Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I Am Not A Tragedy

Today my friend sent me a link to this YouTube video entitled NASI: Shidduch Crisis 2009.

It is set to what I can only consider funereal music and refers to women who are ages 24-29 and unmarried as members of a communal tragedy.

Now, as I am merely 20, I do not claim to represent that age group. However, I have certain thoughts about this video nonetheless. I believe that while it is an attempt to do something good, it is insensitive and even cruel. Because the message being sent is that if you are 24-29 and unmarried, yours is a tragic case. You should sit at home and weep over your misfortune for there is naught in the world left for you. A Jewish maidele of that age unmarried? Let's throw up our hands in alarm and weep copious tears.

There are different sorts of people in the world. Some of them do indeed wish to be married. Others do not. I can only speak for myself and so that is what I will do.

I was born with certain qualities and character traits. My parents worked long and hard to cultivate them within me. It is my task to give back to this world which God has enabled me to live in and to enjoy. Do I want to marry somebody? Yes, I do. But I also want to marry that person at a time when we shall be financially stable, when I know my own mind, when I am mature and certain that I can live happily and healthily with that person. I want to create and cultivate a family and raise them with as much love and joy and thought as my parents raised me. Thus, I want to marry the right person at the proper time, whenever that may be. I don't believe in expiration dates and I don't believe that once I turn 24, should it happen that I am unmarried, everyone ought to be crying over me. Because I'm not convinced that I have to be a tragedy.

Suppose that all that I desire is not granted to me. Suppose, and please God it won't happen, but suppose for a moment that I won't be married. Ought I to commit suicide in despair? Is my entire life over? The message that is sent by our community seems to suggest it is. Personally, I don't think so. Married or unmarried, I have abilities and talents that I plan to use in order to thank God for what He has given me. We exist to take the world by storm, not to spend our days languishing after husbands.

My heart is pained for those women or men who feel themselves to be in a tragic situation when they desire to be married and cannot find their soulmate. That has nothing to do with age. It is a sad thing to feel entrapped and lonely, to feel always as though one is only half a person. I do not speak because I lack compassion. To the contrary. I speak because I believe it is wrong for our community to encourage this point of view, the point of view where they have decided that if we are not married by a certain age that connotes that a tragedy is occuring. If I believe my situation is tragic, then certainly no one can gainsay me. But if I do not choose to think of it that way, I do not want that label applied to me. If I am never married, if God decides that is somehow my destiny, I will still not be a tragedy. I will be Chana; I will find different ways to contribute to the world.

What I object to is the community that sees my single or married state as a constant subject of discussion, the people clucking their tongues in supposed sympathy, the nosy questions, assumptions or suggestions, the fact that I am to be judged and to simply lie down and take that judgment, accept that label. Should I, for any reason, not marry by the right 'time,' I will automatically be deemed 'a tragedy.' People will say "Nebach" and shake their heads sadly. And why? What right have they? Who are they to determine my worth and my status within this world? I alone can determine that. And so I say again...even if I am never married, I will not be a tragedy. I am not someone to be labelled and pitied. My sorrow, should it exist, is my own, not the fodder for discussions behind the mechitza.

I am sure NASI means well and I hope that they succeed in helping those men or women who desire to find their soulmate in their quest. But I also hope that the perception in our community changes. People are not tragedies. They have so much to offer the world, so much to give, so much of vibrance and beauty about them. To reduce their worth to a question of whether or not they are married and dub them 'tragedy' if they do not succeed in this goal is to demote and demean them. People are so precious. They are worth so much. It would be an absolute shame to see them only in light of whether or not they have pledged themselves to another when there is so much else that sparkles and shines within them, that makes it an honor and joy to know them and share in their lives.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Powerful and sincere! It takes a lot of confidence in one's abilities to state thoughts the way you did. What can I say? May you be blessed with a wonderful shidduch when the time is right for you!

Yaelle said...

Hear hear!

I must say though, I found the comments beside the video interesting because they cite different causes for the Beis Yaakov shidduch crisis than does the Center for the Jewish Future for the Modern Orthodox one.

