In the end I went to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law. The restaurant was very noisy and I found it hard to focus on what they were saying. The food was good, but we left after the main course. I would have liked dessert, but was put off by the noise, and didn’t want to risk my mood deteriorating again, so I didn’t ask to stay for it when my sister and BIL said they were full. They didn’t really talk much about their new house, to my relief, as I’m finding it increasingly hard to take an interest in a topic I know nothing about (never having been a homeowner) and which makes me feel like a useless and inadequate freak for not being able to join in. My sister and BIL invited me to a housewarming in a month’s time, which I’m already feeling anxious about. Thinking about this, it occurred to me that, as I’m extremely unlikely to get married any time soon, my sister will continue to be the centre of the family’s attention for an indefinite time to come, unless I hurt myself. This was a dangerous thought to have. I wish I had not thought it, but I did. As I’ve said before, I’m not a very nice person, nor a very stable one.
(I don’t plan on hurting myself, I should say. I’m just aware of the possibility, and how people might react – probably negatively, but putting me in the spotlight.)
Ashley Leia commented on my last post to say “This single person’s take on it is that the top two essentials people are looking for in a relationship are to be loved and to be accepted, and the rest is more or less negotiable.” As we say in Yiddish, alevi, if only. I really hope this is true, if not for me then for other people, but it hasn’t been my experience so far. Both the women I have been in a relationship with said I was particularly kind, loving and understanding of their issues in a way that their previous boyfriends had not been. Yet both broke up with me for other reasons (actually, I technically broke up with my first girlfriend, but only because I could see that our views were incompatible; she agreed that it was the only solution).
My first girlfriend was worried that I would be frigid even after marriage. E. was worried that together we would never earn enough to support a family in comfort. I don’t think either of these fears are unreasonable. I think a lot (too much) about sex, but frequently feel uncomfortable with even casual, non-sexual physical contact (aside from Jewish law, guilt and everything else that complicates sex even more). I worry that even if I do ever have sex, I will be one of those autistic people who finds it disgusting. When my ex tried to kiss me once, I did indeed find it disgusting, although it probably didn’t help that she took me by surprise (not as much fun as I would expected); I half-heartedly tried to kiss her again after my shock, but found that I could not work out how to do it. Similarly, I can’t see myself working anywhere near to full time in the next few years, so unless my spouse was earning a lot herself, money would be an issue (and if she was she was earning a lot, she would probably be a career-focused person I would have very little in common with).
This is without the extra baggage wanted in frum circles, where it seems to be expected that men will study a certain amount of Torah and pray with a minyan (community) three times a day. I don’t know if any women would really see those as deal-breakers, but it seems like it would be hard to admit to not doing them, like admitting to not showering or brushing your teeth regularly. Probably no one has a list of desired character traits in a mate that starts, “Good personal hygiene” because it’s taken as a given. It’s generally accepted that if you want a partner, you have to take care of that, and if you don’t shower, then you will be rejected automatically without any other reason. I don’t take care of the spiritual equivalents of showering and flossing.
My rabbi mentor once told me not to worry about not having been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) because in reality no one cares about that in a husband and that I have good knowledge anyway for someone who hasn’t spent significant time in yeshiva. I hope he is right, but it seems hard to imagine a frum (religious) woman choosing me over a hypothetical yeshiva bachur, unless he was particularly bad in other ways.
I have thought of marrying a ba’alat teshuva (Jew raised non-religious who became religious later in life) or a geyoret (convert to Judaism), but even aside from the fact that they would probably buy into the frum community social norms, the issues of physical relations and finances are still going to be there, as they would be if I dated someone not so frum. In addition the issues caused more directly by depression and autism will be around whoever I date: low energy, irritability, communication difficulties and so on. Plus, in the frum world dating is for marriage. While frum people don’t all get engaged after eight dates, the expectation is that one will get engaged quickly or move on quickly. I feel the need to date for a longer period because of my issues and the bad experiences I’ve had dating in the past, but the option isn’t really open for me.
While I hope – I really, really, really hope – that what Ashley says (which is similar to what my parents and my rabbi mentor say) is true, my experience in life so far is that things are not that simple, at least not for me.
A quote from Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav by Arthur Green: “It may have been in reaction to the extreme senses of depression and worthlessness which so frequently overcame him that Nahman developed a compensatory sense of unique greatness and value to the world.” (p.122) This sounds worryingly familiar from my own life, although usually I keep my narcissism and megalomania private and only share my self-hatred. Even at my worst, I can see I’m not really a great person, but believing I’m not a terrible person is much harder.