Before I begin, I think it's important to tell you a little backstory. I recently started listening to a lot of shiurim by Rabbi Pesach Krohn who is a fascinating speaker. In one of his shiurim he talks about the ongoing "shidduch crisis" and in that shiur he talks about a letter he received from a single woman's struggle with dating. This is a response to that but from a man's perspective. Or at least mine. Chronologically, it's the year 2016 my birthday is soon. I'll be turning 28 within 24 hours and Pesach is less than 2 weeks away. I am single.
There is a sentence that I hear quite often, so often that I see it in people's eyes before they can even say it.
"Im Yirtzah Hashem by you."
"Im Yirtzah Hashem," or the abbreviated version, "IY'H." It's something I hear frequently, at weddings, engagements etc. When people see me at these functions they say "IY'H by you." I hate hearing that. I hate those words with a passion. To me they are empty, meaningless and patronizing. I'm always tempted to say something back but I don't. I may think about it. In the end I bite my tongue, grit my teeth, smile and say "Amen." See, when people say "IY'H by you," they think it means something, and to them it does, it's a bracha they are giving you. But it isn't. Not to me. To me it's false hope, an empty promise. A promise of freedom without the power to grant it. A painful reminder of my situation and how it hasn't changed. I'm aware that they mean well and I won't take that from them. I do appreciate the sentiment and effort.
"IY'H" literally translates to "If God wants/wills." Not when. If. And to me that's where the distinction lies. People throw the term out with the greatest of intentions, not realizing the arrow it represents. I've wanted to reply, "Aval im Hashem lo rotzeh?" But what if God doesn't want? There is no guarantee that I will get married, that is a painful fact. We all know of people who unfortunately didn't, and as I get older I fear I will join their ranks. People tell me that when God made a person He split them in half, so your bashert is out there. Well, where is she? It is so maddeningly frustrating when people say "Don't worry, it will happen in due time," or "She's out there somewhere. Be patient." As if that's a balm on the open wound. It's like a child bringing me a band-aid when I need stitches. "It will happen, don't worry." Can you guarantee that? How do you know? Is she alive? Is she hanging out with Waldo? Where is my wife?
Rabbi Pesach Krohn, in one of his many speeches talks about how during the chagim one needs to be kind to widows and orphans. I am NOT in any way, shape or form comparing my situation with theirs. At all. I will say that being single around the holidays is painful. Especially when surrounded by siblings and relatives who are not only married, but have started families. Especially when they are a few years younger than you. Yes, I'm a proud uncle, and I'm involved with their lives. Yes, I play with them, teach them things and just get so much nachas watching my nephews and nieces interact with the world. But I'm still there, lighting the Chanukah candles, sitting at the Seder, eating in the sukkah by myself. It is a constant reminder, an alarm that goes off without stopping, with no option for the brief release of a snooze button. The loneliness is strangling, the silence of no spouse deafening. I feel alone while surrounded by people.
At family events I get to answer the awkward questions like "Are you dating?" or "How did that date go?" And I have to tell them. I have to say, "Oh, I didn't go out" or "It didn't go anywhere." I get to see the pity in their eyes and feel the burn of shame and embarrassment. While letting none of it show. Which usually prompts them to say, "I'll keep my eyes open," "You're a great catch," yet never hear back.
I go to weddings where the chasson and kallah are barely adults and already moving in a direction I wish I can. I have to fight the tears of jealousy and swallow the sour taste of bitterness while watching someone I know get married. Fight to prevent saying to myself how did this person manage to get married? I put tongue in cheek and force myself to realize that it's not about me. It's about them and their simcha, to enjoy and share in their momentous occasion. So I hug him, give him a kiss and say "Mazel tov," dance with him, and he says back, "Im yirtzah Hashem by you."
There is something so bittersweet watching your friends get married one by one. It really encaptures that if you're not moving forward, you'll fall behind.
People tell me not to worry, you're still young. I'm going to be 28 soon. How old is young? When I was 23 I didn't worry. When I was 25 I didn't. Now? Now I distract myself from thinking about it too much. I try not to think about my father who got married at 26 or my brother at 25. My sisters at 18. My friends who are my age and have been married for years and now have kids.
It makes me question, what's wrong with me, what did I do or what can I do and what am I doing wrong. I do my hishtadlus, I have 7 shadchanim and I am on 3 dating websites but so far nothing has come of it.
