Live, Love and Learn: A single's guide to Selichot

With Yom Kippur approaching, dating guru advises on how to forgive, be forgiven and forgive yourself for mistakes made in past relationships.

A kissing couple (photo credit: REUTERS)
A kissing couple
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the spirit of the High Holy Days, a friend of mine eager to be absolved of his sins announced to me that he would be seeking forgiveness from his ex-fiancée - the very same fiancé he so unceremoniously dumped a month prior to their wedding date, after a five year relationship.
Being all too familiar with the gory details of their break-up, I persuaded him to forgo the Selichot (Jewish penitential poems and prayers) custom in the traditional sense, and to pursue another path that would at least bring him absolution; he certainly was not going to get it from the freshly jilted bride.
The discussion that ensued as we designed a less messy/ more effective ritual -- short of halachic (Jewish law) authority, but still rich in meaning -- made me realize how liberating the Jewish traditions of repentance and forgiveness can be, and how necessary they are for a healthy life. Together, repentance and forgiveness pave the way for spirituality and love, so characteristic of the Jewish experience.  As I watched him move forward with his own healing process, I thought of the countless people I knew who were themselves struggling romantically, as a result of a self-imposed roadblock composed of residual hard feelings from relationships past.
In our current reality where marriage is reserved for later in life, we have the opportunity to fall in and out of love and experience both the joy and the pain that come with it many times over. We hurt and are hurt by more people than ever.
Still, when the Hebrew month of Elul rolls around and we scramble to seek forgiveness from G-d and others, even the most pious among us conveniently forget to call our ex-partners, to repent for some of the worst dates and most foul fights. At times this behavior is motivated by a real desire for distance, other times by a lack of words or courage, other times by plain old vanity. Though I don’t particularly condone any of these excuses - I won’t attempt to convince you otherwise.
The Tzemach Tzedek (Righteous Scion), of the Lubavitch dynasty once said that the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur no longer requires words, only deeds.Based on that idea, I encourage you to engage in romantic teshuva (repentance) for your dating sins. Take this time of self-reflection, examine your ways with the goal of not committing the same romantic transgressions in the year ahead.
The Jewish liturgical texts associated with Yom Kippur and the Selichot put forth useful guidelines. Begin with a confession. Own up to your errors. The actual Vidui (confession) prayer associates a sin with every letter of the alphabet. Sort through the memories of your encounters and create the text of your own admissions. I recommend something more poetic than "I have been an absolute A-hole for never calling her back" - but as long as the intention is there, who am I to judge?
Borrow from the Al-Chet (confession of sins) prayer which includes powerful wording to encourage deep introspection. Consider the harm you caused willingly, but also inadvertently. Maybe the close relationship you "innocently" maintained with your ex during your most recent relationship could account for some unnecessary tension? Consider the lies, the cheating, the scheming, the deceit you engaged in, to carry on two simultaneous romances. (There's a basic refresher guide on that one in the Ten Commandments, darling!) Consider how revealing and nasty your gossip was about the relationship with your best friend when you broke up? Of course, you needed to vent. But his reputation did not stand a chance without him being present to defend himself.
Don't get me wrong, by all means, you have the right to feel slighted and angry and to lick your wounds. But for once, you have the obligation to use the old dating adage “It’s not just you, it’s me!” You were wronged and you did wrong. Forgive him/her and forgive yourself, but only on the condition that you derive a lesson and never commit the same transgression again.
Move on and up - this is the only way to secure true closure.
As a final warning, please forgo the tradition of reciting Selichot between midnight and dawn - I would not want to spark a wave of drunk dialed confessions this holiday season. Forgiveness and Repentance are characteristic of Jewish life and should be present the whole year through. Exercise them regularly and in abundance and may you live, learn and love in the year ahead
Margaux Chetrit is the founder and president of Three Matches, an international dating agency. Her insights on love and sex are inspired by a career in diplomacy, a panoply of academic degrees and a passion for dating.