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.