People are a lot like laundry, aren’t they?
We come in different colors, sizes and textures. Some of us need special instructions on how to be taken care of. We can be damp, messy or sparkling clean. We have different settings for how we need to get clean. When we think about things to talk about, we try not to share our dirty laundry. Me? I am a sock. I can be cute or practical. I don’t require a lot of upkeep. Conversely, I get thrown around or misplaced. I stay in a draw if I haven’t been left stuck in the washing machine. I get dirty. I am a solitary sock, still looking for a match.
During the last Monday in June, I went to see the 2015-2016 Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) PresenTense Boston Fellows at their Social Innovation Showcase. I learned about pitching ideas for young entrepreneurs during my junior year of high school and having learned about and hearing from PresenTense Fellows in Israel (see my post “Nine Months,”) I was curious to see what the event would be like. The day started off as normal—scored a new client that had been referred to me from another client (who had also been a referral from someone else), went to babysit for one of my Jewish families for a few hours and then headed to the Fenway area in Boston. It was a hot day and I was wearing business clothes for the first time in months, seeing as I don’t need them in my line of work. The event was held in a building that I used to work in as an Assistant Teacher and I had marveled at how much the building had changed. The entire area has changed tremendously since I was an undergraduate nearby. I eventually found the correct office and made my way inside. It was a great open floor plan with beanbag chairs and a swing set. I took full advantage of the latter, munched on appetizers and sipped wine. I heard the pitches from the Fellows, with ideas ranging from interfaith greeting cards to online Jewish learning. I walked around their tables and read their brochures. I saw my Birthright guide, Matt, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him; however, I did bump into a friend who is a Masa Israel alum in my neighborhood that I met last year. We talked for a bit and then he introduced me to his friend, J. I began to blush.
I may be twenty-seven, but when it comes to men, I still react like a teenager sometimes. I have had one boyfriend that I met right before I graduated college — our relationship lasted a month because we were at different stages in life — but apart from him, I don’t really do a lot of dating. I am also awful at reading people, so I tend to be pretty clueless as to whether a man is hitting on me or just having a nice chat. My social ineptitude stresses me to no end. Of course, circumstances have made it harder to date. I work with children and education is not a field that is heaping with men. I went to an education college four of the five courses I took through cross registration were at a nearby college that was only for women. My longest job (five years) was at a daycare. I thought I would find more men when I had studied abroad in London in 2010, but even with a massive weight loss and wearing makeup, men would stop showing interest the minute I said I worked with children or was interning for a political party since politics was not the same dog and pony show as in America. Although I did get my first kiss in London at the age of twenty-one, I only half wanted to do it; the other half of me only did it to shut DJ and the Dandelion up for their constant teasing of how I was a chicken for not having kissed anyone at my age.
After coming back from London, there were some kisses here and there, my one-month failure of a relationship and a few dates. I fell for a guy on my 2012 Birthright trip (see my post “A Nice, Jewish Boy,”) but he had a girlfriend and I had to move on. When I moved to Israel in 2013 to teach English, there were more men. There were a handful of hookups after I gave myself to an Israeli and I thought that at least two of those could lead to something more. They did not and I cooled it when I came back to America. I had one date with a man I met online and eventually joined Tinder, which was a bust. I had a few dates with a Jewish guy on Tinder, but my feelings were one-sided and the guy ghosted me. Then came Motek, a guy I met at the 2015 AJC conference (see my post “Masa Israel Alumni Descend on D.C.,”) that had flirted for me for months afterwards until it turned out he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After him, there was another Jewish guy from Tinder. We went on a couple of dates and I really liked him, but he said he wasn’t feeling it. I had no time to grieve, since I was heading to Israel a few days later to staff my first Birthright trip (see my post “Babies Got Me Birthright.”) Life had forced unintentional celibacy on me since Motek and I had to shut down my brain when it would tell me to go after the first guy with a nice smile that I would see. These stories are not some of my proudest moments, but I try and tell myself I have a decent personality with enough pride to spare.
