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July 30, 2015 / 14 Av, 5775
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I Wasted My Years (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I just finished reading your book, The Committed Marriage. How I wish I had discovered this wonderful book years ago. How different my life could have been.

I write this letter with a heavy heart. From the outset, I want to make it quite clear that I am not writing with the anticipation of a solution to my problem. I am writing with the request that you publish my letter (anonymously, of course), so that others might learn from my mistakes. It is for this reason that I decided to write although this is probably the most painful letter I have ever written.

I grew up in a typically secular Jewish home. Once a year we went to the local temple in our neighborhood for the High Holy Days. On Chanukah, we lit a menorah, and on Passover we had a Seder (only the first night). All these rituals were carried out perfunctorily, without meaning or content. They were superficial acknowledgments of being Jewish. Our home was not kosher, our Sabbaths were just Saturdays, taken up with shopping, sports, or other activities.

When I was 14 my parents divorced. It was a bitter separation. Without going into too many details, there were many ugly accusations and recriminations. In any event, my father left, remarried and started a new family. My mother, on the other hand, dated and had many relationships, but never quite made it to marriage. We had always enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but once the divorce took place, everything changed. The final settlement did not allow us luxuries, and suddenly, we found ourselves on a very tight budget.

My mom, who was never too calm, became temperamental, and would lose her cool at the drop of a hat. The divorce settlement forced us to visit with our father, and those meetings were very painful. I resented his new wife and her taking my mom’s place. I resented her for disrupting our family and I am certain that she also resented me.

I was under tremendous pressure from my mom to do well in school so that I might be eligible for a college scholarship. She kept insisting that before I even consider marriage, I must have a career. “It’s important that you be independent and capable of supporting yourself,” she always said.

Throughout my high school years I worked very hard, although it wasn’t easy. I was in therapy for quite some time, but I never worked out my problems. I never adjusted to the new dynamic of our family. I had no choice but to accept the new reality and try to make the best of it. I had to be tolerant of my mom’s boyfriends and relationships, be privy to all the ups-and-downs, which punctuated her private life, and then, accept my father’s “new family.”

It was more than any teenager should have to deal with. My two brothers were equally impacted by the trauma, and they chose the destructive path of alcohol and drugs. They hung out with girls until the early hours of the morning. My mother would scream and yell, but they paid no heed and continued their self-destructive path. I couldn’t wait to graduate and escape the madness in my home. I was anxious to go to a university as far away from my parents as possible. I worked very hard with one goal in mind – escape! When I was graduated, I received a scholarship to a good university.

I had many relationships in college, but marriage was never even considered an option. My goal was to finish my education, find a good position, travel, enjoy life, and in time, marry and settle down.

When I finished college, I went on to graduate school, all the time bearing in mind my mother’s admonition, “Make a career for yourself! Become independent!”

I decided to go into medicine because I felt that would be the most secure and lucrative profession I could undertake. It was a long haul and a lot of hard work, but it was a worthwhile investment. I specialized in Ob/Gyn, thinking that it is one field for which there is always a demand. I worked very hard and did my residency in New York, and was elated to be accepted as a fellow in a prestigious Manhattan hospital. I was so overwhelmed with work during that period that I didn’t have time to even consider a serious relationship.

After completing my fellowship, I joined a highly successful practice. Once again, I was consumed by work with very little time left for socializing and a personal life. This, more or less, sums up my background. I share it with you so that you may better understand the conflicts and regrets that haunt me now.

Today, I am 45-years-old. I don’t know where the years went, but I can’t deny them, although people tell me that I can easily pass for 35. But I am 45 years old and the best years of my life have passed me by. I bring babies into the world, and it breaks my heart that I don’t have a baby of my own.

My biological clock has ticked away without my realizing it. So here I am – 45 and all alone. Yes, I have savings… a good profession – but so what? I don’t have a family. I don’t even have nieces and nephews. My brothers never married…. they’re all messed up. My mother, in her old age, has become more temperamental and demanding. I find it very difficult to communicate with her because every visit ends up in conflict with tension and shouting. My father has his own life, his own family.

Yes, I have no lack of dates, but the men I meet all seek relationships rather than the stability of marriage. So why am I writing this letter to you? Because I know that you have a wide readership and people respect your opinion. So, I would like to tell all the women out there who have bought into our culture’s value system: “Don’t sacrifice marriage and children for a career. No profession, no amount of money is worth it!”

Yes, I continue to date, but there is nothing much out there. I have discovered that the men in my age bracket who are successful want young women, and they get them. And if they are not successful, it is difficult to respect them. I do need someone to look up to – I just can’t marry a loser. I wish that I had found your book, The Committed Marriage earlier in life. How different everything would have been for me -but I do hope that you will print my letter. If I know that people will learn from my mistakes, it will give me a measure of comfort. No answer is required.

A Brokenhearted Successful Woman

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