After writing “Loneliness,” the comments that I got made me realize that I hadn’t done the topic justice. Now, a few days later, and with your feedback, a few things are apparent to me.
I originally wrote about loneliness for a simple reason: it needed to be said. If we’re going to grow, there’s no topic that we can shy away from. Talking about it, is the beginning of the healing.
Here, I’m writing less about our existential alone-ness and more about our cultural loneliness.
People have always struggled. But in our day, one of the biggest things that plagues us is the idea of perfection. Years ago when times were tougher, people had no choice but to be real with each other. If your kid cried all night, the neighbors could hear. If you were sick, the whole community knew. If you went gray , you went gray. And if you were poor, then you were poor.
Nowadays we live with facades. We have layers and layers of fabric and brick and credit cards and surgery and photo shop and wigs and facebook pages to represent us. All of these have value and I’m grateful that we live in easier times. But the result is that we’re faced constantly with the challenge of being real.
I don’t think we even know any more what we care about and what society cares about. It’s all enmeshed in a debilitating cycle.
I ask myself this silly question. Why do I need to wear a new outfit each day? If status quo (like in some parts of Europe) was that the same skirt and top were good for two days, wouldn’t I do that? So when I say “I’m a creative dresser,” maybe I am. But maybe I’m also just keeping up with some nonsensical expectation.
That’s a silly question, having no bearing on anything important, but what about important things? It seems like as a culture we’re setting the bar higher and higher and everyone is standing on tippie toes and bending backwards to reach it. This goes for physical ammenties and also for more core issues.
It’s like we think that we all have to be cheerful and well adjusted and non medicated, with perfect marraiges and no health issues with loads of money, perfect looks and plenty of time to volunteer.
That is not a realistic expectation. And it’s our undoing. Because we’re not supposed to be perfect! (Whatever that is!) For religious people, ironically, I think this problem may be even more invasive.
The Torah teaches us how to lead the perfect life. (Yes, I used the word perfect.) And keeping the Torah, means we’re aware of those ideals. We’re living noble lives full of purpose and meaning. I think that subconciously as a community we shy away from sharing too much because it feels like we’re not being successful in living Torah lives.
That’s so sad. I know that’s not what Hashem had in mind when He sent us challenges. He wants us to grow from them. To use them to live Torah vibrantly and to bring closeness between man and man. Like Rabbi Akiva answered the Roman general who asked “if your G-d can do anything, why are some people poor?” “To give the world a chance to do kindness.”
So lets not confuse a beautiful religious life with a life that has no problems. Being human means having challenges.
Real is in. We all know real when we see it – and we love it. The online world is a messy mix of the great and the rotton, but one thing is for sure, people are sharing. They’re posting their feelings, asking for support and saying what their excited about. Can we do that in person? We want to share but I think we end up instead, with the status quo of protecting our persona.
It seems to me that that’s where a lot of these superficial interactions come from. Because we can’t talk about what we really need to talk about. The forclosure notice, the worry, the restlessness, the anxiety, the being overwhelmed, the feeling uneasy, the wanting inspiration, the doubting, and the personal victories.
All these we don’t talk freely about. So whats left? Two souls poised to meet and connect, rebuffed by the ego’s unwillingness to let its gaurd down.
But I think we can do better. If we look at Jewish life we see right away that the Torah doesn’t want us to be alone. G-d has in mind that we share our lives with each other. We go to shul, have weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and chavrusas (learning partners) and so many more events that according to Jewish Law need people present.
Shiva, my friend pointed out is the best example of that. Just when you want to crawl in a hole, the Torah says “no, you have to be with people.” And more; shiva is about keeping it real. If you don’t feel like talking, then a visitor cannot start a conversation. How you look is a non issue – the mirrors are covered. And even if its tough, you stay with it for all 7 days.
So clearly, we have to be together. To function as a nation and as the unit that we are. We need each other!
In a way its very cool to be alone. To be accountable to noone, to do your own thing, to live a spiritual life up on a moutain top; but uh uh, that would NOT be good for us.
We need to fight isolation like we fight gravity with every step we take. The only way we move forward is by exerting effort, lifting our feet and reaching for more. We need this. We need to be real with each other and not just online but face to face where one heart meets the next.
