Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eyes on the Prize - Getting Married

I have no clue who they are. I’m not sure I want to know. But Rabbi Chananya Weissman - who I believe is himslef still single -reports in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that 60 rabbis have signed onto the notion that one of the problems that young people encounter in trying to find a mate is that matchmakers – Shadchanim – are not open enough to varying age gaps between potential couples.

They say that young men look for young women that are a specific number of years younger than them - 1 to 3 years younger I would guess. These rabbis argue that age gaps can be wider or in either direction. Older women should be considered by younger men. This - these rabbis say - will truly help solve the problem.

Rabbi Weissman then goes on to argue that there have been in the past many things to blame for the so-called Shidduch crisis and that this new ‘insight’ will not by itself do anything to solve it. All of the things he’s written about in the past are still problems. I sympathize with his position.

But I do not dismiss the fact that this is indeed one of the many problems. And there are many. But I also believe that there is a core problem – that of seeking the ideal mate. And when one seeks the ideal it’s hard to settle for less.

That said there are a lot of weddings happening all the time here in Chicago. I would assume there are multiple times as many weddings happening in New York. Young people do get married all the time. I know. I attend many of them. My guess is that the majority of young people manage to find a mate somehow. This Shidduch problem is only a problem for those who are not married – yet. For such a person it might seem they will never get married.

As is often the case, singles experience the following. They have been dating long and hard for many years and have not had any luck. I often hear the following. They will date people who they like but do not develop mutual feelings. The relationship ends. Or they date people who might develop interest in them but do not develop mutual feelings for. The relationship ends.

Of course there are other issues that prevent one from finding a mate but I think this phenomenon is a more common issue. In other words. neither side wants ‘to settle’.

I believe that this idea – of not settling – is one of the truly serious impediments to marriage. I believe that what they are really looking for is perfection. Or near perfection. Oh - these young people may pay lip service to the fact that they are not. They will say that they only want minimal standards and aren’t asking for that much.

But when one begins to question what it is they are really looking for one finds some truly unimportant criteria which can easily impede a potentially very good excellent life partner. So they date and date – looking for Mr. or Mrs. ‘Right’ and never quite find it.

I can well imagine what goes on in the mind of a young man or woman who has been dating for some time and not found their mate yet. It can be a debilitating experience to keep dating and not find the ‘one’ you are looking for. With each successive failure the anxiety and depression increases – sometimes to the point of despair. I have read letters by near despondent singles to columnists dealing with these matters in the Jewish media many times.

There is a very insightful article on the website by Silvia Miner, a 68 year old woman who has never been married. She ended up despairing so much during her ‘dating career’ that she withdrew herself from that circumstance at age 30. And now at age 68 she is left alone.

She offers some words of wisdom. I truly think that much of the problem that some people face in finding a mate boils down to what she says here. Listen to her. Age brings wisdom. And I do not just say that because I am 62 years old. I say it because it’s true. She is not married and I think she might have figured out why. And she shares her wisdom with her readers. Here are some excerpts:

I suspect that it is one manifestation of an underlying attitude about what makes for happiness -- the idea that I will be happy if I get just what is perfectly suited to Me. Our society constantly promotes the idea that, among the available options, I owe it to Myself to obtain the optimal option.

This plays out at its ugliest in dating. Since, especially for young men, there are a dizzying number of options available, this makes it very difficult to be certain at any point when one has found "the best person for Me."

The traditional belief that for every person there is a match who is "bashert" for them, has somehow uncannily morphed into this quest for the optimal mate. People forget that there is such a thing as destiny, that your ideal match may not be the person you fantasize about, but may become attached to your soul through any set of circumstances.

Looking for perfection is futile, because you will not find it. Nobody is perfect. The only way is to go for percentages, and with commitment you will find true happiness.

Being happy and getting what you want are not synonymous. Rather, happiness comes from taking what comes to you and making the best of it. It means recognizing external constraints as expressions of the will of God, and trying to live well within them. And external constraints include the wishes and needs of others. A young man who dates a young woman, gets to know her, enjoys her company, raises her hopes, and then shears off because he thinks he might be able to do a little better, is surely living in a selfish-filled illusion.

Those of you who are reading this and are having trouble finding a mate – listen to her. She is a wise woman.