As I stood in front of J. and tried to not giggle like a little girl, I took him in as he told me about himself. He was twenty-eight, lived in a college town and worked as a software engineer. I told him about my time in Israel and since he had spent a bit of time in Israel himself, we understood the idiosyncrasies that made Israel who she is. Eventually we were being bothered by a guy who we have tried to avoid over the years, so with our eyes locked on each other, we headed out of the office and towards the elevators. I told him about my job and showed him the background picture on my phone of my favorite kid. We talked about running since he was a runner and I told him how I used to work in the building as we headed down the steps. When we got outside, he asked to exchange contact information. I changed the subject and asked if he wanted to go to a nearby bar where everyone had been invited to. As we walked there, we talked about our Jewish upbringings and I showed him how the area had changed since I graduated college five years prior. When we got to the bar, we ended up sitting at a booth instead of at the bar with everyone else. We both had some cider and buffalo chicken since J. explained that while he does mix meat and milk, he doesn’t eat food from non-kosher animals. We continued to talk about our travels and he complimented my nails, something a guy has never paid attention to. Since I don’t dress up for work, I try and keep my nails nice instead. When the bill came, J. paid for everything. We left the bar together and I offered to walk him back to his car since it wasn’t far. As we passed by some construction, he grabbed my hand and we interlocked our fingers. We made the annoying trek over the various intersections near the Riverway and I pointed out my college. When we got to the car, I stood on the sidewalk. J. went to the driver’s side and then came back onto the sidewalk in order to kiss me. I’m not sure how long it lasted. I flipped off my college behind my back as I am still angry with them for several reasons. J. asked if we could go back to my place but I rent out the guest room in the home of one of the families I work for and I had promised them I wouldn’t bring guys over. While the infant boy, Miles, wouldn’t care, I was not going to try and explain a random guy coming out of my room to three-year-old Leo. So J. drove me to his place instead.
When we got to J.’s place, he hastily cleaned up the laundry on the floor. I had to tell him that I live with two kids, so I was used to messes. J. did everything he could to make me comfortable. He offered me water and had a spare toothbrush. His lights were voice activated, which really impressed me. We decided to take things slow, which worked well for me as I am too old for hookups now and they leave me unfulfilled. We set our alarms for the morning and got into bed. With my head on his chest, I could hear and feel the calm beat of his heart. I’m not used to sharing a bed, but I wasn’t nervous at all. We may not have been intimate, but I really enjoyed lying in bed with J., doing nothing in particular. Being with him felt perfect. I didn’t even mind that I would catch him staring at me a few times when he thought I was sleeping; I did the same thing to him.
When we awoke in the morning, I felt good. I had not slept that well in a long time since I am used to Leo and Miles waking me up before 6:00AM every day since their room is above mine. J. said he could work from home, so we weren’t in a huge rush to get ready for the day. We took a shower and then headed out to breakfast. We stayed close under my umbrella and J. picked a restaurant that is one of his city’s most popular places. We practically had the place to ourselves since the college kids were gone for the summer. I remembered what he had said about not eating meat from non-kosher animals, so I didn’t order the bacon with my eggs so that I could prove I was paying attention to something that was important to him. J. paid for the meal; I covered the tip. He drove me to the train station and asked if I needed money for the fare since my monthly bus/train pass didn’t cover this particular train’s fare. We exchanged numbers and I invited him to a cookout at my house. He said yes and after kissing goodbye, he waited until I got on the train before driving away. Shortly after I got home, J. texted me to ask if I got home safely. I texted him back and then napped for a few hours before heading to work. I was in an amazing mood and it made work easier. J. and I texted throughout the night and also the next day. I had a great first day with the new baby, Emma, I met two days prior and picked up a few things at H&M on sale. My favorite thing was the laundry hamper.
