Monday, July 19, 2010

Against the tide

In response to this post about singleness, I received a personal reply from a dear friend, who happens to be a single young woman herself. She reminded me that there is a flip side to extended singleness: young (and older) people, and in particular women, who long to be married but have not found their match yet, through no fault of their own; adult daughters who are mocked for spending their single years under their parents' roof; women who in no way need to be reminded of the fact that the "window of opportunities" for fertility is limited; women who are made to feel "picky" because they did not agree to the first offer that was made to them.

I decided to address a few of those points in a follow-up post.

What I discussed in my post was a social trend of delayed marriage and childbearing and having fewer children; if more young people valued marriage and family higher, this unhealthy social phenomenon most likely wouldn't have existed - at least not to such an extend. Yes, in every generation and today, too, there have been wonderful older singles whose God-given "program" in life included late marriages. But it cannot be denied that in the past generations, the average age of marriage has sharply climbed up, as has the divorce rate.

 Of course behind each statistic there is an individual and I do realize that the overall attitude towards marriage and children ("it can wait") sometimes takes its worst toll precisely on those who do not share it. A young woman who deeply wants to settle down often realizes it's hard to find a man with whom to settle, and the same is true for many men. It's even more difficult when your choice is automatically narrowed by your religious beliefs, such as is true for religious Jewish singles. The attitude has changed, and we find ourselves mocked and ridiculed about the fact that throughout our twenties, what we want the most is marriage and children. 

To address the first point you raised, I think it's sad moving out of one's parents' home is equalized with "growing up", while a mature adult daughter at home is seen as "childish". An older daughter at home can and should be seen as an asset to her family. The girls in college dorms have "moved out", but I don't see them leading a more mature and responsible life than a daughter who stays with parents and helps to run family business, take care of younger siblings, or simply allows both herself and her parents the pleasure of each other's company and support. This is especially true in cases of older parents. My younger sister-in-law, who happens to be the youngest child in the family, remained at home until the age of 25 when she was married. In her years at home as an adult, she attended a local university and has been a great help to her mother. She was raised to be a hard worker and a generous helper, like all of the children, so she never used her time at home to slouch around. Her parents, who are both nearing 70, wouldn't hear of her moving out, and were so much better off to have her with them than fruitlessly spending money on a rented apartment every month.

As for the issue of fertility, I do realize how painful it is to hear that the clock is ticking while you would love nothing better than to have children. However, it sadly seems that for every woman who is aware of our biological reality, there are several who think it is perfectly safe to deliberately push childbearing away into their 30-s, and believe they have all the time in the world - which simply isn't true. I have several friends in their mid-twenties who claim they "can't" think about marriage (let alone children) seriously yet, because they are too busy doing this, that and the other thing (mainly pursuing degrees). When talking about fertility, it's important to remember that many young women out there do need a wake-up call, though many others, admittedly, do not.

I don't suggest young women ought to go and marry the first guy they meet - absolutely not! If we marry someone who is clearly unsuitable, just because we desire marriage so much, that's a recipe for disaster. And yet, I have personally witnessed women rejecting offers which could have great potential, for truly negligible reasons, without bothering to even personally see the young man in question. What do I mean by negligible reasons? Not fitting certain criteria of looks (and we do know how deceiving photos can be!) and hobbies; not having a degree (while otherwise being a hard worker and a clever entrepreneur) or having a degree from a less prestigious institution than herself; just hearing that the young man is "the quiet type" (without bothering to meet him and find out what, precisely, it means; we do know such definitions are shifty); the man being a few years older than what she would consider an "ideal" age gap (and I don't mean a twenty-something declining to meet a forty-something, but rather, women in their mid-twenties who won't meet men who hit the magical number of thirty - because twenty-eight sounds "young" while thirty sounds "old"). 

Of course there are those of us who receive few offers. Not all singles have a network of relatives and friends who are constantly thinking about how to make a match. I was personally one of those; as someone who didn't have a religious background or a community, I was sort of detached. Some live in very small communities with an almost nonexistent pool of singles; some are just shy. To each their own and each situation is different, but we do have professional matchmakers as well as "virtual matchmakers" in the form of websites.

Surely singleness isn't a disease. It is, however, a cause of great anguish for many people, and on a wide scale, the trend of late singleness is a problem that isn't easily solved (and that, as several ladies wisely pointed out, most likely has its roots running deeper than just getting married later). I do not have a magical solution, but I still believe it's important to bring up this issue.

... On a final note, tomorrow is the Tisha B'Av (9-th of Av) fast, which I hope goes easily for all my Jewish readers; may we see the Temple rebuilt soon in our day. Talk to you soon. 


Swapping Palm Trees For Lochs said...

I agree, especially with the bit about how we're meant to feel shameful that we still live with parents until marriage.

