Dear Rosie & Sherry,
First, let me say that your site and advice is some of the most humane, sympathetic, wise and well-written that I have come across on the Internet.
I am 40 years old and single. If you had told me ten years ago that I would still be single and childless, I would have laughed at you. Yet my last serious courtship was five years ago and since then I have managed to meet nothing but time-wasters, liars and men who haven't a clue what they want. They start out with, "You're so beautiful, so funny, so intelligent, etc.," but a few months later they start not returning calls, suddenly having plans with the boys, etc.
I do not have a self-esteem problem and I'm not clingy or needy (in fact at this point if I get the slightest hint that a guy has no real interest in contacting me or making plans to see me regularly, I exit immediately), so that can't be used as an explanation.
This is my reward after all those years of getting dumped on.
Anyway, about six months ago I ran into a guy I have known since high school -- let's call him James. We know all the same people, we have similar educational and career backgrounds, he's a doctor and I'm a lawyer, he's cute, funny and smart. It doesn't get much better that that. And so finally I thought, "This is my reward after all those years of getting dumped on, let down, and kicked in the emotional teeth." (In 2007 a guy dumped me on Valentine's Day!)
It took a few weeks for us to actually go on a date -- which I suppose should have been my first warning sign. The date was perfect, though. Then I went on a vacation for two weeks, and when I returned there was no contact from him. Finally I called him. He said (and kept repeating) that he was very happy to hear from me. A few days later we had another great date. However after that, another two or three weeks drifted by. Same story -- I finally texted him to say that due to the long silences from him, I was assuming that he had no real interest in a proper dating situation. He made a bunch of excuses (prior commitments to work, family, friends, etc.)
Long story short: if a man of 40 whom I've known for so long, who is in the same professional and educational bracket as me, who has reached the top of his profession and is therefore financially able to settle down and start a family, and who has many friends in common with me, is still clueless as to what he wants from life, I just absolutely give up.
I have been burned so often in the past that I am no longer prepared to even get involved. At this point I cannot even conceive of getting dressed up to go out on a first date at this point -- that just seems like some sort of alien concept. I feel that I can't even begin to engage with men, because who can tell if they're one who actually knows what he wants (i.e. marriage and a family) or one that just looks like he should know what he wants at age 40, but in fact hasn't a clue.
I find the nihilism and apathy of it profoundly depressing. I am angry at God for dumping this on me, for sending someone like James into my life and then having it all turn sour again. I am the eldest of six siblings, all of whom are married with kids. Why is this happening to me?
I am loyal, good company, affectionate, intelligent and fun to be with -- and have been told this all my life by men. If none of the losers from the past five years could see what they were getting in me, well, that is a world with which I want nothing more to do. If this is to be my life for another 40 years, well I just don't want it. I am immensely angry and even have suicidal thoughts. It seems I am never going to meet the right man and I have absolutely no interest in spending the rest of my life alone.
Thanks for listening,
We can understand why you feel that you are ready to give up hope of finding the right man, marrying, and having a family. Your disappointing dating experiences would discourage many women in your situation. The idea of giving up your goal of marriage can appear to be an appealing alternative to what seems like an endless cycle of unsuitable dating partners, suitable men who turn out to be commitment phobes, and relationships that don't lead anywhere.
We don't believe that someone who truly wants to be married has to resign herself to this fate. The very fact that you wrote us to express your heartache and to question why you've have to endure a painful dating history, tells us that you aren't simply venting your feelings. You are looking for an answer -- a reason to continue to have hope.
We are not blaming you for not having achieved your goal.
We believe there are changes you can make so that your dating can become more productive. Your letter highlighted certain patterns in your dating career that gave us insight into possible reasons why you have not yet succeeded in finding a marriage partner. Before we point them out, we want you to understand that we aren't blaming you for not achieving your goal. It's clear that you have been doing your best to meet someone who is right for you and to develop a relationship that can lead to marriage.