I went to my dad’s apartment to pick up a few things and then headed back home. I threw in a load of laundry and chucked as I did so. My clothes from Monday night—jeans, a nice top and a blazer—still smelled like J.’s cologne. I washed a dress I had worn back in May to a party for Yom Ha’atzmaut, a party that it turned out J. had been at. I watched Leo and Miles that evening as I usually do on Wednesday nights and texted J. when the boys were asleep. The cookout was the next day, so I texted J. directions to the house of the twins I would be babysitting since they didn’t live far from my house and it would be quicker to drive to my house than to walk. I picked up ice cream from the store and a bottle of Diet Coke since J. had ordered a glass at breakfast two days earlier. I watched the twins and changed into a nice dress once I got them settled. J. came to the house at 8:00PM as promised and I dragged him upstairs. He met the twins and their mom and then we headed out. My city was having its own fireworks celebration independent of Boston’s big 4th of July ones, so it took us a while to find parking since the main street was shut down to traffic. We eventually found a spot and headed to my house. I introduced him to my clients and J. presented them with a bottle of Israeli wine. J. got to meet Leo but Miles was asleep. J. and I sat together and while he was quiet at first, he began to open up when one of the guys at the house was talking about software. We held hands together under the table. The fireworks were at a nearby field, so we stood in front of the house to watch them. He had his arm around me and we kissed under the fireworks. It was magical. We eventually went up to the roof deck and snuggled together on the couch eating ice cream. It felt good; right. J. told me about his family and it turned out he had divorced parents like me. We made plans for me to go to his place the next evening after Shabbat services and then we could spend Saturday together and go on a picnic. This is the kind of thing I have only read about in novels. After heading back inside the house, I showed J. my room and then we walked back out to his car.
Leo and Miles’ daycare was closed the next day, so I stayed home and watched both of them. Once Leo and Miles’ parents were home, I headed to my dad’s apartment for a few hours so we could have dinner and catch up. J. told me he would have no problem driving to my house or my dad’s apartment to fetch me, but I didn’t want to inconvenience him. When he texted me to say that Shabbat services were over, my dad sent me in an Uber to the synagogue. Once I got there, J. and I talked to a mutual friend and then we made the drive to J.’s place. We caught up on our day and then when we got inside the apartment, we just stood in the kitchen hugging each other. J. poured us some moscato and we headed into the living room. We watched some of The Dictator and I pointed out the mistakes in the English translations from the Hebrew. J. showed me how his phone was voice activated and how it connected to the TV. That impressed me more than flowers ever could. We eventually headed to bed and I reveled in being in J.’s arms again.
When we awoke the next morning, we showered and got dressed for hiking. It had dawned on me that this was the first full day we would be spending together. I was excited and ready to see where the day would take us. We headed out to breakfast at a place he had never tried and absolutely loved the food. We still needed food for a picnic, so we headed to the grocery store. I’m weird in that I actually enjoy grocery shopping, and I enjoyed it even more spending it with J. We then headed to Downtown Boston and got cheap parking thanks to an app on J.’s phone and then bought ferry tickets that would take us to Spectacle Island. He had paid for everything and wouldn’t let me lift a finger. We walked around for a while and kept our faces towards the sky, enjoying the feeling of the warm sun. We were eventually able to get onto our ferry and we sat snuggled up together as we headed to the island. I had not been hiking since staffing my Birthright trip and I definitely realized how bad my energy was. Still, we persevered and enjoyed our goodies from the store. We sat together on a bench and looked out at the views of Boston. I had to work that night, so we had to head back to the ferry. We snuggled on the ferry on the way back and then he offered to drop me off at work. I told him about a nearby rooftop pool and how I wanted to take him sometime. He seemed on board. I got to work early, so we sat in the car and made plans to meet up for dinner in my neighborhood on Tuesday night. I told him I was paying this time, no excuses. We kissed before I had to go inside, although it didn’t seem as passionate as our usual ones. I shrugged it off and we texted each other after I got the two kids to bed. Sunday night we texted after my usual Sunday night babysitting gig and we spent Monday texting after I got to work (the baby was asleep). Since Leo and Miles’ parents had given me two free movie tickets, I asked J. if he wanted to head to the outlets in my neighborhood and do dinner in a movie. He said it sounded great and I anxiously awaited the next day, not knowing about the impending doom and gloom.