Let’s be practical for a minute though. Let’s say I’m a private person. I don’t want to share with everyone. And lets say the truth; you can’t share with everyone. It’s appropriate to be discerning in your trust. Thinking that we can just spill our hearts because its a lovely concept has the same problem as communism. It misses the fact that people are people.
Not just that, but complaining about a society doesn’t change it. We’ll still leave this conversation facing all those expectations that we spoke about. The pressure to look good and conform is a fact of modern life.
So what can we do?
First, be honest. The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, stretch, and share a little more. See what happens. Sometimes I do this and wait. If the person is responsive,we have a meaningful conversation and often, I’m energized for hours after. We both are. If the person is not responsive, then I give them the best smile I have hoping to spread connection that way. Please try this and send me your stories. I promise you’ll have some to tell!
Second, learn to ask the right questions. If you want to share someone’s world you have to really care. The questions we usually ask; “How are you? Whats up?” just won’t get us there.
Lets say you see someone you know and you ask “How are you?” They give you an honest answer, “Tired.” Now there’s someone reaching out!
Don’t miss the opportunity and answer “awwww” or even “that’s rough.” Listen to them. Stop and share their tiredness. You can ask “Did you get sleep? Do you want to talk about it? Don’t give advice or solutions but move into their space with them for a moment. Your presence will give them energy!
Let’s say someone tells you they started a new job.
Typical conversation:”Oh, how nice, where? Oh, thats nice.”
No! It’s not nice!
How about a response like,”Are you happy with it?” Is this what you were looking for?” What skills do you get to use in the job?” “How’s the adjustment?” Whats the company culture like?” “Is this where you want to be?””How does this fit in with your plans?” “What keeps you motivated?”
Now thats nice! That’s a conversation. That’s when we give permission to each other to be real and start living with togetherness instead of alone-ness.
Being real is not just a 60’s throwback concept of freedom. Its creating a safe space in our world where we can be heard, where we can grow authentically. It’s not just about you having freedom to share but also letting your neighbor know that they can share without fear of judgement.
Next, challenge the status quo. Does my wedding need to have 400 people at a sit down dinner? Can I afford it? Is it what Hashem wants? Does my wig need to be this expensive? Do I give myself the freedom to be who I really am? Have I sat down to make a personal mission statement or am I swept away by whatever cause is in fashion? What is real for me and am I living my authetic truth?
When our kids started coming home at 5:00, we realized that we had no family time left. The younger ones came home earlier but didn’t have me available becauseI was busy with carpool. After supper, bedtime came quickly for the younger ones and the older one spent the night doing homework.
I remember the freedom when we realized, “We are the parents. We get to make the decisions. It doesn’t have to be like this.”And for the next, magical two years we homeschooled our six older kids. Thank Hashem, it was the best decision ever.
My husband is my hero. Twelve years ago he looked at his life and said, “I don’t want to be a Rabbi.” (Gasp!) “That’s not really me.” He looked inside himself and found that he was more comfortable being with the people and didn’t want a podium or a pedestal. With that decision our life took a 180.
He had the courage to be real, even in the face of people who thought he was doing the wrong thing.
Neither of these decisions may speak to you, that’s ok. Whats important is that you ask your questions.
Those are my thoughts for today. I’m ending this post feeling like once again there’s so much more to say. I worry that I brought up some topics that can spark negative talk about ourPeople. And while I cherish honesty, I don’t want to be the cause of Lashon Hara, (gossip). So I ask for your feedback, but please only that it be contstructive.
We’re an amazing people. Like the student who gets an A- but still gets told they can do better – because they can. There is so much goodness in the Jewish people and still , there’s more to work on. I ask Hashem that He bless my words and that they reach the hearts of my dear friends in the way they were intended.
