Last week I shared a letter from a disillusioned 38-year-old single woman. Raised in a secular family, she followed the usual pattern of the last couple of generations, placing marriage on the back burner in favor of relationships.
Having gone through many boyfriends, she experienced the painful futility of investing many years in “relationships” only to discover it was all for naught. The final step of marriage and raising a family never happened.
At thirty-eight she is a successful junior partner at a law firm but, she wrote, it’s all meaningless. Her dream of becoming a wife and mother never materialized. A friend invited her to come to my Torah classes where she discovered the Jewish way of family life based upon the sanctity of marriage. She is deeply pained and frustrated that she made this discovery too late. If only she had been raised with such values, how different her life would have been.
The letter evoked much discussion and I received many e-mails. The following is one of them.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,
I am addressing this to the woman whose letter you featured in your column last week:
Like you, I grew up in a Reform home. Like you, I have been in and out of relationships since high school. Like you, I have also achieved professional success. Like you, I am thirty-eight years old and lament the fact that my biological clock has ticked away as I remain single. Yet, unlike you, I am an Orthodox Jew.
At the age of twenty-nine I met a man who was Orthodox. I liked him, but he gave me the “buts” as to why it would never work – one of which was the fact that at the time I was not Orthodox. I tried to prove him wrong and started attending classes. And pretty soon I recognized that my connection to Judaism and spirituality had less to do with him and more to do with the fact that I thought I had found the truth. I thought that by becoming religious I had found the blueprint of the universe that would lead to the happiest life I could live, which included something fundamental to being an Orthodox Jew: a beautiful husband and family.
At the age of thirty-two I quit a lucrative job to learn full time in Israel. After a year I returned home and went back to work – crying every day because I wasn’t fulfilling my potential as a wife and mother.
Years ticked by and most of my friends got married. One by one they left me behind, entering a world I only hope to know, leading me to make new friends again. As I get older, my friends get younger as there are fewer and fewer women my age who are single. These younger friends are also getting married and they feel guilty for even telling me they are engaged.
I have been to countless rabbis, received berachot, davened, etc. I have seen countless therapists – some religious, some not – trying to “fix” whatever is wrong with me that has rendered me single. I have read countless books on faith, trying hard to believe that G-d actually loves me and somehow this will all work out – that going to other people’s families for Shabbat and Yom Tov meals is somehow good for me; that some way, somehow, all this pain is good for my soul.
I wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t become religious. By secular standards I am still what people call “a catch,” but with every passing day I become less and less marketable in the frum world, with ages of suggested men exponentially increasing – fifty five has recently become an “appropriate” suggestion, along with the seemingly obligatory warning that I shouldn’t be so “picky.” If you knew me and my dating history, you’d know I was anything but picky. I just feel unlucky in this area of my life.
You, at least, can be angry at yourself or angry at your ex. I have done everything “right” according to rabbinic tradition and am just left with anger at G-d.
It is embarrassing to admit I am angry with G-d when so many people have suffered so much more than the pain of despairing over not having a family. And yet, just as you regret your choices, I am starting to regret mine. I feel G-d has forgotten me.