Batya L. Ludman
Dear Dr. Batya,
One of my best friends is obsessed with marriage. She's religious, in her early thirties, and her life is paralyzed. Although she's signed up on every possible dating Web site and goes to professional matchmakers, no man is good enough for her, or she won't compromise her manifold principles (egalitarianism, yet observance of mitzvot; veganism) to even begin the path of a life together.
On the other hand, she has already stockpiled household items for her trousseau and has set aside a maternity collection!
She is driving all her friends crazy with her quest for the (nonexistent) perfect guy. What can we do? - Concerned friend
Dear Concerned friend.
It is nice to know that she has such dear friends. She is very lucky and you might start off by letting her know just why you think she is so special. Can she see in herself what you see? Before finding a partner and being able to give to someone else, she may have to learn to be her own best friend.
Does she feel good about herself? If not, she may have a hard time liking someone else once the relationship becomes more serious. If you like her, would a prospective marriage partner? If not, why? Are you able to gently suggest how she might change certain behaviors that others may see as undesirable? What does she contribute to your friendship and does it feel good, enough and comfortable? Does she make too many demands or too few?
How does she relate to men and how do they relate to her? Is she able to be herself, relax and enjoy the time she spends with someone or is the pressure simply too great and her demands unrealistic? It sounds as though you believe that she is asking for too much. Is she a perfectionist and no one can match up or has she not been in the right place at the right time? Can you help her find that right place or introduce her to friends who are also interested in settling down?
I see many young men and women in her situation and they truly are in emotional pain. I suspect that she is feeling the squeeze and is saving clothes and planning for the future as she sees her biological clock quickly ticking along. In the religious community, as with others, there are many expectations and these may not be easy for her to live up to. Is she herself frightened of scaring a potential suitor because she may seem "too" desperate? What a shame to feel so much pressure but I suspect she realizes that the longer time goes by and she remains single, the more likely she will have to "settle," and that too frightens her.
It is a very difficult lesson for all of us when we realize that we can't always have everything we want. We may have to prioritize what is truly important and recognize that we all have our shortcomings and limitations. We may not find everything in one person, as that ideal person is likely to be a clone of ourselves! We often want someone to do things and respond exactly how we would and when that doesn't happen we look to them to change. In fact, it is we who have to change our ideals and perceptions or else we simply won't be satisfied in a relationship.
Sadly, there are no easy answers, but here are a few questions your friend may want to consider as she must first help herself. What do I really want in a marriage partner? Where can I find such a person? If I find that type of person, what gets in the way? Am I afraid of becoming attached or making a commitment? Who breaks off the relationship and why? What changes can I make in myself that may help? When I am honest with myself, am I expecting too much? What do my parents and friends think and why? Am I unrealistically afraid that he will reject me and so I reject him first?
While marriage does involve compromise and negotiation, it also involves respect and mutual understanding. Does one have to give up her principles or can two people agree to differ? The secret is open communication and the desire to share and listen to what your partner is feeling. One can validate a partner's thoughts, feelings and actions without giving up one's own beliefs. Empathizing with another doesn't mean losing oneself.
Your friend must help herself, but she is lucky to have you for a friend. I hope that she can soon find her beshert (soul mate). If stuck, she may need to do some real soul-searching with a professional therapist whose nonjudgmental objectivity can help move her along.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional. firstname.lastname@example.org