At YU's ChampionsGate IV conference this summer, the main factors mentioned as part of the shidduch "challenge" were higher rates of women's higher education (which means they don't necessarily look to get married as quickly), as well as, of course, sky-high expectations.

Whatever the causes for shidduch stagnation, I heartily agree with your analysis of the situation, and hope for the sake of women's self-worth that it isn't too much of a chiddush...

Anyways, wishing everyone love and happiness in all aspects of life at the best time.

non mouse said...

very healthy perspective!
kudos to you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, I wholeheartedly agree!

There is this expectation that one cannot lead a fulfilling, meaningful life unless they get married. Sometimes, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as most people do/live as is expected of them. So sad.

Having said that, I do think that reaching the ULTIMATE level of self-actualization requires uniting with one's soulmate. I don't know whether this is always accomplished by marriage, or whether it is possible to do this without actually marrying one's soulmate, but this is what I think.

-Heshy

Shadesof said...

Chapter 12 of Dr. David Burn's best-selling "Feeling Good Handbook" , titled "The Love Addiction" begins with an assumption, which he challenges:

"I can not be a truly happy and fulfilled human being unless I am loved by a member of the opposite sex. True love is necessary for happiness".

When I read this, I thought that it contradicted Chazal in Yevamos who say that "Any man who does not have a wife, is without happiness..."; the Torah says this as well, that "it is no good for a man to be alone".

I think the Chovos Halevaos provides an additional perspective. In Shar Habitachon(4:3) he says that someone alone without family has, as well, a path of bitachon in Hashem, for "the soul is itself a stranger in the world"; also, "even those with relatives and family, may one day be alone, too". (The Chovos Halevavos seems to be referring to a married person who finds himself, in a far-off place, away and alone, without any family.)

An example of the last point of changing circumstances might be found in the biography of Irving Bunim z'l. He was a very successful community leader, who relied on, and shared his life with his wife. His son, Amos, describes his father's grief upon her death("A Fire In His Soul", pg 326),

"Without his wife to speak to, to share his private joys and personal doubts, Bunim needed a suitable outlet for his intimate and emotional feelings. Shortly after Blanche's death, he began to use a tape recorder. At first, he simply unburdened his grief. Later, he began to create a kind of verbal memoir of his life and times, of his enormously varied experiences, and the gedolim from whom he was privledged to learn...".

The author comntinues that these tapes eventually became a legacy for Bunim's grandchildren, and a source for the biography which the public benefited from.

Shadesof said...

(Cont.)

In this sense, the thrust of most of Dr. David Burn's chapter of "The Love Addiction" is relevant.

Of course, the lack of a marital relationship is a void, as indicated in the Torah sources, above. But perhaps in line with the Chovos Halevavos, above, the thrust of Burn's chapter is to tell people who are alone and moping, that they can enjoy activities alone, and still get pleasure from life. Interestingly, in an example on pages 317-318, a person who begins to take pleasure in doing activities alone, develops independence and an infectious joy of living, and her newfound aloneness, paradoxically, leads to finding a spouse.

The links to the Bunim and Burns books, if they fit:

http://books.google.com/books?id=WaObe1cRLc0C&pg=RA2-PA326&lpg=RA2-PA326&dq=without+his+wife+to+speak+to,+to+share+his+private+joys+and+personal+doubts,+Bunim+needed+a+suitable+outlet+for+his+intimate+and+emotional+feelings.+Shortly+after+Blanche's+death,+he+began+to+use+a+tape+recorder.+At+first,+he+simply+unburdened+his+grief&source=bl&ots=s6wTloR0qP&sig=zNXuCZ2n7KjJW9PfbmU9GU3HpVw&hl=en&ei=pGkgS6qMDoGpnQfP7MH2BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=without%20his%20wife%20to%20speak%20to%2C%20to%20share%20his%20private%20joys%20and%20personal%20doubts%2C%20Bunim%20needed%20a%20suitable%20outlet%20for%20his%20intimate%20and%20emotional%20feelings.%20Shortly%20after%20Blanche's%20death%2C%20he%20began%20to%20use%20a%20tape%20recorder.%20At%20first%2C%20he%20simply%20unburdened%20his%20grief&f=false

http://books.google.com/books?id=UaEg_ujTKEcC&dq=feeling+good+burns&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=tFogS-anApWknQe8vMTWDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Shadesof said...

