It doesn’t matter how many singles events you attend or how many people you date – without self-understanding and emotional clarity, you could meet your ideal spouse and never know it.
by Shaya Ostrov, C.S.W.
Marriage requires the creation of trust, love, security, esteem and countless other feelings which touch the heart: yet many singles have no idea how to build a relationship based on these feelings. The prevailing climate of dates is frequently characterized by emotional distance, defensiveness and unrealistic hopes.
When I first began working with mature singles, I misread the problem. I interpreted their continued failures as self-inflicted. A couple of years ago, when I began presenting workshops for singles, I met Avi. He was in his late 40s. On the outside, he appeared to be very self-sufficient. On the inside, he was painfully lonely. He managed to earn a livable wage as a bookkeeper and tried to appear well-groomed, but fell short of a polished appearance. He reminded me of a blind person who dressed himself without anyone around to straighten his tie. Nothing hung right. Yet, despite what I saw as areas which required some work before he could attract a wife, Avi insisted that he intended to marry a woman who was pretty, shared his hashkafot and would be no older than her mid- to late 30s. Obviously, he had plans for a growing family. But, he was patient. He would “wait it out” until his criteria were met.
I was filled with a mixture of sadness and anger at hearing his checklist. Here he was alone and lonely, his clock was ticking away. Soon he would hit 50. He had very little to offer, yet he was making all these demands. I saw a man destined to be alone for the rest of his life.
Even someone who is not earning a great salary and lacks sophistication in his appearance could attract a woman if he has emotional depth. But Avi was just as ill-suited in this area as in the others. When I looked closer, I understood that emotional development and expressiveness, which is the key to developing a relationship that can lead to marriage, was more problematic than all the other areas between single men and women. Women have a greater intuitive sense of emotional closeness and feelings. Men are more distant, and have a more difficult time with feelings.
As I started to work with other singles, I observed many variations of “Avi.” Some were men, others were women. All shared a single underlying difficulty: their inability to create and sustain a deep relationship led to a further inability to appropriately judge who could be basherte [intended] for them. In other words, without being connected to your deepest self, you cannot recognize your who is right for you. Imagine two people arranging to meet at Grand Central Station at 5:00 PM. First, they spend quite a bit of time talking on the phone and each develops a mental image of what the other looks like. What they fail to do is describe the inner images each has of the other and further fail to identify the other’s true distinguishing characteristics. Both will wait until the last train leaves, each thinking he or she was stood up. They may have been standing side by side, even bumping in to each other, while waiting. Each was relying on an unrealistic image, internally created, that simply did not correspond to the actual person they would meet. The same holds true in relationships: the type of person you plan to marry may not be the one who is truly right for you. Consequently, you could meet the “right person,” but fail to recognize him or her as your proper spouse.
Dating couples share Cokes, pleasant small talk, a great meal, a concert or a stroll in a magnificent garden. None of these pleasures will help either of them determine that the other is basherte for them. This identification is possible only through an inner core of emotional clarity which enables you to “see” the deeper side of another person; it also provides you with the ability to show and feel closeness, emotional warmth and caring — the qualities needed for creating the emotional bond necessary for marriage. Even if there were a desire to be expressive and share this deeply personal side, which then could be understood and appreciated, the territory is usually too strange and frightening.
I consistently met other “Avis,” who never learned that at the heart of marriage lies the necessity to be emotionally warm and giving. Gradually, I realized that the success of any program to help singles marry would depend on teaching emotionally guarded single men and women that under the surface of cautious and defensive social interaction (both yours and your date’s) can be a warm and caring heart. Without the ability for two people to emotionally talk to each other, their dates remain superficial and no meaningful relationship can be launched.
I began to search through my own experiences to discover a technique through which people could break through this barrier. I was repeatedly drawn back to memories and feelings of caring individuals in my own life, some of whom are still alive and others who have passed on. I recalled precious moments of inspiration, closeness and trust. I spent many months carefully analyzing what I had received from each of these people over the years — my late father and grandparents, rebbeim, teachers, close friends. With each individual, I recalled the feelings related to their precious gifts of understanding, caring and concern for my development and well-being. The more I began to understand their gifts and the warm, positive feelings they created within me, the more I was able to understand what enabled me to give to others — in my profession as a therapist as well as in my own life as a husband and father. These memories evoked a genuinely warm, giving and deeply human side of my personality.
