Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pressure

When I was in seminary one of my teachers was discussing something, I’m assuming it was Tefillah, and he was trying to give an example of someone whose Tefillot are said with desperation. “Take, for instance,” he said, “the tefillot of a girl who is unmarried at the age of 23.” I was shocked. I had been sure that he was going to complete that sentence with a number more like, say, 29. Or at the very least 25. I remember thinking that while of course I hoped to be married at 23, and so did most girls, I don’t think that 23 is an age old enough to be considered old or desperate when it comes to marriage. Maybe that is old in more Yeshivish communities than mine, but in my social circles getting married at 19 or 20 is considered very young.

In Stern College, for example, the joke is that girls hope to graduate with M.R.S. degrees, but the truth is that the vast majority of students are not married when they graduate. If we say the average age of girls graduating is 21/22, then 23 is not significantly older than that. I would guess about 10% of Stern girls get married before graduation. I think anyone who gets married before the age of 21 is very young to be getting married, not that anyone older than that age is old.

Anyway, I was reminded of this comment made by this teacher in seminary when I was talking to a girl who is having a hard time with shidduchim. At some point in the middle of this conversation she sighed and said, “I guess I should start to accept the fact that I might never get married.” This girl is 23 years old. I was appalled! I was so upset that I might have even been too harsh when I responded. I let her have it. “You’re only 23!” I cried, “And you think you might never get married?? You’re not even old at all! If you’re 35 and you start saying that, Ok, maybe I hear where you’re coming from, but you’re nowhere near that age!” I wanted to shout, "Don't give up! Don't give up!"

This conversation brought me to the conclusion that I think the societal pressure to get married by a certain age has reached a point where it is way out of hand. I mean, what caused her to jump from the fact that she’s dated for a few years and is still single to the idea that she might never get married? She’s 23, but in her mind she might as well be 30. Why? Because others view her situation as sad, the same way they view someone who is 30. Oh, nebuch. Yes, I thought societal pressure to get married was ridiculous before this conversation, but it’s just not fair. Why should a girl feel so hopeless and worthless because she is not married at the age of 23? The pressure comes from all sides, from parents, teachers, and even peers. This attitude of expecting girls to get married before 23 or even earlier, can be destructive, especially if the girl doesn’t start dating until 19 or 20 which is a normal time to start dating. Quick! You have 1 year to find your bashert! Go!

So how do we change this attitude? I think there should be more emphasis on finding the person at the right time and not ASAP. When citing an age of a girl who is desperate for a shidduch, please say an age that is older than 23. Is it sad if a person never marries? Yes, that is sad. Is it sad if a person marries at the age of 25? No! That is not sad. It’s sad that they suffered so many years before that time when they were searching for the right person and were unmarried, but the reason they suffered is because everyone told them they should be married at the age of 21. It should not be looked upon as sad if someone doesn’t get married before they are 23.

9 comments:

  1. In today's yeshivish society that is so completely based on getting married and raising a family ( as they are important parts of our lives) some people lose focus that there is other things to be doing in the world until we reach the chuppah.Some people live only to get married and each day they are not is a travesty. They become so pathetically mournful of the fact that they are not married each day is another nisayon, another day to endure till they meet their bashert. It is important somehow to get the word out that its ok that ur not married by the ripe old age of 21 and there is what to do for the community and the world without prince charming by your side.

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  2. I don't think it's just based on the focus of marriage and family - that's not new in 5,000 years. I would suggest that many American expectations have seeped into Jewish life, instant gratification being one of them.

    Europeans don't have deadlines in day to day life, with what has to be achieved at this time or else you're voted off the island, or pitied off.

    When I go to a young girl's vort, sometimes you get the feeling that it's not about the engagement to this guy, it's about getting married before everyone else, or "look, I'm not a nebach (like you)." Priorities are so skewed nowadays that even parents rush children into something they're not ready for because of peer pressure.

    If I just wanted to be married, and didn't give a hoot who the guy was, sure, I could've done that a long time ago. But the ones that hold out, who are hopefully not being too picky, are waiting for something special, and it is by those vorts I am the most happy for them.

    Bitachon is needed that what is best will come in the right time. And you keep repeating it over and over when you try not to murder the person who purrs "I'YH by yoooooouuuuuu."

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  3. I'm with you, Sterngrad. How about we start a No-Pressure Shidduch Society? It is very hard to wait years for the right person, but happiness comes from within. We all have those moments of disappointment and despair, but they are moments. We have to focus on the good in our lives. Hashem gives us so many gifts every day...I'm sure He'd be more prone to send the gift of our zivugim if we demonstrated graciousness for what He has given us thus far. May we all have the strength of mind and heart to feel that way every day.

    Beautiful post.

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  4. aminspiration- it's so true. The goal of life is not to get married- getting married is just another tool to serve Hashem.

    Bookworm- I never thought that the need to get married so young was about instant gratification, but that makes a lot of sense. I definitely think that contributes. Those who demand everything "now!" are also the ones who demand to get married "now!" And I completely agree with your point about "look! I'm not a nebuch!"

    Coral- Thanks. I like this No-Pressure Shidduch Society idea! And what you said is so true about anyone who feels like they are missing something in life- we have to focus on and appreciate what we DO have.

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  5. My grandmother from Europe - in her day, girls got married at 22-24 or so. No one at 19.

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  6. I don't think it's just the age that bothers people.
    It's the fact that we, as orthodox Jews, ideally only view dating as a means to get married. So we don't get to just stam "date for fun" or have a "boyfriend"...we date tachlis.
    A girl who's 23 and has been shomer negia either recently or for years has an emotionally difficult time.

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  7. Sefardi Gal- yes, but a guy who is 23, (or even, let's say 18) who has been been shomer negiah has been arguably having an even more difficult time with hormones etc. than a girl who is 23 and the community is not putting as much pressure on him.

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