The book I referred to is called "Feeling Good"(the " FG Handbook" is a different book by the same author).

Hope the page link works now:

http://books.google.com/books?id=UaEg_ujTKEcC&pg=PA311&lpg=PA311&dq=I+can+not+be+a+truly+happy+and+fulfilled+human+being+unless+I+am+loved+by+a+member+of+the+opposite+sex&source=bl&ots=C_QKLatdbs&sig=BDb9iactbstmI8yLv9oxBtGDC8I&hl=en&ei=_nUgS8ePF5GftgfIs6WgCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Anonymous said...

does anyone have the link to the hilarious youtube purim parody about someone calling a rabbi who is someone's shidduch reference? They ask questions like which brand paper towels do they use, was the father only convicted of white collar crime so that his jail has daf yomi & chassidishe shchita?
Thanks

Shadesof said...

Enjoy :)

http://vidyid.com/csi-shidduchim.html

Shades of Grey said...

This piece is amazingly moving and grippingly truthful. I applaud your personal strength and fortitude for thinking about this in an honest and frank fashion - and for sharing the results with us!

abraxas said...

>I applaud your personal strength and fortitude for thinking about this in an honest and frank fashion

Sometimes when I read stuff like this, it really underscores the insanity of the frum world - it's like going into a time machine...

Getting married when you're financially stable and ready for it seems like common sense, but it is applauded as an exhibition of "personal strength and fortitude"?

What does that tell us about the mindset of an average frum young person?

Anonymous said...

a 27 year old single person isnt tragic. However, a 27 year old virgin is.

Anonymous said...

Anon Dec 10, 2:24 pm said:

"a 27 year old single person isnt tragic. However, a 27 year old virgin is."

And why is that? I'm an open-minded single frum young woman and I'm 27. I date and yet not able(yet) to find the right man to share my future with. Last I checked, marriage is this "covenantal relationship between a man and a woman in an emotional, physical, moral, and spiritual union, exclusively and for life." It sounds as if you are somehow suggesting that I simply marry someone for the sake of marriage and thus solve the issue or perhaps have an affair since "27 year old virgin is" a tragedy. I find your comment distasteful.

Rosy P said...

>a 27 year old single person isnt tragic. However, a 27 year old virgin is.

Sex with other people is overrated.

Michaltastik said...

As someone who's had a lot of sex, I concur. It's only good when you care about the person, so marriage... yes....

Michaltastik said...

Check out what happened to me back in October.

http://michalbasavraham.blogspot.com/2009/10/shidduchiim-strikes-again.html

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

You're saying it (i.e. the post) as if you don't know as well as we all do that the Ultra-Orthodox perceptive on marriage is based on a number of premises we don't agree with, for example that the only purpose of a woman is to get married, so that she can give birth to Jewish MALES who are capable of doing mitzvot, and that unmarried a woman is useless. ..if you don't agree with that premise there's essentially nothing to talk about..

Michaltastik said...

It's so cool that a man should say something like that.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

: P

Anonymous said...

This is a kind gesture, but with all due respect, you don't know what you are talking about. As you said, you are 20, and it shows. Get back to me if you are still living an orthodox life and single in ten years (or before). I'm not so sure you wouldn't be feeling the enormous pain, despite intellectually or rationally still agreeing with and believing what you wrote. Of course, characterizing unmarried people as tragedies is disturbing and awful. The worst part, is that there is truth to it(if you remove the ridiculous age quota!). Imagine treating a childless couple with that kind of public taunt. Never mind that by being single, by definition (in the orthodox community) single women suffer this pain of infertility and loss of opportunity too. The whole issue and topic is extremely complicated. It is not so simplistic like you present it. God bless your young soul for not understanding that. I hope you won't ever ocme to know this experience. Good shabbos and a freilichin chanuka.

Anonymous said...

And so I say again...even if I am never married, I will not be a tragedy. I am not someone to be labelled and pitied. My sorrow, should it exist, is my own, not the fodder for discussions behind the mechitza.

