In my last column, I wrote about the head-scratching phenomenon of fine young men and women in their late 20’s and early 30’s who were as marriageable as their friends and siblings, but were still single. I wrote the article because it seemed that over Pesach, every person I met – whether a local or a visitor – representing the full spectrum of Orthodoxy, wondered if I “knew someone” for a single son or daughter, a niece of nephew or a family friend who was still in the parsha despite the fact they were so eligible and “normal.”
I wondered why this was so. Probably for some, it was pure bad luck, where the ones they wanted didn’t want them and vice-versa. For others, I concluded, being single into their 30’s was due to unwavering bitachon that they would find the “ONE” and hence they refused to “throw in the towel” and compromise.
However, for many, I believe their prolonged state of singlehood, in spite of their definitely being marriage material, is the result of a paralyzing fear ensconced deeply in their subconscious, its invisible tentacles pulling them two steps backwards for every step forward they take on the road to matrimony.
These are the young people, who after weeks or months of dating someone who seems perfect for them, inexplicably end the relationship – often, with a lame, superficial excuse for doing so, if any.
The tragedy is that these fine, young men and women are stuck in a psychological rut. As I mentioned in part one, over the years, I have watched so many singles make the effort to get married; they go to shadchanim, singles events; pursue segulahs; and “put themselves out there” — to no avail. While once they were fresh-faced, enthusiastic and optimistic, now they are now middle-aged, drained and somewhat “shell-shocked” at being tallis-less bochurim and being addressed as “Miss” or Ms. on their friends’ children’s wedding invitations.
I am not a psychologist; just expressing my opinion as a person who became single again in my late 20’s and has remained so. I know that one of the reasons this is so, is that I was held back by fear. And I think this emotion is prevalent in the “older” singles community.
This fear comes in different manifestations: Fear of change, fear of “falling in,” and fear of being “exposed” – all of which are the crippling offspring of the “mother” of all fears – fear of failure.
Let’s look at fear of “falling in.” In a recent conversation, the name of a 24 year old came up; someone who is was viewed as being “very picky.” One person who knew her mentioned that this young woman was turning down great suggestions, and speculated that her reluctance was because a number of her friends were now divorced – some with babies. No doubt as kallahs each had gushed how wonderful her chassan was, how perfect they were for each other, only to experience months later, hell on earth. While no doubt other married friends are happy, that reality could not assuage the fear that had seeded her psyche. What if the charming boy across the table was not what he appeared to be? What if, “what you see is NOT what you get?”
On a conscious level, this erlich young woman truly wants to get married but, subconsciously, is scared witless.
Others yoked with the fear of falling in were raised in families that on the surface seemed saturated with shalom bayis. After all, the parents have been married for decades. In reality, however, there was little, if any, spousal harmony, respect or communication at home and so for these individuals, marriage is either a battlefield (if both parents were assertive) or abusive (one spouse being the other’s verbal or emotional punching bag). Why risk waking up to an individual who despises you – or whom you despise?
You want to be married, you insist to those who say you are “tooooo picky.” But deep in the recesses of your soul, you are frozen by fear.
One can argue that many singles have married siblings, so these factors aren’t valid considerations. Not so. It just means that the family situation affected them differently.
Now let’s look at fear of change. Human beings are creatures of habit. As babies we thrive in set routines. We feel safe and protected when life is predictable. Security is tied to sameness. As we get older most of us outgrow the need for the status quo. If we have been imbued with confidence and a healthy sense of self, then we are comfortable taking risks – like getting married. Leaving the “nest” for what is arguably an unknown state of being – sharing the days of your life with a relative stranger (unless you lived in your future in-laws’ house since infancy) and having to adapt, compromise and negotiate your way to harmony – takes a tremendous amount of work, patience and fortitude.
And as outgoing, confident and brash as someone might be, there can be undercurrent of insecurity keeping him or her from stepping out of his or her “daled amos.” As the saying goes, “there’s no place like home.”
(Sometimes the one having difficulty with change is a parent, who artfully uses guilt and/or neediness to keep at least one of her brood home.)
Finally we have fear of being “exposed.” While others might think their single friend, relative or colleague is accomplished, put together and has “alla mieles” – she does not share in that assessment. She thinks she is much less than what her peers perceive her to be and if she let someone come close – like a spouse- her “secret” would be revealed: She is a fraud; she is inadequate, inferior and not deserving at all of the praise heaped on her. These individuals are terrified they will be “outed “as being the losers they wrongfully think they are.
Sadly, despite the fact that he or she is a wonderful, gifted individual, he or she believes that everyone is being fooled and fears getting “caught” and being exposed.
The common denominator here is an encompassing fear of failing – of being miserable, vulnerable, trapped or overwhelmed. Sadly, many of these perfectly marriageable singles are unaware or in denial about this fear. It is only, I think, with honest introspection, preferably with a therapist, that the terror anchored in the depths of one’s soul finally be addressed and hopefully released.
This approach worked for a friend who was in her upper 30’s and very popular. After two decades of turning down great prospects, she sought help in understanding why she was doing so and eventually married and built a family.
I’m not saying that fear is the culprit holding all singles back. There are many variables involved as to why a marriageable person is not married. But if unrecognized fear is one of them, the individual, supported by those who care, should do what it takes to attain a personal “yitziyat Mitzriyim and walk freely towards his/her destiny.