The Voice of Singles
August 3, 2023
Is Our Attitude Contributing to the Shidduch Crisis?
Chani Juravel LCSW
We’re all read so many discussions, articles, and op-eds on the topic of singles in our community. I’m not weighing in with my opinions or analysis; I have none, because when it comes to people, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, insight, or piece of advice. As Rebbetzin Kanievsky so warmly and wisely told me, the key to success with anyone we try to be there for is “Teid’i shekol echad olam malei—Know that each person is an entire world.” It’s impossible and condescending to attempt to create global understanding of or game plans for any demographic.
I’m writing, then, not to solve any of the issues presented over the past years, but because many of the phenomenal singles I know have asked me to try to be their collective voice, to express their pain, their truth, and some of their wishes. I hope that I will be representing them as accurately and as eloquently as they deserve.
A confidence crisis
Just about all of us carry some form of lack or disability; we are all stuck somewhere that we don’t want to be. For singles, their lack is more public and more visible than many others’. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that a woman “without a beanie” doesn’t get the same treatment and respect, nor does a man without a tallis. For the most part, they’re often passed over (if even considered) for positions within the community needing the very type of expertise and leadership skills they have and display. They are at times dismissed, demeaned, and marginalized, and they usually swallow it all rather than risk coming across as more “intimidating and assertive” than they are already warned they seem.
On the other hand, they are given off-the-mark, inappropriate advice in public, looked over unabashedly, and interrogated freely by strangers on matters that are sensitive and private. They’re made to feel that their dreams can and should be ignored, that their standards are too high, and that their principles are too uncompromising. All that from others who may very likely adhere to, live with, and greatly admire the same.
We call it a shidduch crisis, which adds to the panic and desperation. A young divorcée told me, “I was so afraid I’d be left single, I thought I’d better just get married so I could check that off my list as the next thing you just have to do, after going to the right seminary.”
I’m not so sure, though, that the truest crisis is about finding shidduchim. I think that to a lot of singles, it is much more about being a crisis of confidence that is the result of their feeling beaten down and seen as hopelessly incompetent. Studies show that the most attractive feature most people are drawn to in looking for a partner is confidence. And we are definitely not enhancing or encouraging confidence in the way we sometimes treat singles, especially older ones who deserve even more of our respect and admiration.
Harder than it needs to be
A 26-year-old professional was asked to take off from work to meet a renowned shadchan in person. She drove hours each way, losing a day’s pay and suffering the stress of missing many work-related meetings. She was barely seated when she was asked what seminary she went to (eight years before) and where her father davens…and then told she could leave. She needed to wait in her car for quite a while before driving home as her tears made visibility impossible.
A single woman in her 40s was told by a well-meaning shadchan a couple of decades younger than she was that she should get a “better profile shot” on her résumé and dress with an eye toward “better fit and colors.” She was also told that she had “to have the right attitude and priorities.” The young matchmaker failed to ask the single woman much about herself. She probably would have been inspired to hear that the woman had been selflessly and singlehandedly supporting a kollel couple for the past 10 years, including paying their children’s tuitions, and that she was a steady member of the chevrah kaddisha and other chessed organizations in her small community, all while holding down an incredibly demanding job and playing a critical role in her family.
A very capable, ambitious, single talmid chacham worked hard on his positive attitude and being happy for his married friends. It was anything but easy being in yeshivah and in a dorm with so many younger men. Still, he made it his business to sing and dance upon hearing announcements of the engagements of those over a decade younger than he. It took so much out of him, but he tried not to wear his sadness on his sleeve. He was totally deflated when someone pulled him aside and told him that he “shouldn’t be so happy about life” if he wanted his tefillos answered and that Hashem wouldn’t take his pleas seriously if the misery and pain weren’t obvious. The avodah he was proudest of was contaminated by someone who had never had more than a two-sentence conversation with him in all the years they were in yeshivah together and had married the first girl he’d dated.
A group of single staff members were involved in a heated conversation in the teachers’ room in a school I was working in some years back. I asked if I could be of help, and they shared that they hadn’t received paychecks in months. They were told that they didn’t have the same expenses as the married staff, so it “just made sense” that their checks would have to wait. Some of those unbelievably devoted staff members were teaching in the school for a lot longer than their married colleagues, and regardless of their marital status, some were carrying debt and expenses incurred for various personal and pressing reasons.
