Kip Kip Hurray! Atonement can be fun.

Yom Kippur is supposed to be a day of reflection, right? Well how about if this year, I feel like I’ve reflected enough for a lifetime? This blog is just the tip of the reflection iceberg. Shouldn’t I get a day off from introspection, self-flagellation (okay strong word but I like the imagery), and atonement?
Atoning for our sins. That means stopping what we’re doing and thinking hard on the wrongs we have committed. If you can’t come up with anything flagrant (lieing, cheating, stealing, etc.), that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. We Jews have the ability to dig and dig until we come up with some good shit. And by that, I mean shit.
Shit like the kind that no matter how deeply we think we’ve buried it, if we stop to put our nose to the ground – as on Yom Kippur – the smell comes wafting up.
It comes in many forms. This year, or rather yesterday, I had a different kind of Yom Kippur, representative of where I am today. Usually I go home to New Jersey to be with my family, or rather with my mother, who, like the dedicated soldier she is, goes to the same synagogue we went to as kids, even if she is to go by herself. My sisters have their own families and shul memberships now, so my mother is confronted with going by herself, without the distractions. It pained me this year to think she might go alone (note: she and my father have a good marriage but he does not pray).
But that didn’t keep me from staying in NYC this year, my first time. I went to services Friday night. It was noteworthy that I motivated to go at all, without the guilt or pressure from my family. I guess on a day as holy as Yom Kippur, I didn’t want to find out what might happen if I stayed home.  I admit I not so subtly scoured the men’s section to see if there were any eligibles. There were a few, but I figured they were probably married to one of the chicks talking and chewing gum behind me. I also think that men look a lot hotter in synagogue than if you meet them at a bar. Wait, I neglected to add “syna-goggles” to a previous blog about “goggling.” But I digress. 
So I attended with a girlfriend of mine and her lovely boyfriend – who is in the process of converting to Judaism. If he can stand sitting and standing and sitting and standing, then who am I not to?
I left early though. I got a taste, and it was enough. Walking out of a place of worship into the heart of the east village, into the throngs of young people partying and drinking on a Friday night was a disconnecting feeling. I felt alone. I thought about my ex-boyfriend, who I missed, and I felt even more alone. But then it occurred to me that since he wasn’t Jewish, it was likely I would have gone by myself anyway. If we were still together, what would he have done? Come with me? Would I have even wanted him to?
These high holidays have a knack for coming at the right time. They force us to ask questions, the kind of self-reflection that only comes due to timing. My ex-boyfriend wasn’t Jewish, and although it would be nice if he was, it was never a deal breaker for me. But I do think the fact that we broke up on Rosh Hashanah is no coincidence. It forced me to consider how I feel about being Jewish; not so much being born into it, but the practices. If my boyfriend and I were still together, what lengths would I have gone to teach him? Would it have been important to me for him to come, or would I have brushed it off, in order to avoid confrontation? In order not to make him uncomfortable? When it’s left up to me and my beliefs – when there is no one else in the picture – what values are essential enough to go out of my way for?
Since I don’t have the answers yet (it’s only been twenty-four hours), I figure that for me, Yom Kippur has delivered on the self-reflection thing. It made me stop and think, what if? What truly matters? What can I do, what can I change, moving forward?
By the way, the whole fasting thing is interesting. If you’re a single New Yorker on the run like I am, it’s the same as any other day. I was hungry, but it was just a nuisance. It was convenient that the light in my kitchen burnt out the night before, and since I don’t have a man around to change it (that’s not me being lazy, that’s me being klutzy. The last time I tried to change it I shattered the fixture and the light bulb all over the stove and floor), it was too hard for me to find my food anyway. 
But this morning, feeling renewed – and hungry as hell – I ventured out to buy a light bulb, and managed to replace it myself (and subsequently made the best omellete this kitchen has ever seen). 
What’s that phrase from the bible? Oh right. And God said, “Let there be light!”
I got me some of that.

The Jewish Cougar loses her cub...on the Jewish New Year.

Talk about timing. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year – a high holy day about reflection and repentance – coincides with a significant break up. Is that a coincidence? No Jew would think so.

So timing is what I’m going to talk about here.
But let me back up.
About three months ago, I got back together with my boyfriend. We had been on and off for several years, and our first break up back in February marked the start of my blog. He is ten years younger than me, hence the whole Cougel thing, but for those of you that read my blog regularly, you know that I believe “Cougarness” is much more about attitude, self confidence, and maturity in a woman, than it is about hunting down young cubs.