I'm given advice that I need to go out more. Go to the chupahs and simchas so people can see you parade around like a prized horse at market. Which in the end makes me feel like a dog in the pound wanting someone to pick me. Or better yet, at weddings, go look at the women's side and see if someone catches your eye, yeah because that's completely proper and tznius and in no way comes across as creepy or wrong. I mean what are the odds of accidentally checking out someone else's wife? Or are we not acknowledging the complete shallowness of wanting to go out with someone simply because she looks good in a dress? Just that one fact and knowing absolutely nothing else about her except she's pretty? What a wonderful way to start off a possible marriage! There's no way that backfires, or comes across as anything other than lecherous. Oh I can see it now, my kids ask me how we met, and I can say, "Well son, I was at a wedding, and I went over to the women's side to check out the women while they may have been dancing—but ignore that small detail—and I happened to have seen your mother and thought she looked gorgeous in her dress, so I asked someone if she's single, and that's that. Now remember son, be respectful to women and know that they aren't objects of only lust." Yeah, no thanks.
I'm also advised to go to single events. Now those are so much fun if you like awkward moments, because the entire weekend is awkward. I'm a friendly guy, I can go into a room of strangers and walk out with a few friends, this isn't me tooting my own horn. This is me saying that for someone who is approachable and friendly, shidduch events are uncomfortable and draining. Everyone is there for the same reason. There is so much pressure and tension, it's stifling. You and everyone else there are on constant display. You're told to just be yourself, but it's hard to when you know everyone is judging you. And you're judging them. It's what you're there for.
Or people say, "Maybe you're not talking to the right shadchan," that may be true. I don't know. What I do know and will admit is, I dread talking to shadchanim or anyone who wants to "help," really. It kills a little part of me every time I speak to a shadchan or potential shadchan. It never goes anywhere. When I do go to weddings and the like, I'll inevitably meet someone who knows lots of girls, and when I tell them about myself (which is super fun and in no way uncomfortable for me) they'll push me to another shadchan. There is something so dehumanizing when being passed around like leftovers. When you feel like you're reduced to a number.
The entire process is so degrading. I feel like a puppy being given a treat out of the kindness of their hearts. I have to act surprised and the expectation to wag my tail when someone says "I may have a girl for you." Or "Quick, send me your resume" (even though I sent it to you at least 3 times already). I feel as if I have to debase myself to random strangers out of fear. In the letter the woman sent to Rabbi Krohn, she mentions the struggle not to respond when someone tries to give "helpful" advice, because this person may have a shidduch for you. I cannot emphasize enough how truly painful and great that struggle is. Its comparable to working with someone that is haphazard and lazy, but you can't say anything because he's the boss's son.
People forget what it's like to be single, forget the time and investment you put in. Forget how much of a nightmare dating is. What it's like answering the same questions, asking the same questions, and it getting you nowhere. The mind-numbing activities. When you go on 3-4 dates with someone, and you get a little more comfortable, and it ends suddenly with a "You're great and I can be myself around you but I just don't see us as husband and wife." Or "It's not you it's me" or whatever reason the person has which frankly isn't my business. The time and money you invest. The effort you make to get to know someone, the expectation to keep going after it falls apart. That, after you've been on 4-5 dates and it ends abruptly, people expect you to get back up and try again. Almost immediately. That it's simply a matter of picking up the pieces, brushing yourself off and going back out there. As if you didn't just go through all of that and invest resources that are not boundless. And that's on the premise that you even have anything lined up for after. That you have a list of girls to choose from, like cattle. Which unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your view—is not my reality. I can go months without getting a resume or a response, let alone a date. I'm told to push and badger. Make calls and demands. Things I'm not comfortable doing.
There's the part that, if you're lucky and have a list to choose from, of going through the resumes. Going over them, making phone calls, and in the process: forgetting you're dealing with people. That in the process, it becomes monotonous and impersonal. And before you know it, they have been reduced to a piece of paper. A print-out of a list of qualities, characteristics and highlights. Having to remind yourself that these are the cliff-notes to a complex and unique story. That in the end you are dealing with a real live person. With hopes, dreams and emotions.
There's a quote from the movie "Rocky V." The main character says, "Being strong isn't how hard you hit, it's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." At what point are you strong or just setting yourself up to be a punching bag? When is being positive and hopeful turn into being naive and wishful thinking?
So then people say maybe you're being picky. I don't think so. I don't think looking for someone that is positive, spiritual, not high maintenance and outgoing is picky. I don't think wanting a spouse that grows in Torah, is a good and kind person is out of the realm of possibility. So maybe I'm being shallow? Again I'd have to politely disagree. I'm in shape and believe in living a healthy lifestyle, and looking for someone that wants the same. Not to insane degrees. I'm not looking for that "thin" girl that when she turns sideways she disappears, and I'm not looking for someone that's a walking heart attack.
