Monthly Archives: August 2011

Distinguishing the Shmuck from the Mensch

The best way to avoid divorce, even before you get married, is to understand the difference between a shmuck and a mensch and how the former can often impersonate the latter and wreak unnecessary havoc in your life.

There are many colorful and descriptive words that have become part of the American dating lexicon, and in my opinion, these two are among the best. Just as the word pesto triggers an aromatic burst of basil, mensch evokes someone of character, integrity, and selflessness. Schmuck, on the hand, screams self-absorbed, opportunistic, and unresolved mother issues.

Divorced women are particularly vulnerable. On the one hand, a failed marriage can heighten awareness to negative traits and stave off an unsuccessful coupling. On the other hand, a divorce can leave you craving the affirmation that comes with dating an emotionally available person who appreciates and enjoys being with you.

Here is how this misconception can evolve:

You have recently returned from a fabulous Caribbean vacation with your two best friends. You were able to finish reading the new Jodi Picoult novel, and there was the perfect ratio of beach to bar time. You chatted up a diverse group of men: Europeans who seemed unaffected by the looming debt crisis, and hedge fund managers who held on to their BlackBerry® like a pack of cigarettes.  But, there was one guy who stood out, who wasn’t texting or checking his voice mail. In fact, like you, he spent a good deal of time reading—an actual book. You walked by his cabana several times to see if you could catch the title. It was Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which made you feel good, because you love that book, and you assume that anyone reading it is has a strong personal vision.  On the third night you talked to him at the pool bar, and you found out that he is a physical therapist who works at a famous rehab institution. This means that he works with people who are physically and emotionally vulnerable, and that made you feel safe. The following days and nights were magical. He told you that he would like to spend a year in the French countryside, preferably closer to Avignon than St. Tropez, but he’s deferred it because his widowed mother recently had a hip replacement, and he wants to make sure she’s back on her feet before he leaves the country for an extended period of time.

The next month is bliss. You share your respective bucket lists and discover that you both want to visit the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and the Rodin museum in Paris.

You cannot believe your luck and how present he is. How he actually listens to you and remembers that you don’t like cilantro but adore capers and pink peppercorns. You are touched by his use of the word “our” when he refers to getting milk for “our” coffee, and when looking for a parking spot for “our” car.  Just recently you were discussing how much the two of you wanted to watch the film “Inception” and he said “make sure to add it to ‘our’ queue.” You are ready to start naming your children.

Then one day you are at his apartment, and he plays back a message on speakerphone. You hear a woman’s voice and she is saying something like “are we still going sailing next weekend?” and then the room starts spinning. But you have had a few years of therapy, and you know it isn’t cool to attack him with your insecurities so you wait until later to calmly ask him if this is a monogamous relationship.

He seems baffled by the question and asks what has brought this on, and for the next twenty minutes you are unable to let him finish a sentence. He starts saying “Here’s the thing…” and you cut him off sharply stating “You are using me, aren’t you? I can see why you haven’t been in a relationship for the last three years!” He realizes that your petals are folding, and says “The truth is that I do have very strong feelings for you, and it is making me apprehensive. So yes, I have been seeing other women, but not seriously.”

You can relate to his anxiety and appreciate his honesty, so you feel better now. Over the next few weeks you regain your equilibrium and return to your Pilates class. You have bought tickets to a concert in the park for next Saturday, and he suddenly remembers that he forgot to mention that he is going rock climbing with the guys for a long weekend. 

This is the beginning of him creating real distance in the relationship. There are more examples of this along with a general lack of courtesy—like showing up late but not bothering to call. The level of commitment goes down little by little, and you start to feel sad and unsafe. What held so much promise now seems dangerous and duplicitous and reminds you of all of the issues that you grappled with in your former marriage.

How did this happen when the beginning seemed so positive and reassuring?



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Immune to peer pressure,

nothing pushes your ripening cycle.

Not the frantic hands of harried housewives,

the ticking recipe card,

or seasonal demand.


You are worth the wait,

for what is more precious

than to feel your flesh loosen

from its snug parka?

What is more delicious than your preference

for being tossed with tears and lemon?


