I get really annoyed when I see an announcement for yet another workshop, another counseling program, another weekend, aimed at teaching Modern Orthodox singles (or singles anywhere) how to be “proper” human beings, how to relate to each other, how to develop dating skills, how to overcome commitment angst, how to be married, how to be better... And there is a nuance of “if you’re married, you’re better.”
However as a married person I know this to be a big lie.
As someone who married late (at 37), I experienced this big lie, through the people who asked me, “Why aren’t you married? What’s wrong with you?”
Or those who were a little more tactful and said, “Why aren’t you married? There’s nothing wrong with you.” The main message of the workshops, sessions, weekends, events is “something is wrong with the singles. Let’s show them how to fix it.”
Often those who are showing the singles how to fix their aberrant behavior got married young and never experienced the difficulties of single life or the hazards of lengthy dating. The intentions are for the most part very good, but they are almost always based on a misguided assumption: that the singles are doing something wrong, and that’s why they aren’t married.
This assumption leads to singles being bullied by those around them who have demonstrated their deep knowledge of right-doing by getting married (I’m being sarcastic, in case it wasn’t obvious). They are bullied to compromise on core values, to compromise on attraction, to compromise on basic civility and thoughtfulness, because otherwise “you’re too picky and you’ll never get married.”
This made me angry when I was single, and it still incenses me after 15 years of marriage.
IN MOST cases, “marrieds,” except those rare exceptions who remember what it was like, unintentionally cause tremendous suffering to singles through tactless behavior and comments, treating them like children, showing little or no sensitivity to their situation.
There are singles who are happy to remain single. But there are those for whom being single is the source of acute suffering, of tremendous loneliness and a constant questioning of self-worth. The sense that “no one really cares” has to be one of the worst feelings anyone could ever experience – sadly many experience that feeling within marriage, but that’s for another article.
The result is not surprising. In many cases, especially in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood (setting of the star-studded TV series Srugim) where I’m a long-time denizen, the singles have basically divorced the rest of society. They spend their time together, and spend much less time with marrieds or families. Those who have made aliya without their families are like an extended family to each other in many ways, now almost to the exclusion of actual families.
Many religious singles here without family rarely get to hug a child (or to hug anyone for that matter), to spend time talking to an elderly person, to be welcomed into a family environment, to talk over their issues with anyone other than other singles or therapists. This is a situation that has evolved especially over the last 15-20 years, and I believe it to be part of the self-perpetuating situation that has been growing for decades and that has led to the increase of single populations in Western culture generally, not just among Orthodox Jews.
And this is where the whole premise that “the singles must be doing something wrong” is shattered. The phenomenon of people staying single, or marrying very late, has become endemic to Western society. The implication is that it’s no longer something the singles are doing, it is something society, and specifically community (this includes marrieds) are doing that is part of the cause and perpetuation of the situation.
Society and community have stood aside while the singles have developed a subculture where marrieds are usually excluded. Although marrieds have additional issues such as baby-sitting and time constraints and may not be as available as before, many marrieds are surprised to find out just how excluded they are from their previous circle of friends after the wedding ceremony – and if not then, certainly after the first child is born.
In some cases, marrieds cut themselves off from their previous social groups, feeling uncomfortable, feeling that the singles cannot understand them. And the marrieds forget their single experience, and lose their understanding of their single friends. And as a result, our society has developed a rift which is almost impassable.
I believe that what is happening in terms of the increase in the
singles “community” has its roots in divisions that have arisen between
people in general, in the breakdown of community, in the mistaken
belief that people with shared interests should always spend time
together – whereas true enrichment comes from spending time with those
who do not share your interests and beliefs.
Singles are being
counseled on “how to relate better,” “how to open [your] life to
another person” but this is missing the point. These issues are not
just of importance to singles, they are crucial to the entire
community. And until communication and understanding improves, the rift
will only increase.
If more true avenues for real connection are
opened up between singles and community (this doesn’t include singles
events with icebreaker games arranged by marrieds for singles), the
results would benefit, enrich and possibly surprise all those involved.The
writer is a classical homeopath (www.jerusalemhomeopath.com) and
cofounder of www.habitza.com, a blog dedicated to issues relating to
singles and community.