I wonder if there is any demographic group within our community that is subject to more double standards and inappropriate remarks than singles. There is certainly no other demographic where such treatment is so entrenched that it is considered laudable, to the extent that challenging this behavior guarantees backlash and censorship.
So be it.
I have prepared a list of questions that I pose to the Orthodox community and specifically its married members on behalf of singles. Singles who choose to remain members of the Orthodox community — and it is hard to blame those who become so disaffected that they leave it — tend to be so fearful and downtrodden that they will not publicly express their pain and frustrations with the community. Their only options are to flee the Orthodox community or keep a brave smile and hope to get married, thereby gaining entry back into the ranks of privileged, accepted members. Speaking out is simply not an option. So I shall speak for them.
Here are the questions:
1. It is acceptable for someone on the very fringes of a single’s life to deliver unsolicited “constructive criticism” on how he is running his personal life. Why is it not similarly acceptable for a single to walk into someone’s house and critique how a couple is raising their children, spending their money, or managing their home?
2. Why are singles often told by someone with a seemingly random shidduch suggestion to trust the would-be matchmaker’s hunch, but singles are discouraged from trusting their own hunches?
3. Many people believe they can suggest a soul mate for a single on the basis of knowing him for mere minutes, or even not at all. Conversely, if a single goes out with someone for a few hours, or even multiple times, and is not keen on proceeding, he is often urged to continue going out, because he doesn’t really know the other person well enough to make a decision. Shouldn’t an equivalent amount of time be required to know singles before making decisions about who they should or should not go out with?
4. If a relationship works out, why does the shadchan get the credit, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s the fault of the singles?
5. Why do married people think that what worked for them will necessarily work for other people — even if whatever they did failed for so many other people? Are you so sure it would even work for YOU again if you had to get married a second time?
6. Why is it that if someone declares to a single that he absolutely must do things a certain way, and the single declines the advice, the single is condemned as the stubborn one in the scenario?
7. Why is it “just a cup of coffee” and singles should not be too busy to have yet another one with yet another dubious shidduch, but married people are too busy to have “just a cup of coffee” with singles before fixing them up?
8. Why is there such delicateness when trying to help childless couples (rightfully so), but not for singles, who lack not only the opportunity to procreate, but also companionship in their journey? Why do people who approach the former issue with sensitivity believe anything goes with singles?
9. If you really believe that God sent you to be the shaliach (agent to deliver salvation), why do you give up so soon? And would you ever say to someone else you were trying to help in a personal way, or giving charity to, that God sent you to be the shaliach? So why is it appropriate to say that to singles?
10.If you expect to receive payment for making a shidduch, why can’t singles expect you to actually work? And in a way that they are comfortable with, no less?
11.If a single has a low success rate, he is told to examine his ways and go for therapy. But if other people choose who he has the opportunity to meet, they have exactly the same rate of success. Why should they not examine their ways and go for therapy? If more singles in the community are “failing” than ever before, shouldn’t the community consider the possibility that it has failed them?
12. Singles are often told, “That’s why you’re not married.” Would you ever be so presumptuous to inform a childless couple, a sick person, or an unemployed person why they are having a difficulty in life? And when that single does get married, will you acknowledge that you were wrong and do teshuva for slandering the person?
13. Have you ever told a single that he is doing things the right way and should just stay the course? If not, why not? Why do you automatically assume that singles have problems that need fixing in order for them to get married?
14. If you think that a single has so many faults and issues, why should he trust that you are setting him up with someone who has herself together? And why would you? Why would you do that to the other person?
15. Would you appreciate someone talking to you exactly the same way you are talking to a suffering, lonely single?
16. Why do you expect singles to thank you just for “thinking of them”? How degrading is that? Would you expect a poor person to thank you just for thinking of giving them money?
17. If you really believe that Hashem decides if and when someone will meet the right person, why do you assume all singles must change whatever they are doing for that to happen? If Hashem has His own timetable, and the hishtadlus is reasonable, it won’t make any difference. Or do you not believe that Hashem is really in charge of things? Do you even have a clear, sensible understanding of how this works before you start preaching?
18. Do you really care? When that cup of coffee turns out to be a horrible experience, do you empathize with the person? Do you feel bad that you had a role in creating that experience?
19. What if all your criticisms of the single are wrong? What will you say when you are ultimately judged for this by the Heavenly Court? Isn’t this even worth considering before you open your mouth?
20. Singles are often advised that God might be withholding their soul mate because they caused pain to a fellow single in the course of their dating, even inadvertently. This may be a factor in certain cases (who really knows?) but declaring that this is the reason large numbers of people are single is objectionable on many levels. In any case, if you believe that hurting a single is such a severe offense, what do you think is the penalty for married people who hurt singles, even inadvertently?
The proper response to these questions is not, “Whoever even thinks such things is angry and bitter, and that’s why they aren’t married.” The proper response is to step back and do serious soul-searching, both on the individual and the communal level. As much as married people tend to believe singles are failures, the community has failed them. As much as singles are urged to put everything on the table and be willing to make fundamental changes, the community must be willing to do the same.
We do not have tens of thousands of struggling singles because there is a shortage of men, or a shortage of good men, or a shortage of men willing to date women slightly older, or because there aren’t enough matchmakers, or because matchmakers aren’t being offered enough rewards, or because singles are too picky, or because singles all need coaches and mentors, or because God decreed this upon us. It is time to stop with the primitive summations of “the problem” and the aimless “solutions” that often create more problems than they solve.
Whole books can be written about what is really wrong and what needs to be done to fix it, and I have written them. But if the community remains too stuck in its ways to face the real problems and make fundamental changes, let it at least rethink the way it treats singles and speaks to them. They are lonely, they are hurting, and they deserve the same sensitivity that we take for granted when it comes to others who need support. At the same time, however, singles also deserve respect from those “trying to help them.” If you look down on someone and do not validate their thoughts and feelings, you are far more likely to hurt them than help them.
I encourage the community to have forums where the above questions and similar issues can be discussed openly, without judging others or fear of retribution. Listen to singles. Respect their feedback. They know a lot more about dating than you are giving them credit for – even if they have baggage and make mistakes. They know a lot more about what isn’t working and what might help. Don’t impose solutions on singles. Seek their partnership in creating them.
If you do nothing else, think about the above questions and consider calling a single to sincerely apologize for mistreating him, even if you were trying to help. It won’t solve all the problems, but it will be a wonderful first step.