The situation in the singles' world and the increasing average marriage age often lead me to pray for all Jewish singles. I know the problem of late singleness isn't an exclusively Jewish one, of course; on the contrary, it stems in a large part from accepting the Western cultural values of self-centeredness, self-fulfillment, being focused on advancing academically and professionally (in particular for women), and the prolongation of adolescence.
Extended adolescence is a rather new phenomenon, something that didn't exist in past generations (even when people were in good health and led long lives, despite claims that young people only matured more quickly because life span was expected to be shorter). I have friends whose grandmothers still belonged to a culture and a generation when girls got married as soon as they reached Bat Mitzvah age – 12 (and some were married earlier, but marriage was not consummated until the girl was at least 12). Today, this would have been considered child abuse, but back then, girls were trained for marriage and housekeeping from an early age, and were ready far sooner than today. Even today, I know 15-year-old girls, in particular older daughters in large families, who seem to be much better suited for marriage than some 25-year-olds.
I recently read an article by someone clamoring to push the age of Bar Mitzvah further off, because 13-year-old boys are too immature today, according to him. It might be true that 13-year-olds are immature, but I don't think it means we ought to postpone Bar Mitzvah according to a cultural whim. On the contrary, I believe this should serve as an indicator we ought to educate our children differently.
Currently there is a huge, and ever growing, gap between the age when young people first begin experiencing yearning towards the opposite sex, and the age when they actually get married. I'm not saying marriage should be a way to satisfy immature lusts, and it's of course better to abstain than to rush into marriage. However, when it becomes a rule that abstinence stretches for decades for almost everyone, this creates an unhealthy situation which fosters temptation and sin.
Extended singleness may also have consequences such as more difficulty to adjust to life together, and (in particular for women) reduced fertility. Not to mention the frustration, loneliness and possible heartbreak that comes with attaching our hearts to the wrong people ("because no one is thinking about marriage yet, so why don't we just meet and have fun"). It might seem boring and prudish to consider marriage perspectives from before the first date, but it's far wiser than plunging into a relationship without thinking where it will lead.
A family member (on my husband's side) argued that a solution to the rampant singleness would be to authorize polygamy again, and pointed out that his grandfather was married to five women (simultaneously) "and none of them was selfish enough to complain". I should add that polygamy was only ever banned by rabbinical decree for European Jews, but continued to be an acceptable (though by no means ideal) practice in the Jewish communities of
, and probably other Muslim countries as well. It is, however, illegal in North Africa, Yemen (though unofficial polygamy is still quite common in the non-Jewish population, but that's a whole different story). Anyway, as I pointed out to him, in his grandfather's community women usually far outnumbered men, because of violent conflicts and dangerous occupations. Of course when there's a balance of 70% women and 30% men, many will be forced to make the choice between being second (or third, fourth or fifth) wives or remaining single. This hardly applies to our community in Israel , where there are many single men and women. Israel
In general I believe there is too much blame placed by each of the sides (men and women) on the other side. Women accuse men of being immature and flighty; men accuse women of being too picky. Personally I think both young men and women ought to be educated and encouraged to be far more serious about marriage, far sooner than it is common today. When 25-year-old young Orthodox Jews only begin scratching their heads, thinking that perhaps they would like to settle down sometime in the near future, this "near future" often doesn't happen until they are 30. And the older we get, the more pitfalls we face.
Also I believe parental involvement should be encouraged, although of course, realistically it won't work in every case. It's not a healthy situation when so many singles are simply left to fare for themselves! It leads to excessive closeness between men and women without real prospects of marriage. It also creates false "friendly" bonds which can be exceedingly dangerous. Just a week and a half ago, I heard a newly married young man saying his female friends are "like sisters" to him; this was said in front of his wife, who squirmed in her seat. Knowing her, I can only imagine how uncomfortable she really feels with those "brotherly" feelings of his. Such excessive "friendly" closeness between men and women creates an atmosphere of frivolity and often masks hidden romantic dreams and sexual tension.
The creation of marriages and families is far too important to just let it slide. We do believe in soul mates, in a God's plan to bring a certain man and a certain woman together. However more often than not it still requires some conscious effort on their part. Our job isn't to sit with our hands crossed in our lap and pry into divine plans; we ought to continue doing the sensible things that need to be done.