It also seems that you have a number of qualities that are real assets for someone who is dating for marriage. You have self-awareness and clear goals for your future. You have a healthy amount of self-esteem and you don't engage in clingy or needy behaviors that tend to scare men off. You're articulate, intelligent, have a good career, are good-looking and personable. It sounds as though you probably have a flexible idea of what you're looking for and this enables you to consider a number of the men you meet as potential partners, and that you appeal to many of these men.
Yet, something happens after that initial attraction. You've described a recurrent pattern of dating men who seem enthusiastic at the beginning and then lose interest after a period of time. We always recommend that daters look at any scenario that reoccurs and try to understand what is going on and why. We have a few ideas about what may be happening with your dating, and we'll list them below. It is up to you to decide which may apply to you.
1) Weed Out
Even though you're marriage-oriented, you aren't dating men who have the same goal. You both enjoy the first few months of dating, but as time goes on you expect more depth, more emotional intimacy, perhaps more talk about the future. When your dating partner realizes that you want more out of the relationship than he does, he pulls pull away.
The way to avoid experiencing this is by weeding out unmotivated daters as early as possible. With these men, their life expectations reflect a trend in society to view marriage as one of many lifestyle choices. They're happy to have a woman in their lives, as long as marriage isn't part of the picture. Some of the single guys you've dated may be marriage-shy because they haven't dealt with issues in their lives that block them from developing a healthy relationship and lasting commitment. And still others have never moved out of a young-adult mindset; they think they'll marry "someday," but figure they've still got plenty of time to settle down.
The way to weed these men out is to discuss your dating goals during one of your first few meetings. Use a matter-of-fact approach, such as, "I realize that we don't know each other yet and can't know how our dating will turn out. But I want you to know that I am dating because I would like to meet the right person to marry. I want to know if you are also dating because you want to get married in the near future, or if that's not something you're planning on any time soon." If your date isn't dating for marriage, or if he is vague about the reason he's going out, continuing to date him will be a waste of your time. And if he can't deal with this topic and gets "scared off," he won't be receptive to the idea of marriage no matter when it's raised.
2) Not Too Strong
Some of the men you've dated may be oriented toward marriage, but perhaps you are moving the courtship forward before they are ready. You may have thought, "He could be The One" and prematurely asked questions like, "Where is this going?" or expressed strong emotions for your date before he had similar feelings. You may have seemed over-eager about seeing each other more often, offered to do several favors for him, shared something about yourself that made him feel uncomfortable, or gave him "meaningful" presents before the two of you had established a level of emotional intimacy at which these gestures would have been more appropriate. It's important for daters to remember that each person becomes emotionally invested at a different rate. When one person comes on strongly at too early a point, the other can feel uncomfortable or rushed -- and then back away.
If this has happened to you, it could be that you're just not that good at reading your date's signals. And it is also possible that when the man you were dating first started to pull away, you tried in some way to push a little harder, which only caused him to pull back even more. Or, once you saw him pulling back, you may have "exited immediately" instead of doing damage control.
Don't share personal information that he's not ready to process.
One way to keep this from happening in the future is to allow the man to take the lead when it comes to expressing emotions, deepening the level of discussions, or making gestures that demonstrate the emotional connection is intensifying. A dating mentor may help you learn to take the "emotional temperature" of your courtship so that you don't, for example, buy a birthday gift that makes him feel uncomfortable or share deeply personal information he's not ready to process. And a mentor might help you see that sometimes, a little damage control can keep your budding relationship from falling apart. Instead of a making quick exit from a courtship that has potential, you might be able to step back, stop pushing so hard, and talk things through.
You can find a dating mentor by looking for a married friend of acquaintance who has good insight and discretion, and is willing to be your sounding board and "coach" for dating-related issues. Mentors can use their life experience and "marital perspective" to help you gain clarity and date more productively.
3) Revise the Checklist
You could be using less-than-beneficial criteria to choose the men you date. It sounds as though men are attracted to your looks, personality, intelligence, and way of relating, and you may agree to go out with them for the same reasons. These elements all have a role in helping a couple develop a connection to each other, but they shouldn't be the starting point for meeting a marriage partner.
