August 18, 2010, The Jewish Press (title was changed from "The Shmatta-fication of Singles")
A great human tragedy is taking place before our eyes, yet few can see it.
A singles event in Jerusalem, co-sponsored by no fewer than five groups or organizations, advertised the following:
“Ask yourself this question: Do you really want to get married? If the answer is NO, then carry on having a good time going to all those parties, Shabbat meals, lectures, supermarket aisles . If the answer is YES, then we’ll see you at the MEGA EVENT.”
A series of singles events in Jerusalem co-sponsored by three organizations advertised the following “description” of the program: “Mifgash BaMerkaz aims to bring singles together for activities that will enhance social interaction in a relaxed atmosphere.”
A singles event organized by the Young Israel of Teaneck and Yeshiva University advertised the following: “Find-Your-Bashert Extravaganza! Meet your bashert while dining on a great meal, being enlightened by an inspirational speaker, and enjoying an innovative speed dating session. Additionally, meet amazing and very dedicated matchmakers. You never know what might happen, so come and join us!”
These advertisements are highly representative of the norm for singles events, not carefully selected exceptions. What they have in common is they degrade the singles they are ostensibly trying to help, in ways both overt and subtle.
The first advertisement hardly requires a probing analysis to uncover an astonishingly condescending attitude toward singles. I will therefore spend no more time on it, other than to wonder how those who harbor such an attitude toward a group of people can possibly be of service to them, and to wonder how it can be that all the combined brainpower and resources in these organizations could come up with nothing better than an insult to singles.
The second advertisement offers absolutely no information as to what the actual program will be. In so doing it essentially says the following to singles: “We know you are desperate, and it really makes no difference what the program will be so long as there are live bodies in the room. You don’t care about anything else, so we don’t have to bother dignifying you with even minimal information. Besides, we know what’s best for you, anyway.”
The third advertisement commits this same offense by failing to even identify the speaker or the topic of the speech. Has a shul or university ever advertised a non-singles event without identifying the speaker or the nature of the talk? Would they expect people to sign up and pay money for such a program, or to take it seriously enough to even inquire for more information? Would someone promote a concert without identifying who would be playing or even the type of music that would be played? Of course not!
Yet singles are held in such disregard that this sort of thing is actually quite common when it comes to singles events. “We’ll have some speaker, and he’ll be terrific. Come and you’ll have a great time.”
This advertisement commits another grave offense that is quite common in the world of singles events: “Meet your bashert.” This doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee, nor do they justify their expectation that many or all of those who come will be so fortunate to find a soulmate in the same room. It is simply a form of advertising that needlessly preys on the hopes and fears of singles, driving a knife through the scar tissue of years of unfulfilled hopes and wounded self-esteem.
There is an implicit message here as well: “We have organized a great program where all the successful people will meet their bashert. If you come and aren’t so fortunate, the problem must be with you. You must be a loser.”
Singles have been so degraded that the opportunity to meet matchmakers is presented as something to be excited about. How low we have sunk as a society, how powerless and feeble singles have become, when many singles are more excited to meet matchmakers than to meet one another.
This advertisement further promises “innovative and enjoyable speed dating.” Once again, we are not informed as to what will be innovative or enjoyable about forced small talk with random strangers in a tightly controlled setting – we must go and suffer the very real possibility of creative advertising to find out.
What disturbs me most of all is not that so many people who should know better are so clueless and condescending toward singles. No, what disturbs me most of all is that singles by and large have had the self-esteem beaten out of them to the extent that they not only go along with it but seem hardly disturbed by any of this. Rare indeed is the single who has the courage and self-respect to express his moral outrage at the unacceptable treatment he receives simply because he is not yet married. Apparently standing up for one’s basic dignity as a human being is bad for shidduchim.
For many years I was bothered by a unique phenomenon for which I had no explanation. Every married person is a former single (and, quite possibly, a future single), and should thus be very sensitive to the anxiety and pain that almost no one is entirely spared in the search for a spouse. It is natural for those who live through any sort of human experience involving pain or trauma to forever feel a kinship with those who share that experience. I can think of no other exception – certainly not one so striking – as the utter lack of sensitivity and understanding so many married people exhibit toward singles. How can they not know better?
I believe I have finally discovered at least a partial answer. Singles who are fortunate to have a relatively smooth road may indeed be oblivious to the travails of others, but singles who suffer greatly often become condescending toward other singles once they finally “graduate” to the other side. Some believe they’ve found The Answer (invariably something bizarre and simplistic) and go about preaching this way to singles as if what worked for them would work for everyone. Many suddenly ignore singles entirely, grateful to finally be welcomed into the class of “real” adults; continuing to associate with singles as equals would be beneath them.
What we witness here is a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. Singles who have been beaten over the head for years with the message that they are lesser people not worthy of respect come to believe it, and the best way they can demonstrate that they are worthy members of society is, once married, to perpetuate this same treatment to other singles. The fact that they have gotten married is “proof” that they have figured things out, and it is all those still unmarried singles who must have lots of issues in need of fixing. Their marital status alone is evidence enough.
If our community is really interested in alleviating the difficulties facing singles, and not just exploiting singles as business opportunities and pet chesed projects, it needs to learn some hard lessons about kavod ha’briyos.
Singles who enter family-oriented shuls should not feel out of place (really, no one who enters a shul should feel out of place). Events geared for singles should not implicitly require that singles check their dignity at the door. Married people should not presume they are superior to singles or know what is best for them. Personal advice, especially advice that may strike a raw nerve, should never be offered unsolicited, off the cuff, or in a public setting. These are just a few of the many fundamental lessons our community desperately needs to learn.
No one has a right to denigrate singles even in the guise of trying to help them, and singles do not help their own cause by allowing themselves to be mistreated. Let us indeed help singles – but let our efforts to help singles not be a mitzvah that comes through sin.