“I Disease” What Are We Living For?

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In light of the recent events with Hurricane Sandy and the situation in Israel, I decided to write about something that is very important to me.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it because this is just not a sugar-coating time right now.  Several of my friends in New York have lost their homes and many of their worldly possessions and many of my friends and family members in Israel have spent the last week or two grabbing their loved-ones and running underground to safety in packed bomb shelters.  It is at times like these that I take step back and ask myself, “Life is so valuable; what are we really living for?”

So here is one of my biggest pet peeves (maybe the biggest): people with something that I like to call “I Disease.”  What is “I Disease?”  “I Disease” is a condition which causes some people to feel the need to constantly talk only about themselves, and rarely ask about other people.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone who goes on and on about their job, their family, their kids, their hobbies and ends the conversation without asking you a single question about your life or well-being?  I think we can all relate to what I am saying on some level.  The truth is, some people have social disorders such as social anxiety or high-functioning Asperger’s Disease which causes them to be impaired when it comes to social graces, so their lack of understanding of what is socially appropriate is not their fault.

However, there are others without these conditions but who just don’t seem to know any better.  Or maybe they just don’t get it.  Some people just think that inviting people to their homes to listen to them go on and on about themselves is actually entertaining and welcoming; provided they serve good food, of course.

How many times have you been part of a group of or even just witnessed a group of people who sit around and talk AT each other.  They just throw information about themselves at each other without actually stopping to listen or respond to what the others are saying, and without bothering to ask about each other.  How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and one or both of you are talking but you are also busy with your Blackberries or I-Phones, thus giving each other only half of your attention, or only half a conversation?  Is this quality time?  Are these quality relationships?

This all leads me to wonder, if this is the way people function these days, how well do they really get to know each other and how meaningful are their relationships/friendships?  Are your relationships based on the fact that you actually care about each other or are they based on the fact that you are able to shout information about yourselves at each other in the hope that the other person hears part of what you are saying?  Most importantly, if this is the way people function nowadays, and these are the kinds of relationships people have, what are we really living for?

I know someone in my life who is a lot like this.  My understanding is that she just doesn’t know any other way to be.  The entire time I have known her, she has not once asked me how I met my husband, what I do for a living or what my hobbies are.  If I choose to follow her lead and provide unsolicited information about myself and talk AT her the way she does, she cuts me off mid-sentence, says “that’s nice,” and shifts her focus to something else.  For some reason, she can’t figure out why I’m not so receptive to the idea of her coming and visiting or spending more time with me.

One of the main principles of the nature of relationships and friendships is, “A relationship is as strong as its weakest link.”  If one or both parties in a relationship suffers from “I disease,” the relationship will automatically be shallow and weak with very little meaning to it.  It is impossible to have a meaningful relationship with someone who doesn’t truly care about you. The bare essentials of the relationship were never there!

Now, please excuse my rant because, as you can tell, I feel very strongly about this topic.  But is this what people really want out of life?  Or do they just not know any differently?

For me, this is not what I want at all.  I have learned more about meaning in life and marital and family values just by talking WITH my Nepali nanny over the past few months that she has worked for us than I have from some people I have known for years.  What I mean by talking WITH her is that I ask her questions and she talks and then she asks me questions and I talk.  We are genuinely interested in what each other has to say.  We learn from each other.  We grow by listening to each other and internalizing what we learn.  These are the kinds of relationships I want to have in my life.

This is the kind of life that I want; a life with meaning and depth, a life with love and caring and true friendships where I can gain so much from the people around me just by listening and internalizing what they share with me.  Life is so short and time is so fleeting.  In a time when we never know what is going to happen from one day to the next, do you ever stop and ask yourself,

“What am I living for?”

Let us all pray for those who have lost so much from Hurricane Sandy and for those who are fighting for safety and peace in Israel.  Here’s to a meaningful Shabbos.

Shabbat Shalom

Potential- How Much Is Too Much?

