The Bintel Brief Is Back: Dr. Ruth Dishes on Marriage Pressure and More
EDITOR’S NOTE: This column marks the return of the Forward’s famed Bintel Brief. after an absence of several decades. New installments of the advice column will appear Mondays on the Bintel Blog. We are delighted to kick off the return of this legendary Forward feature with the legendary Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Dear Dr. Ruth,
I come from a Modern Orthodox background, yet I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a few years, and we’re living together. I’m still Shabbat observant, and my boyfriend isn’t so much.
Everyone in my community asks me why I’m not married, and I can’t take the pressure anymore (they obviously don’t know I live with my boyfriend). My boyfriend and I love each other, but I think we’re both terrified of marriage.
Also, we haven’t been having sex at all, from general anxiety here and there, and I think if we work on this maybe it will be the glue that will make us feel romantic in terms of getting married. “Trying” in that department feels so self-conscious, but I don’t know how to get started. What do you think we should do?
A COVERT COHABITATOR
Dr. Ruth Replies:
This is a very serious matter and I’m glad you had the courage to write. First of all, do not tell anyone that you are living together; this is nobody’s business.
I don’t think having sex would be the glue that would make it feel romantic, as you seem to believe. That is not going to work. What would work, since the two of you are intelligent and like each other, is to see a therapist, not for long-term therapy, but for a few sessions that would allow you to put these issues on the table.
I would suggest that the therapist see you together and one time separately, especially since you are a Shabbat observer and your boyfriend is not. There are many questions that have to be clarified before you become sexually active or think of getting married.
When the people in the community ask you why you are not married, don’t get so worried about the pressure you feel they’re putting on you. Just give them a big smile and tell them, “As soon as I know the date of my marriage, I will call you.” Period. It is nobody’s business, and nobody should be pressured into making such an important step like a marriage by friends and neighbors.
I am a Jewish columnist in Mexico. I recently picked up and wrote about the news that Abraham Hirchson, Israel’s finance minister and chairman of the March of Living to Auschwitz, is being questioned by Israeli police over alleged mishandling of funds relating to the march. I was severely criticized by someone who felt that my column would hinder next year’s youth participation in the march.
It seems to me, however, that if Hirschon is being questioned, the entire issue of the march’s funding is up in the air. Whether or not young people decide to go to Poland (that is, whether their parents decide to pay) is irrelevant to the issue raised. What’s your opinion of my decision to write about this issue? Isn’t reporting and commenting on news our job as journalists?
SOUTH OF THE BORDER SCRIBE
Dr. Ruth Replies:
I make it a point of never commenting on political issues or court cases; not in the United States and certainly not in Israel when I live here in America. On the other hand, journalists have an obligation to report and comment on news, and even if you did not write about it, I am sure that somebody else would have done so, and the parents would have heard about this news one way or another. So while it is very sad to have to report that public money was mismanaged, that is your job.
Dear Dr. Ruth,
I have had a series of unpleasant experiences with divorced rabbis who work in Jewish outreach organizations. I have found that they do things with young, attractive women whom they meet as a result of their outreach work which they wouldn’t allow themselves or be allowed to do with women who are from their own communities. That is, they use such women for sex in ways they wouldn’t get away with in their own communities. They pretend to be trying to be in a relationship when, in truth, all they are really interested in is getting sex.
This has happened to me on two occasions, so from my own perspective, it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. Is there anything you could advise me to do in order to mend my wounds from these dreadful experiences?
I would like to remain anonymous as this is obviously a very unpleasant and shameful set of experiences. It has totally alienated me from Judaism, on top of the other psychological damage I have suffered as a result, all of which is surely the antithesis of what outreach organizations should be doing.
Dr. Ruth Replies:
Let me begin by assuring you that you will remain anonymous because everyone at the Forward, as well as myself, would of course be very discreet. People often ask me about this or that survey that they have read, and I always tell them that the only surveys to which I pay attention are those that are done in a manner that they are scientifically validated.
I’m afraid your survey of two divorced rabbis does not fit that category. While I can’t say it never happens, I feel confident that most divorced rabbis are not going around taking advantage of women. On the other hand, that it happened to you two times seems like a more significant number. I can’t say for certain, but it could be something that you do that leads you into such situations.
So my recommendation is that you talk to a therapist in order to find out what there might be about you that permitted you to put yourself into a position that this could happen twice. I’m not questioning that these were dreadful experiences, but in order for this not to happen to you again, you have to find out what permits you to put yourself into such a compromising situation more than once. That doesn’t excuse those who’ve taken advantage of you.
Finally, Judaism is not on trial here based on these two incidents. No group is perfect, but we Jews have made so many wonderful contributions that we shouldn’t be judged by the misdeeds of two men.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a noted psychosexual therapist. She is the author of 32 books, including, most recently, “The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strength of the Druze” (Lantern Books). She dispenses advice regularly at www.drruth.com.