Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a 39-year-old Ph.D. from Russia. When I moved with my parents and 16-year-old son to America, I learned English in three months to be able to be employed and bring money to my family. But I had no response to my job-hunting as a Chemical Engineer, so I worked evenings in a grocery store for three years, while I was studying computers during the daytime. Now I am working as a Software Programmer, the sole means of support for my elderly parents.
But I am very unhappy, and it's my own fault. Every time a good man wants to have date for the purpose of marriage, I walk away because I cannot imagine moving away from my parents. I know my son will leave home one day, and I know that my parents cannot live forever, but I still cannot bring myself to go out and meet someone who will separate me from them.
I feel really lonely. People are saying that I am so beautiful I'll find my man someday. I'll be 40 this year. Can I ever be happy?
The first thing is you need to appreciate all your wonderful qualities. You are responsible for raising a teenage son, help your parents a great deal, and donate your time to help others in your community. It sounds to us as though you are a very generous, kindhearted person.
At the same time, it seems that you feel guilty about wanting anything for yourself. You feel you are not entitled to a personal life and a man to share your life with. We don't know if this feeling is based on the Russian culture you grew up with, or because this is how you were raised by your parents, or if this is a standard you have imposed upon yourself. Whatever the case, this attitude is not good for your personal well being. It is also is contrary to Jewish teachings.
The Talmud (Pirkei Avot) tells us that it is very important to find the right balance between helping others and helping oneself. It quotes the saying of Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am but for myself alone, what good am I?"
So you need to find a balance between meeting your own needs, and helping your parents, raising your son, and doing kind deeds for people in your community. First, we suggest that you discuss your situation with one of the rabbis in your community. He will help you put the conflicts that you feel into proper perspective. We hope that he can help you stop feeling guilty about wanting to get married.
We also hope that you will stop feeling torn inside when you meet a man who would like to court you. It is possible to find a good man and still be able to provide for your parents, and to be emotionally and physically close to them. In order to do that, however, you will have to learn how to establish "boundaries" between your personal life and the life you share with your parents and your son.
Almost all adults benefit from such "boundaries." These are imaginary lines that you and your family members agree not to cross. For example, you need a certain amount of privacy. You may not be getting enough privacy if you and your parents live together. However, even when you live together you surely respect each other's personal boundaries. Ordinarily, you wouldn't walk in on a parent in the lavatory, or go into their bedroom while they are sleeping, for example.
There are ways to extend these boundaries a little further, even if you live in the same home. To allow yourself more "personal space," you can set up a small room or separate area of the house that is just for you. Or, you can ask that the living room be off-limits when you entertain a male guest, or set aside a time each day when you can be alone.
We also suggest that you give yourself some personal time at home each day to do things apart from your parents and son -- to read, watch TV, talk on the phone, or just think.
We can understand that you and your family may not be accustomed to these ideas. However, this is an important step toward reaching your goal of getting married. There are some very fine men who will not mind the fact that their wife also helps her elderly parents. In fact, you will be able to attract a sensitive man who appreciates how you value your personal life and at the same time are a dedicated daughter.
However, such a man also has a right to expect that he will have a fair amount of private time and space with his wife. If you are too emotionally or physically tied to your parents, even the most kind-hearted man will not be interested in dating you.
(Two possibilities, should you take the step toward marriage, are side-by-side apartments or a parent's apartment inside the daughter's home.)
You also need to find some time in your busy schedule to spend with friends or just have fun. One good place to start may be your local synagogue. The rabbi may be able to suggest an introductory class on Jewish thought and practice. Synagogue is also the best place to meet other Jews with whom you can develop friendships and feel a sense of community. This will also help you feel less lonely, and some of the people you befriend may even be able to introduce you to a suitable man to date.
If you are having difficulty accepting these ideas, you may be dealing with something other than simple guilt. You may be too emotionally tied to your parents. Most adults stop being overly dependent on parents in their teens and early adult years. If they haven't made that break by adulthood, they usually can't do it alone. If this is your problem, you may need a therapist to help you accomplish the emotional separation you will need in order to be able to develop a serious courtship.
You should also consider dating Jewish men from other cultural backgrounds. They may be more open to the idea of sharing household responsibilities, which seems to us to be something that would make you happiest. After all, if you work and spend some time helping your parents, you'll want a husband who will be willing to share things like cooking, laundry and cleaning so that you both have more time to spend together enjoying each other's company.
If you stop focusing on feeling guilty, and instead look for good solutions to balance your life, we think you will feel much happier and will have a good chance of finding the right man for you.
Rosie & Sherry