Obviously, I’m painting a pretty bleak picture. Of course, there are many supportive, special, sensitive shadchanim, family members, and community members. It’s critical to realize, though, that every single has experienced at least a taste of the above and cringes at the possibility of there being more to come at any given moment. Just that fear alone makes life so much harder than it needs to be. Lurking at every simchah or in any coffee room may be someone saying to cut or grow their hair or beard, someone asking how many calls they’re making or calories they’re eating, or someone looking at them with too much sympathy or not enough.
In the box
We all try to create what I call boxes in an attempt to figure out the more confounding parts of our world. If someone dies of lung cancer, we ask if they smoked. If a child seems at risk, we ask if their home is dysfunctional.Truth be told, nothing is as simple and straightforward as a box. There are lots more layers and levels of complications than a box can explain. But creating boxes is our way of maintaining some sanity, of having an illusion of control, understanding, and predictability in an otherwise confusing and often scary world. With boxes, we can “know” who gets sick, who’s at risk, who’s in danger…and feel relieved knowing that we’re in the other box. Boxes tell us who’s good and bad, deserving or lacking, successful or failed. They let us hedge our bets and give advice and pretend that we can outguess G-d, statistics, and the messier parts of life all at once.
Singlehood challenges our illusions and boxes. Singles who have everything going for them force us to face the harsh, box-less fact that doing everything right doesn’t ensure success. We can’t always have it all, in spite of it seeming that we deserve to. We don’t always live the life we want to be living, and we don’t know why. Those truths are all terribly uncomfortable and out of sync with our need to be in control and figure out how to make things go our way. So, we may just create other boxes (like pieces of advice, explanations, statistical evidence of demographics, theories of which qualities work and which don’t in dating, segulos, and more) to reclaim our solid ground of having a reason. That way we can proclaim, publish, and solve this painful problem once and for all.
But maybe singles remind us of our need to let go of the box mentality and recognize just how little we can ever make sense of our world, let alone anyone else’s. Boxes typically do nothing for a person other than burying them in some way. As Chanah aptly sang in her shirah,after suffering the abuse of those who “knew” why she was childless and tried to “help” for almost two decades, “Al tarbu tedabru gevohah gevohah—Do not speak a lot of ‘high’ talk.” She was proof that speaking “lofty” and pretending to know was not only a waste of time, it was downright demeaning and damaging. She continues, “Ki Keil dei’os Hashem…v’lo niskenu alilos”—for only the Master of each of our prescriptions can possibly know our individual needs and the whys of what each of us is living.
The only box worth knowing is the one He lovingly and masterfully crafts, creates, and provides each of His equally deserving, beloved children. All that’s left for us to do is to respect each other’s boxes as uniquely appropriate and be there for others in their respective journeys with kindness, compassion, and curiosity. As the Chafetz Chaim said, we are gifted two distinct eyes for a very powerful, important reason: one eye is meant to look inward, to reflect and introspect on how and what we can be doing better; and the other eye is gifted to us to look outward at others with only positivity, to view them favorably and without judgment. Out of convenience, though, we often reverse those eyes. That comes across as “I’m just fine…and you need help because you’re obviously getting it wrong.” Instead, asking “How can I be there for you and hold this with you in a way that would work for you best?” is the best we can and should ever offer.
The power of resilience
The single population is a favorite group of mine (as much as I’ll be ecstatic to embrace them in their next stage instead). I’ll tell you why.
They are proof positive of the power of resilience. They show up to their lives every day, doing what they have to do and getting through so many of the ordeals they face with grace, goodness, and a mindset of growth. And they do it again and again, day in and day out, even though what is typically an exceptional process on so many levels doesn’t yield the desired outcome.
As Rav Hutner said in a letter to Rabbi Sherer in a difficult time, Jews live with the knowledge that process is all that’s ours; outcome is never in our control. Akeidas Yitzchak is named for an event that never came to fruition. Our pride should be solely in the process we engage in, in spite of results that are never meant to be our definition of success.
The singles I am privileged to know perform that akeidah day in and day out. They may be better at dating and communicating and davening than any of their married friends. And they have no proof of any of that work and get no credit for it.
