By Esther Mann, LCSW
Everything I read these days seems to have to do with the “shidduch crisis.” That’s all I ever hear about. But I think most people are missing the boat regarding the real crisis within the “shidduch crisis.”
I am a 29-year-old single woman. I have no idea how I got to be this person, the one who is looked upon with a little too much compassion and pity-filled eyes. If I hear one more person at a wedding tell me, “G‑d willing, by you,” I think I’ll shoot myself! Being the one who didn’t quite make it is very difficult.
I often wonder how I got here. I worry that maybe I was way too fussy and rigid when I was going out with some perfectly fine young men. Maybe I really didn’t know what I wanted back then. Sometimes I think I was so busy looking for a candidate who would gain my parents’ approval that I missed out on understanding what kind of man was really viable for me. Maybe by not being able to satisfy my parents, I got lost in the confusion and wound up satisfying nobody.
So many thoughts go through my mind. Sometimes I find myself obsessing over what went wrong and why, and I fall into a really bad place. I feel like I have to blame someone and usually wind up blaming myself. I never expected to be the different one—the one who watched all her friends get married and has not yet walked down the aisle towards her own chassan waiting under the chuppah.
So what about this crisis? How am I supposed to carry on with a big smile on my face, as I watch my nieces and nephews begin to get married—children I used to babysit for years ago?
And besides having a major pity party for myself, I really do feel sorry for my parents, especially my mother. Every time we hear about someone else getting engaged, my mother has such a pained look on her face. I feel as though I have to comfort her, but really I’m the one who needs comforting. No one knows what to say anymore. There is such a big elephant in the room that we all skirt around the real issue, avoiding everyone’s real pain.
Furthermore, if we are going to call my life a crisis, maybe part of the crisis revolves around my own unsuitability for dating. Maybe I was doing something wrong all along and didn’t even know it. Maybe I’m still doing something wrong. Maybe I don’t project what I’m supposed to project. Too needy, too confident, too loud, too shy? Do I talk too much or too little on a date? Maybe for some women, this all comes very naturally. Clearly, for me and I’ll bet many others, it doesn’t. Nowadays, I second-guess everything I do, say, and wear—when I’m lucky enough to even be set up anymore.
I guess I’m really feeling like I’ve been neglected and misguided; I could have used more mentoring and support. I wish I had someone to lead the way for me. I don’t know what to do with all my sadness. I can’t take it to my parents. I’m too ashamed to take it to my friends. I feel like I’m becoming more and more estranged from everyone and leading a double life. I present to everyone my usual, well-adjusted self. But I feel like I’m a fraud and that no one really knows what I’m feeling inside. It’s hard to be a phony!
So maybe it’s time we looked at the “shidduch crisis” differently and started paying some attention to people like me who feel so abandoned, confused, misled—definitely in crisis.
Any thoughts on this?
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal and revealing account of what it feels like to be single in a community like ours—a community that appears to be obsessed with, as you say, the “shidduch crisis,” but somehow less obsessed with or maybe even unaware of the deeper elements and ongoing psychological factors that can impact individuals like you in a powerful way. It is necessary to have a meaningful conversation about the variables that can affect a person’s dating history and ultimate outcome, and you have successfully begun that conversation.
No doubt, many young adults enter the dating game very young and probably not mature enough to understand the magnitude of marriage and all that will be required of them to make it work. But even before we get to that point, I’m sure there are many individuals who feel they are thrown into the ring without adequate preparation. How exactly does one date? What subtle yet important cues are being transmitted? What does it mean when he says . . . ? What does it mean when she doesn’t say . . . ? When do I let him know that I’m interested? How do I let her know that I’m interested?
You’re correct when you say that some people are just naturally more gifted in the art of dating, much the way some people have the gift of drawing. Then what of people like you, who have more questions than answers and certain conflicts that may have possibly derailed you and possibly continue to do so?
And to make matters worse, as you point out, what about those individuals who begin the process of dating before they have a keen understanding of who they truly are and what they absolutely need from a spouse? Yes, we all know about résumés and wish lists when it comes to yeshivos and summer camps attended, chesed projects, etc. But what about the subtle yet defining nuances within each of us that distinguish who we all truly are? Self-awareness and the ability to “get” the other are so very important in experiencing a meaningful date filled with substance and clarity—the kind of date that will lead to a future successful shidduch.
And finally, even if one should approach dating from an enlightened, well-prepared, and supported platform yet somehow still find herself unsuccessful in cinching the deal, where does he or she go to feel validated and understood? It’s hard to feel like a failure—whether or not it’s just one’s perception of self— and alone.
Your letter raises some very important issues that I don’t think have been talked about enough—maybe the secondary effect of the “shidduch crisis.” However we label it, it exists, it’s real, and I can’t imagine that it’s doing you or the other people walking in your shoes any good. It’s the smoking gun that no one wants to take any responsibility for.
At this point, I believe it’s crucial for you to take a step back and view yourself with more compassion and hope. It does sound like you could have used a lot more nurturing at the time that you were ready to accept your first date. But we can’t play back the tape, as we so often want to do. We can, however, learn from past mistakes and figure out how to approach dating at this stage, from a wiser platform.
First you need to deal with any possible shame or stress that may still be holding you back. Have the difficult conversations with people who may be uncomfortable hearing how it feels to be you, getting older and still single. Open up, get real, ask questions, and align yourself with supportive individuals who can hear you and give you insight about yourself that may be difficult to hear but will ultimately be beneficial to your future growth. None of us is immune from needing a good shot of advice; we should always welcome suggestions from loving individuals who have our best interests at heart.
Most of all, stop living a double life. There is no reason why you can’t integrate the realities of your disappointment about still being single together with your other accomplishments and successes. They each reflect different aspects of you—all deserving of respect and acceptance, first and foremost from yourself.
Kudos for beginning this conversation. Let’s keep it going so that singles at any and every stage of dating can seek out the tools and people they will need in order to be their best dating selves.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.