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Dear Emuna: Harem of Admirers

September 15, 2011 | by Emuna Braverman

He promises me exclusivity once we get engaged. Should I believe him?

Dear Emuna,

I am so confused. About nine months ago I met a handsome, charming man at synagogue who happens to be several years younger than me. We developed a friendship, which quickly turned into a courtship. He helped me through a very difficult time in my life, and I felt very close to him and grateful for being there when I was at my worst. He has been giving and I generally felt I could rely on him.

However, after we started talking about the possibility of having a future together, I began to notice things that made me concerned. His phone was constantly buzzing with text messages or calls from women, including an "am I going to see you before you leave?" text message before he left on a trip.

We've had many conversations about what I see as the big problem of him not being able to focus solely on me, and I have told him that I can not be exclusive with him if he is not honoring that commitment. He seems to love the fact that so many women find him appealing - he is sometimes arrogant about his looks, which might just be masking insecurity.

After he failed to cut off contact with his "harem" of admirers, I told him I was going to start dating other people, and I have been. He contacts me periodically and when I see him, the feelings all rush back and he tells me how much he loves me and wants to be only with me, and the moment we get engaged, he will cut off contact with the other women. According to him, he is just waiting for me to be exclusive and make him feel secure in our relationship before he will propose.

I feel like we are going in circles because I can not imagine being engaged to someone while still having doubts that I am the sole focus of his attention and affection. Am I really supposed to believe that the diamond ring is like a magic wand that will change his personality and way of relating to women? Meanwhile, there are other men on the horizon who might have potential, but this man keeps dangling engagement and having kids before me. I am in my mid (okay, late. . .) 30s and do want to get married and start a family right away - and he knows that. I wonder sometimes if our differences make him insecure - I am several years older, and also much more established professionally and financially than he is. But when we are together, the differences melt away and I am just so happy to be with him.

Any help you can offer in how do deal with this situation is much appreciated.

-- Older Woman

Dear Older Woman,

I think you feel like you are going in circles because you are! It seems that, in a nutshell, he promises to give up relationships with other women once you get engaged and you want him to give them up before you get engaged.

Just based on the information you provided, including the types of messages he receives from other women and his apparent pleasure in them, I would side with you.

You cannot get married expecting the other person to change.

There is a basic principle of people and relationships at work here. You cannot get married expecting the other person to change. You need to believe (because it’s almost always true – and no, you are not the exception) that what you see is what you get. You need to assume that the situation now is the status quo. And it seems clear that it is not a situation you can live with.

If he won’t give up the women now, when you have the most leverage, he certainly won’t give them up after he has secured your commitment.

I believe that he was there when you needed him. I accept that he has many wonderful qualities. But it’s not enough of a basis for a lasting future.

The age difference may frighten him or he may be slightly immature. Or it may be none of the above and he may just be unwilling to relinquish the thrill or ego gratification he gets from their attention. That will not change. Especially if he is as handsome and charming as you describe.

I think it’s time to move on.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I never thought it would happen to me. I heard other mother’s bemoan their teenage son’s grumpy adolescence but I thought I was immune. My son and I were very close. We could talk about anything. He could laugh at his own mistakes and freely admit his foibles. Overnight that seems to have changed. Along with the fuzzy beginnings of a moustache, he seems to have acquired a complete disinterest in our home life (other than to check to make sure the fridge is fully stocked with his favorite foods), he barely communicates and is resentful if asked simple questions like “Where are you going?” I’m afraid of losing him. Please help.

-- Panicked Mom

Dear Panicked Mom,

Relax (if you can!). What you are describing is so normal and typical; it’s almost laughable (I say almost because during adolescence it is very difficult to laugh). I’d almost say that if he didn’t go through this phase, there is something wrong with him. As difficult as it is, try to be warm and loving, however he behaves. Try not to hover over him and try to grant him as much independence as you safely (both physically and spiritually) can.

Your teenaged son hasn’t disappeared; he’s just in hiding, wrapped in a cocoon of confusion.

And be available. He hasn’t disappeared; he’s just in hiding, wrapped in a cocoon of confusion – and his friends, those other grunting, sweaty teenage boys. But there will be days he wants to talk, days he needs you. You must leave the lines of communication open – and probably your bedroom door as well. The less you allow his outbursts or distance to bother you, the more likely he’ll show up for a cozy (and sometimes even revealing) late night chat.

Adolescents need to be handled carefully (ask the Almighty for help – you really need it here!). This too shall pass. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wonderful human being who emerges on the other side.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I didn’t grow up religious. In fact I’m not even religiously observant now. But I am developing a belief in the Almighty and working on a relationship with Him. I’d like to pass this on to my children while they are still young and can internalize it. I'd love to spare them all my hard work. Any suggestions?

-- Searching

Dear Searching,

I have a few simple suggestions to make a relationship with the Almighty a regular part of your children’s lives. Every morning when my kids leave for school, I say to them “Have a great day. Remember the Almighty loves you. Learn Torah and do chesed (acts of kindness).” (My husband usually adds "And be joyful.”) I think it sets the framework for their day and makes the idea of a personal relationship with a God Who loves them one of its cornerstones.

Likewise at night before bed, when my children were small, we would say the Shema. That alone is a statement about our personal and national relationship with the Almighty. But I think it helps to add more. So we would say “Remember that daddy loves you, mommy loves you…" I won’t bore you with a recitation of all the names of all the siblings and grandparents…and then we would end with “and most of all, the Almighty loves you.” That would be their last thought before bed. Their day was now framed with the thought of and confidence in the Almighty’s love.

Throughout the day you want to teach your children (and yourself and your spouse) to look for the Almighty’s hand. It doesn’t have to be big dramatic stories. It can be the beauty of nature, a parking spot when you need it, the correct change, a chance to help someone in need. Tell over these stories at dinner.

Make the Almighty a part of our daily life and conversation. Then He will be as real to your children as the dinner you serve them every night.

And, like the advice to panicked mom above, ask the Almighty to help you. He has an interest in your success at this goal and if He sees how hard you are trying, there's a good chance He'll make the road smoother and the path easier.

-- Emuna

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