One unfortunate side effect of living in a different time zone than my family is that I have to have emotional crises early in the evening if I want to call my sister. Yet on this particular night-of-crisis, I ended up calling even though it was 11:30 or so.
The phone rang once, twice. I sighed.
-- Hooray! Fifth ring and Beth answered the phone. How did she know it was me? "Simple," she said, thickly. "No one else would let the phone ring five times at..."
I heard something fall, presumably her nightstand clock.
"...at 1:21... a.m." she finished. "Are you okay?"
"I dunno..." I said, in all of my usual emotional sophistication.
"Is it Joel?"
"Do you want to actually try to use words rather than monosyllables?"
"Uh-uh..." I giggled.
"C'mooon... it's late. What's going on?"
My relationship with Joel, I explained, was up and down. We hadn't seen each other as much as I'd have liked: He had his daughter Michal one week, and then I got sent to northern California to write a bunch of articles for our newspaper's upcoming supplement on summer getaways. I'd been trekking around with a photographer checking out tourist traps and finding charming bed-and-breakfasts and off-the-beaten-path things to write about. And deliberately trying not to think too much about Joel. (Emphasis on "trying.")
You're always upset that guys want to move too fast, and now you're upset that he wants to wait?
"I'm not following," she said. You're always upset that guys want things to move too fast, and now you're upset that he's moving too slow? You are epitomizing some stereotype right now, although I'm not sure what."
I had frowned at the phone.
I wasn't complaining about his decision. She was right: I actually liked the idea of building emotional connection... the real kind. I was now forced to open up, about big things and small things -- an always-arduous task for me. And Joel hadn't disappointed. He was listening and opening more himself.
But I was just scared.
I felt the intensity of our budding relationship weighing down on my shoulders like an anvil one second, and the next, felt like light and joy were shooting out of my nostrils.
Getting close to someone is not supposed to be comfortable; it's supposed to be real.
"Gawd, you must be really annoying to be around," she chuckled. "Look, getting close to someone in a meaningful way is frightening, especially if you're deliberately making yourself vulnerable by opening up. It's not supposed to be comfortable; it's supposed to be real. And since when are genuine emotions easy, especially for emotionally repressed you?"
"No! Well, yes..." I stammered. Hello, panic: We'd discussed that I wouldn't meet Michal until we were seriously thinking about making a commitment... and now, I realized that I was scared both that he would be The One, and terrified also that he wouldn't.
He had this whole other world, a child, and a complex relationship with her mother, and I was supposed to somehow fit into that... if we wanted.
And there are moments when I think, "He understands me. He listens. I want to listen to him. He makes me laugh... I feel that connection... He must be my --Trumpet Fanfare! -- SOULMATE."
I want to believe that he's the one... The One, the one who will brazenly declare, in the immortal words of Jerry McGuire, that I "complete him." (Although I would probably need more than "hello" to be had.)
"...And then I begin to think that he is a total stranger and I don't know him at all and what on earth am I doing with this incredibly complex guy with all this baggage, and..." my voice dropped... "he doesn't even know who Sam Glaser is!!!"
"No! And he claims to be Jewishly aware!"
I'd found out that Sam Glaser-- the LA-based pop singer -- was performing in Phoenix in a few weeks. I'd made sure he didn't have Michal that weekend, I ordered tickets, and I even arranged for one of his partners to take his on-call time. I expected him to be delighted, and instead I got:
I kid you not. He opened the envelope, looked at the tickets and said, in a moderately eager voice, "Who?"
Who is Sam Glaser?!?
"So it just makes me think that we really are not on the same page..." I said, feeling the sadness that permeated my voice. "He can't really be into Jewish stuff..."
Beth didn't say anything.
"Beth?" I asked, "Did you fall back asleep?"
"No..." she said. "I'm actually trying to decide whether to laugh or cry."
She continued groggily. "Jess, this is so textbook... the whole notion of soulmates and perfection. You're usually more down-to-earth about these things."
We create fantasies, and when our partner doesn't live up to that, we say, 'this relationship isn't working.'
"We all create fantasies in our heads, and when our partner doesn't quite live up to that romantic expectation, we say, 'this relationship isn't working,' and move on. Come on: you know that there is no such thing as ideal."
I heard my father's voice: Whenever Beth and I got too romantic, he'd growl, "If there was only one person for you, he'd probably live in Cleveland."
And my mother always added: "Life is about choices. You choose what you need. No one is going to be ideal. You just need someone who's ideal for you."
It was a catch-22. On one hand, the idea of a "bashert" -- the perfect, made-for-me guy sent straight from heaven -- was incredibly comforting as I slogged through the trials of dating. I had said many times that "It only takes one." That one magic man who will come along and whisk me away from ever having to endure a singles' function or blind date again.
Just one: He'll appear and private jokes will sprout in his path, and all will be sunshine and light, and I'll find even his foibles endearing. Because he was made just for me, and we'll fit together like a lid to a pot, as we float away together on a cloud of Vera Wang chiffon and completed wedding registry forms...
And then... I heard my voice of reality shout back: "Ppppppphhhhhhffffft."
"Jess, it's hard," Beth said softly. "The fact that he doesn't share your taste in music is a disappointment, but pretty insignificant. It's a hobby, not a value. You gotta focus on bigger issues - values, life goals, that kinda stuff."
I want the sunshine and roses, I thought truculently, without all this work. I want him to play guitar and sing Sam Glaser songs in a field of daisies... Call waiting was beeping and I saw it was Joel on caller ID. Beth was tired, so I bid her goodnight and switched over.
"Hi," he said, his voice sounding thick.
"Joel?" I was concerned at what sounded like crying. "Are you okay?"
"No, not really..."
He'd been watching Fox News on the latest bombing in Jerusalem... and he was really torn up.
My heart sank at the news of the bombing.
Joel was sobbing quietly.
We sat on the phone saying nothing.
And then it hit me. The man is deep. And he cares about that which is dearest to me. Sam Glaser or not, how could I have doubted Joel's Jewish identity?
Another piece of the puzzle was beginning to fit.