They say you never really forget your first love. I don’t think it’s the love part you don’t really forget, I think it’s the heartbreak that you remember. That pain never really fully goes away, and it sometimes resurfaces at inconvenient moments in your life. And, no matter how happy, satisfied, or content you might be in the here and now, you might still feel diminutive pain. It could be negligible, but it’s still there.
On Friday, DH and I were paying a shiva call in the neighborhood. The avel (bereaved), ever the hostess even in her time of mourning, introduced us to the rest of the visitors and the name of one of the guys seemed so familiar. While walking out of the shiva house, I asked him what year he graduated from my brother school, and we realized that we were the same grade. It immediately clicked how I knew him, and so I played a quick game of Jewish geography with him. I asked him if he knew Motti (not his real name) and, when this guy said that they were friends, it all fell into place. I told him that Motti was my “ex-boyfriend” and then I asked about his wife and kids. I told him to send my regards, and revealed my maiden name. We parted ways with a hearty “Good Shabbos” and DH and I walked back to our car, where I promptly began to wish the conversation never happened.
I laid awake from 3:15 a.m. – 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, thinking about the encounter. Thinking about Motti, and how he completely shattered me. How he spent years playing with my head, giving me false hope for a future, when he knew that he was never going to marry me.
I met Motti when I was 16 years old and we were both junior counselors at Camp Mesorah. His sister was my camper and, coincidentally, my brother was his camper. We immediately had plenty to talk about. Over time, I became attached to him – in that 16 year old way. We would spend more time together, going on regular evening walks up and down the road. It took a while for me to become attracted to him. But, after a while, that all changed. It wasn’t long before I had fallen for him, and I fell pretty hard. I loved his quick wit, his sardonic smile, his intellect. We were really close that summer, and when the summer ended, I was devastated. I didn’t know how I could sleep at night without seeing him.
We kept in touch Senior year of High School mainly through late night phone calls. It was pricey since he lived in another State and my Dad wasn’t willing to upgrade to a better long-distance plan. That changed, over the years. The summer before seminary, we finally got together. We went out on two “dates” that were really special, and then he left for Yeshiva and I went to Michlalah. After Succot that year, I called him at Yeshiva and gave him the ultimatum the Rabbi’s had advised us to give to our “boyfriends.” I told him that I would only continue talking to him during the year, if he promised we would get engaged when we got back to the States. He couldn’t/wouldn’t promise, and so we said our goodbyes. But, after a couple of months, I missed his voice. I missed talking to him, I missed the things we talked about. And so, I caved, and I called him at Yeshiva. We decided that we would only talk if we had a phone Chevrutah, and he was willing to give me a 3:00 a.m. slot once a week. We decided to learn The Book of Job together, and each week I set my alarm to wake me up for our early morning learning session.
It didn’t really last too long. We were both tired and, truth be told, I didn’t really want to spend that time on the phone with him learning Torah. We ended our Chevrutah about as quickly as it began, got into a fight, and I walked away. Until Michlalah ended, and I got back to the States, and heard he was having surgery. About a week before his birthday. I caved, and called him to wish him a happy birthday and to see how he was feeling.
It was just so amazing talking to him. I didn’t realize how much I missed him, how much I missed our chats. And thus began a four year phone relationship with a guy I was hoping would one day be my husband.
Four years. It’s a really long time to talk to one person, practically every single night, for hours on end. But, that’s exactly what we did. We talked. And talked. And talked. In my head, he was my boyfriend. We just never got together. We never met in public. We never went out on a date.
My Mother would beg me to walk away. She would spend hours pleading with me, saying that this was not a relationship. That he was not my boyfriend. She said it’s not dating unless a guy was spending money on me. I brushed her off, telling her that she was old-fashioned and we were more modern. I refused to let her words penetrate. I didn’t want her to be right, I wanted to continue to live in this warped fantasy of mine where the man on the other end of the phone line cared about me as much as I cared about him. My friend Shulamit would tell me that I was delusional, she would point out that she saw Motti frequently at the Stern dorm, going out on Shidduch dates. I ignored her, and said that he was just testing the waters. I convinced myself that he was dating other people but that it would be okay, he would realize just how right I was for him, and we would plan our future together. But, I was really hurt when Shulamit told me he was dating, and so I started dating, too.
