“Frenemies” Cleaning Out Your Friends List

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This past week, one of my Facebook friends posted on her status, “Cleaning out my Friends list.  What a great feeling!”  This got me to thinking.  I recently gave a class “Finding Mr. Right,” to a group of young single women in my community.  We talked about some of the concepts I have written about on my blog under the “Advice for Singles” category.  We talked about getting to know yourself before getting to know someone else, being realistic is not settling, the unsuccessful daters, etc.  

During the class, we also talked about the idea of the laws of attraction; the kind of energy you send out into the world is the kind of energy that will come back to you.  One of the girls raised the issue of what to do if you have a friend in your life that seems to always bring negative energy to the table.  So we discussed the difference between true friends who are going through hard times and what I like to call “frenemies,” people who pose as your friends but do not offer a healthy friendship for you, either because they have ulterior motives or because they just bring negativity into your life.

A few days later, I got some feedback from the girl who had hosted the class in her house.  She said that the girls really liked the information and they were wondering if I could come back and give Part 2, this time not only talking about the kinds of things they should not do when looking for Mr. Right, but the kinds of things they should do.  So, I am currently working on that material.  One of the things I think is really important to talk about when preparing yourself to find a spouse is the kind of life you have already created for yourself.  This includes self-esteem, self-worth, career, school, hobbies and religious values.   It also includes friends. 

I feel that this is a very sensitive topic because many of us have friends who have been a part of our lives for years- sometimes since childhood.  For most us, our friendships mean the world.  However, some of our friendships may not be as healthy as others.  Have you ever (or do you currently) have a friend in your life who appears loyal on the outside and tells you how much she loves and appreciates you but somehow makes you feel really bad about yourself a lot of the time?   Have you ever had a friend who seems to be constantly putting you down but explains that she is helping you and that these put-downs are for your own good?  Have you ever had a friend who acts like she is guiding you or taking you under her wing when really all you want is just to be treated as an equal?  Many times, friendships like these are based on one friend’s conscious or subconscious need to feel good about themselves by making themselves feel superior to another by putting the other person down.  This is not a healthy friendship.  In fact, many times, this is not a friend at all.  This is a frenemy.

I used to be very drawn to being friends with a certain type of girl; a really fun, leader-of-the-pack, A-type personality.  Although I had a lot of fun times with these girls and we got involved in all kinds of awesome projects together, I could never figure out why, for so much of the time spent with them, I felt like (please excuse my language) crap.  Yet, I continued to hang out with them because they were constantly giving me advice about what I should or shouldn’t be doing, and I was listening to them.  Over the years, I slowly started to see that they had a (maybe subconscious?) agenda, or shall we say, ulterior motives, for being friends with me, but I didn’t really see a way to break out of the toxic pattern.  I just found myself getting frequently annoyed with how they spoke to or treated me.

After my divorce, things changed a lot.  I had hit rock-bottom and could really only tolerate anyone who was a hard-core, authentic, REAL person, without any ulterior motives or agendas, conscious or subconscious.  So when I got two separate calls after my divorce, one telling me I obviously had REALLY low self-esteem and would not be able to get re-married for a REALLY long time because I REALLY had to work on this, and the other aggressively demanding of me, “Why didn’t you try harder to make it work?  Why didn’t you go get help from the Rabbis?  Which Rabbis were you seeing?”  I politely excused myself from the conversations and hung up the phone.  I avoided calls from these said parties for the next couple of months.  My TRUE friends stuck with me throughout this process the whole way; through every twist and turn and every high and low.  I knew who I could count on for support.  About six months after my divorce, one of my so-called “friends” called me and reprimanded me for not being in touch.  She told me that she wanted to stay friends with me, but “You have changed so much I just don’t know who you are anymore.”  When I relayed the story over to one of my TRUE friends, she replied,

“You have changed, Anna.  You don’t put up with crap anymore.  And I’m SOOOOO proud of you!!!”

That’s when I knew I was on the right track and I have not looked back since.

So you want to know my honest opinion on frenemies?  At the risk of sounding a little brusque, THEY’RE NOT WORTH IT.  Get rid of them.  Clean out your “Friends” list.  This does not mean you have to stop talking to them altogether; sometimes you can still keep them in your lives, but at arm’s length or on your own terms.  The problem is, often, when a frenemy sees that you have changed and so has your relationship with her, she isn’t able to handle it and the “friendship” has nowhere to go but out the door.

Sometimes, if the frenemy is an understanding person deep down, you can sit down with her and explain that you need things between you and her to change in order for you to stay friends with her.  If she cares enough about you, she’ll get it.  If not, not.

A word of CAUTION:  Sometimes our TRUE friends are going through a rough patch and it may feel like they are bringing toxic energy into our lives.  In times like this, it is our job to be nothing but supportive of them and encouraging of the healing process, without letting it drag us down.  Friends in need are not frenemies, they’re just friends in need and they need us! 

I know that many of you are relating to this post, so I want to hear from you.  What are your experiences with frenemies?  Keep ‘em?  Or delete?

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“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.

“Now you’re divorced AND you’re a baal teshuva!”

Today I was speaking with an old friend of mine who recently got married to her second husband and is very happy.  She has four children and he has three.  Her ex-husband also got remarried to a young woman with three children and they are very happy as well.  The children really like their new step-father and their new step-mother.  For a little while, we discussed how the Orthodox community still sees divorce as a stigma, even though it has become so common.  She suggested to me that I write a post in my blog about the importance of being sensitive to others and their unique situations.  I have definitely had my own experiences with people making ridiculous comments to me about being divorced, or a baalas teshuva or not having a baby 9 months after my wedding.  I know many people who have gone through similar experiences, so I decided that this post would be a great idea.