I had to watch Leo and Miles the next day and so Leo helped me pick out what to wear and what snacks to keep in my purse. The day dragged on and once I was relived from my shift, I bolted out the door. I eventually got to the outlets and made my way towards J. He hugged me and gave me a kiss but didn’t reach for my hand. I didn’t think much of it. I had suggested an outdoor beer garden for dinner but we ended up going somewhere else. Dinner was nice but I was surprised that J. insisted on paying, so I covered the tip. J.’s ankle had been bothering him, so we went to sit down on some stone slabs. We talked for a while, but I was now starting to notice that something was off since J. didn’t put his arm around me like he usually would. When I asked him if he was okay, he said we needed to talk. Every girl’s favorite words.
J. began to explain that he had a “really great time hanging out with [me],” but that he wasn’t interested in dating. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. Useless. This is what it felt like to be useless. He then went on to say that I was interesting, pretty and would make another man happy someday. It was nothing I did wrong he said; it was just him and how he felt. I closed my eyes and sighed loudly while squeezing the bridge of my nose between my thumb and pointer finger. I began to feel a lone tear run down my cheek and splash onto my hand. It was followed by another, and another, making quick work of giving me a blotchy face. J. tried to console me when I said he was the only good thing in my life by saying how amazing my life was with my education and my job. My bachelor’s degree isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. And as for work, business has been awful the past few months. Last year I worked twenty-hour days and while I was exhausted, I didn’t have to worry about money. Although I do pay my bills, I get worried. And I am not respected in the Jewish world for working with kids. The Jewish world will only remember me after I’m dead since I give money to Birthright (see my post “Why I Write Checks to Birthright.”) I told J. that I should have just stayed in Israel. Half the reason I even came back was because I was told I’d have no issue working in the Jewish world. I am incredibly frustrated that this piece of my life has still not fallen into place two years later. It’s the same for relationships, too. I asked J. when he felt that he wasn’t feeling into me anymore and he said Saturday. So in that time, he texted me like everything was normal for three days. He said he wanted to tell me in person, but it didn’t need to be this elaborate. My stomach sunk faster than the Titanic. My heart was falling into the murky depths of the water where no one could find me. Hypothermia seemed like a better escape than what I was feeling at this time. J. had asked me if I was mad at him, but I wasn’t. I was also no longer mad at a rabbi, who, the day before I was set to attend a Jewish matchmaking event, told me via email that I couldn’t attend the event due to either not finding the profile I filled out online, there was no good table to seat me at or there was limited space. (I sent my refunded registration fee to American Friends of Magen David Adom.) J. had told me how he had been at that event but didn’t find anyone, yet here I was thinking that we beat the system. The only person I was mad at was myself for thinking this would be different. Every guy I have touched has burned and crumbled to ash between my fingers. It’s all the same; J. was just my longest date, or whatever it was we were doing.
As the feeling of failure and loss hung over my head and crushed my soul, J. offered to drive me home or to send me home in an Uber. I chose neither option. I couldn’t handle being in a confined space with him, nor would I accept his generosity while being dumped. I told J. he didn’t have to stay since he had work in the morning so he said bye and walked away. I wrote to my Tumblr friend, Kate about what happened and posted my feelings on Facebook. I called Cassie but she was asleep. I walked around looking for a bar since I didn’t want to go back home. As I walked, I saw couples around my age holding onto each other happily. Seeing these people so happy made my heart sting for the thing I now lost. Eventually I found my way to a bar and the bartender took pity on me once I told him my story. He gave me a snack on the house and chatted with me as the waterworks flowed. I texted my dad to see if he’d reimburse me for an Uber since I wasn’t in the mood to take the train and bus home. He agreed and I ordered a ride as I settled my tab. I shared my ride and told the other passenger and the driver, both males, to never break a girl’s heart. After getting home, I was violently sick. I have never gotten sick from alcohol in all the years I have been drinking. I guess there is a first time for everything. I went to sleep with my head spinning.