An enduring relationship builds upon compatible values, life goals, and expectations for the future. These should be the first qualities to look for in a dating partner. Find out if a man has a similar outlook regarding religion, community involvement, pace of life, importance of family, etc. See if he has some other qualities you feel are important -- such as the ones you highlighted in your letter (intelligence, sense of humor, a career you respect). In the past, you may have expected to be strongly attracted to a man's looks and personality before you decided to go out with him. In the future, if a man appears to have a number of the other qualities you're looking for, why not try seeing if this attraction can develop over the course of a few dates?
Identifying the Patterns
We've listed these possible issues that may have occurred during your dating career. How can you know if any of them are part of a repetitive, unproductive pattern you will want to change? We suggest that you take an evening off to write down a history of your dating experiences over the past five years. Think about why you were first attracted to a dating partner, why you believe he was first attracted to you, why you decided to go out with him, how you related to each other in the beginning, what happened on your dates, how often you saw each other, what you spoke about at each stage of your dating, how your feelings for him developed, and when you expressed your feelings to each other.
Think about whether you argued, at which stage this took place, and how the arguments developed. Was there a time you wanted more from the relationship and if so, what happened? What was going on between you when you noticed that the man was starting to pull away? Write all of this down, without trying to organize your thoughts.
Wait a few days, and then take a look at what you've written. Organize these ideas to see if there are recurring patterns that have some of the elements we've mentioned in this letter, or if there are other themes that you now realize were counterproductive. You can then discuss these with a mentor to brainstorm about what you could do differently in the future.
One of the benefits a mentor can offer when you are dating is to help you become aware of potential problems that you might overlook, or not want to see, because you're in the middle of the situation. Your history with James is one example of where a mentor could have saved you six months of frustration waiting for him to come around. You liked him and hoped that he could be right for you, but things were one-sided from the start. There were early signs that a mentor could have pointed out to you -- all revolving around the theme that a man who is really motivated to date a woman pursues her. He asks her out again after an enjoyable evening together, doesn't let weeks go by without calling her, and finds room in his busy schedule to see her. Even though you and James liked spending time together, a mentor would have been able to help you realize, long before you did so on your own, that unless he, not you, was the one to move things forward, you didn't have a chance of developing any genuine relationship.
Facing the Future
We know that you're intensely disappointment that James, who had all of credentials you wanted, didn't share your enthusiasm and motivation. And your dating career has, unfortunately, been another source of profound disappointment. It is normal to feel angry and bitter because the men you've met cannot fulfill your deep desire to marry and have a family. But your pain goes much deeper than that, and the last sentence in your letter conveys a sense of hopelessness. You're telling us that you feel as if your only choices are to live an empty, lonely life -- or not to live at all. Your thoughts of suicide are not a typical reaction of someone who can't imagine being alone. We believe that these thoughts are fueled by depression.
Half the people will experience at least one episode of depression during their lifetime.
Depression is more than an emotional condition, it is also a physiological condition. As mental health professionals, we both know that your perspective on life can improve dramatically with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. In fact, depression has a very high rate of successful treatment. Perhaps that's because depression is a very common ailment (almost one out of two people will experience at least one episode of depression during their lifetime), and there are a large number of treatments that have been developed for it.
We understand that you feel that you don't want to endure the pain you are feeling and the idea of being alone for the rest of your life. But you don't have to feel this way. Right now, you may not see many other options, but with the right treatment, and in time, you will see your attitude about life change for the better, and you'll see positive changes in your life as well.
Right now the best advice we can give you is to find a good therapist, even if it takes a couple of tries before you find someone you want to work with. If your therapist also suggests that you consult with a physician/psychiatrist about medication, please pursue that idea as well. You have so much going for you, with the potential to live a happy and fulfilling life, and there are probably quite a few people who love you and care about you. You may not be able to appreciate that now, but with treatment, you will.
You have a lot to offer and must never relinquish the beautiful future that you dream of. We have seen many people in their late-30s and 40s realize the goals they were afraid would always elude them. We hope that you will be able to make some changes that, with G-d's help, will enable you to find a wonderful man, marry, and have a family.
Rosie & Sherry