I have a confession to make. I’m single.
Perhaps you were expecting something more scandalous. But the truth is that being a single observant Jew beyond the initial years of marriageable age is no source of pride. Nor should it be; the Torah’s position on the matter is unambiguous, and there’s no sense in denying the truth, even if it may be hurtful. The ideal state of human existence consists of being married with a family, and this is constantly manifest in Jewish lore. We might as well just accept it, even if we are not (yet?) privileged to enjoy this ideal state.
I’m often told that I’m still young (just a baby, even), and that I shouldn’t dwell on my single status. I have many answers for this:
- If I appreciate the magnitude of what I am missing in my life, how can I not be affected by it? Why would I suppress this appreciation, even if it were possible? The fact that I am young does not mean I should not be impatient to improve my life in this most important of ways. Frankly, how dare anyone short of a prophet tell anyone not to worry about being single?
- Why should I not be concerned with initial difficulties in finding the right person, just because I still have some time before I become “old”? Do we wait until the milk has expired to observe the detriments of the passage of time? Personally, I think becoming concerned (though not panicking) is prudent.
- Again, the Torah’s position on getting married sooner rather than later is unambiguous. If my only reason for wishing to get married is to fulfill the many fundamental mitzvos involved, how dare anyone, including a prophet, tell me not to be impatient?
Interestingly, when family members perceive that a single is not sufficiently concerned with getting married, they encourage/pressure him to get the wheels in motion. Yet when a single becomes depressed due to his great desire to get married, he is advised to lighten up and just enjoy life. In other words, whatever a single feels is the wrong way for him to feel, and is possibly even The Reason why he is not yet married.
Which brings us to The Reason. Every single has one, and determining The Reason is a favorite pastime for most people and even a growing source of livelihood for those whose expertise and insight are often highly questionable. When a single is still young (an infant, not a baby like me), The Reason is “no one marries the first person they date” (then why not just skip to the second?), or “inexperience in dating”. Innocuous enough.
After a couple of years The Reason becomes “he just hasn’t met the right person yet”. Well, obviously. Hence the tinge of concern just beneath the surface.
By the age of 25 or 26 (subtract 3 or 4 years for the women), people begin to openly speculate if there’s a “problem”. Strangely enough, singles in their first couple of years of dating have immunity from problems, as if problems only manifest themselves at an advanced age. We all know this isn’t true, but we don’t begin speculating about problems until a few years of frustration have passed. Ultimately, however, singles at this age are assured that they are still young and haven’t met the right one. Unsaid is that they better meet the right one already, and soon.
After another year or two of the same pass, the single is now completely on the defensive. There is a problem unless the single can prove otherwise, and if he responds to the charges with too much passion or conviction, that is taken as further evidence of a problem. The single is running out of allies. Those who used to be his allies are now mostly married (and thus hardly recognizable) or family members who care too much and show it in the wrong ways.
A search for The Reason is fully underway, and the single is now commonly advised to enlist others to help probe for the reason. Perhaps it is too soon for therapy, but it might be a good idea to “talk to someone and figure out why you’re having such a hard time getting married”. (Call it therapy-lite.) In the history of the world there has been exactly one therapist (or person playing that role) who declared that the patient (or person playing that role) doesn’t have a glaring problem that is inhibiting him from getting married, and should just keep doing what he’s doing. Sadly, this unique therapist quickly went out of business, and thus his approach immediately fell into disfavor.
A single who denies the existence of a deep problem in his conduct, attitude, or methods is declared stubborn and arrogant, which thenceforth becomes The Reason for his lack of success. Continual efforts are made to convince him that this is his problem. By this time it is generally accepted that he has already met the right one, or several people who were worthy of becoming the right one, and blown it. If the single rejects a potential date, he is chastised for being “too picky” and not giving the other person “a chance”. If, however, he is the one rejected, he is chastised for turning off yet another person in some indefinable way. In other words, he can’t win.
Now that it has been established that there must be a problem, and it is with the single himself, there is no going back. His torment from third parties wishing to help him, take advantage of him, or both will not cease. It is part of the curse of being single.
Despite still being only a baby, I have observed that many married people have severe flaws in their personality and character that I believe would make it difficult for them to get married. Not surprisingly, many such people seek marriage counseling, and many of the rest should. Nevertheless, they are generally accepted and respected by their community, and for one simple reason: they are married. Honestly, if these same people, with all their many flaws and idiosyncrasies, were single, don’t you know that they would be looked down upon?
But this is one of the beautiful things about marriage: no matter how objectively dislikable and disagreeable one may be, if he has found one person in the world who is willing to live with him and attach her fortune to his, he has achieved a significant level of stature. This person will never be alone. This person will never be isolated, will never lack support in the face of challenges and accusations. This person has someone who believes in him, regardless of what anyone else may think of him, and for that we too must respect that person. Whatever problem he may have wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t get married.
The single, on the other hand, is all alone and utterly defenseless. Whatever friends and relatives he may have who on some level believe in him, support him, and keep him company, in essence he lives his life alone. When others begin to speculate about his problems and how they are holding him back, he has no one to laugh in their face, to assure him that no matter how imperfect he may still be he is deeply appreciated for who he is. He has no one who will stick with him even when he may be wrong. He has no one who will invest in him long-term, whose very existence in his life brings a sense of comfort and self-esteem.
Hashem Himself attests that “it is not good for Man to be alone”. It is also not good for Man not to raise a family and enjoy the many far-reaching benefits of married life. But the most striking tragedy of being single, regardless of whether or not the single even realizes it, is being alone – emotionally and spiritually alone. For this there is no adequate replacement.
The proper attitude for a single is a mixed attitude: to be cheerful and appreciate the positive aspects of his life as it currently is, and to simultaneously feel a deep yearning for his completion as a human being. In Jewish literature a single is only one half of a human being, and it does no one any benefit to pretend otherwise. It is a pain we singles must feel and deal with, just as with any other pain that life may bring.