I run a business from home and in between work, I clean, cook and run errands so my mum can relax a bit. I am 28 and will get married when I'm 29, G-d and consulate willing. My mum's an important part of my life and has even gone out of her way to start sharing her household hints with me.

I don't see how I'm any less mature than someone who moved out at 18 - I was caring for an elderly relative by the age of 13. Agreeing with a parent that you can both save money by sharing a home is not immature! We both have enough room in this apartment for privacy, and we get the benefit of not having to eat dinner for one in front of the TV :)

Anonymous said...

No, women who stay at home with their parents if they are unmarred are definitely not any less mature than a girl living in a college dorm or on her own. They are usually very sacrificial, caring for their parents.

I agree with you, too, Anna, on the other point, that many women reject a suitable marriage partner for negligible reasons like the man is of supposedly a lower social status (doesn't have a degree or works for a less prestigious company than she does). I have a friend in this situation, who, after her habituously adulterous husband left her, could have married a nice man, but her colleagues talked her out of it because the man was "stuck in middle management and not going anywhere." Who cares? Now she is alone in middle age. Don't look for peer approval in cases like that. Find happiness (and different friends -- also ignore colleagues like that who don't have your best interests in mind). Mary R.

Analytical Adam said...

I have seen this all the time of women who are talking about feritlity treatments in their 20's. To be fair at 30 or 35 if their attitude doesn't change it won't make it difference. I don't feel any compassion towards because they are hurting their own men and their own culture (although I blame the religious leaders even more because they know it is gong on and say nothing because they don't want women married to men that think as they like to be the only male influence) and I think they are just rationalizing with the help of many so called Orthodox communities as well that tell them they can wait till 35.

The religious men as well though tell the women they don't have to get married and they are exempt from this and as a result they think they have the right to reject men for the dumbest or reason as only the men do which of course is not true. A woman was created to be a man's helpmate and if she is not married she is not fulfilling that role.

In addition as I said feminism is created a situation that the wages of men are going down and nobody helps them to be able to make some kind of living. In fact they are more focused on women and career's then men which also creates serious problems as men can't support a family. There is nothing righteous about living in poverty and I know my family throughout my 20's and even 30's have shown they only care about my sister and her work even though she isn't married and her work is tied to medicare and the government which sadly many women jobs are just jobs paid for by taxpayers which again leaves less money for men to try to woo a woman since they don't have even a moderate amount of money.

Analytical Adam said...

I also wanted to add even among men staying with your family and helping them and having isn't a bad thing as well. In fact the torah itself says in Bereshit "A man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife"(Genesis 2:24). A man living alone also is hard and can lead to bad habits I have to admit. Kicking boys out of the home is not good either and G-d only didn't want men to be so attached to their parents that they didn't get married but actually for men it also I think it also may lead to a better balance and have a friend their mother is a widow and their two sons live with her. My parents didn't want me in the house after I hit 23 and my sister as well and has it really been good for either of us. I don't think so.

Val said...

If you don't mind me asking, how common is the use of a matchmaker in Israel's Orthodox Jewish communities these days? Did you and your husband meet though a matchmaker? While Western culture teaches us to shun such things, I must admit that the concept (as a Gentile) has intrigued me.

Phebe said...

Hi Anna! I read your blog almost every day but rarely comment--sorry! Just busy with 3 littles and one on the way!

I just wanted to let you know how much I love reading your blog. I love it's gentle thoughtfulness--it's a real blessing to me. Thanks!

I have 3 daughters, so I give a lot of thought to the marriage/singleness issues you've been discussing lately. I married at the age of 20, and a lot of my friends thought I was crazy. However, I knew my husband was the man for me and I didn't see any point in putting him off until I reached a magic number--that would have been cruel.

I've never regretted marrying young. I was immature and had a lot to learn about men, marriage, and unselfishness, but God and my husband have been very patient with me. However, I don't think that I would have been any better prepared for marriage at 25. In fact, I would have been far more selfish by that time, I think! Humans tend to follow the path of least resistance, so if there's no husband or children MAKING me be unselfish then I tend to get more selfish.

Because of this, I think that single women ought to consider carefully how to keep themselves from "single-itis", "getting set in their ways"--whatever you want to call it. Remaining at home where one has to rub shoulders and wills with others everyday is definitely a good way to accomplish this. One could also do this by making a conscious effort to be in serving-and-giving-of-oneself roles around others (especially children!) often. This is not to say that singles are automatically more selfish people than married folk--not at all! However, selfishness (on one person's part, anyway) is, I would venture to say, THE cause of divorce, and learning to be unselfish is a great start to any marriage. I guess what I'm getting at is that it is hard to learn to be unselfish if you have no hard situations where you have to stretch in giving and caring. If you're living in a dorm or apartment and working on yourself, your career, and your interests--well, you just won't HAVE to be very unselfish, and so you won't be.

