When folding my laundry, I am sometimes painfully aware of my single socks. You know, the ones that become mysteriously separated from their mate. Often I toss these stragglers back in my sock drawer, hoping their match will surface with the next wash. But each time I go to fetch a pair of socks, I can't help but notice how utterly lonely and purposeless they look amid a sea of perfectly paired argyles, peds and anklets.
Recently I've begun to wonder if that's how the married world views "older singles," the 30-and-over set who haven't yet found their soul mate. It would explain the seemingly endless forums and lectures dedicated to the "singles crisis," and why many well-meaning married individuals who meet me for the first time pepper me with questions about my love life to the exclusion of just about anything else.
On the one hand, I appreciate the attention and concern and I am flattered that they would find me match-worthy. On the other hand, I wonder how the same people who subscribe to the Jewish belief that every individual is an entire world, can treat me so one-dimensionally. I suppose they assume that the singles' world is flat.
A few weeks ago, I participated in a game at a Jewish single's mixer called "Connect 4." Approximately 320 people were divided into two age groups -- 24 to 34, and 35 and up. Both genders were instructed to pair up with a partner of the same sex. The male pairs then formed a circle around the female pairs so that each man was facing a woman. Essentially the game was double-date Speeddating: two women conversed with two men at the same time before rotating on to the next group.
While practical in theory, I could barely make out what my three-minute dates were saying above the noisy chatter of 319 other speed-daters, nor could anyone hear the facilitators' muted shrieks to switch. Many men simply refused to rotate if they were engaged in conversation with a potential prospect. In the end I felt as if I had been wrung through a dryer. Like my single socks, I emerged staticky, somewhat faded, and without my match.
The main difference between people and socks is that socks can't change.
Of course the main difference between people and socks is that socks can't change -- they can't grow stripes or polka dots or aspire to be more than pieces of cloth and thread. People on the other hand, can stretch themselves, stitch up their holes, mend each other's holes, and explore the very fabric of their existence. If they work real hard, they can even change their spots.
For late bloomers like myself, singlehood can be a valuable and necessary growth opportunity, a time to discover one's true self and heal old emotional wounds. Murray Bowen, a famous family therapist and theorist, postulated that people tend to choose mates with equivalent levels of emotional maturity. Put simply: happy people marry other happy people, unhappy people marry other unhappy people. If you follow the logic it's easy to see how being single could be viewed as a time of self improvement leading to a healthy, mature relationship. Just think of all the divorces that may have been prevented had more people taken the time to work on themselves before rushing into marriage!
As a 38-year-old woman who has never been married, I try to use my single time wisely, embracing opportunities to fine-tune existing skills, cultivate new interests, improve family relationships, nourish deep friendships, make constructive use of my talents, become more authentic, and deepen my relationship with God. I even have fun.
The path leading up to marriage, even if it's a long winding one, can also be filled with depth and purpose. I look to my Jewish ancestors for role models. After all, was Miriam's marital status relevant when she took up her timbrels? Was Ruth's act of loyalty any less impressive because she was a single widow? And I think it says something that Yaakov knew that he had to wrestle with the angel without the security of his wives and children by his side.
No doubt a happy marriage and a Jewish family are great blessings. Someday soon I hope to merit both. But I also know that because I've had time to grow, I'll make better choices than I would have as a confused and insecure 28-year-old. For this reason, and others that I've mentioned, I would encourage many of the well-meaning, aspiring and actual matchmakers out there to look more deeply into the souls of the singles they meet. Perhaps they will then think twice before trying to pair a pink sock with a red sock just because they're in the same color family.