August 7, 1997
I am a 32-year-old alcoholic who has been sober for eight years. Ihad been drinking and smoking marijuana every day since I was 15years old. After years of AA and therapy, I have finally begun toadjust to sobriety. I have held a job for six years and have risen tomanagement. I have some good friends. I have worked hard on familyrelationships. I have a passion for bicycling and consider myself tobe an accomplished athlete. Life is good, thank God.
The problem is relationships with men. I have never had a soberone. I think that I have the skills of a 15-year-old when it comes todating. I have avoided relationships since becoming sober and haveconvinced myself that I don't need relationships. I have resignedmyself to a life without them...until recently.
A man who regularly comes to my office for business keeps invitingme to lunch, and I keep finding excuses. But the truth is, I think Ifeel attracted. I am too scared to say yes and, yet, unwilling togive up the idea. Sometimes I think: "Damn him for showing up. I wasdoing just fine."
But I can't stop thinking about him, and when he shows up, I amsure that I blush and act stupid. Any advice?
Dear Passionately Afraid,
Hmmm. Passion and fear -- ain't love grand? Such intimately linkedemotions awakening in you have you at loose ends. Certainly, it isbecause you have invested so much in healing that you have arrived atthis next step of readiness for partnership. Yet it would be wise tokeep it a definitively small step.
1) This is new for you, so keep your expectations low. Think ofdating as the act of getting to know someone rather than as the firststep toward marriage. If it were indeed the first step towardmarriage, we'd all be married by age 16.
2) Say yes to lunch, but don't order the soup. Sopping wet clothesare the last thing you need. Your mission is to get to know the man,to listen, to ask and answer questions. And remember to breathe.
3) If you like him, and a second date is arranged, mention at thissecond meeting that you like him but need to move very slowly.
4) If there is a third date, tell him why you must move slowly.His response, of course, will dictate the next step, and, by then,you will know what that is.
Get it? Small steps and small expectations equal a giant leap inyour life. Welcome to this next chapter, and good luck.
For the Birds
My father-in-law is a cruel and sarcastic man. He sneers, thinksthe worst of people, and is cheap and mistrustful. The only thing inthe world that puts a smile on his face are his pigeons. He takesthem outside to a huge "condo" he built for them, complete with apond, grass plants and perches.
He sits and watches them for hours, talks to them and is as gentleand kind as can be.
I am not confused about him. I would never have anything to dowith him at all if it weren't for my husband, a good man who isnothing like his father and who insists on visiting him with ourchildren every Sunday. He knows that his father has always been likethis and will never change, but says that he is over it and doesn'twant to abandon him. I think it does the children no good to visit aman who shows no warmth, interest or kindness to anyone or anythingbut his birds. The kids don't even relate to him as a grandfather,compared with how they relate to my father.
Do you think it could be harmful to my children to spend time withthis grouch? Should I insist to my husband on not taking the childrenthere anymore? Do you have any suggestions?
As long as your father-in-law is not cruel to the children, andeither your husband or you is with them during these visits, I don'tthink it would harm them. They might as well adjust themselves to thefact that grandfathers (as well as other members of the species) donot always emerge from Central Casting, and that there are some realunpleasant people out there one must to learn to endure. Do yourchildren complain about going? Are they at an age when the pigeonsmight be of interest to them? Perhaps if this new hobby could beencouraged, it could provide some common ground with theirgrandfather.
As for your husband being "over it" and insisting on keeping the"honor thy father" commandment, count your blessings. You are marriedto a mensch. May your children learn from your husband'sexample.
When Dollars = Esteem
I am a divorced, blue-collar Jewish man -- no college education,no profession, no fancy car or big home. I earn a decent living and,within two years, will have enough money for a down payment on afixer-upper, which I plan to work on myself by using my carpentryskills. I play basketball on the weekends with my friends, Ioccasionally go to shul, I visit my aunt in the nursing home,and I have good relationships with family and friends.
The reason for my divorce is that my ex-wife, also Jewish,couldn't get over being ashamed of me. I just wasn't good enough forher. We were married young, and she wanted me to go to college andget a degree. She went on to marry a professional.
My problem is that having been burned big time, I don't want todate Jewish women. I know marrying a non-Jewish woman would hurt myparents, and it's not my first choice either, but my feelings ofself-worth (or is it my cash flow?) just aren't big enough for aJewish woman. Is there any hope for a man who is nothing more than anice guy?
"Nothing more than a nice guy?" Gevalt! "Do not makeyourself low; people will tread on your head," goes the Yiddishproverb.
Question: Do you like your work and how you live your life? Is itenough for you? If your answer to these questions is affirmative,then hold your head up high and date Jewish women because they arethe ones you'd rather marry. Just be up-front about your work andyour aspirations. The wheat will separate from the chaff soon enough.
It is only if you feel less than good enough that you will standin the way of you and a Jewish wife.
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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