Dear Emuna: Looking for Love

September 2, 2010

6 min read


Advice for a lonely 80-year-old bachelor, a single mom who is losing her daughter, and a wife who doesn't like her husband's gifts.

Dear Emuna,

My husband of 12 years is wonderful and loves to buy me gifts. He even has good taste. But his good taste is different than my taste. Most of the time when he buys me a present, I end up taking it back and getting exactly what I want. I know that this upsets him, but with our limited resources and my own tastes, I feel it is the right thing to do. What do you think?

– Compelled to Return Gifts

Dear Lucky Recipient,

Did my husband put you up to writing this letter? I confess that when we were first married my husband used to bring me flowers every Shabbos. They were beautiful but, it seemed to my unsentimental self, impractical. “Instead of spending that money on flowers that will just die,” I suggested, “why don’t you save it up and you can buy me some jewelry instead?” But the money always ended up getting absorbed into our budget and being used for other things – like groceries and electricity. And I didn’t even have flowers on my Shabbos table…

Despite this, I didn't learn my lesson and I still don’t keep presents that don’t reflect my taste. And I think my husband has learned to weather the disappointment. He usually prefaces his gift-giving with the offer that I can return it if I don’t like it. Most of the time he just suggests that I pick out something that I want and he'll get it for me. It may not be perceived as a romantic gesture (although I’m not sure why giving your spouse what he or she desires isn’t the ultimate definition of romance!) but at least it doesn’t get returned!

Not only do I not see the point in wasting money on items you will never wear or use but I’m not sure you’re sparing your husband’s feelings. Surely he will notice that you never wear those earrings or that sweater, that that picture has never been hung on the wall or that you never serve anything in that new bowl.

Married women are frequently counseled not to assume their husband is a mind reader. Our husbands’ job is not to intuit our needs or desires. Their job is to respond appropriately after we have laid it out explicitly. (Even if the response is “I’d love to but we just can’t afford it right now.”)

Whatever the discussion of gifts in advance lacks in spontaneity it makes up for in better communication and a much happier recipient (and giver) also.

– Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I am a single mother of one child, a daughter (her father passed away). She recently got married to a man who dislikes me for no apparent reason. He is known in the neighborhood as a jerk. Before their marriage, I developed a lousy relationship with my daughter. She put me down in an effort to relate to her husband's problem and then accused me of horrible things in her childhood. Now everyone that she knows looks down on me. I gave my daughter the best care and love that I could and sacrificed myself for her. They both disrespect me in many ways and disregard everything I've done for them. The visits to my house are barely tolerable. Now I have hardly any relationship with my daughter and my grandson of six months. I feel no feelings or joy of being grandma. I feel sad and unable to understand how my only child will allow her husband to control her and indoctrinate her with such harmful thoughts. It's devastating but I have nothing to do but to move on with my own life without them. I have no family here, just my daughter. What should I do?

– Bereft and Bewildered

Dear Bereft and Bewildered,

Wow. What a painful situation you are describing. It sounds very complicated and I appreciate that you must be sharing only a small piece of the picture.

That said, I don’t think you have many options. You want a relationship with your daughter. The price of that relationship is unconditional acceptance of the husband she has chosen. Her first loyalty is to him – and that is appropriate. (Although it certainly doesn’t require slandering her mother.)

We are tempted as parents to focus on how much we’ve given our children. This is not a productive road to travel. We give to our children because we want to, because we love them – and the wise parents has no expectations in return.

Yet all children, your daughter included, want their parents love and approval. Give it to her before it’s too late.

And if, God forbid, her marriage doesn’t work out, please refrain from saying, “I told you so.” Just be warm, loving and supportive and, please God, your relationship will slowly (I forgot to mention that you need to be very patient) return.

– Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I am in my early 80s and have been involved with Jewish spirituality for over 45 years. I have studied with several mystical rabbis throughout the years, led a Jewish meditation group for 15 years. I also lecture and volunteer with a hospice and with the Pastoral Department at a major hospital, visiting Jewish people. My problem is that most people of my age are not interested in spirituality. It is like a double edge sword. I am grateful for my path. Yet, socially, I am very lonely. I do prefer to be with Jewish people. I have attempted to reach other Jewish women and try not to introduce any thoughts regarding spirituality. They cannot connect, and it turns them off regarding a friendship with me. Their path does not interest me. I thank you for your suggestions.

– I May be Old but I’m Still Growing

Dear Old but Growing,

I respect you for your constant desire to grow and deepen your spiritual side and your relationship with the Jewish people. Many people much younger than you have already given up or stopped growing.

Nevertheless, you are describing a problem that is not unique to your age group. I frequently hear both men and women who are 20-something, 30-something, 40-something and onwards make the same complaint.

It is not that easy (depending on where you live) to find someone who cares about their Jewish life, who is driven for meaning or who wants a relationship with God. And yes, it can be lonely and difficult.

I’m sure you have many acquaintances with whom to pursue more trivial areas of interest – to discuss politics, to go to a movie or a play. For these deeper issues, it’s better to wait rather than compromise. I think it is worse to be lonely in a relationship that just to be alone. Perhaps one of the rabbis you study with could start a class (perhaps even in your home!) and those who walk through the door will be people with whom you have more common, with whom you share something more significant. It’s a good place to start.

In the meantime, work on your relationship with the one Being who will always be there for you, our Creator.

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