And that’s when his roommate started talking to me on the phone. It started innocently enough, we would chat a bit when Motti wasn’t in his dorm room. Pretty soon, though, I would call to talk to him as much as I would call to talk to Motti. And suddenly, I started wondering if he was interested in dating me. After months of spending hours on the phone with both Motti and his roommate, I broke down. I demanded to know if the roommate was talking to me because he wanted to date me. He admitted he didn’t, he just really liked “the practice” of talking to a girl. He was naturally a bit shy, and talking to me was helping him come out of his shell. And it was helping him while he was dating.
I decided to walk away, from both of them. I wasn’t attached to the roommate, and I was angry at Motti for letting him talk to me. So, I stopped calling. I hit the gym harder, lost weight, straightened my hair, went out with guys who I wasn’t interested in, and waited for Motti to come back.
I read “The Rules” and promised myself that I would use them if Motti ever called again. And, sure enough, the phone rang one night and it was Motti. And, after 15 minutes, I sighed and said that I had to go. I was vague as to why I was going and, after a couple of nights of following the rules laid out in the book, I felt it working. I heard his frustration when I hung up after 15 minutes, and I felt a thrill. I thought that this was going to take us to the next level. We were finally going to just go out and get engaged. And, as with most of the people I know who followed “The Rules,” I gave it up and went back to my old, needy, ways. Because, as many of us have learned, if you need “The Rules” to get a man, then he isn’t really the right man for you.
We got into another fight about not dating, and once again, I stopped talking to him. It was just another one of our breaks, I thought, and he would come back to me sooner or later. But, I guess I wasn’t really that surprised when I got a phone call at work from a friend, with the news that Motti got engaged. We had decided on a phone chat break 2 months earlier. And, in those 2 months, he managed to get engaged.
I was just shocked. I looked up at the photos in my cubicle, at the picture of us taken on the last night of camp. I wondered how on earth he could be engaged to someone else, if I had our picture hanging up in my cubicle. I slowly took the picture down and hid it in my desk drawer.
And then, I walked. I left the office, crossed the street to Lite Delights, and ordered a burrito. It was my first non-kosher meal, and it was just the beginning.
For years, I thought that I left religion as some sort of post-adolescence parental rebellion. This Friday night, I realized that I left religion because of Motti. Because of his roommate. Because I let two YU guys, “top of their classes,” treat me like shit. Play with my head and my heart. Use me for whatever it was that talking to me did for them.
And, I realized, that as long as I kept living in this sheltered world of Orthodox Judaism, I was never going to grow up. So, I walked away from religion. And, I grew up. I dated non-religious and non-Jewish men who treated me badly, and those who treated me like gold. I also dated Orthodox Jewish guys who played with my head and my emotions, and I dated religious guys who were the male versions of my naive self. I toyed with them as Motti toyed with me and, while I am not proud of my behavior and how I treated them, I managed to justify it at the time.
Over the years, I developed a sense of self worth. I discovered self confidence. And, just when I finally realized that I mattered, I met DH. And, I thank G-d every single day that I didn’t end up with the slew of men who mistreated me, and that I managed to find the man who truly loves me.
If I could take back Friday’s meeting with Motti’s friend, I would. I can just imagine him talking to Motti, and Motti laughing his head off. Laughing that I called him my “ex-boyfriend.” He must think I’m pathetic. Truth be told, I felt pathetic. If anything, the years have taught me that our phone relationship was not a relationship.
But, the memories of those years still stings. I have so many unanswered questions, and I wish for closure that I will never, ever, get. I wish I knew why he did it. Why he spent hours upon hours just talking to me. Leading me on, perpetuating this delusion of a relationship that I clung to. What on earth did he get out of those hours on the phone? I was in love, but what was he doing if he wasn’t interested? What was the point?
I tell myself that I had to go through the Motti experience to appreciate the gem that is my DH. I tell myself that the Motti experience was part of life, a painful part that I had to endure in order to learn about myself, to discover my sense of self worth.
In a couple of days, any residual thoughts of Motti will fade from my mind. I will go back to living my life, in the here and now, without those painful memories. But I will never forget the thorns on the road.