This is one of the most brilliant essays I’ve read….it’s all PHENOMENAL – not one negative thought. It’s such a healing. My daughter is ill, as you know…when I share about this on fb or email I feel a little guilty…is it in good taste? But this is how I know to get through it. And it brings me comfort to think that at any time of the day or night, someone, somewhere in the world is prayi g for her. Even my closest friends, my longtime friends don’t seem to acknowledge what this FEELS like…it’s pretty much, “we should hear good news!” and “refuah shleima!” Etc. etc. I think we’ve become accustomed to living at a distance…I know our friends love us and care deeply. I once read an article by a rabbi who visited a village in Mexico where people left their homes EVERY night to visit w/ neighbors…no tv, no computer, no phones! Just each other! The way we live in America is not the only way to live! We’re so careful not to dress or eat like other people…we need to live like Jews and not Americans by really connecting w/ each other…by being real w/ each other, together w/ each other….Thank you, Rivka Malka! Love you!! Ps. I’m so grateful for your blog but get some sleep once in awhile:)
Funny Davida, when I was writing this I was thinking of you and that you do share honestly. The problem you brought up about our physical isolation is huge and one that I totally dont have a grip on myself. More on that another time. Crazy that even you should second guess yourself when posting on FB. Its the supposed real sharing place but even there, we’re concious of how we look. WO!Its exhausting!
hang in there, love, Rivka Malka
This is wonderful. i want to share it with so many friends. I really have more to write, but no time now. maybe soon. Plus i can collect my thoughts in a more organized fashion -maybe 😉
Thank you for this whole website! What you say about being real not only online, but also in person is very true and important. Be”H this conversation will continue!
Thank you Mikki, I love reading your chatzos posts! Sometimes I read them and even without seeing the authors name I know its you b/c its brimming with positivty. Thank you for being you!
love, Rivka Malka
I really like what you wrote about asking people questions – this would seem to create much more of a real connection. I just read about “emotional bids” where we reach out and if the other person responds in kind we make a small connection, and more reaching out more emotional bank account points. So many people just ignore the bid or interject their own thoughts.
both posts-very well said!
Thanks for commenting. It’s great to hear the perspective of someone who’s spent so much time studying what makes people tick. I like the word “emotional bid” It descibes perfectly the interaction that I have with a certain person that I’ve felt unvalidated by. Looking at it from this perspective I think she wasn’t picking up on my empotional bids and I took that as rejection
Rivka Malka- yes when someone doesn’t accept your bid, it can be hurtful or leave on lonely-the theme of your post.
John Gottman coined the term, he has a few good books on relationships such as The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you want to read more about emotional bids, there’s a great book by Gottman “The Relationships Cure”. It’s good for all relationships, even for the fine ladies in this thread who are not currently married. I have a copy I can lend, too 🙂 , or you can get it cheap on Amazon etc.,
I had some loneliness in my life, as well. I do not mean to belittle the other posts here, as my story is by no means on their level, but I grew up as an only child and the bidding in my family (especially with my evil step-mom (the proper term is step-monster)) was not as it should have been, etc., and I had a lot of alone time and had to learn to reach out… It’s so hard to be alone, but I’s glad all of us can connect online, on this site, at your shabbis table and in the Jewish community.
Shalom Rivka Malka,
I know what true loneliness is — I think it is more of the existential kind but there is some overlap. In January 2009 my late husband died suddenly and tragically. It had been a second marriage for both of us. We had been married for 10 years. During those 10 years I had come to love his family (four daughters, in-laws, sisters in law, and extended family). I had one daughter from my first marriage who lived with us and she and his girls were close. After my husband died it was discovered that his affairs were not in order. I was left with a huge mess. His entire family – daughters and parents and sisters had no interest in MY well being at all. All they cared about was that the daughters should get EVERYTHING. His ex wife drove this to the point of litigation. I was in court for two and a half years, essentially fighting for my right to survive economically. In the end they got everything, I was left with a pittance. When asked how I was to retire, the girls shrugged and said “you can work”. That is NOT retirement. I was literally forced out of my house and home and even community — I had to move out of town because I could no longer afford to live in the community in which I had lived for the past eleven years and in which both my late husband and I had been extremely active members — both of the community and our shul.
Since then I made aliyah and my life now is absolutely wonderful.I have no complaints — although, I would love to find a new wonderful husband and be married once again. However, I still feel some sense of loneliness, mostly attached to my old life. I no longer have any connection to my late husband’s family — and the severance from his family came very suddenly, just a scant few months after my husband’s passing. I moved away from my community — and have almost no connection any more to anyone there. It was not from lack of trying. But no one seems to care at all about me. I never hear from any of the people who were supposedly my good friends back when I lived there. Not even the Rabbi of my shul. There is ONE person whom I maintain a strong connection with and three others with whom I have a bare minimum connection. But NO ONE else. I was a FOUNDING member of our shul — not with money but with WORK. I worked for YEARS to make the existence of our shul possible. Today, I never hear from anyone. If I send an email I get ZERO response.
