June 12, 1997
By Deborah Berger-Reiss, M.A.
"No Relationships, Please," pastel by Carole Kerchen. From Painting with Passion, 1994
I have been married two times, the first time for three years and the second for five years. I have no children from either marriage, and, although I want children, I am afraid to have any because of my track record.
I am now dating a wonderful man who has proposed and wants to have children. I am 35 years old and know that I cannot just give the marriage a few years to see how it turns out. Is it right to marry someone and have children just because I don't want to miss the opportunity to have children, even if I don't have much faith in my own chances of happiness in a long-term marriage?
When comedienne Rita Rudner said, "Whenever I date a guy, I think, 'Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?'" she might have been speaking your language.
You ask if it is right to marry someone and have children in order to not miss that window of opportunity. Well, whether it's right or wrong, women have been doing this consciously or unconsciously from time immemorial. The biological alarm clock rings, and, suddenly, the next man looks pretty good.
So why didn't your marriages work? Are you a poor judge of character, or are you a poor judge of marriage? Do you expect marriage to be easy, fun, what? I highly recommend premarital counseling, or a program such as the University of Judaism's "Making Marriage Work," in which all aspects of marriage -- including your expectations and compatibility -- are addressed.
The extra few months you spend learning about marriage now before making a decision won't take you too far off track and will be a sound investment in your future.
Great Wall Of Singles
I didn't appreciate your flippant remarks to "J," who asked for advice on approaching women who stand in groups at singles events ("A Single Mission," May 16). I have found that many, if not most, people (men and women) who attend singles parties are there mainly to hang out with friends on a Saturday night. So they clump tightly together in their little cliques and show no interest in meeting new people outside their group. Someone who walks in to one of these events alone and not knowing anyone is bound to have a difficult time.
My own suggestion is to avoid any "event" whose only purpose is to provide a stressful setting for mingling. Nonetheless, because there are so few places to find a large number of Jewish singles, there are many who feel the need to attend these events. I suspect that groups of friends choose these venues to hang out because it provides the illusion that they're making the effort to "meet someone," and thus satisfies parents and others who are "nudging" them.
If you have any real insight or useful suggestions to offer for dealing with this ubiquitous phenomenon, I'm sure there are many of us who would appreciate it.
Dear No Cliques,
The subtext to my "flippant remarks" was that to be successful in said venue, one needs moxie and a good sense of humor. You sound as if you'd rather build a full-scale model of the Second Temple with toothpicks than attend such an event. So don't go.
Find Jewish singles events with purpose and structure, ones that include all participants -- such as classes, workshops, charity work, et al. You may not get the numbers you would at a dance, but what good have the huddled masses been to you anyway, if you cannot approach them? Make friends with one new person, male or female, with whom you share a classroom and, therefore, presumably an interest, and observe your social circle expand.
As for your "nudging" family theory, I have yet to meet a reasonable single who attends such mixers more than once for that reason. If it's a waste of time and doesn't accomplish the goal of meeting people, most adults should be able to explain that to his or her parents.
I am a parent with three teen-age children, and I am trapped in the middle of a nightmare divorce that keeps on getting worse and worse for everyone involved. Every time I go to my lawyers, I commit to spending increasingly insane amounts of money, and, in the meantime, my soon-to-be ex ups the ante by getting a team of lawyers to challenge my every move.
We are spiraling out of control and wasting the children's college fund in the process. My lawyers can't seem to hear what I'm saying and only seem to create more wars between us. To make matters worse, our youngest son's bar mitzvah is coming up.
My husband and I can barely speak to each other without our lawyers present. How are we going to plan a memorable family event that our child will enjoy, rather than staging another battle in the war?
It is indeed unfortunate when divorcing parents cannot seem to get a hold of themselves for the sake of their children. After all, you will forever have to parent these children --together or apart -- and how you do so will forever affect them.
If, as you say, you have "spiraled out of control," then perhaps it is time you take a deep breath, dial the Jewish Family Service and ask for the Divorce Mediation office. Sally Weber, project coordinator in Los Angeles (818-587-3333), provides an experienced lawyer-counselor mediation team that will deal with issues, ranging from the divorce mediation to custody issues, and will even help with bar mitzvah peacemaking. This service charges an hourly rate, does not require a retainer and is designed to break the endless, expensive, litigious cycle of acrimonious divorces. "Save the family -- even if you cannot save the marriage," is the philosophy behind the program.
So, unless you and your husband would prefer to pay for the college funds of your attorneys' children instead of your own, and unless you would both choose to pollute the bar mitzvah and many future simchas with divorce fumes...it's worth a shot.
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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