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Never Too Late for Happiness

As told to Margie Pensak

How one woman made a second marriage later in life work, along with advice from the pros

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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"For 44 years, I’d been living alone, making all my own decisions — conferring with nobody and asking no one for anything. If I made it, I made it, and if I blew it, I blew it! Getting married again meant I’d have to consult someone else before major decisions"

D

ivorced mom, living alone in Lakewood, New Jersey. I’d gotten pretty used to that life by now, having divorced in 1974, and going on to build a very comfortable, satisfying life for myself. I had no real interest in remarrying — unless the right person came along.

Over the years, there were many offers of shidduchim, but if the shadchan told me the other side would want me to move, I’d always say, “The answer is no!” I love Lakewood and I wasn’t moving.

Shortly after Pesach 2017, I got a call from a friend who is also a shadchan.

Her husband’s cousin, Mendy, a widower for just under two years, had come to visit from Brooklyn. She thought he was perfect for me.

“Leave me alone!” I told her, as nicely as I could. My life was in good shape. I was financially comfortable, with a great job; I have wonderful adult children and grandchildren and a great-grandchild. I was not interested in complicating that. She understood and left me alone.

About two months later, Mendy returned to Lakewood. After he left, she called again. “Baila, he’s a really nice guy! Can I just give him your phone number?” A call couldn’t hurt, I figured, so I gave her permission. Well, that was the beginning of the beginning, I like to say.

Mendy and I spoke two or three times on the phone, and on Sunday of the Nine Days, we had our first date. I recognized his sensitivity right away. “You probably don’t want to be seen with me locally,” he said, “so why don’t we go somewhere where you’re comfortable?”

After driving 70 miles from Brooklyn to Lakewood, he drove another 30 minutes on the highway to Deal to take me out for lunch. He still had to drive me back, and then drive all the way home. He did all that extra driving just so I would be comfortable.

As happy as I thought I was before, I never imagined that life could be even sweeter. I still chuckle when I think back to when I so adamantly told our shadchan, “Leave me alone!

It was a pleasant, but pareve meeting; we didn’t discuss anything heavy. Mendy didn’t ask if he could call me again, but he told the shadchan he’d very much like to meet with me again. When she called me, I said, “You know, it was an okay meeting, why not?” That turned into eight or nine weeks of his driving to Lakewood every single Sunday, and us going out to different places — among them, a park for a picnic lunch, which he put together. That impressed me very much, since he’s a cook and I’m not.

Many things about him, and the two of us, made sense. We were very comfortable with each other. Our basic hashkafos lined up. After very careful consideration — because I do have children and certain things had to be put into place before I made any kind of commitment to anybody — I started dealing with the necessary logistics.

First, I had Mendy meet my sister and brother-in-law. (My parents were no longer alive.) Shortly after, Mendy asked me to meet two of his four grown children who live in New Jersey. We met along the highway for coffee. His daughter and I bonded immediately. After that, she and I communicated a few times on the phone. I also felt an instant closeness to his son, who is married to a close family friend’s sister.

I was glad Mendy suggested meeting his children. I know of a situation where the husband didn’t introduce his children to his new wife until after the chuppah; that seemed unfair and unjust to everyone. Of course, it was equally important to me that Mendy meet my children. Before they met him, I told them they didn’t have to love him, they just had to get to know him.

My two daughters and son-in-law, who are a plane ride away, came to Lakewood for Shabbos in early November. I arranged for Mendy to come on Thursday night, so we could all go out to dinner. Everybody enjoyed each other’s company, and they each gave me, individually, positive feedback. My daughter said, “He’s really a nice guy!” My son-in-law said, “He’s a gentleman.”

While I was making my decision to go forward, I had also arranged — over a two-month period — for several close married friends, whose opinions I value greatly, to invite Mendy and me to their homes for Shabbos meals. Their opinions regarding how they perceived him and us as a couple were important to me, to see if there was potential here. I knew they’d be honest and forthright.

One intriguing factor about Mendy: He was willing to uproot himself from Brooklyn, after 50 years, and move to Lakewood. He was retired and didn’t feel tied down. Plus, he knew a number of Brooklynites who now live in Lakewood. In fact, one of his many phone chavrusas lives here.

As dating became more serious, and the idea of remarrying became more of a reality, I scheduled appointments with experts to consult about my financial situation, the legal ramifications of remarrying, as well as my own personal readiness after 44 years. Mendy offered me a prenuptial agreement in the very beginning. “I don’t want anything of yours,” he told me. “I just want to be married to you!”

I also had to talk with my financial planner about how to cut back on my work hours so I could spend more time with my new husband. He showed me how best to do that. Signing our prenup allowed us to determine, ahead of time, everything from finances, to furnishings, to heirlooms.

In addition, a close friend suggested I see a social worker. For 44 years, I’d been living alone, making all my own decisions — conferring with nobody and asking no one for anything. If I made it, I made it, and if I blew it, I blew it! Getting married again meant I’d have to consult someone else before major decisions. The social worker and I used role-playing to work out specific scenarios that might come up in marriage, helping me re-learn how to be a wife and partner.

