Active involvement in the dating scene means that on any given day, our emotions can range from euphoric to lonely; sad to flattered; hopeful to despairing; feeling awkward or uncomfortable to care-free and confident. We are told to keep an open mind, to be emotionally available and to radiate a positive energy. Yet introducing ourselves and our lives to new people who may or may not want to meet us again is exhausting. We go out on dates, hoping it will lead to something serious, yet the other person may decide to not continue based on something you do; how you dress; something you say; how you look; whether you wear pants or skirts; what you do for a living; what kind of kippah you wear on your head; if you have a car or not; your town of origin; how long your sleeves are; whether you are shomer negiya or not ; what kind of animals you like; how much hair you have on your head ; if you have a few extra pounds or aren't tall enough; etc. In addition, having to face intrusive questions about our personal lives by random strangers "who might know someone" can certainly wear us down.
So we try our best to stay positive and maintain a healthy self-confidence by not defining our self-worth by our marital status. Why? Because if one’s self-worth is defined by one specific thing, one will probably fall into despair at times when one is unable to achieve that one goal in the way one envisions.
Most, if not all of my friends have wonderful qualities and are pretty confident people. They are proud of the lives they’ve made for themselves over here. When I say “proud”, I don’t mean in an arrogant way, I mean that they seem to have a healthy self confidence in that that they are leading productive, satisfying lives. They are intelligent, attractive, friendly, educated men and women who have modestly successful careers in variety of industries. Most of them have chosen to move across the world and have been successful in making their lives in Israel. They are kind, responsible, stable adults. And yet, I believe that all of us share a basic common desire: to make our parents proud, and to know that that our parents love and respect us. In fact renowned psychologists (Abraham Maslow, to name one) theorize that feeling respected, along with feeling a sense of love and belonging, are fundamental needs for everyone (I want to blatantly include unmarried Orthodox thirty and forty-somethings in the category of “everyone” in case there was any doubt).
And so right after the holidays, when a friend shared with me that her parents explicitly told her that they were embarrassed of her and asked her to leave the house for Rosh HaShana dinner, I was stunned. Speechless. They relayed to her that they felt that her presence would be awkward and that they were embarrassed to have a daughter her age (she’s 29 or 30) who is still not married.
I did my best to hold back tears of empathy, but it was extremely difficult. I felt sad for my friend that she had to face rejection from the people who are supposed to be the key sources of love and affection (yes, even adults still need to feel love from their parents), but I also felt anger towards her parents on her behalf. How is this young woman supposed to radiate a positive attitude and self-confidence when her primary caregivers are shooing her away? Pretending like she doesn’t exist anymore? How is she supposed to feel good about herself when her very parents are embarrassed of her (regardless of whether it is shown explicitly or implicitly)?
After she shared her story with me, I carefully expressed that it sounded like her parents’ attitude is toxic for anyone to be around, and that she should do her best to filter out their negativity. What I didn’t tell her is that it was also pretty clear to me that this vicious criticism was likely not circumstantial or a new phenomenon – she probably grew up with the same negative attitude and likely has carried that voice of criticism with her since she was a child. That is something that I can definitely relate to, and my experiences a few weeks ago confirmed it for me.
Because my parents, too, admitted that they are embarrassed of me being single.
See, in the middle of Shabbat while I was at my parents’ house, there was a misunderstanding about regarding an attractive older man to whom they had introduced me at a kiddush. They did not explain who he was or why they were introducing me to him, and so once we got home, I asked them if they were trying to set me up with him. Based on my parent's history of attempting to get me in front of anyone who "just might know someone", I tried to act courteously, but I was disappointed that my parents were trying to present me to yet, someone else in the neighborhood without actually telling me beforehand. It turned out that this man happened to be married with 5 children. When I asked if they were indeed trying to set me up with him, my parents exploded. "How dare you make such an inappropriate assumption?," they yelled. Certain family members shouted that they were embarrassed of me being single, that they see my life as lonely and pathetic, and even went so far as to claim that the community thinks that I, a single 33 year old woman, am a lesbian (I am not, but what if I was?!). Certain family members drew out their claws, and said hurtful things, as if my marital status is the sole element of my worth and value in life. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted, stunned and extremely hurt.
Both of these painful scenarios have had me thinking about our relationship with our parents, self-esteem levels and this thing dubbed the “Shidduch Crisis.” I began to think that there may be a correlation between overly-critical parents and their “older” single children (I intentionally do not put an age label on this because I believe it’s very subjective depending on the community). Therefore, instead of dubbing this sociological phenomenon the degrading term of “Shidduch Crisis”, we should be calling it the “Parenting Crisis”, since frequently it seems that the parents seem to be more in crisis than their happen-to-be single children.
I want to present that the issue is not just about these adults remaining single past an age that is seen as acceptable or normal by the older generation or by the Orthodox community. It is about the very perception of us singles as having some sort of blemish that taints our very essence as successful, accomplished, kind, God-fearing adults. Moreover, it seems that it’s actually our parents who are more embarrassed of our single status than we are; as if our marital status reflects something on them… and perhaps it does.
After all, if our parents have expressed criticism or negativity about us throughout our upbringing, then perhaps it is no surprise that we carry these messages around in our minds; these are the images that we have about ourselves, planted firmly in our heads since childhood! Moreover, if we grow up in homes in which our parents do not communicate, act passive-aggressively (or just aggressively) towards each other, or are simply not happy as a couple, then how are we to have healthy models of marriage in our minds?
We may have gotten older, we may have illustrious careers, and support ourselves financially, but we are still your children. We still need your emotional support, and like we did when we were younger, we still need to feel that have confidence in us and respect us. I do believe, as psychologist Harville Hendrix explains in his work, Gettingthe Love You Want, that experiencing a strong and safe with a partner starts from getting that connection (both physical and emotional) from one’s primary caregiver throughout childhood. Emotional wounds are inevitable because it’s simply impossible for parents to fulfill every one of our needs at all times.
However, I believe that our relationship, vis-à-vis our parents doesn’t just end when we go off to college or get married. Our dependency and need for emotional support may fade with time, but they don’t disappear.
And so the more you critique us, or shall I say, the more you berate yourselves – and thereby us – for having an “older” single child or being one, the more your comments or general attitude will serve as detriments to our own success in finding a partner and having a healthy relationship.
Being single includes enough awkward, uncomfortable moments. Perhaps a description in another blog post will demonstrate the painful details for you. But suffice to say that today’s world is complicated, competitive and extremely superficial, and so in order to radiate that positive energy and confidence, we need to feel support and love; not shame and embarrassment from our very own families.
If, as parents, you are unable to overcome your sheer disappointment with us just because we have not managed to get married yet or hold onto our spouses in a healthy marriage, then what we have is not a Singles Crisis; we’ve got a Parenting Crisis on our hands.
I, for one, will not let my parents' false-assessment of my life keep me from moving forward to achieve my goal of finding my spouse and building a healthy marriage. But parents, you're making it much more difficult for me to do so.