The reality, therefore, is that Marriage is not an end but a beginning of a lifelong commitment to another person. The goal should not be to get married but rather to have a healthy marriage, which due to its innate subjectivity must be defined based on each person’s individual needs. (See, for example, the classic Midrash in Bereishit Rabba 68:4 regarding the woman who attempted to randomly match up 1,000 servants).
After all, increasing the number of Jewish children in single-parent homes cannot be good for our continuity either.
Myth: There are Plenty of Singles
One of the most vexing problems of the shidduch crisis is how could there be so many singles especially concentrated in one community? In New York alone, one friend of mine estimates 400 singles in Washington Heights and the Upper West Side likely houses hundreds if not thousands more. Surely the number of singles ought to increase the probability of finding a suitable mate, which after all is a main attraction of these neighborhood scenes. Thus if someone is still single, it must obviously be their own fault, either for lack of trying or for being too picky.
The reality, at the risk of depressing singles, is that the true dating pool is actually a lot smaller than you think. It’s not number of singles in your neighborhood, but the number of people who are interested in dating you.
When I lived in Washington Heights there were hundreds of single women around, but few could be considered dating options for the simple reason that most weren’t interested. I had no trouble asking out women, but I found only about 15% said yes (and I avoided asking out women whom I could tell were disinterested). My experience in person is similar to what I found on Saw You at Sinai where only 18.42% of the women I accepted reciprocated. And this is only for going on a first date. There have been plenty of times I’d have liked to continue seeing someone only to be turned down.
This is not a call for pity – I’ve declined my fair share as well and knowing it goes both ways actually helps deal with rejection. I can accept someone turning me down because I don’t match what their looking for when I acknowledge I make the exact same decisions. We can quibble if our decisions are valid, rational, or appropriate but it does not change the fundamental facts of dating. Even if I fall madly in love with someone, if it’s unrequited, we’re not getting married.
Myth: Being Single is the Crisis
Which brings us to final and most dangerous myth of all – that being single is itself a crisis. The reality is that being single isn’t a crisis, it’s a default. Certain cultures aside, we’re all born single. Are there difficulties associated with being Orthodox, Jewish, and single? Sure, but in most cases getting married won’t solve the problem and in many cases may make things worse.
Loneliness is a real issue which comes with being single, but it’s hardly unique to Orthodox Jewish singles. There are countless books, websites, or other resources which address loneliness. However, I have no doubt that the fear of being alone is a motivating factor for some people getting married or not leaving unhealthy (and sometimes abusive) relationships. Whatever the “cure” to loneliness is, rushing into marriage is hardly the answer.
People also operate on different timelines so “rushing” is perhaps too relative of a term. Instead, let’s consider getting married before one is “ready” either financially, emotionally, or whatever. Getting married is a huge responsibility and from personal experience I feel comfortable saying that not only are there very good reasons for some people being single, but they’re probably better off for the time being until their work out their own issues. And yes, I do put myself in this group, for in retrospect, I probably wasn’t ready to get married in my early twenties. We can debate if I’m even ready now, but I can assure you I’m in a much better state now relative to where I was.
Biological drives also make single-life hard. Assuming Orthodox Jews are strict in the laws of abstinence, the sex drive would be fairly high and women have the additional concern of a biological clock. But getting married for sex is an indescribably bad idea, especially when it’s not always so easy.Rabbi Josh Yuter
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Yuter was ordained in 2003 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He also holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Yeshiva University, an M.A. in Talmudic Studies from Yeshiva University, and a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Rabbi Yuter is also an alum of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is currently the rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul on New York’s historic Lower East Side.
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