Another Valentine’s Day Singles Awareness Day has passed. With temperatures in Boston being in the twenties, combined with the fact that I had my final session of Boston’s branch of Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) Israel Advocacy Training Program, I didn’t have to babysit at night since none of my clients wanted to go out. I usually hope for work during the holidays, and not even just for the money; I have always found solace in the little ones since they have never bugged me to the extent that adults do about my love life or the lack thereof. But no matter; my News Feed and the love stories that pop up from Birthright, Masa Israel and other various Jewish/Israel pages I follow me of how alone I am.
I read postings from Masa Israel every day. How can I not keep up with the organization that gave me chances no one else did? I read every post and email thoroughly, but their posts about love make me sigh. I remember an email they sent me last year showcasing some of the couples that have met through various Masa programs. (This was also on their Facebook page.) When I lived in Netanya, we had six couples out of the twenty-six Fellows. One is still together and one of the couples got married last year. There have also been couples that were formed in the other cities that the ITF-ers worked in and from the other various programs Masa provides. All these beautiful people are finding love while me, at twenty-seven (almost twenty-eight), has no one and zero prospects when it comes to love. It doesn’t help that I am far from a beauty queen. I have tended to laugh things off, but when all my clients are married, my former classmates are married or engaged and the cute guys at my gym are taken, I am still reminded that everyone is finding their match while I remain single. And I tried so hard to become a Masa Israel love statistic.
Love is not an easy course to run. Before long, drawn-out conversations with my Masa comrades back when we lived in Israel, the thought of getting married or having children had me wanting to run up Masada without even taking the cable car. Seeing the disaster of my parents’ marriage and knowing the difficulties of breaking the cycle of abuse and addiction that my mother couldn’t do, I was extremely unwilling to give both ideas a chance. But, like conversations with my Masa comrades can do, they changed me. For the longest time, my goals consisted of running for public office. I didn’t want to do that for glory or recognition, but as a way to try and give back to the community. Of course, that was before I saw politics as being nothing more than a giant popularity contest. Nowadays, that goal has disappeared. There is my practical one of paying off my student loans before I’m thirty and the emotional one like dreaming about a husband, and perhaps children, down the road. Maybe in the next ten years I will be happily married and building a new life. But when I remember that I went to a teaching college and that I have worked with children for over a decade, time for finding a man to be in a relationship with seems to just slip away. Birthright did not yield me a boyfriend (see my post “A Nice, Jewish Boy”) but I tried so hard on Masa. So hard. And I feel like I let them down.
I met several men while I lived in Israel. I met strangers throughout the country and the other men through various Masa events. It was the men I met through Masa—both in Israel and America—that have had the most impact on me. For three of those men, I was willing to make extreme sacrifices (most notably moving out of Massachusetts) to be with them. They were steps I was willing to take. And they still weren’t enough.
I knew from the first time I kissed you,
That you were the troublin’ kind,
‘Cause the honey that drips from your sweet lips,
One taste and I’m outta my mind.
–Andy Williams, “Butterfly”
How could I forget Butterfly? My first big, emotional Masa challenge.
I met Butterfly, an Israel Teaching Fellow in a different city than mine, on my way to the 2013 Masa Israel Leadership Summit (see my post “Masa Israel And My Second Chance.”) We were on the train to the Biblical Zoo, although I didn’t pay him much attention. I was too busy talking to a different Fellow. Still, I talked to Butterfly. He, surprisingly, had heard of my hometown and went to a college near mine, so it was weird to think that we may have passed each other at some point without realizing it. With my efforts focused on the other Fellow, Butterfly wasn’t on my mind. I saw Butterfly later that night when the people who had managed to make it to the hotel (we had managed to escape the massive snowstorm that pummeled Israel that year) were hanging out near the bar and drinking. We drank. We talked. And that was it. The next night was the gala and Butterfly asked me to dance. I said no, as I was still pining after the Fellow from the train. But I eventually gave up on that Fellow later that night (and would later learn that he lied to numerous of my Masa girl comrades) and went about trying to soak in as much from the Summit as I could.