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In this week’s parshah, (Torah portion) the angel of G-d called down to Avraham and said, “Avraham, Avraham!”  Avraham said, “Here I am!” (Breishis 22:11) OK, so not the most exciting segment of the parshah, but I do have a point.

Rashi explains that the repetition of Avraham’s name was to express G-d’s dearness towards Avraham.  When we feel dearness towards someone, we often repeat their name.  It’s like when I speak to my daughters, “Nechama, Nechama”, or “Zissie, Zissie, I love you so much!”  But is there a deeper reason why repeating one’s name is endearing?  The Zohar explains that, in the Torah, one’s name is repeated only when that person has actualized their potential.  So according to the Zohar, G-d felt that Avraham had actualized his potential in life by recognizing that there is only one G-d and becoming the first monotheist, and this is why he addressed him by repeating his name.  Now, I am all for potential.  I mean, isn’t this the basis of our entire existence?  The reason why we were put on this earth was to actualize our potential, right?  Right.  However, there are times when having a lot of potential can go a little too far…. Allow me to explain.   Now this blog is about relationships, so clearly, you know the theme.

True Story #1:  This week, a friend of mine who lives on the Upper West Side in Manahattan, came to me and asked if she could discuss her current dating situation with me.  Of course, I said yes.  She explained that she had been on a few dates with a guy that she met at a singles Shabbaton in New York, and although there were some differences in religious outlook, she saw potential and wanted to give him a fair shot.  Smart choice.  Then she clarified the situation.  They went out once and she didn’t hear from him.  A few days later, he started chatting with her online and asked her out again.  They went out again and had a good time, but again she didn’t hear from him.  A few days later, he started chatting with her online and mentioned something about getting together again and having lots of free time on the weekend, but didn’t ask her out.  So she was kind of left in limbo.  Was this a yes or a no?  This story happened this week but it has also happened a million other times to many of my friends.  OK, maybe not a million but definitely a thousand.  Sound familiar, ladies?

True Story #2:  About a year ago, I thought of a girl for a guy we are friendly with from our community.  He is a baal teshuva, about forty and never married.  He has vented to me before about how hard it is in the dating scene and how he has almost given up on finding the right girl and getting married.  So I approached him at a party and told him I thought of a girl for him.  He replied that he appreciated the thought very much but that he wasn’t available now.  So I happily replied, “Oh, I’m so glad you have met someone!”  He then went on to explain that he wasn’t actually dating anyone but that he had met a girl who was a lot younger than him and they had gone out a couple of times.  They really liked each other but she was busy finishing school and wasn’t ready to think about marriage yet.  So although he wasn’t dating her, he didn’t want to date anyone else because he had this girl on his mind and wanted to be with her even though she wasn’t ready to be with him.  This story happened about a year ago but it has also happened a million other times to other older single guys that I know.  OK, maybe only a thousand.

Many times I have listened to single guys complain about how difficult it is to find the right woman and get married.  On the flip side, I have heard women complain millions of times that guys are stupid and can’t commit.  Well ladies, guys are not stupid and they can commit.

What do both of these stories have in common?  MEN LOVE POTENTIAL.  And sometimes, women love potential too.  There is a concept in Judaism that men are characterized by the middah (character trait) of chessed (giving) and women by gevurah (strength.)  Rabbi Tatz explains that the man’s middah of chessed can be expanded to a man’s love of possibilities, options and potential.  Men have many sperm, each of which has the potential to fertilize an egg and create new life.  Women, on the other hand, are the centre of the home.  Women love to feel settled, committed and secure.  Women have one egg each month which has the potential to be fertilized and create one new life.  (Unless you have twins or triplets:))  Having a strong desire for potential is great, except when it never ends.  This translates into what is known as commitment-phobia.  Men can have it, and women can have it too.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many young women I have met who have been dating guys for a lengthy amount of time, are exclusive, have talked about marriage and family but can’t seem to get the guy to propose.  He’s always got a reason why it’s not the right time- work, finances, no time to plan a wedding etc……   These girls love the guys they are with, but they also want to get married and have a family and they’re not sure if that’s ever going to happen.