It is quite disheartening to know that I spent eleven years of my life in a community, working very hard for it and my shul, only to be FORGOTTEN. It is not a nice feeling at all.
Rachel, Thank you for sharing so honestly. Your story is tremendously painful. Even though you feel settled in the Holy Land now, I’m so so sorry for what you’ve gone through. The abandonment you experienced is horrible. Your inner strength shines through your writing and it seems like you’re getting stronger each day having lived through this pain. I can’t make sense of why such sad things happened, but I do have a text message for you from G-d. He says “I love you, Rachel and I will never abandon you.”
I’m sending you a hug – Good Shabbos, Rivka Malka
Thank you! Yes, writing. It has been how I have dealt with much of my pain (when I was not crying or shouting at G-d (I did that!) or even venting to my mom or my best friend.)
Making aliyah has been the best thing I have ever done for myself. I love my life here. I know, that my life has been blessed with so much hashgacha pratis — even when I was in the midst of all that tsuris, Hashem was showing me His hand. It was Hashem who led an amazing Israeli woman to me, to board with me. This woman was a rock for me during my travails. It was Hashem who brought me to live in Baltimore, where I found solace in an amazing community and where I spent a year healing. It was Hashem who directed me to the job I had while living in Baltimore — actually He directed the job to me! And, it was Hashem who orchestrated my aliyah — all the connections I made, all the help I received, and the life I live currently. I KNOW Hashem is here. When I daven to Hashem and I try to thank Him for all He has done for me I feel so small and inadequate — like I can never get the words right. And I still daven to Him for more — but not too much more. I ask for more of what I already have. The ONLY thing I ask for from Him now that I do not have, is a husband.
Rivka Malka, I also have something else to share with you and a request. I wear hearing aids. I also cover my hair. I LOVE wearing mitpachot and love to play around with different ways of wearing them. But, I am restricted by my hearing aids. I MUST wear them BEHIND my ears and not over them. Can you please make some videos demonstrating different ways to wear mitpachot behind the ears? I would SO appreciate that.
Thanks and Shavua Tov and brachot rabot…
Rachel, your words are so deep. As I’m reading them I can feel how what you wrote is only the tip of the iceberg of your faith and realtionship with Hashem. You don’t get that just by wanting it. You’ve earned it through suffering. You really are remarkable.
Right now I dont have more plans for tichel videos, (I have some other ones deep in the works though) but here’s what I think; wearing tichels behind your ears is essentially the same. The oe only problem is that some hair may show. So what to do about that? I’m not sure. I’ve seen many women wear it behind their ears, maybe they’re using the tefach psakNot sure. I hope you’re having a beautiful day in Eretz Yisroel
love, Rivka Malka
Well…thank you. As for the tichel issue — actually my hair is covered, even with it pushed back behind my ears. I wear the tichel low on my forehead. The only hair that shows is the tiny tiny bit right in front of my ears but it is pushed behind my ears and I use a clip on each side that catches that hair and pulls/pushes it up under the tichel — and it stays there! So, my hair is pretty well covered. In the videos you made, you demonstrated a number of ways to tie a tichel and I actually was able to replicate some of your ideas — just pushing it behind my ears. However, I want to see how you wrapped/tied the tichels you are WEARING in those videos. It looks like there are THREE tichels and it is gorgeous.
And speaking of tichels I must relate a recent discussion I had. Over Shabbat I was discussing with a good friend my feeling that whenever I go on a date with a gentleman, I wear my sheitel. But I feel like a fraud because my own hair is simply nowhere as nice as my sheitel, and I am concerned that any man who finds me attractive in my sheitel would be sure to be disappointed once he saw my real hair. However, I also have felt that if I wore mitpachot on dates, men would be either confused or turned off. Well…my friend told me I should and could wear mitpachot on dates. So, motzai Shabbat I received a call from a lovely gentleman (whom I have not yet met) who asked me out on a date. I agreed to the date but I also asked him about the sheitel/tichel issue. He was so lovely and he told me that he knows (via his ex wife) how difficult it is for a woman to cover her hair and I should do what I feel most comfortable doing. He likes mitpachot so that would be fine! So, I will be going on a date, wearing a mitpachat. Wish me luck.
oooooooohhhhh Rachel you are branching out! what a kind response from that gentleman and good for you for doing what you felt authentic with!