Things got interesting the next night. After a long—and freezing—time at the Knesset, there was a karaoke night at the hotel we were staying at. It was humorous enough, but I was getting bored. I ran into Butterfly and he asked me if I wanted to leave. I said yes and we headed up a flight of stairs and stood in front of a random cardboard cut-out of a past Masa participant. Butterfly asked what I wanted to do. I suggested grabbing a drink from the bar but when he said he thought they were closed, I asked him what he wanted to do. Instead of answering, he kissed me instead. I don’t know exactly how long I had let him kiss me, but I seemed to find enough strength to grab his hand and make a mad dash for my room.
Since I didn’t know when my two roommates were coming back, our kissing was rushed. Butterfly asked me if we were on the same page. When I asked him to clarify, he said we were just having fun. I agreed. After we heard the door start to open, we broke apart. One of my roommates was now back. While I should’ve given her money and told her to go get herself a cup of coffee, I just focused on getting out of the room with Butterfly. I had stayed at this hotel before, so I managed to find us a meeting room that was open. We had our fun, saw each other a few times over the next few days and life went on.
As the months wore on in Israel, Butterfly and I kept making plans to see each other. We tried—and failed—to find times that worked for both of us. Although he was a Fellow like me, his program didn’t make him do activities on Sundays; mine did. And since he kept Shabbat, Saturday nights were our only option since we worked during the week. It just never seemed to work and I started to lose hope. We eventually settled on meeting up in Tel Aviv on a Wednesday night (since we had Thursdays off) and then we would take the bus to his apartment in his city together. We agreed to walk around and grab a bite to eat, but then he had said he wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a date. I had never implied it would be, although, admittedly, I was still confused about what we were doing. So I did what I did when the world would close in on me—I ran to the beach and cried. When I got back to my apartment, I told him I was sorry if being bubbly all the time was misconstrued as flirty. He said not to apologize and that our hanging out would still happen. He ended up cancelling the morning of, saying he wanted to focus on the online career fair Masa would be doing that night. I rolled with it and checked out the career fair that night, but found no jobs in Massachusetts. The night was still young, so Butterfly had asked me if I still wanted to meet up. I told him we could reschedule. He then asked me if it was intentional that the career fair had a link to a singles’ chatroom. Telling him that the point of these programs is for Jews to marry and have Jewish babies ended up leading to the rest of the night consisting of racy texts being sent back and forth. My brain was confused but my heart didn’t want to stop. And so this continued until mid-May—racy texts, failing to meet up and both of us trying to figure out what we both wanted. But eventually I got somewhat of an answer, perhaps the biggest piece of proverbial BS I think I have ever heard from a guy.
It was a Sunday night in mid-May, a few days before I would be heading to the Judean Hills to meet up with the people in my Kol Voice Fellowship, along with the people in Makom, PresenTense and Hillel. I was typing a message to my friend Adina and had mentioned how great Butterfly was. It was maybe around 1:00AM or so and as I was about to log out of Facebook, a message popped up from Butterfly. I was both nervous and excited. With this upcoming seminar (Butterfly was in one of the fellowships), I thought that now we finally had a chance to get together again. But then he said this:
I have been spending a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about how my religious practice influences the kind of relationships I have. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to seek hook ups anymore. I want strong friendships not based on sex and lust. I am sorry if you feel that I have played with your emotions or have been unfair to you. I look forward to seeing you at the Masa Shabbaton this weekend and hope we can remain friends.
