Dear Dr. Yael,
At the ripe old age of nineteen I decided I was ready to begin a new and exciting life for myself. I was newly graduated from seminary, had just begun my path towards a college degree and felt it was time; the world was at my fingertips. It was time to embark on one of the bumpiest trails known to any Orthodox single… the shidduch scene. At the time I naively thought, “How hard can this be? I am a good person with solid values, have a good family established in my community, am attractive, have a bubbly and outgoing personality and many friends who would vouch for all of my positive attributes.”
The calls began coming through as soon as word got out that I was “on the market.” Intimidating at first, I was incredibly exhilarated at the prospect of what could come with each potential match.
Weeks became months and months became years. I graduated from college and landed a great job at a well-known institution. I knew it was just a matter of time… I was officially settled. I thought I hadn’t found my match until then because I needed to graduate from school. Over the years I came up with many “logical” reasons why I was still single. It gave me a sense of comfort, even if it was short-lived.
A piece of that dream crumbled after my dad passed away when I turned twenty-three… the image of both my parents walking me down the aisle was no longer possible. I felt that I had let him down.
So I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and signed up for an online frum dating site. I told myself that for sure this would be the ticket to finding my bashert. There were so many potential matches with just the click of a mouse. As online dating became more and more popular, I signed up to any new website that I discovered. With time I began to think there must be something about me that’s holding me back. My friends and family reassured me that it’s all about timing and that I was doing every possible hishtadlus.
By the time I hit my mid-thirties I began doubting their words. How could I still be single? I had already met with numerous matchmakers, gone to different singles events and was open to dating guys of varying ages, hashkafic backgrounds and professions.
When you first start dating, you have a laundry list of qualities for your “perfect” man. With time, however, I began to consolidate that list and choose what was most important to me. I knew I needed a man with a big heart, a good sense of humor, who was non-judgmental and matched me in four religious areas: being shomer Shabbos, keeping kashrus and taharas hamishpachah and covering my hair. I also knew I wanted to be happy and married to my best friend and soul mate.
Being an older single is a huge nisayon. People who believe they have the best of intentions will candidly tell you that you’re just being “too picky,” and that you “need to get out there more.” Others discuss behind your back what a shame it is that you’re still single and question whether or not you really want to get married. And there are the looks of pity on people’s faces. I got them a lot once my nieces and nephews began to get married. I was the “nebach older single aunt.” I cried over my status too many times to count.
My dates were no walk in the park either. I can count on my fingers how many normal and decent guys I actually went out with. I went through my share of heartbreak as well. Each time I was ready to throw in the towel.
By the age of thirty-seven I resigned myself to the fact that I probably would never get married, as agonizing as that thought was. Many of my friends already had children in their upper teens. At one point, I even considered freezing my eggs or perhaps adopting a child on my own. Despite all of my blessings and accomplishments, I felt hollow. There was a huge hole that weighed down on me like a ten-ton boulder. There was nothing I could do to alleviate the intense frustration and pain.
Although I had removed myself from most dating websites, I remained a basic member on Frumster which was now called “JWed.” I thought at least I was still doing some hishtadlus, although I had little expectation of meeting anyone on there at that point. Each week JWed sent me an email with five or six featured members who met the basic criteria I had entered when I first signed up. I usually ignored and deleted these emails.
On one December evening in 2014 I received another batch of featured members. I hesitantly opened the email. My eyes immediately went to a picture of a member I had never seen before. I noticed that he was listed as “Shomer Mitzvot,” a hashkafic category I never considered throughout the years on the site. I generally browsed profiles of members who were listed as either “Modern Orthodox Machmir,” “Modern Orthodox Liberal” or “Modern Yeshivish.” There was something about this particular member, though. I knew I needed to click on his profile and find out more about him. I noticed he was the same age as me. From my experience, guys did not want women their own age, another ridiculous standard that is holding back so many from meeting their basherts and getting married. I took a leap of faith and sent him an email. To my astonishment, he wrote me back a short while later and within one week we were on our first date. From the second I laid eyes on him in the back of a crowded Starbucks (yes, it is acceptable and not a turn-off to go to a coffee shop on a first date), I knew there was something different about him. He was real! I felt that I had known him for years after an hour of talking. We had so much in common. After our date, my mom had asked me how it went. I remember telling her, “If I end up with this guy I will consider myself a very lucky person.” I always said I needed at least three months before getting engaged. Well, after six weeks we became unofficially engaged, and were married four months later.
I promised myself that I would make sure to write my story as it might give chizuk to so many out there who need it. I am begging every single person to reevaluate his or her list and not get hung up on the smaller, unimportant factors.
To all the men out there, please consider dating women your own age or even a year or two younger. What will it matter when you’re both pushing your walkers that she is eighty-eight and you’re eighty-seven? Men who believe marrying someone younger guarantees that they will be able to have children are not only ignorant, but are demonstrating a lack in bitachon. Ultimately it is in His hands. I know so many couples who got married in their early twenties and struggled with fertility while other couples who got married in their upper thirties and into their forties had children ten to twelve months after their wedding. Hashem presents us with so many opportunities. We have bechirah to choose, but sadly people’s stereotypes and rigidity prevent them from seeing what’s right in front of them. Shidduchim is all about timing, but you have to remain alert to see it when it presents itself. Time goes by way too fast and you can never get it back. What I’ve learned is if you keep your eyes wide open and focus on what matters, the reality is so much better than the fantasy!
May all the singles find their basherts soon.
Our response next week.
Dr. Yael Respler