Only Human with Joan Axelrod-Contrada: Sometimes path toward love leads to mensch

  • Joan Axelrod-Contrada SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The book cover for ‘If The Buddha Dated’ SUBMITTED PHOT

Published: 9/9/2021 5:09:13 PM

A friend recently lent me a book called “If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path.”

Granted, the Buddha never dated because he lived in a time of arranged marriages. Still, I could see why a publisher would want The Enlightened One in a title. Prospective readers like me could blame our romantic woes on our soul-sucking, competitive, materialistic culture. No need to feel like a loser. A little Eastern philosophy could fix everything.

Maybe I was too cynical for a book like this. Spiritual path? Sorry, not for me. My trail looked more like frog prints in the mud. I tended more toward the whimsical than the ethereal. Why not just have Cupid shoot off some arrows and call it a day?

Such skepticism got me into an argument with my late husband, Fred, on our second date. Fred, with his Roman Catholic-turned-Buddhist leanings, embraced the notion of life as suffering. I didn’t.

“Screw that!” I huffed. “People need to rise up, not be passive.”

A weaker man might have walked away, but Fred came back for more. He liked that I had spirit. He was fiercely independent and expected the same of me, which worked out well for us as a couple. Then a cruel neurological disease cut his life short at the age of 64. I wondered if I’d ever find myself such a good match.

When I met my current beau, Rick, I came on strong about my need for autonomy. He graciously agreed to give me my space. We clicked even though I viewed him as somewhat of an alien being. More conventional than me. Less intellectual. Not as politically far to the left. I chronicled our cultural differences in an earlier column, “Northampton meets Longmeadow.”

Rick’s kindness won me over. We had fun together. Even our dogs got along. Then, after nine months together, I panicked. Something stared me in the face: The Big Bad Future.

How could I be dating a guy with a perfectly manicured lawn who wanted to spend winters in Florida and didn’t share my love of books? Visions danced in my head of Fred and me blissfully reading and writing our lives away while Rick frolicked by the pool with The Other Woman.

Whoa! SOS! Time to call The Relationship Police!

Instead, I picked up my copy of “If the Buddha Dated.” Could a dose of Eastern philosophy help a red-blooded American girl like me face The Great Unknown?

From my mother’s side of the family, I’d inherited a penchant for musing about the future. No matter how many times soothsayers hailed the benefits of living in the present, I needed the promise of a rosy future to throw myself into the here and now.

As I stewed in my own navel-gazing juices, Rick earned his stripes as Super-Mensch. He assured me that we’d work out the Florida dilemma with visits and compromise. I knew he was a catch, but was he the right catch for me?

Sure, we got along swimmingly. We could while away hours talking in my kitchen. We came up with corny nicknames for each other. We both loved our kids and dogs, horseradish mustard, classic rock, Shark Tank, cuddling, fireplaces in winter, all kinds of nuts, and the news (as well as nuts in the news).

Still, I’d spent over 30 years with a fellow reader and writer. Is that what I needed for my future, or was my new guy the right choice for me?

Fortunately, “If the Buddha Dated” offers guidance to help readers like me make The Big Decision. Author Charlotte Kasl discusses how an attachment to “security, predictability, and former rituals” can inhibit intimacy.

Was she psychic, or what? I needed to bid farewell to the past. But what did the future hold?

In her chapter, “Taking Stock,” Kasl addresses issues of compatibility. One item on her checklist spoke to me: “Able to discuss conflicts and work together solving problems.”

Rick, the Super-Mensch, scored off the charts. He’s a genius when it comes to getting along with people. That mattered more to me than being with a fellow reader and writer.

The future these days is tasting like my favorite butterscotch sundae on maple walnut ice cream with a cherry on top. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even discover that I’m spiritual in a frog-in-the-mud sort of way.

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence. She writes a monthly column for the Gazette, Only Human, that runs on the second Friday of the month. You. can reach her at

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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