I am so moved by the truth and depth of this post. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and wisdom.
thank you for reading this Chana!
I really like what you wrote here, especially the suggested steps to take.
thank you Chaya!
Thank you. You’ve verbalized so much of what I’ve been feeling.
Thanks for your feedback MAry – we’re all working on this
love, Rivka Malka
What a wonderful post. Reading this post left with me with a lot of thoughts. I was reading something today that spoke about being able to listen to others. There is a real skill in being able to really be present with someone and really listen. Its something that we can learn as children if we have parents who model this to us. When we learn how to really be present with someone else and listen, we can transform their lives and our own, and create a unity that can take away the loneliness. I think that we are also able to do that when we are real and we have that self love to be who we are and live lives that G-D wants of us. There can be different shades of loneliness, and sometimes that feeling can be painful and sometimes it can be healing. Uncomfortable and challenging feelings and experiences propel us to grow. It is not comfortable to be an olive in an olive press, but that press brings forth the oil, that lights up the world and transforms lives. I learned once that the story of the Ugly Duckling is really the story of King David, who was alone and lonely, except always knew he had G-D with him, and from that he was able to become who he was, and write Sefer Tehillim which is the epitome of all the emotions of both joy and pain that one can express. He was a man of loneliness particularly as a child, and yet he transformed that loneliness into being someone great. There is greatness in that transformation.
WOW! Chaikie, beautifully said. I love evrything you wrote
Connection – takes time
Reaching out – takes time
Asking questions – takes time
Opening up – takes time
Making friends – takes a lot of time!
As you described above, when kids are in school until 5pm, there is minimal family time.
Add to that house chores, work, and necessary shopping and there is very little time left.
When there is minimal family time, how can you develop more social time?
I think loneliness is a direct consequence of the lack of time! When living in the US, I always felt I was ‘running after my tail” never accomplishing what I really wanted to.
I remember a friend telling me she is so bored on Shabbat she sometimes fantasizes for someone, ANYONE to knock at her door (“even a crazy person” she added, sadly).
How about making time for friends, maybe on Sunday? Add “friends” into our schedule, go food shopping with a friend, cook together with a friend, and maybe go with a friend order these four donuts and two coffees, please and with a big smile??
Daniele, you are so right. I myself haven;t gotten around this issue. And I feel it, even though my house is busteling. The comeraderie of women getting together just feels so great and is so necessary. This is a huge topic. I’m so happy for you that you’re living life consiously, at a pace and with values that feel right to you
Thanks, Rivka Malka!
It is so funny we now live in the mountains “in the middle of nowhere” and we have the busiest social and satisfying social life we ever had!
CHECK MY BLOG:
and see how I divided three chickens into 28 guests (most of them “surprise guests”.
I can’t wait to read about it!
I appreciated this writing, I really did.
I feel totally alone in the world. I am married. To a man whom I love and admire. But who is mentally sick (without admitting it) and abusive in all ways (which he admits sometimes).
What do you do when you feel like crying every single time someone asks ‘how are you?’? Or you feel a little better because you’re in the ‘honeymoon period’ and you want to share that something nice happened? What do you do when you are so used to being the one to whom everyone comes for their problems – and when you share, the topic is SO SO heavy, that people don’t know how to cope and go quiet on you?
There is nothing more lonely than knowing you’re alone and reaching out for people -and getting noone. There is nothing more lonely than people saying ‘I am your friend. I am here for you’ and then consistently not being there. Or judging you and looking down on you (in my case for staying to try and work out the marriage, at the expense of having children which is my life dream). Lonely. Loneliness is when there is no ‘we’ because it’s broken. and it’s just ‘i’. that’s sad.
It’s just me and Gd. Thank Gd for Gd!