If you think the shidduch crisis can lead to heartache when we deal with our children, try going through it yourself. As someone newly involved in this scene, I can share that it is a sad one – comprised of scores of formerly married people mixed with never-been-married singles all trying unsuccessfully to connect.
The mature or second-time-around single is faced with myriad issues that are largely left unaddressed by the frum community, lest we open a Pandora’s box of halachic and moralistic quagmires. As one single recently lamented to me, “We are sadly neglected.”
By raising awareness of the problem, I hope to spur an increased sensitivity – and perhaps encourage readers to try and make shidduchim among this growing group, if they can.
First, some statistics. While the divorce rate among American Orthodox Jews is lower than that of the general Jewish population (estimated at about 50 percent), it is still quite high (estimated by some at 25 percent and even higher in Israel at 38 percent), which means there are a lot of second-time singles around. Add widows and widowers to the mix, along with bachelors and bachelorettes who never found their zivug and are in a “mature” age bracket, and the number of “older” (age 40-plus) singles increases.
Let’s explore the issues:
● A large single population unfortunately can lead to behavior unbefitting a Torah community. Because many in this population have been married before and miss the intimacy, there is among some a “look the other way” attitude when it comes to sex and the unmarried mature adult. When the sanctity of marriage seems like an unattainable option, many may succumb to laxity, and even to the twisting of halacha, in order to sanction unholy behavior.
While this mature population – many of whom have experienced bad marriages – should be twice as careful about approaching relationships without creating physical attachments, many throw caution and halacha to the wind. And while loneliness is a compelling force, there is no kosher reason for breaching halacha.
● How much research is necessary for a second-time marriage and how do you navigate the very choppy waters of shmirat halashon? It is even more complicated than first-time shidduchim. After all, ex-wives, ex-husbands and ex-dates frequently lurk with their own sides of a breakup story. Breakups are rarely amicable, and now instead of merging two families, you are merging extended families and children – a complicated and sometimes sticky situation.
The guidance and support for checking out shidduchim and for knowing when to listen, and when to discount information, is hard to access. Did he beat his wife? His kids? Was she a mentally ill and depressed wife? How long did he date this lady before they broke up and why did they not “work out”? Is the rumor true or “sour grapes” from a shidduch gone bad? Are you allowed to ask? Who will tell?
● Most of our shadchanim are focused on paving the way for first marriages. With no guidelines, checking mechanisms, intermediaries or solid support for the older population, many resort to the Internet, a candy shop for illicit relationships. Since people in this age range are frequently tied down with childcare issues, work/community concerns and geographic limitations, they have no way of “getting out” and meeting appropriate prospects in other frum enclaves.
● Every broken home – whether broken by divorce or death – produces casualties. Healing is a process that can be helped along by an understanding and supportive community. Sometimes adults need encouragement, support and assistance in order to prepare for their next, and hopefully final, relationship. Here too, the community can help.
So what is the solution for the shidduch crisis among mature frum Jews?
● If you are single and looking, don’t swallow your unhappiness and sweep it under the rug. Speak up! Ask your married friends and acquaintances to set you up. And you can help set your friends up too.
● Whether you are single or married, make every effort to introduce others who cross your path. You never know what relationship may blossom as a result of “social networking” in our circles.
● Consider having a few of these mature singles over for a Shabbat meal – you never know what may be sparked by a few simple introductions. So many singles face an empty Shabbat table – especially women, since it is usually assumed that men are the ones who can’t take care of themselves. If you are single, reach out to other singles on Shabbat instead of sitting home alone.