Leo and Miles were gone the next day with their parents, so I had the house to myself for the day. As dawn broke, I rubbed my tired eyes and forced my eyelids to separate, letting in bits of sunlight and a headache. My hand flew up to my eyes, trying to keep out the light. I only made it out of the house to buy Gatorade and a sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts since grease has always cured hangovers for me. I ate my lunch on the back deck and then spent the rest of the day inside. I teared up doing my laundry since these clothes brought me back to happier times—the Minions shirt I wore to bed during the most recent sleepover. The clothes we wore on our hike. The top and leggings I wore before my heart was broken. I tried using the advice I had received on Facebook and through email to make me feel better, but there were definitely some anecdotes that left me feeling like SpongeBob SquarePants when he thinks he’s ugly and Patrick tells him the story of a barnacle that is so ugly, everyone died. SpongeBob tells him the story didn’t help; this was me. I was grateful to have people reach out, but all I could do was mope around. I had Leo and Miles that night, in addition to during the day on both Thursday and Friday. While they’re easy, I was not on my A-game with them. I was not able to be my best. I had Leo entertain Miles so I could burrow myself in a blanket on the couch. And I taught Leo that I was dumped like a piece of trash, just like a garbage truck gets rid of its trash. I had my clients that I had to answer to and they were supportive, yet so bummed for me. Some of them have said J. may think he made a mistake and will try and find me again. Somehow I doubt that.
Is it so wrong to want someone? While I have never believed a man is necessary to legitimize my happiness and I pay my own bills, the loneliness that seeps from the walls, that painful feeling of being utterly, miserably alone in a world where new relationships, engagement and marriage announcements adorn my News Feed on Facebook…I get it. I just want a man who could teach me something new or to have stolen Saturday mornings where we skip breakfast in order to bake a cake. I want a man to hold me in his embrace, to rub my back in circles as we fall asleep. I want to hear him whisper sweet nothings in my ear, to see the precious words I have never heard from a man form from his lips. I want a man to carry me when I’m tired from work. I want a man to surprise me with a call just because he wants to hear my voice. I want to be lulled by the beat of his heart as I rest my head on his chest. I want those things to be real. And I don’t know if thinking about these things is making the pain worse, but I cannot stop my mind from drifting off.
I have tried to make myself feel better, but nothing has helped. I followed my self-imposed rule of only crying for three days, but everything seems to remind me of J. The bottle of wine that he brought over for the cookout stayed on the kitchen counter for days until Leo and Miles’ dad put it in the basement. The Diet Coke stayed in the refrigerator until Leo and Miles’ mom drank the rest. I smell J.’s cologne on other men. The songs we listened to together show up on my Pandora. I went to a Zumba fundraiser with a friend and was feeling a bit better until Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” came on; that was the video J. had on his phone as he managed to get it on his TV with just his voice. When I used my reusable shopping bag at a grocery store, I discovered the receipt from the grocery store where we bought food for our picnic. It’s almost as if the universe is trying to punish me. Why am I constantly reminded of the fact that someone I cared about is gone?
