It seems that I have spent my life believing that I wasn’t allowed to be friends with a man. Growing up in an orthodox Jewish community I learned from a young age that men and women were to be separated. Whether it was in synagogue, where the women sat behind a glass wall or at the dinner table during holidays where the women sat on one end and the men the other. But I was always longing to switch sides. I wanted to be up there carrying the Torah, feeling the weight of it in my arms and reading its holy words. At the dinner table I wanted to hear about politics not parties, money not manicures. And now at 31 and divorced it is time for me to learn how to relate to men in a new way.
When I got married at 23 I went from being a daughter to a wife. Rather than learning about what I wanted and forming my own place in the world, I continued attempting to fit into the role of women I had seen before; a role where women were segregated from the men, where women were respected for their cooking rather than their ideas and, like I have said in the past, I attempted to fit in. But now, with this new opportunity, I find myself in a difficult place. In the past, men other than relatives were seen as potential mates. When I met a guy the question was always “can you marry him?” If the answer was no, then I forgot about him. If the answer was yes, then I spent the next months pining over him and trying to make myself desirable; trying to lose weight, wearing make up, calling when I was supposed to call and not calling when I wasn’t. It was awful and I was miserable. And then I met my husband and he accepted me. I didn’t have to lose weight. I didn’t have to change myself. But then men and women become even more segregated. There was no reason to relate. Couples would get together and play cards the women in the living room playing canasta and the men in the den playing poker. How many times did I want to play poker? Almost every time but the unwritten rule was that, women can not play with the men. I visited a friend a few weeks ago and her sister was telling me about how she went to a lecture given by a Rabbi who said to them that 2 couples should not go out for dinner together because it may create a situation that will encourage inappropriate behavior. As I write this, my stomach gets tied into a knot for many different reasons that I won’t get into now. My question for today is “now what?”
Here I am divorced, happy and excited to take on the world. I am open to potential relationships but not searching for them. When I meet a man that I am attracted to, I want to spend time with him but my only way of relating is through the eyes of a romantic relationship and the funny thing is I don’t even know if that is what I want. Maybe I just want to be friends. Maybe that is what feels true and real for me in the moment. What’s interesting though, is that my mind in all of its glory has decided to return to its old pattern that says man equals romance so that my mind creates suffering. Old patterns arrive and there I go again wondering if I can call and what I should say and how I could get him to like me. At the same time something inside of me says, “Stop! Just stop this! This is not what you want. Esther you no longer need to gain male approval. You no longer need to change yourself for anyone and do the “right thing”. It is time to do what feels good for you. In this moment what brings you joy? Forget the past welcome the present and notice what makes you happy.” Something inside is saying that the past, the history and the belief systems are there to keep me stuck. It is time to let go and open myself to the possibilities of this moment where I can be without rules and pressures. Where I can find what I want rather than what I am “supposed” to want. Bring it on…(and I did call)
Rabbi Esther Azar