Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I’m a single Jewish male, age 27, who makes a decent living doing work that I enjoy.
After dating a number of women, I get the feeling that’s “not enough.” Many of the women seem to expect to maintain the standard of living they grew up with after they get married. I have also seen this indicated from some of your letters. Whatever happened to the days of starting out a marriage in a one-bedroom apartment and working your way up? I'm not saying all women are materialistic, yet why do so many of them look at how much a guy earns? Especially in today’s difficult economy, many people, including myself, have gone through additional career training after college in order to get a good job.
I am grounded enough to realize that a husband must support his family, but am I doomed to be single until I become mega-successful in my career?
You make a very good point that seems, to us, to reflect a problematic issue in contemporary culture – the expectation of "instant gratification" and the resistance to the idea of waiting to achieve a goal. You're right that many young adults – and we believe this to be true as much for men as for women – expect that once they finish school and embark on a career, they'll be able to live the same lifestyle they had when they were growing up. Some of them are shocked to realize that they cannot support this lifestyle on an entry-level salary, even when they've prepared for their career with higher education and internships. They may turn to their parents for supplemental income so they can have the better apartment, clothes, vacations and car they were accustomed to having. And they expect that, if they get married at this point in their lives, they'll start out with pretty much what they're used to.
A generation ago, when we were getting married, most newlyweds expected to live modestly at first and, as they worked their way up the ladder, gradually acquire a more comfortable lifestyle, buy a home, drive a nicer car, and put some money in the bank. Today, it seems that the percentage of people who don't want to wait has grown.
Many young people plan to work hard and gradually become more comfortable.
On the other hand, we still know of many men and women in their 20s who expect to do what their parents and grandparents did – start off more simply, work hard, and gradually become more comfortable. They don't believe they'll be deprived of enjoyment by this choice, and they're right. In addition, they'll probably derive a lot of satisfaction from making their own way in the world and working together as a couple to build better financial security and more material comfort.
This is not to denounce parents who worked hard to make a better life and don't want their adult children to have to struggle they way they did. And we know that, given the abysmal level of some starting salaries, sometimes parents feel they have to help their young adult children meet basic expenses for a modest lifestyle.
What concerns us, however, is the sense of entitlement that some young adults have. When a young person expects to have what they always have and isn't willing to consider a situation in which they'll have to work themselves up to that, we think that they are losing more than they're gaining. Because in truth, accepting the idea of delayed gratification can help them deal with adversity. And that should not be regarded as a “hardship” for a marriage; it provides a good mutual experience in working through challenges. For after all, every married life will necessarily come with its challenges.
One word of caution, however: Men and women often have different definitions of what it means to “live frugally.” A guy can have one pair of shoes and old bed linens and not feel that anything is amiss. A woman, however, often (though not always) has a better appreciation of the niceties of clothes and home furnishings. So beware that even if you find a woman who is willing to rough it for a while, you will need to be sensitive to her level of expectation, which may differ from your own.
We also believe that in one respect this issue is having an adverse effect on the Jewish community. Many men and women are absorbing a message, prevalent in Western culture, that they must build up their careers, financial situations, and lifestyles before they get married. This makes logical sense on one level, but it means that many Jews are only beginning to think about marriage when they are in their 30s and 40s.
By then, there may be less of a pool of suitable people who have the qualities they are looking for in a mate. In addition, many of them have become so entrenched in their independent lives that it can be hard to make some of the adjustments that will facilitate a healthy marriage.
There's also a spiritual issue. Since many aspects of everyday Jewish life are centered around family relationships, a lot of unmarried men and women feel left out of the community. Some even lessen their commitment to Jewish observance because of this disconnection.
Those who marry later usually have fewer children.
And finally, men and women who are fortunate to find the right person to marry when they are in their 30s and 40s usually have fewer children than couples who married at an earlier age, which has an adverse effect on Jewish demographics.
We like the idea of men and women marrying the right person in young adulthood and growing together, and we believe more people should be encouraged to start dating for marriage when they are in their 20s. This seems to be what you are doing, but it seems that you've been dating women who have a different perspective. Therefore we'd like to make the following suggestion that can help you find the one who is right for you:
Let the people with whom you network know how you are working to achieve your goals and precisely what perspective on life you are looking for in a marriage partner. This may mean that you have a smaller pool of women available, but that's fine. You're looking for the right person to marry, rather than for a large amount of women to choose from.
It sounds to us that you're headed in a good direction in life and know the type of young woman who would be a good partner in your journey. We wish you the best of luck in your search.
Rosie & Sherry