So here’s the truth:  everyone has something painful going on in their lives.   Some people’s pain just happens to be more public than others.  Therefore, none of us have any right to go and judge other peoples’ situations and it is our duty, as Jews, to try and make an effort to be sensitive to others.

My twins are now six months old and they love to go on the swings in the park.  Over Sukkos, my husband and I were walking home from one of our meals out and we passed by one of the neighborhood parks.  Both of the girls were awake so I suggested we take the girls to play on the swings.  Now, I grew up in Toronto so I know a LOT of people here.  I also have an excellent memory.  As we approach the park I survey the scene, and sure enough, I spot some familiar faces.  For an outsider passing by the park, everything would appear picture-perfect; all of these lovely Orthodox families dressed to the nines, out for a sunny afternoon at the park, enjoying their festival without a care in the world.  But from where I am standing, I know enough to realize that there is a lot of stuff going on beneath the surface.   Over by the monkey bars is a guy-friend from my youth who is now married with a handicapped son.   Over by the slide I spot another family.  A mother, with three young children.  Yup, I know her too.  This woman was a victim of an abusive marriage and had to struggle to receive her get (Jewish divorce), although, unlike me, she had three young children in tow.  She is now a single mother, raising her kids on her own.  Then I turn back to the swings where my own children are playing.  Or rather, swinging and watching the ground go by.  Marc is pushing Zissie and I’m pushing Nechama, my daughter whose name in Hebrew means comfort……  My daughter, whose name we chose so that she should be a comfort to my family after the death of my grandfather, but also so that she should be a comfort to us after a brief struggle with infertility…….

You see, I didn’t have the easiest time getting pregnant.  Or rather, B”H (thank G-d) I didn’t have the easiest time getting pregnant.   I was fortunate enough that I did not get pregnant in my previous marriage, allowing me to walk away with no strings attached.  Had I had a child with my ex husband, my life would have been over.   So it took Marc and me 16 months to conceive and we never really found out the exact reason for it, but ultimately, I ended up with a major pregnancy.  I had twins!  You may say that 16 months isn’t so long to wait and you’re right, but when you want to have a child very badly, and month after month brings disappointment, it’s a long time to wait.

So when you are going through something like this and you get some not-so-sensitive comments or questions, or you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of women talking about their pregnancies and their kids, it can feel like you have daggers stabbing at your heart.  Now, I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone here because most of the time people either mean well or are just oblivious.  I can honestly say that I am sure that I must have acted insensitively at some point in my life without realizing it because it is so hard to know what people are going through.  Now that I am a mother, I can understand why many women with children wouldn’t think of using discretion around those that don’t because being pregnant and having children does take up a lot of your brain space and energy!  Nevertheless, those without children can be deeply hurt by those who have a habit of speaking at length about their children and their pregnancies, so it is important to try and keep this in mind and to be extra-careful.

The same concept applies for older singles, divorced people, people with disabilities, people who struggle with their weight, people who have had broken engagements, people who struggle with money….. The list goes on.

So what is the title of this post all about?  Well, it’s a funny story, or maybe not so funny.  Shortly after I got divorced, I was home visiting my family and I went to the mall to do a little shopping.  I ran into a woman who I knew from the Orthodox community who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.  She asked me how I was doing and why I was in Toronto for a visit.  I explained that I had just gotten divorced and was home visiting my family.  To which her response was, “Oh my gosh, now you’re divorced and you’re a baal teshuva!”  Yeah, classy.

My point is, as Jews, let us remind ourselves that there is the mitzvah of dan l’kaf zechus, (to give people the benefit of the doubt) and there is the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’raecha kamocha (to love your neighbor as yourself), often understood as meaning treat others as you would like to be treated.

This past Shabbos, we read Parshas Noach, the story of Noah’s ark.  The Torah says, “Noah was righteous in his generation.”   This means that compared to the other people in his generation, who had very low morals, Noach was a righteous man, but not compared to some of the other righteous people whom we read about in the Torah.  At a time when the world was at an all-time low, G-d chose to wipe out the majority of the world.  G-d chose Noach and his family to live on the ark and take care of the last remaining creatures.   Why did he save Noach when he could have easily obliterated the entire world and started again?  Some commentaries explain that G-d made this choice because he had faith in Noach and saw that Noach had the potential to be someone great and rise to a higher moral level.  By choosing Noach to take care of the animals, God forced him to notice the needs of the individual.  Each animal needed something different, requiring different types of food and care at different times. As a result of this challenge, Noah’s character was molded into that of a sensitive caregiver.

None of us are perfect and we all have our own life’s challenges, but if Noach could learn to be sensitive from a bunch of animals, then FOR SURE we can learn to be sensitive as well.

Here’s to a wonderful week ahead.  Shavua Tov.

Welcome!

Hi Everyone!

Welcome!  I decided to start this blog because I have had a very interesting life’s journey. I have learned so many things along the way that I wanted to share with others.

Please be sure to read the introductions to each column, as they clearly explain my approach regarding much of the content in the ongoing posts. Simply click on the title of each column.

In this blog you will find lots of interesting information about relationships for singles, married people and parents, as well as thoughts and stories from my own personal experiences in each of these roles.

You will also find lots of delicious and healthy recipes as well as some information on my informal role as a shadchan (matchmaker) for the Orthodox Jewish community.

So enjoy reading and please feel free to comment or drop me a line with your own thoughts, questions or stories!  Also, if you are interested in subscribing and receiving ongoing updates to your e-mail, simply click the “follow” button at the bottom right of the page.

Thanks for joining me!

Anna