How many times does an older single (especially in the observant community) meet someone, date seriously and when it doesn’t work out, is asked by (usually) well meaning friends, mentors and family: Are you afraid of commitment?
With all due respect, for most singles, it's not so cut and dry.
Most older singles are committed people, with close and permanent friendships, family bonds and work commitments. They will - if you believe the matchmaker, their friends or their online profile - “do anything for anyone, help out a friend in need no matter what time of day” and are beloved siblings, children, aunts/uncles, niece/nephews, cousins and brother or sister in-laws. They’ll do a favor for their neighbors and their study partner can always count on them. They have important and interesting jobs, with significant responsibilities, where they succeed each day and in the evenings they dedicate time to community organizations where they may visit the sick, feed the hungry, help the poor, mentor troubled youth, fight for justice and fairness, and assist the elderly (sometimes all of them at once). They juggle scheduling and priorities at work, play and home to make sure they have time for it all.
To say they aren’t committed or aren’t capable of commitment wildly misses the mark.
So how is a good friend, relative, or mentor supposed to help a single? Based on my own personal experience, chances are the single needs help in addressing one of the following issues:
1. Older singles may have personal issues relating to self confidence, self worth or self knowledge. Are they happy with themselves, their physical health and their physique? Are they satisfied with the life path they're on? Are they living an honest life, or are they trying to be someone they are not? Do they know who they are inside - what are their talents, skills, quirks, hopes, dreams?
Singles need to know and love themselves. (If they have more serious mental health or emotional issues relating to lack of trust, depression etc., they may need intensive therapy before resuming dating.)
2. Older singles may be dating the wrong people and need to reassess what they are looking for and what is working or not working for them. Are they still dating the exact type of person they dated at 21? Have they made allowances for personal growth (or slippage) and change over the years? Do they really need all those things they thought they needed? Are they honestly evaluating who they are and what they realistically need and expect? Are they dating in the wrong age bracket or the wrong “community” or religious/philosophical boundaries? If they are honest about their needs and who they are, they will be more comfortable in dating people appropriate for them and more likely to build a meaningful relationship that leads to marriage.
Also, be open to giving someone a second chance. Maybe they dated someone years ago and for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. It’s years later and people change; if that person wasn't “beshert” then, he or she might be now. On the flip side, don't agonize about lost chances either. Move forward. Someone who may have been a beshert then might not be so now, given how much you've both changed in the intervening years. But there is someone out there today whom you can meet.
3. Some older singles may not be ready, willing or able to date and get married because of whatever else is going on in their life that currently fills their time. Perhaps they are so committed to work, so overextended in their community endeavors, so focused on whatever it is they do in their spare time, getting married isn't really their priority. If this is the case, the single needs to decide if they truly want to get married, and readjust his or her schedule and put first things first.
4. Finally, older singles may have a general fear of marriage. This could be on account of their parents' marriage which was less than ideal, or because they have seen so few great marriages and too many mediocre or bad ones. If this is the case, the single needs to recognize the source of his or her fear, and needs to “commit” to seeking out and seeing new, more effective paradigms of marriage that make the risks and effort involved worth it.
Well meaning friends, relatives and mentors can help singles they know by making sure that singles are confident of who they are, know what they need to be looking for and most importantly, by providing deep, meaningful friendships that on some level mimic the beauty of the marriage bond. They can also, just by living their married lives, demonstrate how great a marriage can be.
Singles (of which I am still one) are of course not absolved. They need to make sure they are emotionally and physically fit for marriage and that they are dating the right type of person for themselves at this time of their life.
They need to also prioritize their life and cut back on some activities to have the necessary time to make space for someone special. That may even require cutting back on important and worthwhile things.
Singles need to take time for honest self-evaluation and growth, and strive to become the person they want someone else to see them as. If something isn’t working in the life of the older single - whether it's one's job, living situation, or connection to spirituality - make the effort to change. Sometimes even just the beginning of an attempt at change is so empowering and freeing that it changes a person’s entire outlook. (And sometimes that impetus can come from an unexpected place - a supervisor at work recently made a comment to me that forced me to reevaluate how I thought I was coming across to other people. Don’t ignore it; use it to work change.)
And finally, if the older single doesn't have at least one close friendship that he or she wouldn’t want to go a week without catching up with, then that person needs to go out and make one. The best way to learn to be a good spouse is to learn to be a good friend.
In the merit of good advice and good effort, may all singles - young and old - find their most appropriate match immediately, with clear and powerful help from Heaven along the way.
The author, in his late 30’s and not yet married, welcomes prayers that Chaim Leib Mendel (haKohen) ben Rochel Sara should soon merit to marry his beshert.