How can anyone resist disrobing

your buttery perfection

and swallowing you whole?


I sleep with your pit under my pillow,

and live to consume and return you

to the underworld.

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The Film Version

I just had a rather cosmic moment. While perusing the Huffington Post Web site I came across a promo video with Nora Eprhon talking about a new HP feature entitled “Breakovers” which is the product of a break-up catalyzing a major make-over. As many of my friends are aware, ever since the manuscript migrated from Word to In-Design, I’ve imagined Nora Ephron directing the film version of the book, with Patricia Clarkson playing the therapist.

The film adaptation would be based on the “The Arthur Files” section of the book and would chronicle the evolution and dissolution of the relationship between ARTHUR WEISS, the burly, bearded, lapsed Orthodox-Jew, and ABBY MARCUS, the half-Jewish “kosher shiksa.”

Despite sharing a similar map of the world, ARTHUR and ABBY’s relationship is complicated by his previous five years of celibacy and inability to detach from his controlling-but-beautiful, Hungarian-speaking mother, ESME. While ARTHUR is smart, sarcastic, and funny, he is held captive by his anger at not having been born to upper-West Side, Reformed Jewish parents, versus immigrant, Orthodox parents who landed in Borough Park, Brooklyn. A doctor by training—a medical writer by choice—and a Kung-Fu master in his dreams, he wants to move beyond his pharmaceutical company clients and become a serious author; a cross between Philip Roth and Isaac Bashevis-Singer.

The “recognition” process and the significant themes discussed in the book (such as boundaries, conflict avoidance, rationalization) are addressed through ARTHUR’s ongoing ambivalence toward his family, his desire to create a life with ABBY—and ABBY’S sessions with HANNAH. There, she grapples to understand his contradictory behavior, along with her growing attraction to DARIUS, an art director who she works with at Angst Jetzt—an online magazine for “people who prize gray matter.” A Web site that bridges graphic design with Jungian perspectives.

The turning point in their relationship is a histrionic Passover Seder where ARTHUR chooses to unleash his discomfort about his pedigree and his fear of being swallowed up by partnership in front of ABBY’s family—who are horrified by his crass remarks and disregard for the traditions of the occasion.

Things devolve from there, and ABBY finds herself moving toward DARIUS, who seems to be everything that ARTHUR is not: someone with self-esteem who is emotionally available.

If I were the casting agent and not the writer, I would choose Zach Galafanakis as ARTHUR, and  Rebecca Hall as ABBY. While I’m open to suggestions regarding the two leads, Patricia Clarkson is not negotiable.

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Der Unbekannte

I never would have known

from your dark turtlenecks

and ebony car

and bat-like exits

that you would be the type

to tuck me in and fold the laundry

without me having to ask.

I never would have known

from your short sentences

that you’d know so many

seven letter words

and know exactly when

to use the x to seal my fate

and dispel my projections.

I never would have guessed

from your sleepy posture

that your laugh could startle the cats

and wake the dogs and

that you could perfectly slice a pear

and place it on the plate as precisely

as you cut angles for crown molding.

I never would have guessed

at how effortless it is

to begin each day

and end each night

with the same amount of syllables

spilling onto the flannel and books

of a life well-lived.

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“I am basically dark and cynical” he said

as he shaved off his beard with

a twisted staple, a tuft of cream cheese,

an afterthought to soften the scrub.


“I would save my mother before my wife” he said

as he stepped into his ski boots and

took off for Finland—but not before he

he unplugged every wire and cable from the power strips.


“Things must end badly or they don’t end at all” he said

as he wrote his acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize and

packed his Astroglide inside his woolen socks, just before

he ate the last bit of Kimchee left in the fridge.


“I’ve been frying bacon since I was three” he said

and he never caught fire or slipped off of the stool

as he scrambled his eggs while his mother mothered strippers

and gangsters and left him liverwurst for dessert.


“I’m too fragmented to love and will only leave splinters” he said

as he pressed his suit, polished his shoes, and steamed his heart

before writing out checks for every subscription a year before they expire,

in case he does before they do.

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