When I got married about six years ago at the ripe old age of 22, the plan was that I would learn for a year or two and then find a profession through which to support my wife and growing family. As planned, I did learn for two years and then was fortunate to be asked by my uncle to join him in business. I always thought I might enjoy business, but I had no idea how much I ultimately would enjoy the opportunity to learn, grow, work hard, be challenged, and, in a sense, join the big world out there.
Though I love my job and take it seriously, I haven’t compromised any of my frumkeit commitments and am very much the same man I was when I got married. When I get a chance, I still enjoy learning and I’m as committed to my lifestyle as much as I was before I started working. The problem is that a new world has opened up for me. Beforehand, I knew very little about business, politics, and the outside world in general. I lived most of my life in a comfortable bubble and I was happy, but I had no idea what I was missing. Now that I’m exposed to other areas of thought, pundits, and interesting people, I find myself hungry to learn more. I love the discussions, debates, and challenges to think deeply in certain areas. Yes, I can get this from learning Gemara, but I guess I want it all.
My problem is that my wonderful wife, Tova, hasn’t grown with me. She is still the sweet, terrific woman I married six years ago, but her interests haven’t grown at all the way mine have. We talk a lot about our children, our families, who said what, etc. It’s interesting to me up to a point, but then I find myself bored to tears. I’m not really interested in knowing that her sister found the best new challah recipe. I don’t really care that our neighbor is doing some construction. These things don’t seem all that important to me anymore.
I have been trying to encourage Tova to expand her interests a bit, to read some nonfiction books about history or politics or even self-help books. I’d like her to get out of her bubble as I have gotten out of mine, so that we can have more exciting conversations together and hopefully continue to both grow in the same direction.
I love Tova very much; that will never change. But though I hate to admit it, I sometimes find our conversations so boring that I end up tuning out. How do I get her to expand her horizons? She doesn’t work, but she has her hands full all day taking care of our children and our home and she does an excellent job. No complaints there. And I know that I’m the one who is changing, not her, so I’m feeling guilty about that. But I so desperately want her to join me in my interests and growth. When I bring these things up to her, she tends to look hurt and sometimes like she’s not even sure what I’m talking about.
What is a man in my position to do?
It sounds like you’re living an exciting life right now, checking all the boxes and doing it all with success. That’s wonderful for you and I’m sure you approach each day with vigor and optimism. As you flesh out the person you feel destined to become, you also sound as though you haven’t lost your connection with the “old you” and the values that you hold dear. I applaud your ability to do it all and have it all. So far, so good.
Regarding your desire to have Tova jump on your bandwagon with you, once again, I give you credit for continuing to want her to be your everything. It’s truly lovely that you appreciate her and also want her to continue to be your best friend — one who shares your interests and your excitement over a new world neither of you really knew existed until pretty recently.
Obviously, while you spend your day meeting with a whole new world of people and experiences, as a stay-at-home mom, Tova is not being exposed or challenged in the way that you presently are. So to expect her to appreciate your new world is not all that realistic for now. It doesn’t mean that Tova is any less smart than you or even any less open to new experiences, but right now, at this stage of her life, she probably doesn’t have all that much bandwidth left in her head to take in the subject matters you seem so interested in.
You can continue to try to engage her in conversations about your work and other areas of knowledge that you think would be interesting for the two of you to discuss and that you hopefully have in common, and maybe you’ll strike a chord that inspires Tova to get curious. You never know, so don’t give up trying. But more important for now, be patient. These hectic, all-consuming years of raising young children can be overwhelming for many young mothers. That doesn’t mean, however, that once Tova gets out from under Pampers and homework, she can’t become the intellectual match that you seek, and may even someday leave you in the dust! Who knows?
For now, remind yourself of what you were originally looking for in a wife and be grateful that you found someone who fit the bill. If you are starving for intellectual repartee, on a level that Tova has not yet connected with, get your fill at work or from some like-minded friends. But never lose sight of the fundamental connections that brought you and Tova together in the first place, and have hope that for everything there is a season. Right now, in some ways, you two are experiencing different seasons, but stay present and engaged in the aspects of Tova’s life that were once your entire world. Never lose touch with the basics, as I’m hearing that you haven’t. Be patient and hopeful. Not every marriage has it all, but maybe, someday, yours and Tova’s will!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.