Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happily Ever After?

One of the big problems facing all of Orthodox Jewry today is that of finding Shiduchim. It seems to be increasingly more difficult for young people to find a Shidach and get married these days. But there is another problem that is just as serious - perhaps even more so: Staying married. I believe the two are related. There are two psychological forces at play that work against each other.

This is not to say that that there aren’t young people who marry and stay happily married. Most people I know fit into that category.

But I also know far too many singles – both men and women - who want to get married but can’t seem to achieve that goal. It’s not that they aren’t trying. They are. They just can’t seem to close the deal. The age range of singles I know who haven’t married is between the mid twenties to sixty. Yes I know a couple of very fine men who have been dating that long and still aren’t married.

While the reasons are many and varied –some more valid than others - an article in the Wall Street Journal sheds some light onto the problem. To put it simply it is fear of divorce:

Many men admit that their refusal to commit themselves to a woman stems from fear of making a mistake. The only thing worse than being an "older single" male, it seems, is being a 25-year-old divorcé with two children. It is women, though, who are usually more stigmatized by a split. Indeed, one big problem in the Orthodox community is the "Post-Shidduch Crisis."

"We're seeing more and more recently married, young Orthodox Jews getting divorced," says Mr. Salamon, who estimates that the divorce rate among the Orthodox has risen to an alarming 30% in the past five to 10 years.

This is no small thing – 30% of Orthodox marriages end in divorce! Sadly I know far too many marriages that split up. Some married for decades and some relatively soon after the wedding. In one case it was over by the end of the week of Sheva Brachos!

Why is this happening? I don’t think there is any ‘one size fits all’ reason. But I think that some reasons are staring us in the face. Let me suggest some of them.

For one thing divorce has become more acceptable in our day than it was in the past. There is far less stigma too it. That makes it an easier decision to make - at least for older married couples.

In the case of young married couples I would suggest that a large part of the problem is in the pressure to marry young. This is mostly true in Charedi circles and - though decreasingly true as one traverses the religious spectrum - it is a factor even in left wing Modern Orthodoxy too. But it is far more acceptable to be single in a LWMO society than it is to be single in a Charedi society. That adds to the indecisiveness in that segment of Orthodoxy. Less social pressure means that delays in making marriage decisions are more common.

In the case of Charedim, The opposite is true. It often entails a feeling of desperation on the part of a young woman if she isn’t married by the time she is 23. The stigma of being single at that age begins to be felt and seems to increase geometrically with every passing year. Thus sometimes decisions are made too quickly without knowing or considering all the facts about the other.

When one is very young these thoughts about remaining single can be frightening. In my view this mindset contributes mightily to a disastrous marriage that will end in divorce.

Pressure to marry young can easily result in a couple not really knowing each other before they marry. There are differences that can easily come up suddenly and unexpectedly that are insurmountable. In other cases there is even knowledge of a problem but it is glossed over or thought to be correctable. It rarely is.

I believe that going into a marriage thinking one can change the other is a prescription for divorce in many cases or perhaps worse - suffering in an unhappy marriage. There are of course other reasons such as hiding mental and physical health problems from a potential spouse.

Honesty and full disclosure is a number one priority. So too is a clear understanding of the Hashkafos of the other - where there is room for compromise and where there isn’t - both on one's own part and on the part of a potential spouse.

The increase in the divorce rate has had its impact. Those who are unable to commit to a marriage are in part looking at that. They will look at their divorced friends and begin to over-examine and over analyze their dates - worrying about a pending disastrous marriage ending in divorce.

Then there is what I would call the shallowness factor or the ‘size 2’ syndrome. There is far too much focus on dress size on the part of the male and this has caused in incease in cases of anorexia on the part of young women.

I’m not saying that one should marry someone they are not attracted to. That too is a prescription for divorce. One must be physically attracted to another in order to have a normal and fulfilling marriage. But that is only one important factor. There are so many other important factors to consider but scant attention paid to - in favor of attention to dress size.

There is also the ‘I wonder if I can do better’ syndrome. This can happen to either men or women who will date a person well within the range of a happy marriages only to turn them down. They think - if they hold out they will find someone even better. One of my closest friends is still dating at age 60 in the hopes of finding the right mate. So much for finding perfection.

There are no guarantees. Sometimes two seemingly comapatible people who have done their due diligence end up divorcing anyway. But if one plays their cards right, the chances of that happening are greatly reduced and the chance are very good that they will live happily ever after.

Just some of my thoughts.