Others judging the older unmarried is unacceptable. The idea of marital status as the only indicator of whether a person is happy or not is ridiculous. Blanket pity might be insensitive, but compassion for those who themselves are sad about being unmarried is important. There are people who receive neither judgement about being unmarried nor pressure to do something about it yet are desperately lonely, are sad about having no one with whom to make a life. There are people who feel as you do at one age, but after a decade or two with no one on whom to count and with whom to share life's burdens these feelings change.

Shosh said...

beautiful, powerful, brilliant post!

Anonymous said...

"a 27 year old single person isnt tragic. However, a 27 year old virgin is."

Really? You know, it's not your place to judge other people's choices about their sex lives, so long as those choices don't harm others. Personal autonomy includes the right to never have sex, or to delay having sex until some specific point in life, be it marriage or something else. Come back when you have something meaningful to say. Learning how to use punctuation and capitalization might also be good for you.

J said...

Hey, Anonymous -
Speak for yourself. I'm old and I'm single and I don't feel sorry for myself. Maybe you need to get a life - move out of your house to a singles community, get a job that pays, and enjoy yourself a little. If you're really desperate, get an in-vitro fertilization so you can have a kid.

Shades of Grey said...

abraxas - you read my response entirely wrong. I was not referring to the issues of waiting to get married when one has stable financial means at all. I was referring to the crisis mentality. Chana wrote her own perspective which is to fight that notion, and that is what I applaud.

Many people I know don't even stop to think about this issue at all. So many people are simply lumping themselves into this category of older unmarried and consider themselves lost. As Chana wrote, there is no reason to willingly become a statistic or simply give up hope and become part of the ongoing system with its "crisis" mindset.

Anonymous said...

J-I am in upper thirties and have lived independently since grad school in my early twenties. At one point, I lived in a singles community for years. I have a wonderful job and many blessings and relationships in my life that I appreciate immensely. I don't feel sorry for myself, nor do I live my life that way. Yet, being alone is still a huge black lonely hole that is extremely painful for me (and many of my other uber accomplished living full lives single friends). I don't appreciate your casual and callous attitude about another's heartache. Your cavalier attitude in your remark about such a deeply personal and complicated choice as contemplating single motherhood by in-vitro (esp for someone orthodox) leads me to wonder about you, or if you really are an older single person, as you state. Curious, are you male or female?

Anonymous said...

chana, may you never experience being a single WOMAN in your 30's.
(I LOVED my late 20s...)

-Being repeatedly rejected for reasons of age takes a huge toll on your self esteem. If you are sexually active, the same men will view you as fun time but not marriage material. (so it has nothing to do with your attractiveness, but about some community norm).

-Being alone, seeing your friends married, and losing them, as their families become the center of their lives and you move to the periphery. Now you still have a reasonably sized single's chevra.

-You write that you have other ways to contribute to the world. For most of us that means a meaningful and successful career. But what if you don't become a huge smashing success in your career? What if you don't find your job incredibly meaningful, as many of us don't? Then what do you have?
(So i reccommend to all you young folk, DON'T, I repeat DON'T choose a career strictly for practical reasons with an eye on marriage and family- if that marriage and family doesn't materialize you'll be left with nothing)

-if you are FEMALE and orthodox, rather than male, your opportunities to contribute in a Torah fashion are even more limited. You will seldom be asked to teach, to hold services etc. and you probably aren't able to, not having cultivated this area expertise. Depending on your community you may be barred from speaking in public, and you will have less access to persons in positions of authority and leadership, so how effectively can you contribute then?

So yes, singlehood, if you are not prepared for it, can be tragic.

But the community is going about it all wrong. It's not the community's job to have us married off, that's between us and our trusted and love ones. It's their job to relate to us as normal people.

Anonymous said...

27 yr old virgin- not a tragedy unless it is experienced as such by the person. Virginity does not deserve a stigma any more than singleness does.

kisarita said...

Michal, I think the older single woman who has had sex such as yourself, even if it's not too great, is still better off than the one who hasn't. You're better off when knowing what you're not missing....

And I say that though I've had a couple of really rotton sexual experiences.

Related post The Fifty Year Old Virgin