July 12, 2007
My brother and I were born two years apart. We shared a room growing up, played with "Star Wars" action figures together and coordinated plans to torture our younger sister, but around high school our paths split. He was into extreme sports and living life on a razor's edge, whereas I was content lounging around the house reading and going with friends to places like Gorky's to get into philosophical conversations.
The one thing we still had in common was our appreciation for women, but even there we differed. He liked the adventurous party girl, while I was drawn to the moody intellectual type. He ended up converting at age 16 to Catholicism after dating a Catholic girl, while one of my love interests led me to get serious about my Judaism and attend Shabbat services at CSUN Hillel.
My brother and I eventually found ourselves in completely different cities, and our phone calls went from weekly to monthly. As time went on, I was surprised if I heard from him more than a few times a year. We saw each other for the first time in eight years when I flew out to the Midwest to be a groomsman at his wedding in 1999. And I realized how far our paths had diverged when he proudly showed off the printed wedding blessing his in-laws secured from Pope John Paul II.
Like many men, my brother and I relied too much on our spouses, and we willingly sacrificed our male friendships on the pyre of our turbulent marriages. I was left with one close friend when my first marriage crumbled three years later. In 2004, when my brother's marriage and business were falling apart, he couldn't name any guy whom he could count as a reliable friend.
Throughout his contentious divorce, we still barely talked. I wasn't sure what help I could offer him or whether he'd want it. But when he finally opened up to me a few months later about how he wanted to find love again, I couldn't hold my tongue.
I told him to focus his time and energy on rebuilding his life and his self-esteem. He couldn't offer stability to anyone, and he needed time to find himself outside of the context of a relationship.
"Date," I said, "there's no reason to get serious about anyone."
Naturally, he didn't listen. He moved in with a new girlfriend who had a tattoo emblazoned provocatively across her chest and observed a three-drink minimum when she visited with our family.
It wasn't long before my brother started calling me with his doubts and anxieties. She was still chummy with her ex, he said. After he found multiple calls on her cell phone to her former beau, he wasn't convinced everything was kosher, especially because their love life had hit a rough patch.
"She must have girlfriends to run to for advice," I said. "Assume she isn't just 'talking,' and tell her to drop him as a friend or you're moving out."
And to my surprise he did it. He moved out.
When he got his own place, I told him not to invite women over. He didn't believe me at first. When he found two women he'd dated staking out his home at different times to see if he was bringing anyone else over, it dawned on him the advice might exist to protect him.
When he blew some first dates by talking too much, my advice was to keep his mouth shut, start listening and asking questions, but without turning it into an interview.
"Women want men to be enigmatic," I said. "They'll project what they want onto you. Don't let your reality interfere with their fantasy."
The guy who almost always wanted to talk about himself suddenly started taking the back seat in our conversations and shocked me by asking about my life.
After months of living on his own, my brother eventually reached a point where he told me he didn't want or need a relationship. It amused him to no end that even though he was forward with women about not wanting a commitment, they still pursued him with a dream of getting to see his home -- and with the hope of eventually moving in.
My brother has since been called a player -- as well as many other names that can't be printed in a family newspaper -- but he learned quickly that many women will keep calling even after they've sworn off of him for good. It was a liberating revelation for him, because he saw that he didn't have to become someone he wasn't in order to attract a woman.
He's even started to explore his Jewish heritage. He calls me frequently from the road as he's on his way to use the gym at his local JCC, asking my advice about how he should handle his evening. And after joining a Jewish dating site, he asked me to recommend a synagogue for him to try on for size. Needless to say, Mom is kvelling.
I'm just excited that he's also sought out his old friends, reserving a few days each month to play poker or get together for dinner. He tells me that they trade dating advice as they sit around the table, sharing what works and what doesn't.
Although I'm about 1,600 miles away from him, I'm always by the phone, ready with some advice when my brother needs me. And I'm glad to know that even if I can't join him at the table with his buddies, at least he's regularly offering me a seat as one of the important men in his life.