Just a minute before, I had been flying a mile high. Now I was drowning in the ocean floor, suffocated by the heaviness of this message. I wrote back some excuse about him not being unfair and that we’d remain friends. To be honest, I don’t even know what I would have said if I had been given proper time to think of a better response. I still wonder where the Hell this message came from. I found out later that he had gotten into a fight with his parents the night before sending me the message, so I always wondered if it had something to do with that. The response just seemed so…scripted? I have never met anyone who has used “sincerely” in a Facebook message. Sleep that night was pitiful, so I took a mental health day in the morning and played hooky from school. I just couldn’t give my students my best. My Fellow, Aliyah came to my room that afternoon and asked me what happened. She said staying home made Butterfly win, but I was past the point of caring. Whenever I got down on myself, Aliyah would be all over me the second she’d come to my room. I couldn’t wallow in my sorrows, I wasn’t allowed to bury myself under my comforter, I had to work out at the gym or go for a run with her, I had to eat something…she pretty much made me do the things I didn’t want to do. Still, I remain grateful for her beautiful soul, especially since she had her own share of guy problems.
The next day was difficult, the day after that difficult still, but I tried to shine slowly at the seminar. Despite my beef with Butterfly, I had a great time, plus everyone I told the story to backed me up. And my dear friend Joline from ITF-Petah Tikva would stand in front of me when we were together so that I wouldn’t have to see Butterfly (Joline is taller than me.) Butterfly had said hi to me and asked me how I was doing at dinner the second night we were at the hotel, so I did what any self-respecting adult would do—I stabbed the piece of chicken on my plate repeatedly with my fork. I saw him again the next day when I was sitting down in one of the meeting rooms. Not only did he have the nerve to come up to me and ask how I was doing, but he sat down next to me and talked about his school’s English Day like everything was normal between us. I had hoped the disdain would be evident on my face, but he never got the hint. I was relieved when he left to go sit somewhere else. Aliyah and another one of my Fellows, Lauren, immediately ran up to me afterwards and asked if I was okay. I said I was.
I only heard from Butterfly once more before I flew back to America. He randomly messaged me to ask how I was. I just responded with that I was fine and was packing. I truly did not see the point of this message. Once I was back home towards the end of June, Butterfly wrote to me again. He said he was in Boston and wanted to hang out. Against my better judgment, I agreed to meet him. I was staying at my father’s apartment, so Butterfly met me outside since I had damaged my foot by tripping over one of my father’s barbells and couldn’t walk very far. When Butterfly saw me, he wrapped his arms around me and gently sniffed my hair. I closed my eyes and tried to remember how it used to feel when he did this. As much as I tried to forget this, I would still find myself thinking of these memories quite often. We hung out in the Boston Public Garden and talked. I couldn’t muster up the courage to call him out for what he had done to me in Israel. It would have been the perfect chance, but words failed. Butterfly didn’t make the situation any easier by rubbing my back. Eventually he dropped me off back at my father’s apartment and we said goodbye. I saw him again a few weeks later when we were in New York to begin our journey to Connecticut for a Masa Shabbaton (see my post “Masa Israel’s Still Got It”) but didn’t see him the rest of the weekend. It was the last time I ever saw him before he made Aliyah to Israel.
Butterfly was on the East Coast towards the end of 2015 and so I asked him if he would be around Boston before I made my way to California and Australia for my cousin Matt’s wedding. He wouldn’t be in town. I was pretty angry, since I figured out a general sense of what I wanted to say to him. I messaged him before staffing my Birthright trip last year to say I was around, but he never responded. He clipped his wings. His flying is through.
I just…need to know why all this happened. Why? Why did he choose me? At the leadership Summit, there were two-hundred and fifty of us all together and most of the participants there were women. Butterfly is a vegan. He is religious. He wants children. There were women there who met most of these qualifications. And yet for some reason which I will never understand (and have never been able to ask him), he went after me, the bacon-eating, agnostic, half-Jew who is happily childfree. But I think the worst part is how much I was willing to sacrifice for him if he had been willing to give me a chance. I would have become a vegan. I would have to work on religion. I would have considered having a baby someday. But sometimes sacrifices aren’t enough.
I’ve learned not to think about Butterfly anymore, although he does pop into my head whenever I read about something vegan-related. He really did hurt my heart, leaving it broken, splattered and disastrously open. My heart was a wreck. He wrecked me. And maybe that’s all that’s left of me.