My mood fluctuates. The happy music I once listened to has the opposite effect on me now. Pharrell’s “Happy” has been replaced by No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited” has been swapped with Billy Dean’s “Somewhere In My Broken Heart.” Al Green’s “You Ought To Be With Me” switched with Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” With my music tastes being on the sad side of things, upon the advice from my father, I decided to try out a month of JDate. I have never held out much hope with online dating and JDate has proven my right because guess who not only showed up on my list as a potential match, but at 100%? And JDate emailed me to say that J. was a 100% as well. So clearly the website is wrong and the rabbis doing online matchmaking were right about me not being a match with anyone. I did click on J.’s profile out of curiosity and his profile emphasized everything that he said he was. If I had been on JDate before meeting him, I would have tried to muster up the courage to say hello. JDate allows you to see who has viewed your profile. J. never viewed mine (and I look exactly like my picture so he would know it was me), so contrary to what people have said, he isn’t coming back. But God, I wish he would.
These days, I still try and analyze what went wrong. I just refuse to believe that J. could turn a 180 and say it’s him when it has to have been me. Did I talk about work too much? Was it a mistake to have him come over and meet my clients (even though it wasn’t like they’re my parents)? Should I not have let him meet some of the kids I watch? Should I not have told him my dirty laundry so suddenly when I just wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into? I’m still not sure. Maybe I should have paid attention to the signs like how before the night I was dumped, I watched the “Raisins” episode of South Park where it happens to two of the characters or how the last time I went to a PresenTense event, albeit in Israel, I was dealing with guy problems then, too. I should have noticed that in a text we were exchanging the night before I was dumped, he didn’t respond to the part where I said I liked sleeping in his bed; he responded to every other part in the text bubble. And then on the night I was dumped, the restaurant in front of us played the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” I really can’t seem to get that, either from a guy or the Jewish world. It was foolish to hope.
My friends and clients have tried to help me move on. I cannot fault them for wanting me to be alright. I just feel like nothing in my life, with both men and a career, has fallen into place. I know that I make okay money and I have friends, family and clients who love me. In other words, I have most things that should make me feel happy…except a Jewish job and to have a man care for me the way I want to be cared for. I also wonder what would happen if I bump into J. again. I know he goes to Shabbat services most of the time and I don’t, so I won’t see him at those. But knowing he was at the Yom Ha’atzmaut party back in May and how I met him at a secular networking event, I can’t avoid him forever. Whether I like it or not, our paths will have to cross. That fills me with unimaginable dread and already makes me think of how awkward it was whenever I had to see some of the guys I fell for in Israel after our time together.
I do try and smile, although it’s hard when I see couples everywhere or when engagement or wedding announcements show up on Facebook. I know relationships are hard, but I think they can be so worthwhile. I just wish that were a guidebook on how to stop feeling so miserable because this high and low and up and down swinging pendulum is for the birds. I am sure that there are websites or books out there that could impart sage advice, but I suppose that the best thing to do is to move through it; not quite past the missing and pain, but perhaps to a place where red-rimmed eyes do not come with such power and unpredictability. So, that is all about all being miserable. That and just the simple pain of missing J. I do wonder if it would have been better to have not gotten involved with J. than to be feeling the way I do now. This is probably why I am so gloomy; I have nothing in my life that gives me the kind of happiness that J. brought me.
Perhaps one day I will be like the people who find love on Birthright or through Masa Israel. I want love—the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired. I know I am fairly young, but I think I am ready. How lovely would it be to find a nice, Jewish man who loves Israel as much as I do and would like to settle down someday. Now it just means finding my matching sock, wherever he is. Meanwhile I will remain the sock that is left out, shoved into the back of a draw where I will be unwanted and forgotten while the others have their matches. Envy will continue to be the only sock that matches me.
Laundry is routine these days, just like work is. Clothes tell a story, just like I do. I read the stories of people who find their matches and wonder if mine will ever come. Despite the pessimism and all the pain that has come from my search for a match, I continue to think someone is out there for me, in spite of the increasing evidence that this hope is inevitably turning me into a gray-haired old woman who will eventually end up all alone in a studio apartment filled with cats and socks sitting underneath a couch.