Much has been said and written regarding our ongoing shidduch crisis – and especially about those of us who’ve reached the golden age of “older single.” Like everything else in Judaism, our shidduch crisis has a multitude of reasons as to its contributing factors and causes. For some, we’re too picky and insistent on only dating a certain type of person, family, or physical look. For others, we’re too open-minded and not focused enough on who can help us grow into a better Jewish individual (which most often translates into what our community defines as being a better Jew). Sometimes we’re not working in a good enough field and at other times our profession is too good. Maybe we don’t have the right rebbe or mashpia. At times, we might have a certain medical, physical, or mental challenge, and finally, there’s those moments where we instantaneously feel that the other person just isn’t our “soulmate.”
Over the years, many well-meaning individuals and organizations have done much to try to alleviate these challenges. New online dating platforms are continuously emerging; an abundance of new and unique retreats are offered to suit the great magnitude of individual interests; and there always seems to be new innovations and incentives being offered by formal and informal shadchanim.
Lately, though, I’ve been toying with the idea that maybe our shidduch crisis isn’t a direct result of any of the above, but rather has to do with how we approach the idea of being single, in general.
From a young age, we teach our children that it’s not good to be alone (Bereishis 2:18) and that we’re supposed to work hard and diligently to find our bashert. We impress upon them the idea that everything we do as we grow older helps (or hinders) us create a solid foundation so that one day soon we’ll be able to build a bayis ne’eman b’yisrael and continue the legacy of Yiddishkeit that our bubbes and zaides entrusted us to pass on. That is because marriage is a great ideal and an important Jewish value, for the individual and society at large.
However, we humans are incapable of ever truly being single. In addition to preparing our children to be suitable marriage partners, we also teach them – at least twice a day – to proudly acknowledge G-d’s unity and singularity (Devarim 6:4). And we are here because, in the language of the Kabbalists, G-d chose to create a finite universe so that we could partner with Him in perfecting it and thereby transform it into a suitable dwelling place for His Presence.
But sometimes we forget this and do feel alone. Perhaps we feel excluded in the playground at recess when our friends don’t call on us to join. Or maybe we feel isolated when we progress through adolescence and young adulthood and fail to fit in, no matter how hard we try. Perhaps we lose the promotion we were hoping for at work and fear returning home because we believe our spouse will be disappointed. Maybe we lose a loved one and don’t know how to cope, or fall into the hands of mental illness or addiction and feel abandoned or become sick and lose hope of recovery. We humans are social creatures and with that comes feelings of loneliness at times.
But being lonely is not the same as being single.
Those of us who live traditional Jewish lives are accustomed to reciting Modeh Ani immediately upon waking each morning. But how many of us internalize its messages and carry them with us throughout our days? Of course, we should all feel grateful for a new day and express our thanks to those who help us at various intervals. But Modeh Ani is a message for me, a message of rabbah emunasecha, an affirmation of G-d’s belief in me and that He’s with me through each step of my journey.
Shifting our focus away from obsessing over being single (and why or why not we’re still single) can allow us to focus instead on developing ourselves for reasons far greater than just being able to enter into a marital relationship. Transitioning away from singlehood enables us to focus more on people. Instead of measuring our worth based on who we live with, we can evaluate our lives in accordance with how we live.
We need to remember that as important as marriage is, it’s not our final destination. It’s only a piece of a larger puzzle through which we can experience more wholesomeness and meaning. While I am not saying that our relationship with G-d is a substitute for marriage, in shifting this paradigm, we can alleviate a lot of the anxieties and pressures that we older individuals who aren’t yet married face. Indeed, life can get tough at times, but as we say in Ashrei (Tehillim 145), G-d is close to all who call to Him. No matter how pressured our week may feel, there’s always Shabbos. G-d is clothed in everything we say and do (Likkutei Moharan 56:3), and in any place that we bring His name, that’s where He’ll join and bless us (Shemos 20:21).
We older individuals do value marriage. We do believe we have a bashert out there somewhere. And we do want to meet him or her, and soon. But we don’t need to be reminded of this at each simcha, when we walk in a supermarket, or every time we take a lunch break in the staff room at work.
So, the next time someone asks if you’re single, say “No.” Tell them instead that you’re not yet married and remind them that no Jew is ever truly single because G-d can always be found within each moment if we cultivate the courage to look for Him. He’s there before we get married and He’s there after we meet and unite with our second half.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one. Perhaps some day you’ll join us, and our community will feel as one.