I realized that this inner side of myself, connected to a few precious relationships and memories, was a prevalent reality in every person. The feelings and memories may get buried and forgotten, but they always remain deep inside. More important, this was the side of every “Avi” that could develop a relationship with a woman. If he could access these feelings and act upon them, the woman he’s dating would be able to sense that, despite his disheveled appearance, there is something more profound beating inside him and that he does have the ability to be a good husband. Moreover, as with Avi and others, once there is a conscious connection to one’s deeper side, the absurd demands and unrealistic fantasies give way to sincere and meaningful feelings shared between two people.
Your Inner Circle
I have always called the group of special people who provided love and stability in my life my “Inner Circle.” Your Inner Circle serves as an anchor to your inner voice, continuously guiding you to give, just as they have given to you This is the first element in developing a relationship worthy of marriage. In marriage you have to give, share and understand. You must continuously reach beyond yourself, take greater risks and relate to deeper feelings, more so than in any other relationship in your entire life.
Recently I spoke to an older single who suffered because others could not see that he was a warm and giving person. On the surface he was highly intellectual, cold and distant. I understood why women would feel the need to distance themselves from him. I asked him to name the people to whom he felt closest. I told him that the same part of himself, which felt close to those who have given him so much in life, was the part of his personality needed to create a caring and loving relationship with a woman. He has the raw materials. He has to learn how use them. I taught him that as he cultivates those deeper feelings associated with his Inner Circle, he will find an increasing capacity to create and hold onto special relationships.
Who are the voices and personalities who inspire you from within? In our workshops, at times there is someone feeling depressed and hopeless, experiencing the scars of battle and defeat as a mature single. They doubt that they have an Inner Circle! I know differently. Everyone has these special relationships living within them. Otherwise, they would be hollow and broken to the point of being unable to function. What they are expressing is a deep sense of sadness and loneliness which has, for the moment, obliterated the memories which mean so much to them. In their state of hurt and deprivation, they just can’t remember them. My approach is to say: “I know you were given many (emotional) gifts by people who were and still are important to you. If you permit yourself to remember the people you feel close to, you’ll recall some very precious feelings and moments.
When these memories of personalities are brought to life, we begin to touch the side of ourselves which creates the deepest and most precious of all relationships. Moving towards marriage requires these feelings and memories that are your inner guide to recognize who is right for you. This genuine self is deeply and unalterably the true you. I don’t mean the professional you, the East Side, West Side, Brooklyn, L.A., or Rechavia you. It’s not where you daven, what you wear or what you drive. I am referring to the deepest side of your humanity which can sense and express your most precious feelings. This is what you need to use, skillfully and intelligently, to create a relationship worthy of marriage.
The impact of the Inner Circle can be very striking and immediate. I first had gotten to know Shalom, a 55-year-old single, when I had given a workshop for men on how to develop and utilize the Inner Circle approach in their own lives. Several months later, he called me to ask for assistance in dating. He told me he was quite uncomfortable talking to women, both on the phone and certainly on dates. He had found the idea of the Inner Circle interesting. With some coaching he began, initially, to use it on phone calls with prospective dates. After a few tries he called me back to report:
“I called this woman for the first time and, as usual, I was nervous. I was afraid of being rejected. But I kept on focusing on a feeling from my Inner Circle. It gave me a feeling of confidence. I saw that I could talk to her freely and calmly, not with the insecurity that I’ve always felt during these phone conversations. Even when I was put on hold for a few minutes, I just felt that it wasn’t a personal insult.”
For Shalom, this degree of ease was a great personal accomplishment. He was no longer frightened. He loved the new feeling of freedom. He started to feel as if he could now have a chance at developing a relationship. Over the next few months, he began to see a woman who had been widowed a few years earlier. Using his Inner Circle to provide him with a core of confidence, he was able to maintain the balance and self-confidence he needed to keep the relationship moving forward. Within three months, after being alone his entire adult life, he was a chatan.
A preliminary phone conversation marks only the very beginning of a relationship. Using your Inner Circle, you begin to use a process which accompanies you throughout the relationship and beyond, into marriage and family life. It becomes a genuine resource for every meaningful form of personal communication, making you emotionally available, open, reflective and caring. These are the true ingredients that create a bond between two people yearning to become a chatan and kallah.
Shaya Ostrov, C.S.W., who has been practicing and teaching marital and family therapy since 1971,is the director of the Seven Gates Institute and creator of a marriage mentoring website: 7Gates.com. He has recently written The Inner Circle: Seven Gates to Marriage (Feldheim Publishers), a guide for mature singles, which defines seven progressive levels to a healthy and mature relationship leading to marriage. This article was adapted from a chapter of his forthcoming book.