The XX Factor

Learning to Ask My Ex For Forgiveness

I was the singles columnist for San Francisco’s Jewish newspaper, J Weekly , when, out of the blue, a reader wrote to me: “I have an amazing Jewish man for you to meet. He’s my husband’s best friend.”

I was in my 30s, a single mom of a preschooler. Y. was a 44-year-old Israeli building contractor, gruff and charming. We went on a first date, a second, a third. I took the leap of love. When my friends cautioned that he’d never been married, or even lived with a woman, I waved off their concerns. Two years later, we couldn’t make it work.

During our painful breakup, I lashed out and hurt him-in my column, in black and white, for the entire local Jewish community to read all about. I was harsh. I said he was “good with animals and kids-but not women.”

I said a whole lot more, but by the time the column ran, five months later, my kid and I had moved to another city. Still, the damage had been done.

Y. called me the day the column came out. Someone must have tipped him off, because he’d never read my columns before this. He called me “evil” and said that he’d never forgive me for hurting him in public.

His call was followed by an e-mail from the woman who’d introduced us. She reprimanded me for “trying to publicly shame and denigrate” Y. I responded right away and copied Y. on the message. I was sorry I hurt him, I wrote.

I never heard back from either one of them. It didn’t occur to me at the time to try a different way of reaching out.

After all, e-mail has become my primary means of communication. With it, I’m able to keep in touch with friends around the world. It’s fast, it’s concise, and because it’s about monologues, not conversation, it saves me an incredible amount of time.

But that convenience, I’ve begun to realize, has cost me something: closeness, intimacy, and genuine emotion. E-mail is factual, not authentic. Fingertips on a keyboard can never express nuance or capture the sound of a voice choking up.

Clearly, if I was ever going to mend fences with Y., I needed to find a better way to ask for forgiveness.

I put the question to Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in California. “The main approach in asking for forgiveness is: any way you can,” he told me. Then he explained that the key to connecting is face to face. Not Facebook.

“So much of technology can be misleading when we need to engage in deeper relationship issues,” added Rabbi Eric Weiss, executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco. “The speed of technology can sometimes be confused with the sincerity of communication.”

If I was ever going to learn the lesson of forgiveness, I needed to start connecting in a more authentic way. I e-mailed Rabbi Bloom again and half jokingly suggested that we meet in person to discuss my problem. To his credit, he took me seriously and invited me over.

Sitting in his office, I felt a little as if I were in therapy. I explained my problem with Y., and he surprised me by saying he already knew; he used to follow my column (the shame!). We talked and talked.

And then, one afternoon not long after, I was driving past the marina where Y. often walked his dog. Just seeing the place made me heavy with sadness. So, I picked up the phone and dialed my ex. I asked if I could meet him.

We hadn’t spent more than five minutes together in the past year. But this time, we spent an hour walking and talking. There was no anger or blame.

“I’m really sorry,” I said, looking into his eyes as I spoke the words.

“I’m sorry, too, Rach.”

Then he opened his arms. There’s no such thing as a hug online.

Photograph courtesy of Rachel Sarah.