Dear Rosie and Sherry,

 

I'm single, 29, and an academic. I know that most people who write to you are unhappy being single, and want to date seriously toward marriage. I'm not. I have very little interest in dating, and I haven't for quite some time (four or five years). I'm reasonably attractive and gregarious, and I don't think I'd have trouble dating if I wanted to. It's not that I never get lonely, or that I'm completely averse to the idea of "finding a husband and settling down." It's just low on my list of priorities.

My life seems full with so many other things: study, friends, family, charity, etc. I honestly love the way my life is, and I adore being me. The thing is, I know that I'm breaking my parents' hearts. I'm sure that they only want me to be as happy as they are together, but I just don't think I'm suited to married life. I'm not a loner; I have great friends, and I enjoy spending time with people. But I don't seem to have the innate yearning for a partner that other people do. I actively like coming home to a quiet empty home of my own at the end of the day. Is there something wrong with me?

Leah

Dear Leah,

You raise an excellent question: Why is a normal, healthy, socially-involved young woman not that interested in finding a life partner and getting married? In Western society this is fairly common. Some people live fulfilled lives, don't feel that they are missing something by not having a life partner, don't feel a priority to become a parent and raise a family, and are content with the way their lives are.

Some of the people date anyway because it is socially enjoyable, while others feel that their social lives are complete without their dating. Many of these people will consider getting married if the right circumstances happen, but they are not actively searching for that person and wouldn't be overly concerned if someone like that never came along.

In contemporary society, this is considered normal because it reflects the values of our culture. Society tells us that a functional person can find friendship, emotional support, personal fulfillment and contentment in any number of lifestyle choices -- marriage being just one of them.

Judaism encourages marriage as an important life goal.

However, Judaism encourages marriage as an important life goal. That encouragement begins when a child is born and named, where the parents are given a blessing to raise their son or daughter "to a life of Torah, marriage and good deeds." Jewish parents traditionally raised their children with the expectation that they would marry and have a family of their own. Until a few decades ago, this was also the expectation that the rest of society was raised with. But Jewish society doesn't exist in a vacuum. We're profoundly influenced by our surrounding culture, and its values infiltrate and compete with our own. That's one reason why today so many Jewish adults are not strongly motivated to get married.

Here's another reason why many adults are not motivated to date for marriage: They are simply late bloomers. They're very absorbed in their own lives, but at some point realize, "Hey, I also want to get married someday. Maybe it's time to work on that." Whether or not someone is a late bloomer is a relative concept. The traditional Jewish perspective might consider 29 a late age to begin thinking about marriage, while contemporary society views someone who starts dating for marriage at 33 or 35 to be right on target.

Some individuals are disinterested in marriage because they're not strongly attracted to the opposite gender. There are also a significant number of people who either avoid dating, or date in a very unproductive manner, because they have a significant underlying fear. Some of the more common fears include leaving the cocoon of their nuclear family, having a marriage that's as unhappy as their parents' relationship, fear of knowing how to be a loving spouse, fear of being betrayed by someone they should love and trust, fear of opening up to another person, fear of changing their life from being single to being in a partnership, fear of becoming a parent, fear of marriage being a trap, fear that their marriage might fail, fear of being emotionally or financially hurt by a divorce, fear of emotional intimacy, or fear of physical intimacy.

Someone who is terrified of parenthood may consciously or unconsciously push off the idea of getting married until they are too old to have children. Other fears can be so strong that they cause an individual to suppress a competing desire to have a close relationship with a husband or wife and/or to raise children. Some people avoid dealing with this conflict by making their lives busy and purposeful. They may feel that their lives are rich and rewarding, but still sense that something is missing. Other times, a person will become frustrated enough with the inner struggle between his fears and desire for marriage that he decides to get therapy to enable him to deal with the two.

Of course, we would like you to want to get married and to make this a goal in your life. That's because we're motivated to facilitate Jewish marriages and to help couples have healthy, satisfying marital relationships. But the motivation to want to get married has to come from you.

Right now, you don't have a strong desire to get married, but you also don't appear to have any negative feelings about the subject; in fact, you've observed a relatively happy marriage between your own parents. That ambivalence may change in the not-too-distant future. We often see people become more receptive to the idea of marriage after they become more established in their careers and decide that they want to be fulfilled in another way as well, by building a marriage and a family.

But here's the rub: By then, you may find it harder to develop a relationship that will lead to marriage because you've become more set in your ways and more resistant to change. In addition, the ticking biological clock can make the search for a spouse more stressful. And the reality is that many women who start dating later, get left behind, and wind up feeling bitter about life.

We'd rather that Jewish men and women who eventually want to get married become oriented toward this important life goal at an earlier point in their lives. They can do this by consciously making an effort to change their mind-set through some of the following suggestions:

  • Cultivate friendships with married women and married couples who appear to be happy in their relationships. We also suggest that you spend time with young children, either at your friends' homes, or by volunteering to help at synagogue or community programs for pre-schoolers and young children. Changing your environment to include married women, couples, and children allows you to see life from an additional perspective.
  • Imagine yourself as a married woman, in a fulfilling relationship with your husband, over a time continuum. Think of being newlyweds, and envision your friendship and relationship developing over time. Imagine yourselves as new parents, raising a growing family, and enjoying your lives together as you launch your children into adulthood. Think of the ways you can incorporate your career and outside interests with these new roles. (Yes, it can be done well and enjoyably -- albeit with some challenges.)
  • Imagine your life 20 years from now if you continue the course your life is currently taking. Will you be satisfied with the choices you made?
Consider a good man who may just need some social polish.

If the time comes that you decide to date for marriage, we recommend making dating one of your main priorities. That means setting aside time each week to network on your own behalf and to go out. It also means expanding your social life to meet like-minded people who are close to your age -- by taking classes just for the fun of it, volunteering in a synagogue group or community organization, or expanding a hobby. Think outside the box and consider bright men who have many of the qualities you are looking for, but may need a little bit of social polish. Many of them are wonderful men who are just the right ones to build a loving and enduring home.

If you decide to start dating for marriage, our final piece of advice is to enlist a happily married person with integrity and insight to be your dating mentor. Entering the dating scene in your late 20s or early 30s can be a challenge, but a coach/advisor who has already gone through the dating process and has the benefit of a married person's perspective can be an invaluable way to achieve success.

We hope this has given you some helpful food for thought.

Rosie & Sherry