Another friend helped me get past my indecisiveness by suggesting that I pretend to be approaching a speed hump in the road. She had me envision being on the safe side of the hump — before going over it. While in the middle of the hump, she said, you can either go forward or backward. Thankfully, she, along with other friends and the professionals whose advice I sought, got me to the other side of the hump.

I finally allowed myself to become emotionally involved with Mendy, and in early January — approximately six months after we’d first met — he came to my door with a dozen red roses and proposed. We made numerous calls to share our wonderful news with family and friends before going out to an exquisite local restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we called our shadchan to ask if we could stop by.

We got married shortly after Purim, on March 4. As happy as I thought I was before, I never imagined that life could be even sweeter. I still chuckle when I think back to when I so adamantly told our shadchan, “Leave me alone!"

 

Marriage, Take Two: Advice from the Therapist

Devorah Taitelbaum, LCSW, was a counselor for Pesach Tikvah — Door of Hope’s Family Services Center programs in Williamsburg and Boro Park. We were saddened to learn of her recent passing.

 

Exploring the questions, “Is this worth it?” or “How will I know what it’s like?” can be easier to address once dating someone; the other party has now become a familiar entity with whom there are shared experiences in a progressing relationship, and the context of change is no longer entirely theoretical.

It’s important to share with a therapist your perspective of the potential spouse, how you feel when you’re with that person, and what you feel when you’re not together. Discussing your interactions and how you operate together in your dating is also important. This is a good launching point from which to discuss and fine-tune interpersonal interactions, as well as highlight positives in the person and the developing relationship. Discussing negatives that have surfaced is equally important, and the therapist can help you put them in the scope of the larger picture and ascertain if you can accept them as part of the whole person. 

Ask yourself why particular negatives are concerning. Are you using the negative to avoid facing the fear of a new commitment? Is the negative the first “hole” in what appears to be a perfect person in a perfect scenario, amplifying your concerns about leaving your comfort zone? This is a good time to weigh the pros and cons of the potential spouse, the chance to share your life with someone, and the overall relationship. Perhaps making an actual list will be helpful. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not always the longer list that wins out, but the significance of what is listed and the impact of each item on the individual.

Conversely, focusing on significant positives can help you see the personal benefits of a relationship. Try role-playing with your therapist and discussing specific scenarios to help you envision yourself as part of a partnership. Additionally, take note of how you behave in other relationships; this normalizes marriage as “another” relationship, allowing you to realize you actually have relationship experience from being a friend, workmate, and/or family member, all which have aspects that are applicable in marriage as well.

 

Marriage, Take Two: Advice from the Financial Planner

Yehuda Fishkind is a Certified Financial Planner and a branch manager at LPL Financial, member FINRA, SIPC, with offices and meeting locations all over. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. You should discuss your specific situation with the appropriate professional.

 

Here are a few thoughts to consider. Openness in communication about money is key. I personally enjoyed reading The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge: 5 Principles to Transform Your Relationship with Money (2008). It suggests that people have unconscious attitudes about money, so couples may find themselves arguing over finances because they have totally different values and beliefs about money.

I suggest, even at the dating stage, to have a conversation about past money decision patterns using the Common Money Scripts checklist — a tool I developed based on the book — to discuss your spender/saver patterns.

 Of course, couples should consult their own financial advisors, since everyone’s situation is different. Generally, there should be economies of scale once you’re a couple; as it says in Koheles (4:9–10), “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. If they fall, one can help the other up.” Start with an old-fashioned budget and then ask yourself, “What is going to change?”

You can do a manual budget by referencing your bank records or develop your budget with online software, like mint.com. Most credit unions provide access to an application called FinanceWorks through their online banking experience. (The computer analyzes your spending and develops a dynamic budget). There are also non-profit organizations, such as Mesila, that can help.

 Getting married can also affect your Social Security entitlement. People who are married for at least a year can collect Social Security based on the work record of their spouse. Someone is divorced for two years can still collect benefits based on the ex-spouse — if the marriage lasted ten or more years. Getting remarried could disqualify a woman from receiving those payments, but she’d only qualify for payments based on her new husband’s work record when she has been remarried for one year. (There are a few exceptions; consult your advisor.) Also, the woman’s social security benefits might become taxed, if their combined income is higher than $32,000. There may be Medicare ramifications, as well. If their combined income is over $170,000, an Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) will increase the cost of Medicare Parts B and D.

Keep in mind that the titles to your home, car, bank, and investment accounts trump your will. So, even if your will directs that all your money and possessions go to your children, if the titles are “joint with rights of survivorship” with your new spouse, your child will get nothing — regardless of what the will says. A very good strategy would be to name your beneficiary on every bank and investment account you own — just not IRAs. It’s called “Payable on Death Beneficiary.” Ask for this form at your bank.

Most of the time, there are advantages to filing taxes jointly, but sometimes being married gives you a marriage penalty. However, I wouldn’t let that tax tail wag the dog!

 In conclusion, it’s very important for couples pondering remarriage to have the conversation — an open discussion regarding money, spending, sharing, and the ultimate disposition: Who gets what is left over in the end.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)

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