Now, I am not trying to criticize anyone here, so please don’t take this personally.  If the relationship is an intimate one, or the couple is already living together before marriage, the guy is having his cake and eating it too.  Ever hear of the expression, ‘why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’   Why would he propose if he’s having all his needs met?  The thought of marriage is terrifying!  Getting married to one woman means ending the potential with every other woman in the entire world, and MEN LOVE POTENTIAL!  So why would he get married when he could just have everything else?

For most women it’s different.  Most women want that exclusive commitment; they want to feel settled, to know that this is the one and only guy for them and that they are the one and only woman for their guy.  So ladies, if marriage is what you really want, maybe you should reconsider moving in with your guy before you’re actually married or at least engaged.

Sometimes I have seen couples where the woman desperately wants to be married with a home and a family and she waits years for him to ask her to marry him.  She talks about the kind of wedding she wants to have, the kind of home she wants to live in and the number of children she wants.  Still he won’t ask.  When she finally gets fed up with waiting for the proposal, she settles for second- best.  They move in together, buy a house and start trying for a baby.  She didn’t get her romantic fairy-tale wedding and he’s still not her husband but best two out of three, right?  Is she happy?  Well, maybe partially.  Is he happy?  Sure, he still has his potential!!  But more importantly, is this the most fulfilling life that this couple can have together?  No.  Being a married is the ultimate commitment two people can have together, and as a married couple; together they can fulfill their greatest potential with two halves joining together as a whole.

OK, that’s a very nice message, Anna.  But how can men get over this whole potential hang-up and actually bring themselves to propose and get married?  Well, here is my personal observation and experience.

Men who get married young are fortunate enough to find the right woman before they are exposed to many other women and see all that the world has to offer.  It’s easier for them to commit, because often, they don’t know any different.  They know that they are crazy about this one woman and they want to be with her, so what’s so scary about getting married?

Men who get married a little older and have dated more women can have a harder time.  Some of them turn into the perpetual dater (see “The Unsuccessful Daters” under Advice for Singles) where they are constantly jumping from one woman to the next, always expecting that there will be something better around the corner.  Not only can this be exhausting and frustrating, but men who do this are also missing out on something much greater in life; being married and having a family!  Don’t get me wrong; women do it too, so this message is for everyone.  I have personally met several older single men who have never been married and they have all recounted the same story to me.  They explained that when they were younger, dating was easy; they had lots of choices and there was no rush.  They dated from girl to girl because they didn’t want to close off any of their options.  Now, looking back at their lives at a time when they want to be married, they remember some of the girls they have dated and realize to themselves that some of those girls were amazing and perhaps they should have taken the time back then to get to know them better and make it work.  “That girl, now her I really could have married!”

When I was dating my husband, I asked him how this whole potential thing works with men and how they are able to get past it and eventually get married.  He explained that it is the nature of men to run towards potential and options and to shy away from commitment and limitations.  However, if a man’s goal is to ultimately get married and have a family, he needs to do a lot of self-talk.  He explained to me that when he was dating, he would get a voice in his head saying, “Is this really the right girl?  What about all those other women out there?  Maybe there is something even better around the corner.”  He answered the voice in his head by saying, “Maybe there are other great women out there, but this girl that I’m dating is awesome.  Let’s explore this possibility fully and see if it can work.”

So guys, if your goal is to get married but you’re having some trouble getting there, perhaps this post may be helpful to you and could give you some good ideas.  Girls, I know you may be frustrated and I’m definitely not saying it’s easy out there, but perhaps this post could give you a better understanding of what lots of guys are struggling with.  It can also help you watch out for signs in guys you are dating which might be able to tell you whether he is serious about committing or not.

When G-d called down to Avraham by repeating his name twice, he was giving him the message that Avraham had already actualized his potential by fulfilling his mission in life.

When you are single and dating, there is a lot of potential all around you, but when you are married to the right person, you can take that potential and actualize it!

Here’s to an inspiring Shabbos and a relaxing weekend.  Shabbat Shalom.