I don’t know if the shidduch world was like this before things got really crazy, but singles are no longer allowed to be unhappy.
That’s not entirely true – single women are allowed to cry and bemoan the absence of quality men – but, publicly, singles must appear delighted with life at all times. If they are at a simcha or an event with a neutral expression on their face for more than a few minutes, people will notice and draw conclusions. The single must be depressed. He or she will never get married this way. A well-meaning intruder might inquire if “everything is okay.”
If singles dare confide they are actually not feeling so rosy, their feelings will be invalidated. They may be advised to “talk to someone” or go for “counseling,” which implies that their unhappiness is a mental defect that needs to be repaired by a professional.
Singles quickly learn that they had better not confide their true feelings. So they bottle them up and put on happy airs all the time so everyone can see how cheerful they are and want to fix them up. They pay money they can’t afford to go to horrible singles events and pretend they are having a wonderful time, every moment. If anyone catches them without a smile on their face, cheerfully engaged in social banter, then something must be wrong – with them.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to be unhappy. And I can prove it. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 17:2 and elsewhere) states: “Rabbi Yaacov…taught: One who has no wife dwells without goodness, without joy, without blessing, without atonement…without peace…without life…he is also not a complete person.” These teachings are all supported with pesukim in Tanach.
The skeptic will retort that this statement is “only” a Midrash. As you wish, dear skeptic. But this Midrash is quoted verbatim in the Shulchan Aruch as the very first halacha in the section on marriage. It’s not “only” a philosophical idea or an allegory. It’s a Jewish law.
Of course, this teaching, like all others, must be understood in context. The message is not that singles must be miserable and that their lives are worthless. But there is something fundamental missing from their lives, which impacts the totality of their existence, and we must not avoid this truth simply because it’s uncomfortable. Accomplished singles who are offended by the notion that they are “incomplete” should understand that their reaction is a secular Western one, not a Torah-true one.
Singles should understand that unhappy feelings are entirely normal and healthy. G-d created the world in such a fashion that it is natural for someone who is unmarried to lack joy. For a single to be joyous at all times would be unnatural, and expecting it of them is therefore cruel.
This statement is no way contradicts the precept that one should serve Hashem with joy. We must all strive to find joy in whatever situation we find ourselves and be grateful for what we have. Just as a poor man – who is likened by Chazal to one who is dead – can be considered wealthy if he is content with his lot, a single who is not blessed with a family can enjoy a rich and meaningful life.
But a single should not fall into the trap of thinking that his life is complete if he is unmarried – even if he isn’t to blame – and society should not demand that he suppress natural feelings of unhappiness at the grim truth of his situation.
Singles have a biblical role model for balancing their feelings: Boaz. He is the progenitor of King David and Moshiach, but at the time of Megillas Ruth, he was an unmarried man. The megillah (3:7) tells us, “And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was merry.” He was wealthy and widely-respected and had much blessing in life that brought him happiness.
He understood, however, that his life was not complete. The Midrash comments on this very verse: “For he was seeking a wife, as it states, ‘One who has found a wife has found goodness’ (Mishlei 18:22).” Chazal understand that Boaz could not possibly have been fully joyous at heart as a single man, so they emphasize that he was committed to finding a wife.
Indeed, immediately thereafter he finds an eishes chayil. Perhaps we can infer that a positive attitude served him in good stead. It may perhaps be the source of our redemption, too.
So yes, enjoy life while single, but don’t enjoy being single. It’s important to acknowledge that the greatest joy and blessing comes from a harmonious marriage. And it’s okay to feel pain over lacking that. In fact, it’s healthy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.