Singles teach me what it means to choose to focus on what’s in our control as opposed to what’s not. My beloved father a”h used to say that there was a singular difference between Mordechai and Haman, a difference that made one forever blessed and one eternally cursed: Mordechai had nothing going for him but one thing—his relationship with Hashem—and that is what he focused on. Haman had everything going for him except one thing—the Jews—and that was his focus. The singles I know are constantly and consistently striving to focus on what’s right in their lives despite so many messages getting them to see what isn’t. They create experiences and learn new skills and take advantage of time in whichever way they can. It’s astounding.
Last, they are my hope in miracles being possible. A miracle, after all, goes beyond the dictates of nature. Singles live miracles all the time, allowing themselves to hope yet again and try another date; to keep believing in the same tefillos they’ve been saying for so long; to find outlets for joy, friendship, learning, and giving even when staying in bed may be the most natural choice.
We’re not privileged to understand much about Hashem’s ways. One thing we do know, though, is that our actions can elicit His reactions. That being the case, no doubt that the miraculous behavior of the brave, beautiful, inspiring singles of our generation are our key to redemptive miracles to come.
Let’s all do our part to make their miracles happen, too—while making them feel as miraculous as they truly are. There is a geulah they so badly yearn for; the least we can do is offer them freedom from our judgment.
Chani Juravel LCSW is a popular lecturer and therapist in private practice. She sees individuals and couples in her Rockland County, NY, office as well as virtually. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sneetches Without Stars
Devorah Leah Fried
I recently received an invitation for a shidduch meeting. I was touched that someone had reached out to singles and was looking to help them. There was only one snag: the invitation was only for girls who attended certain “star” seminaries. Yes, there was another event for those who attended other establishments. Yet, they were separated. The haves and the have nots.
I was reminded of the book The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss, in which only the sneetches with stars were allowed to attend the star events.
Why is which seminary you attended a factor in meeting the shadchan? What does it matter which seminary you attend? I know they mean well. It is much easier to match up “Brisk boys” with “BJJ girls” and see the “Masores Rochel type.” But honestly, how can you segregate them in such a blatant way?
We all talk about the challenge of girls getting accepted to high school and seminary. And here, we are taking the pressure of that process, highlighting it, and double underlining it. For only those who go to seminaries that stamp them with “stars” can join the elite “star-bellied sneetches.” The poor girls who don’t get into those seminaries are crushed enough. Now you’re almost ruling them out from being matched up with “top boys.”
Getting into schools is an old problem. People push and push and there isn’t enough room. Even more than that, people are afraid to send to places that may be fitting for their children because of how it will categorize them. We think about shidduchim when we get our kids into elementary school. Sometimes, we prioritize that over a school that would cater to our kids’ needs such as smaller class size or warmer teachers. We hope and pray that they get out the other end unscathed so that they can marry the top, normal, perfect boy.
I remember a friend choosing BJJ even though she herself wanted a seminary that was smaller and warmer. For the right girl, the right school, but just because the school has a name does not mean you are that. Top girl doesn’t mean one type.
A top seminary doesn’t necessarily mean the perfect girl or wife. Again it is true that often the top boys’ yeshivos and top girls’ seminaries produce students with similar goals and hashkafos. Yet, if we only put together boys and girls from those lists, we are ignoring all those many people who would be great matches regardless of the seminaries they went to.
Who’s to say that a boy who has X background or went to X yeshivah will be less compatible with a girl who went to Y seminary? Many boys in shidduchim end up saying “I want a girl who will be a wife.” That has nothing to do with seminaries. In fact, most of the growth, giving, and selflessness of marriage and raising a family has nothing to do with school at all and more to with personality, history, and life throughout marriage and challenges.
Just like we beg people to consider shidduchim from out of town, and we eschew their virtues, so too we should look at the “sneetches without stars.” In fact, they may have more “stars” than the others. Boys from different backgrounds may be self-made; they’ve learned how to be respectful yet strong. Those who struggled in the school system may be more compassionate and understanding. They may have perseverance and be able to be the supportive parent, the one who helps the struggling child they may have one day, because they get it. Girls from “broken homes” know how to handle conflict.
So instead of labeling everyone with stars or not and fencing them from our parties, we can do things differently. We can peel away the stars, or just ignore them. After all, “The sneetches got really quite smart on that day. The day they decided that sneetches are sneetches. And no kind of sneetch is the best on the beaches.”