Dealing with people who mean so well, but in the end causes you to ask if they're lying, is brutal. Especially when they use platitudes like, "You're such a great person, anyone would be lucky to marry you." "You're going to make a wonderful spouse, a great father and anyone would be lucky to marry you." "How are you still single?" When I start to hear these things, I go on autopilot because these words have lost all meaning to me. Hearing from a few shadchanim, "You'll be easy to set up." Not realizing that what they are saying are barbs that pierce you to the core.
Yet the expectations to keep moving forward is there. And for what? The part of convincing yourself that this isn't a waste of time. That somehow doing the same thing over and over again with the same results is not insanity? So you can question yourself constantly, and feel continuous rejection? To feel crushed time and again while valiantly trying your best not to give in to despair? To finally ask yourself, is it worth it?
It's making me antisocial. I don't like going to my friends' houses for Shabbos because every time I do, the same questions arise. "What's new with you, how's the dating life going?" As he's changing his kid's diaper, or about to listen to a dvar Torah his son wants to share. When your friends invite you for Shabbos, and everyone there is newly married and you're there by yourself. Convincing yourself this isn't uncomfortable, awkward or a cruel prank. It's akin to showing a starving man his favorite food as you eat it in front of him.
I'm at the point where I'm not excited when I have a date. In fact I hate dating. There is no joy in it anymore. I don't get those butterflies of anticipation, that excitement of going on that first date. I feel like I've been robbed of something that should be fun and enjoyable. And instead feel used and worn out, like a used car people are pushing to sell.
When a friend, family or coworker says "I have a girl for you," I just say "Cool." It's hard to care after a while. It's hard to daven for the same thing over and over again expecting things to be different when, in the back of your mind, you're a step away from being done with the whole thing.
So daven for it, pray for it. I did and still do. I go for brachos, give my name when the person is under the chupah. But for how much longer? How long until I realize it's not happening? How much do I need to invest? How much do I need to give of myself? How much do I need to spend? How far must I drive? How many cups of coffee? How any games of mini golf? How many mind-numbing innocuous conversations must I have? How many rejections? How many tears do I need to shed? How many nights do I have to lay awake wondering? How long until I meet her? How long until I realize I won't?
When I was 22 I went to Israel to volunteer as a medic. While I was there, I saw and dealt with a lot of tragedy. Which, while a little scarring, taught me valuable lessons and helped me grow in tremendous ways. One of the things I did to cope was to go to the shuk, and every so often buy something for my home when I get married. A kiddush cup here, a havdala set there, custom benchers, etc etc. It was a hope chest, if you will. Once in a while I used to take out the box, open it, go through it and see what I want/need. It is now in a closet on the top shelf in storage. I haven't taken the box down, I haven't looked at it, or gone through it in a little over a year.
If I had to sum up how I feel with a word, it would be "tired." I'm so tired. Tired of all the lies, the resumes, the excuses. Tired of being hopeful and having it burn down around you. Tired of the stupidity, and how much emphasis is placed on a piece of paper. Tired of waiting for a response. Tired of telling people when it falls through not to worry. That it'll be OK. That I'm OK, when I'm not. Tired to the point where everything starts to blur together after a while. But you endure. You move forward because what's your other option.
There is a story I heard and the message I find to be profound and powerful. I believe it's with Rav Noach Wienberger (if it isn't I apologize, I'm not a magid ). The story goes: Rav Noach was davening at the kotel and he happened to see out of the corner of his eye a young girl davening with so much passion and intent that he couldn't help but be captivated. When the young girl finished her prayer and was walking away, the Rav asked her if everything and everyone was alright due to the intense Prayer. The young girl said, "Baruch Hashem everything is fine, why would the rebbe ask me this?" Rav Noach replied that he noticed her prayer, how passionate it was and was curious. She replied saying, "My birthday is soon and I was davening for a new bicycle." The rabbi said, "Oh, I hope your prayer was answered," and he goes on his way. A week or so later he was walking in the old city and he happened to see that same girl from the kotel walking around and he said to her, "I guess Hashem didn't answer you." She looked at him and said, "He did. The answer was no."
I love that story. I love the message. We don't always get what we want. And we are not entitled to happy endings. When we ask for things, it's OK for the answer to be "no." Otherwise it wouldn't really be a question, it would be a demand, a sense of deserving what we want when we want it, and not knowing whether we deserve it or not. That it's somehow owed to us. IM yirtzah Hashem, IF Hashem wants/wills.
I know I'm coming across beaten, broken and defeated. I'm not. I may have been knocked down, I may be battered but I am not out. I am still standing. I won't lie, I have thought of giving up and not even bothering to try, but I can be stubborn and will fight for things that are worth the battle over. I am still hopeful. Still wishful. I still look forward to the day I walk to my kallah, with my heart full of joy and happiness as I make my way, surrounded by family, friends and love ones to the bedecking. I still wish, daven and hope to meet my other half, my better half, my soul mate, my bashert.