Just a few thoughts to say that I totally agree with you! :)

Anyway, thanks for the post...


Bonnie said...

Great post!! Thanks for the encouragement to stay-at-home daughters! :D

Hey, not long till the baby arrives!! Hope it all goes well!

Becky said...

I had to smile at your comment of women not meeting men upon "just hearing that the young man is "the quiet type""!

A mutual friend mentioned that he thought a certain man named Ray was perfect for me. When I asked this friend to describe Ray, he said that Ray was the quiet type and I immediately brushed the whole thing off. I am a quiet person, and I thought I knew that I needed an outgoing man. Wouldn't you know it, two years later I met Ray and we've been married three years now with our first baby on the way! :) said...

As usual, very good thoughts. Thank you for sharing these timely ideas with us on this important subject, one which is sometimes difficult for those of us who do long for marriage and family. God bless you!


Stealth Jew said...

I've thought for a long time that it's too bad that only frum people have shadchonim. Do you have the tradition of giving a payment to the person who introduces you to your chosson or kallah?

(Jewish-ese - frum = religious, shadchonim = matchmakers, chosson = groom, kallah = bride)

Mrs. Anna T said...

Mary R.,

You know what I noticed? Misery loves company. There were people who tried to dissuade me from marrying my husband, and guess what? None of them is married yet. That's why one must be very careful when accepting such advice, especially when it's clearly based on pride and false sense of entitlement.


It differs from community to community, but a lot of people use matchmakers. The purpose of a matchmaker is simply to gather a pool of singles and suggest introductions which, according to the matchmaker's common sense, might have potential. My husband and I met through a website. I think matchmakers have the advantage of being able to "filter" unsuitable people for you, while if you choose to get to know people through websites, you must be very alert.


This proves two points: one, that God has a plan, and two, that we shouldn't dismiss people because of some vague superficial notions! You know, my husband never completed his college degree. If someone asked me, "would you marry a man who didn't complete a degree", I'd perhaps say no, but now that we're married I realize it doesn't matter to me in the slightest.

Stealth Jew,

A professional shadchan is of course paid, though pay differs. Some demand really exorbitant prices.

Katie V. said...

I completely agree with what you share Anna. This state of singleness seems to be a rather modern phenomena - you could probably time it with the 60's and when the pill became available. Supposed ly the pill and artificial birth control was the solution to all women's problems, supposedly their liberator. But really, what I think it has done is brought more sadness, for women, for men and for families. Giving our bodies away without the promise of forever in marriage is a lie. There is no I love you in that. (Check out Theology of the Body by Christopher West). I also think men have been let down by feminisim. I think there are two groups of men now - one that is disillusioned with marriage and women who want to have it all (career and family). And there is another group of men who expect their wives to work and pull in half the salary. I am sorry to ramble. And then the pursuit of education for career's just a sad state we are in.

Anonymous said...

Anna, you spoke of singles you desire to marry. I wanted to tell you of singles who to desire to marry but have very unsuitable matches. I agree with you that there are terrible reasons to reject a suitor- such as not making enough money or not being attractive enough. However, I think there are good reasons to reject someone. I think poor character can be a good reason to reject someone. A person who in unaware of their character flaw is not a good match. Also, I have had suitors who wanted to marry me for the wrong reasons: they only wanted to marry me so they could legitimize their sexual desire or because they wanted a child. I rejected them.

Analytical Adam said...

Did want to say there are cases where children do need to get out of the home because the parents are using their children or will not let the child marry a decent person and only a person that they feel at the end of the day they will still have control.

I am being let go from a job which this Jewish guy wants his daughter taking care of the home because his wife works and are making her work 2 jobs and go to grad school. They want to use their own daughter. THe mother as well as they hid kids their 2 kids in their 30's. And use the older brother as a scapegoat demanding he respect his sister for them doing this to her even though he is older and he works as well. This guy loves to control women as does his wife. The guy is extremely manipulative (and I suspect his wife supports this as well) he works with this female co-worker who loves when he puts down his son in front of everyone. This girl likely needs to get out of her family home because a woman in her 20's should not be held hostage by their family (and to use their older brother as a scapegoat for their behavior) yet they don't her to get married or find a mind that works to ease her own burden. In fact the guy this girl is dating is a guy in writing who sounds to me like someone that he likes because he is a doormat. A really horrible situation and in a case like this a woman does need to get out. But in the name of feminism daughters can be held hostage and nobody will do anything.

Analytical Adam said...

And this girl she is studying to deal with autism which to me her father views anyone he can't get along with as having autisem it seems to me.

So there are cases women are being used so they can focus on themselves or because they don't want their daughter get married to another man because they won't be able to control their daughter anymore. Sad, but true in some cases. Although in this case I am going to write to a Rabbi I think he knows as what he is doing is just outrageous and let the chips fall where they may.