Dear Ziva,

I met Alan at a friend’s party and it was love at first sight. In my 38 years, I’ve never had more potent chemistry with anyone. Even now, two full years later, I feel like I can’t get enough of him. When we’re together, I feel transported and gloriously alive, and when we’re apart, sometimes I’m literally counting the minutes until I can see him again. My whole day centers around when I will get to see or speak to him again!

The problem is, I know he’s not someone I can marry. He’s not future-oriented in any way, or responsible with his finances. As time has gone on, it’s become clear that he has some real anger issues. But the most important deal-breaker is that he doesn’t want children. He can barely tolerate his own nieces and nephews, or a baby crying on an airplane. He has no patience or soft spot for children at all, no matter how cute or sweet they are.

When this aversion to children surfaces, it makes me want to cry. I love kids and have always wanted to be a mother more than anything. I know I need to break things off with him, but the thought of losing him is excruciating. I’m obsessed with him! I feel like some evil spirit cast a spell on me, leaving me inextricably bound to the wrong man.

Meanwhile, I’m almost 38 and I’m scared. What if I leave Alan and don’t find another man in time to have children? Then I’ll be alone, childless and I’ll have lost the most exciting boyfriend I’ve ever had and can ever imagine having.

Please help!
Joan

Dear Joan,

It’s no wonder you feel the way you do. You’re clearly a smart and self-aware woman who has already identified the crux of your own problem. You said yourself that you feel “inextricably bound” to Alan. The fact is, from a scientific point of view, this description is more accurate than you might even realize. Because, my dear girl, you have been playing with your “love hormone,” also known as oxytocin, a bodily chemical and neurotransmitter that’s associated with romantic interaction and relationship-building.

Medical studies show that while a woman is engaging in an intimate physical relationship with a man, she produces oxytocin, which has a very powerful physical and psychological effect on her. Oxytocin can skew your perception and encourage attachment and trust toward people who don’t deserve it. And this is what happened to you.

It’s never too late to leave the wrong relationship.

To your overwhelming credit, you can clearly see that trying to build a future with Alan would be disastrous. But you fear it might be too late for you to have what you want the most. So now what?

First of all, you can be perfectly certain of one thing: it’s never too late to leave the wrong relationship!

In Judaism, we believe there are five levels of pleasure. I could easily devote another whole column to discussing these levels in depth, but for our current purposes, I’ll just touch on them briefly:

  1. The lowest level is the gratification of our appetites: indulging in good food or drink, engaging in physical intimacy, experiencing all the pleasures of the senses.

  2. A higher pleasure is love, the real love we have for a partner, our children, our parents and siblings and cherished friends.

  3. A higher pleasure still is a sense of purpose; the belief that we are here for a reason and that our lives have meaning.

  4. Even higher than that is the pleasure of creativity, our power to “partner with God” and create something of value, which can take countless different forms, such as building a company, inventing medical technology, composing music – or creating a family.

  5. And the highest pleasure of all is feeling connected to God.

You wisely recognize that your relationship with Alan will always and forever leave you stuck at the lowest level. Your time with him might yield physical pleasure – but with him you will never know the higher, deeper, infinitely more gratifying and fulfilling pleasures that are available to us within this lifetime. You won’t know the deep abiding love that’s possible between two people who share true values, the same goals, and a beautiful family. You won’t know the transcendent love of a mother for her children – and their children. You won’t know the deep satisfaction of living for a higher purpose than the pleasures of the moment. And you won’t be any closer to experiencing the spiritual fulfillment that’s our highest pleasure of all.

You know in your heart that what Alan has to offer is not enough. And you are absolutely right.

Of course breaking it off will be difficult and painful, just as breaking any other addiction is difficult and painful. But just as excessive drinking, overeating, smoking, gambling, hard drugs and all other addictions feel good in the moment but will ultimately ruin your life, so too your relationship with Alan, as good as it feels right now, will take you perilously and irreversibly far from where you most want to be. Addiction and attachment are not the same as love.

The most important step you can take to free yourself from addiction is to stop producing and releasing oxytocin – in other words, break off all physical contact with Alan right away.

Don’t fear that you will not find someone else instead and that you’ll remain alone. Get rid of this thought. It is self-defeating and not healthy. There are billions of people on this planet and there is no shortage of options for you. And you will never be any younger than you are right now, so don’t waste another moment.

Stay busy, active and engaged as you navigate the aftermath of this relationship. Ask your friends for introductions to new men. Take part in activities you love, whether it’s hiking in nature or political advocacy for a cause you find meaningful. This will put you in contact with like-minded people who share your interests and true values.

Many people will advise waiting for some period of time before you begin seeing someone new. I say jump right in and distract yourself with other prospects immediately. Nothing can help you forget the wrong man faster than the right one.

And this time, you’ll know better than to put the cart before the horse. You won’t allow yourself to become attached to another man who isn’t marriage material by becoming physically involved too soon.

We all make mistakes. I have confidence that you will learn from yours and that your next relationship will reap the benefit of your hard-won wisdom.

I wish you a life brimming over with pleasures at every level, from the lowest to the loftiest and all the ones in between. And I believe they can all still be yours.

Much love,
Ziva