As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts on the recent shidduchim article written by Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, I can’t seem to get a resounding thought out of my head: “Once a girl reaches the age of 25, her chances of getting married are less than 15%”. As a 28 year old single girl in the yeshiva world, I shudder at the thought of this possible reality. While my initial reaction to this alarming statistic was fear and sadness, upon having some time to think and reflect, those feelings changed to a strong sense of frustration. While I can sincerely appreciate the fact that there are people out there trying to help and make a change, I think we have it all wrong. I am not saying I have the answers and I am not going to sit here and write an alternative solution, but I want to try and share some thoughts and insights from the perspective of an “older single” in shidduchim.
I have no older siblings, so when I entered the shidduch parsha at the age of 19, I felt both excited and hopeful. My two best friends married the first boy they went out with and I thought I would surely follow suit. I always wanted to get married young – it seemed like the “next step” after spending a year in seminary. My first date was a disaster and after coming home crying, it was my first “reality check” that this may not be as easy or painless as I anticipated. It’s been almost 9 years since that first date and boy have I learned a lot – both about myself and about being part of a society that “expects” girls to be married no later than age 22. Maybe you would consider me one of your “hopeless, helpless and wounded” girls in the parsha, but truth be told, I don’t see it that way. B”H I am smart, well-educated, have a good job, a great group of friends and a supportive family. I am attractive, healthy and feel that I have a lot to offer in a relationship. So, why is it, that if this is how I view myself, when it comes to the society as a whole the first thing they see is “SINGLE.” I think this is where the problem lies.
When I think about what the biggest source of pain has been throughout this process, it is not “waiting for the phone to ring” or watching others move on. It is not the dating process, the singles events, meeting shadchanim, rejection, constantly needing to be “on”, sending out a picture to try and “convince” guys to go out with me or always having to look my best. It is not watching younger siblings or students married with babies. The greatest source of pain that I have felt is everybody else’s reaction to my “situation”. I have thought that perhaps I am just being ultra sensitive and had actually planned on waiting to write an article on the topic until I was married so I can be a little more objective. But after reading this article I felt compelled to write something and get the message out there. GIRLS DONT WANT TO BE PITIED; Nobody wants to be pitied.
I remember going to work (in a secular office) on my 25th birthday and crying at a team meeting. My supervisor came in the next day and said, “I hope I am not being disrespectful towards your culture, but when I came home I felt so angry. I felt angry that a society can make a person feel THAT bad about turning 25.” I thought about what she said, and I think she was right. Why is it that in the secular world, I am viewed as a young adult with my whole life ahead of me and the fact that I am single doesn’t even cross their minds? The secular world doesn’t pity me or think any less of me because I haven’t found the right guy and they think the age of 25 is YOUNG. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the frum, orthodox world. Unfortunately, in the frum world, with each passing birthday girls are left feeling more afraid, sad, rejected and undesirable. I don’t think this feeling comes from an inner sense of insecurity or lack of self-esteem. I think it comes from the way our society has “labeled” what it means to be an “older single”.
I strongly believe that the reason I am single has absolutely nothing to do with statistics, age gaps, lack of guys or anything else along those lines. And as long as we focus on that being the problem, we aren’t going to come up with a solution. As a good friend of mine likes to put it “this is not a shidduch crisis, it is an emunah crisis”. Everyone has to deal with different nisyonos in life. Being single is one of those nisyonos. Hashem doesn’t work based on numbers or statistics. If Hashem wants, he can send me my zivug today. But clearly, that is not where Hashem wants me to be right now. For reasons I don’t understand, I am meant to go through this painful process. If I truly believed that “less than 15% statistic” I would have a very hard time waking up in the morning and facing the world. Why would I daven so hard for something that seems so “unlikely” to happen? I don’t think Hashem is looking for us to find the reasons behind the challenges he sends us on both a personal level and on a klal level. I think Hashem wants us to take the experiences we go through and become better people. Hashem wants us to grow from these challenges and use them to help and support other people. For any single person reading this article – please don’t listen to the statistics. We are not numbers, we are human beings. Bishvili nivra haolam.
In my opinion, this is the biggest problem. Reading an article like this doesn’t give me chizuk. Reading an article like this reaffirms all my fears – that age means too much in our society, that getting older means getting “less desired”. It is not this way in the secular world and it should not be this way in our world either. People need to stop stigmatizing girls based on age. Instead of pitying us, be supportive. Instead of thinking “oy, she’s still not married” think “wow, such a great girl, I am going to think if I know anyone for her”. Instead of labeling us based on age, label us based on our character. Instead of giving us looks of despair, give us looks of encouragement and support. I think taking away the strong stigma is a first step in alleviating some of the pain singles have to go through. If age wasn’t such a big deal, such a spoken about “issue”, guys would not be as hung up on it either. As a therapist, working with children who have anxiety, I teach them that the more they focus on their worries, the more their worries grow. The more we sit and focus on age, the more of a “problem” it becomes in the eyes of boys’ mothers and the boys themselves. We should help our society see past a number on a paper. Highlight some of the positives that “older singles” have to offer. While I would have loved to get married when I was younger, I feel that the growth I have experienced in these last 9 years has been enormous. Because of this, my relationship with my husband will be that much stronger imyH. Girls who are a little older when they get married are mature, have had life experience, don’t take it for granted when they find the right person, have some money saved up, have depth and insight, have had time to travel with friends and have a strong sensitivity to others who are going through a similar ordeal.
Instead of trying to find a solution to Hashem’s master plan, help promote singles and not make them feel bad for something that is not in their control. Write articles that give support and chizuk, not that highlight and focus on the negative things about hitting the “dreaded age” of 25. We have to work on changing our perspectives. Learn to value us, not pity us. Make us feel accepted instead of rejected. We want to be treated as PEOPLE, not as statistics.
We shouldn’t have to dread going to social functions because we don’t want to deal with the “nebuch” looks and comments we are inevitably going to receive from others. We shouldn’t have to feel we have anything less to offer because Hashem didn’t send our zivug at age 20. We shouldn’t have to feel that with each passing birthday we become less desirable and our chances of getting married significantly decrease. We shouldn’t have to feel “inferior” because of our age.
There is one last point I would like to make, and I think it is an important one. One of the positives that has come out of reading this article is that it has strengthened my emunah and connection to Hashem. Let me explain. If I were to absorb and internalize all of the comments both in the article and in response to the article, it would lead me straight down a road of despair and depression. If I were to walk around feeling like a statistic, thinking “is this a life worth living” it would be extremely difficult for me to remain hopeful, positive and self-assured. It would be difficult for me to feel “worthy” of a great guy if these damaging thoughts pervaded my psyche. Instead, I read the article and looked over some of the responses and all I could think was “where is G-d in this equation?” If we had full bitachon, we wouldn’t be questioning “why”. We wouldn’t be blaming singles or casting them in a negative light. We wouldn’t be coming up with statistics or asking if this is a life worth living. We would be davening for each other, working on ourselves to be better and strengthening our connection with Hashem. By using this nisayon as an opportunity to grow and change for the better, while putting in our hishtadlus, hopefully Hashem will answer our tefillos and send the yeshuos we are all looking for.
It is my fervent hope, that with siyata dishmaya all the singles out there find their zivug and don’t have to go through any more pain. In the meantime, stay strong, don’t give up and keep your head held high because you ARE worthy and imyH some lucky guy will get to see that very very soon.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.