Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a 40-year-old woman who has never been married. When I was younger I used to meet men through Jewish events and synagogues. Unfortunately, I never met my mate. I did meet men who wanted to live with me without any commitment, but I always said, "No," because I honestly thought there was someone out there who would commit to me the old-fashioned way.
Well, obviously the optimism of youth was wrong. I now look back and I am feeling very depressed. I no longer attend Jewish events because I feel so isolated from them. The synagogues cater primarily to families. Single women are at the bottom of the totem pole, especially those past child-bearing age. What I find even more depressing is the Jewish community's lack of sensitivity to people my age who are single. Most single events are for people in their 20s or early 30s. Someone 40 is put in the 40-to-60 age bracket. There is nothing more depressing than to be courted by a Jewish man who is considerably older than me. I want to date men my age, or up to 5 or 6 years older than I am.
I started going to single events sponsored by the local church, because they are much more sensitive to the needs of singles my age. In fact, I was surprised to see how many Jewish women were at the church singles event. These were women I knew from Jewish singles events who were going to church events for the same reason as I.
At this point in life, I think that if I am given the choice of having a good, permanent relationship with a man my own age, versus keeping my Judaism, at this point I would choose the man.
Yet I'd still prefer to meet someone Jewish. What are the chances of a woman my age meeting a Jewish man in his early 40s? While I don't want to give up on the Jewish community, I don't want to stay single or marry someone who is much older than me simply because he is a nice Jewish guy.Leah
We'd like to send your letter to rabbis, synagogue presidents and Jewish community leaders throughout North America as a wake-up call.
You are absolutely right -- many Jewish communities are insensitive to the needs of single men and women, who represent 40 percent of Jewish adults in certain geographic areas. The problem is compounded by the fact that synagogues and Jewish community organizations are populated primarily by married Jews, and they focus mainly on serving the needs of those members. As a result, we are losing the very people we should be trying to attract.
The good news is that community leaders and rabbis are now realizing that Jewish demographics have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. They are starting to understand that large numbers of single adults in our midst must have a place in our communities. However, it takes someone vocal, like you, to make them aware of the problem and suggest viable solutions. Have you and the other Jewish women you have seen at church events thought of mobilizing to open the eyes of Jewish leaders?
In the meantime, we'd like to offer suggestions to help you increase your chances of meeting suitable Jewish dates. It is possible for Jewish women in their 40s to meet suitable Jewish men who are close to their own age, and we know of many such marriages.
However, you must face certain facts:
- The older a man or woman is, the more difficult it may be to open up to a date and develop emotional closeness. "The Inner Circle - Seven Gates to Marriage" by Shaya Ostrov (Feldheim Publishers) gives a good analysis of the reasons behind this phenomenon, and suggests a 7-step process to help deal with the barriers that prevent many older singles from dating successfully. The book was originally written for a traditional audience, but its analysis and advice is helpful to a wide range of singles.
- Many of the most suitable over-40 men (in terms of common goals, functionality, compatible personalities) may be widowed or divorced. We know that many women who have never been married before would prefer to date a man who hasn't had a previous marriage, but we think that is a self-defeating stance. Most bachelors in their 40s have been involved in a long-term courtship, and their lives may be just as “complicated” as someone who has been married before.
In addition, many never-married men have not confronted the commitment-related fears or other issues which have kept them single. Someone who has been married before generally is not plagued by fear of commitment. Finally, although a number of 40-plus bachelors with the "right" qualifications may have finally decided to settle down, those with a strong desire for children may prefer to date younger women. This may be less true of a man widowed or divorced. In fact, he may have children of his own. (Which is a whole 'nother story...)
- Singles events are a good social outlet, and while they have their share of success stories, they are not the best way to meet a prospective date. The best way to meet someone with compatible interests, goals and personality is through the introductions of the friends, relatives, rabbis, teachers, synagogue members, neighbors, co-workers, etc. It's important to cultivate relationships with your network and let the "members" know your goal of marriage and brief information about the type of man you're looking for. You should also consider some of the better Internet dating sites, as well as community-run matchmaking services. You can't believe how many married couples got started thanks to services such as these.
There's an informal program called "Shabbos for a Novice" (www.shabbatdinners.org) that started in South Florida and has taken root in a few other locations. Jewish professionals, both married and single, get together once a month for a Shabbat dinner, learning and socializing. Participants come from all branches of Judaism. This is a great way to meet, socialize and network -- and has an added advantage of having marrieds and singles make much-needed connections. The idea is flexible enough that it could be tailor-made to your own community and broken up into two appropriate age groups.
We've already passed your letter on to an international Jewish women's organization, as part of our effort to educate the community about the ineffectiveness of current services for Jewish singles and to work on solutions. We'll be passing it along to others as well. Thanks for taking the time to write, and we hope our suggestions are helpful to you.
As you can imagine, we'd like to see you find "Mr. Right," and that together you will share a lifetime of bliss -- not in church, but in synagogue together.
Rosie & Sherry