Latest update: May 21st, 2013
Several weeks ago, in response to a letter from by a young woman in her thirties who wrote of the painful plight of singles, I wrote a column that has since mushroomed into a series of articles.
Originally I had planned to devote one or two columns to the subject, but the response from readers has been so overwhelming that it’s necessitated a more involved response.
In my last column I explained that making a shidduch has never been easy and that there always have been obstacles. Nevertheless, each period is different, and this week I will focus on our generation.
These difficulties apply equally to every segment of the Jewish population, and while Orthodox singles are more insulated from cultural influences, the rippling effects have impacted all of us. So the questions remain: Why can’t singles get married? What went wrong?
There are no pat answers. Many contributing factors come into play. Years ago, singles lived at home until they married. Parents were actively involved in helping their children find mates. At the very least, they pressed them to get on with it and establish their own homes. Today, however, things are different. No sooner have young people graduated from high school than they are on their way, and even if they should at some point move back home, parents often adopt a “laissez-faire” attitude when it comes to their children marrying.
Moreover, our culture encourages young people to focus on their careers while marriage is placed on the back burner. This has taken a devastating toll. Immersed in their professions, young women see their biological clocks tick on and on. They have been misled into believing they have all the time in the world, only to realize one day that years have passed and can never be retrieved. Though this is a tragedy that affects both genders, women are hit harder, not only because of their biological clocks but because by nature they are nest builders.
While it’s become fashionable for women to believe they can have children even into their forties – and, yes, there are some wonderful stories that make great copy – in real life things are quite different. Even if by some stroke of luck a woman in her forties finds her soul mate, the road to childbearing can be filled with much heartache and painful and expensive medical treatment.
A successful young woman in the corporate world came to consult with me about finding a mate. “Rebbetzin,” she said, “I have an elderly, widowed mother. I call her every day and visit her at least once a week, but I am haunted by a terrible thought. Who will visit me when I am her age? I always thought you could have it all – a successful career, marriage, children – but the truth is that men, even if they are on in years, can combine marriage and parenthood with a successful career, but this is not so simple for women. We’ve lost the best years of our lives. We’ve been misled.”
Whose fault is it? It doesn’t matter. An entire generation has been led down the garden path. Though it may be true that that men fare better in the singles world, experience has taught me that they are also suffering. Many sincerely desire to marry but can’t – they suffer from “commitment phobia.”
To be sure, there are many factors that render them phobic (these sometimes apply to women as well). Many men no longer feel they have to get married. They can just as easily have “relationships.” But these relationships not only are a negation of our Torah way of life, they come with a high price and leave indelible marks on one’s soul. You cannot be intimate with someone and then cancel that person out without consequences. Even if one is in denial, the heart, the mind, and the soul have long memories.
Little wonder, then, that today’s singles carry heavy baggage and with each passing year pick up even more, all of which mitigates against committing to marriage.
Additionally, the active social lives many singles lead serve to mask their feelings of loneliness. There is always a plethora of activities to keep them believing they are doing their all to pursue a match – whereas in reality they are just going from date to date, gathering to gathering, singles event to singles event.
I met a young man while I was speaking at a convention. I had seen him some years ago at our Hineni organization, and I asked how he was doing.
“I’m still single” he said. “Any recommendations?”
I thought for a moment and suggested a lovely young woman who had been coming to my classes. “I know her,” he said. “We are friends. She is not for me, and to be honest with you, Rebbetzin, I didn’t wait all this time to settle now!”
I felt sorry for him – not only for the years wasted, but also for his mixed-up priorities. The poor guy was unaware of the crassness of his words. He didn’t realize he was consigning himself to a life of loneliness. With his attitude, even if by some stroke of luck he finally did marry, he would always carry an albatross of past relationships around his neck – “maybe I should have married her, or her or her.”
Second guessing is always easy to indulge in during times of stress or conflict. Marriage, like life, is not a smooth ride. There are many bumps along the way and if you come upon a particularly rough stretch it becomes tempting to blame the vehicle and fantasize that had you only chosen a different model or make, you would have been OK.
Such rationalization is anathema to marriage – it deludes you into believing the problem is not with you but with your mate, and if you could only exchange him or her, all would be well.
More than ever I have come to realize the wisdom of the blessing we pronounce under the marriage canopy – that bride and groom find the joy and happiness Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve knew with certainty they were meant for each other – there was no one else to choose from! Similarly, we wish for every bride and groom to enjoy the same clarity and be free of the burdens that many singles of our generation carry – always comparing, always second-guessing themselves and never being able to make a lasting commitment.
While we must do our part in pursuing a match, if in the process we encounter disappointments, we try not to despair. We put it down to something not having been basherte (Yiddish for predestined).
I once met an attractive woman in her thirties who told me she’d been on more dates than she cared to count. She was tired, she said, and had one question: “If everyone has a basherte, why is it taking me so long to find mine?”
(To Be Continued)Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
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