Is it odd that I never blogged about he and I giving it another go? I meant to, but other interesting blog-worthy events conveniently occurred so I never got around to it. Looking back, I wonder if that was no coincidence either. Perhaps I didn’t know how to share the fact that I was no longer single and “dating” with my readers; perhaps I didn’t know how to balance my private life and public one. Maybe I didn’t want to invade my boyfriend’s privacy. Or, maybe deep down I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to last.
I had posts that I started, touting the benefits of dating a younger man, that now, well, I don’t know if I believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful things, but for me, there were just too many gaps – the difference in age and life experience being one of them – that we thought our love could bridge. But ultimately, like in every relationship, when that “in love” passionate feeling fades, it exposes the divide. I think we both realized that we didn’t have enough in common to bridge it.  It’s likely that we were never bridging it at all; we just stuck a big honkin band-aid over it.
Out of respect to him, I’m not going to get into detail here. But on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, he asked me a question that to him seemed benign, but to me signaled that his head is nowhere near where mine is. He looks at the world as someone in their late 20’s should, and my vantage is that of a divorced woman in her late 30’s.  It seems so obvious now that I guess we should have seen it all along.
Call it a “click” or a clarity cyclone sent from God on Rosh Hashanah, but in less than 24 hours, we went from being in a serious relationship with plans for our future, to being completely over. As in, kaput.  I feel like someone spun me around like a top. For the past few months – for the past year really – I was envisioning a certain kind of future, finally, after not having been able to for years (after my marriage fell apart). It felt good. I was building a nest again, big enough for two…maybe more. But in retrospect, it was made up of intangibles called hope, projection, and fantasy.
Am I okay? Oddly, yes. I mean, it hurts. But I’ve been through much worse. I’ve built up some serious recovery muscles, and I know that I will be fine. Divorce does that to you, in a good way. But mostly, at this point in my life, I refuse to give a relationship (no matter how happy I had been in it) where I invested my time – my precious time – uneccessary weeks of wallowing. While I agree it’s important to grieve and allow oneself to feel sad, in this case, for some reason – and it’s a power that feels bigger than me – I’m over self-pity.  Hey, depression? You can suck it.
Naturally, girlfriends and social opportunities came out of the wood-work. Maybe it’s just that time of year, or fashion week in NYC. But I got out there. Three nights in a row of drinking and partying, and I can feel the effects (as does my writing, so I hope you’re bearing with me on this one. Spell check I love you.)
A writer friend of mine took me out Friday night. Like me, she too had married her college boyfriend and split after 14 years together.  She had an idea: “Let’s go throw our sins into the east river. Let’s go do Tashlich!”  
What’s Tashlich, you ask? No, it’s not another kind of gooey Jewey noodle dish.  It’s part of the whole repentence thing.  That’s about all I knew when I agreed to go. (Mom, don’t be mad. My Jewish education was not a waste! My guilt degree has proven to be quite useful to you.)
So my friend and I bought a sweet challah at Dags and walked to the water.  I marveled at the view, the balmy weather and the fact that I was on the Upper East Side.

When she explained that the goal of Tashlich is to reflect upon the previous year’s sins and symbolically “cast them off” by throwing pieces of bread (each piece represents one sin) into a large, natural body of flowing water, at first I had no idea where to begin. Sins? I didn’t kill anyone. I hadn’t sent my exes hate bombs, or real ones for that matter. I didn’t intentionally screw someone over just for kicks. I think I’ve been respectful to my parents and I honor my neighbors (they are much easier to honor than my last).
And I was loving to – and honest with – my ex-boyfriend.  But had I been honest with myself?
First, we devoured half the challah. We were hungry, and didn’t think we had enough sins to require an entire loaf…evidenced by what I said next: “I can’t think of a single sin. Am I blind?”
And then it clicked.  I was going to start by casting off blindness.
Once we started, it was hard to stop. I thought back on the past year: my relationship with others, with the world, and with myself. And the lessons from my Rosh Hashanah break up began to dawn on me. What I needed to cast off was: Fear of making mistakes. Projecting my needs onto others. More fear (cuz that’s an easy one). Self doubt.

But mostly, I needed to repent for coercing the picture of what my future is “supposed to” look like onto someone else. 

This year, I need to learn how to let things grow and breathe – at their own pace.  Timing is indeed everything, and in this life, that’s all we have. My ex-boyfriend needed to develop on his timeline, not on mine. What’s that saying?  A cub is a cub is a cub. And no matter how much you push, he can’t turn into a bear overnight.

My question to you guys is: if I’m no longer dating cubs, can I still call myself Cougel? :- P