that I’d experienced great love, had had children, lived an active life, and was generally happy while there were so many women out there who had none of the life-gifts that I’d already been granted. The guilty me asked, “What right to you have to want more? Maybe there isn’t enough to go around. What chutzpah does it take to demand another portion???”
And so, to assuage the guilt, I learned to pray for others before I prayed for myself. Daily I asked God to find a match for Sheva and Natalie and Chedva and Aryeh and on and on. The list ebbed and flowed, but I’d always remember to humbly insert my own name toward the end of the recitation. There are many Torah sources in support of praying for oneself but none more powerful than Moses beseeching God to be allowed to enter the Promised Land after being emphatically told that he could not.
Four years ago I befriended a man at my work whose beloved wife had only recently died from cancer after more than twenty-five years of marriage. She had been a beautiful and optimistic woman who didn’t want to leave her family but, in the end, succumbed to the disease, leaving behind secure adult children and a widowed husband who was mature, God-centered, unpretentious and terrific. And even though we were compatible religiously, intellectually and age-wise, I was feeling pretty unrooted and unterrific at the time and did not pursue him. Keeping him at arms distance (not that he noticed), I understood that men like this are few and very far between. He frequently made anemic statements about “getting together for a cup of coffee” but never actually asked for the date. I fought the urge to fall for him. And while the fight was valiant, I lost the battle. I thought of him constantly; eventually, he left our workplace to follow other interests, and on the occasional afternoons that he’d stop by to say hello to people, I hid. I couldn’t trust my heart.
Life moved us in difference directions. I dated occasionally but never more than once or twice with the same person in the aforementioned four-year period. Rumor came to me that the man I loved was deeply involved with someone and planning to marry. In shame – and in secret – I wept. Why not me? How couldn’t he know? I imagined that the other woman was younger, more accomplished, wealthy beyond words. I convinced myself that he was crazy, shallow, avaricious.
One day I saw him posted on a dating site, and my heart rose to my throat. Noticing that I was on line, he sent me a note and again suggested that we “meet for coffee.” Old-fashioned as I am, this did not constitute “asking me out,” and I said so. Again, he disappeared.
This past July I received his “Friend Request” on Facebook. Feeling somewhat steeled, I accepted. Again, he “chatted” with me and said that we should get together for coffee. That did it. I exploded, albeit via the keyboard.
“Nice of you to squeeze me in between women. Get together? How about showing some gumption and actually asking for a date? What is this, high school? I need a man who is a little bit aggressive!”
After I pressed “Send,” I burned with embarrassment. What had I done? He must have been horrified and truly turned off. He was a gentle soul and didn’t need a fishwife screaming at him!
The next day I stood at the office copying machine when the door swung open, and he said aloud in front of everyone, “I want to talk to you.” And although the blood drained from my face, I falsely pretended confidence and led him into a small conference room where I took a seat. He remained standing.
He spoke. “First things first. I’m an idiot. I have to be ‘told’ things. I don’t just ‘get it.’”
Me. “Good start.”
Him: “When do you want to go out for that cup of coffee? Now?”
“No. I want to be excited and look forward to my date. I want to get dressed up, put on makeup and hope against hope that this could become something real. And by the way, I’ve waited long enough. Cup of coffee? No way. The stakes have been raised. It’s now a steak dinner.”
“You got it. I’ll call you.”
“Tonight. It’s a promise.”
“Don’t make a fool of me. If you say you’re going to call, then call. I can’t take any more shame.”
He called. We laughed. We dated and discovered that we shared the same values and dreams, wear the same prescription of rose colored spectacles and both believe that life begins at 50. Consequently, we fell in love. Deeply, happily-ever-after in love.
Sheepishly, I admit that when he initially asked me to marry him I missed it, because I was thinking about how to exchange oil for margarine in a recipe. When I finally figured out that he was trying to discuss something important, I asked him to repeat himself. He did but only needed to hear me shout “Yes!” one time.
As I am about to reenter this holy covenant, I’m giving thought to the “singles world” I’m about to leave behind, feeling an inexplicable need to humbly bow my head in gratitude to God. Having merited a second chance at love, I hereby pledge to always remember what the ache of loneliness feels like and to include single women and men in our joined lives. To never again grow smug in my own life station and forget about others who might yearn to be part of a couple.
Helen Keller once said, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” With this thought in mind, I pledge to open my eyes. To remember. And to act.
After all, how can you help someone you cannot see?