I have a confession to make. I’m single. Perhaps you were expecting something more scandalous. But the truth is that being a single observant Jew beyond the initial years of marriageable age is no source of pride. Nor should it be. The Torah’s position on the matter is unambiguous, and there’s no sense in denying the truth, even if it may be hurtful. The ideal state of human existence consists of being married with a family, and this is constantly manifest in Jewish lore. We might as well just accept it, even if we are not (yet?) privileged to enjoy this ideal state.
I’m often told that I’m still young (just a baby, even), and that I shouldn’t dwell on my single status. I have many answers for this:
1. If I appreciate the magnitude of what I am missing in my life, how can I not be affected by it? Why would I suppress this appreciation, even if it were possible? The fact that I am young does not mean I should not be impatient to improve my life in this most important of ways. Frankly, how dare anyone short of a prophet tell anyone not to worry about being single?
2. Why should I not be concerned with initial difficulties in finding the right person, just because I still have some time before I become “old”? Do we wait until the milk has expired to observe the detriments of the passage of time? Personally, I think becoming concerned (though not panicky) is prudent.
3. Again, the Torah’s position on getting married sooner rather than later is unambiguous. If my only reason for wishing to get married is to fulfill the many fundamental mitzvos involved, how dare anyone, including a prophet, tell me not to be impatient?
Interestingly, when family members perceive that a single is not sufficiently concerned with getting married, they encourage/pressure him to get the wheels in motion. Yet when a single becomes depressed due to his great desire to get married, he is advised to lighten up and just enjoy life. In other words, whatever a single feels is the wrong way for him to feel, and is possibly even The Reason why he is not yet married.
Which brings us to The Reason. Every single has one, and determining The Reason is a favorite pastime for most people and even a growing source of livelihood for those whose expertise and insight are often highly questionable. When a single is still young (an infant, not a baby like me), The Reason is either “no one marries the first person he dates” (then why not just skip to the second?), or “inexperience in dating.” Innocuous enough.
After a couple of years The Reason becomes “he just hasn’t met the right person yet.” Well, obviously. Hence the tinge of concern just beneath the surface.
By the age of 25 or 26 (subtract 3 or 4 years for women), people begin to openly speculate about whether there’s a “problem.” Strangely enough, singles in their first couple of years of dating have immunity from problems, as if problems only manifest themselves at an advanced age. We all know this isn’t true, but we don’t begin speculating about problems until a few years of frustration have passed. Ultimately, however, singles at this age are assured that they are still young and haven’t met the right one. Left unsaid is that they better meet the right one already, and soon.
After another year or two of the same, the single is now completely on the defensive. There is a problem unless the single can prove otherwise, and if he responds to the charges with too much passion or conviction, it is taken as further evidence of a problem. The single is running out of allies. Those who used to be his allies are now mostly married (and thus hardly recognizable) or family members who care too much and show it in the wrong ways.