Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some Plain Speaking

I may no longer be actively in the shadchanus fray, but I still do get calls from people looking for shidduchim, and I still have family and friends with children in the parsha. There has been a lot of discussion about why it is so hard to make shidduchim today, about how the whole shidduch process is not geared towards making it easy to find someone and get married. But it occurred to me in one of those "duh" moments that there is one reason why many of our young people are not married that is not spoken about. Well, no one has ever called me shy or retiring, so let me be the one to bring it up.

Some of our young men and women, the ones still in their teens and very early twenties, are not getting married because they don't want to be married. That's right--they really, truly don't want to be married yet. Their problem is that "everyone" else believes that they are raring to go and dying to get married. These other people could not/would not understand, no matter how you put it to them, that someone is not salivating over the idea of getting married.

Think about it for a minute. You've just graduated high school and maybe finished seminary or a year in yeshiva in Israel. You are all of nineteen. You are being asked to make all kinds of life decisions at this point. If you are going on to college you are being asked to decide on a major, one that will impact you for the rest of your life. Panic sets in for some people. They have to choose something but what?!!! So well meaning people explain about which majors are going to be better for shidduchim, are going to be better for supporting a learning husband, are going to be better for paying yeshiva tuition. What a student might want to do with their life becomes secondary to other considerations. There is no leisure to take courses and discover what lifetime occupation might suit you best. In fact, there is no leisure to take courses altogether. The push is to race through college so you can get a job and get married. Or in the case of some, get married and then get a job, perhaps, some day.

For those unmarried college students, just getting through the day is frazzling enough. Many may have part time jobs in addition to going to school. Some are learning full time while in college. Multi-tasking with a vengeance. And then someone insists that they get married and add another full time job to the list. Those "youngsters" may not be fully mature yet, but they know enough to see that you cannot push 31 hours of commitment into a 24-hour day. Some are internally resentful that they aren't being allowed to come into full bloom on their own timetable. Some have dreams, young people's dreams, of seeing something of the world, of experiencing some of what the world offers before being tied down to marriage.

Yes, tied down to marriage. Please keep in mind that I am not anti-marriage and have been happily in that condition for almost 37 years. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that marriage is the ultimate parameter setter. When you get married there are going to be things that you no longer can do. When there are two of you, you cannot decide to just say to hell with what I have to do today, I'm heading for a museum and enjoying myself. When there are two of you, you can't just take off to Europe because you want to go and see what there is to see. When there are two of you, you can't decide on impulse buys and can't go with impulsive decisions. When there are two of you spontaneity takes a back seat to responsibility.

And when there are three or four or five of you? The focus shifts dramatically. It is raising children that becomes central.

Now let me go back to that 19-year old who is being pushed into marriage. He/she looks at the personal things not yet accomplished, the personal joys not yet found, the personal experiences not yet tasted. And deep inside grows that veiled resentment that they are being asked to take on marital responsibilities they are not yet ready for, not yet willing for. But you can't say that aloud or the world will explode. So instead, these people who really don't want to get married start dating. And they find in every person they date something that makes that person unsuitable. And they add layer upon layer of requirements that no human being is going to be able to meet.

Getting married is a life-altering experience. Those who enter the state of matrimony ought to want to be there. And we ought to be giving our younger people a break when it comes to pushing them into marriage. Someone said to me the other day that having a wife brings maturity to a boy. I would have thought that first a boy ought to be mature before considering having a wife. Some people may be ready to get married at a younger age; some may not be ready until a later age. We ought to respect these differences and stop placing our younger people in the position of having to resort to subterfuge in order not to be shanghaied into marriages they know they are not ready for yet, that they don't want yet.


Anonymous said...

They may also recognize that they are not sufficiently mature to choose a spouse for a lifetime. And this is especially true if they are facing pressure from parents and teachers to choose by criteria they do not agree with.

What you major in does have a significant effect on your future, but one great thing about the American educational system is that it is never too late--it gets harder as time goes on to switch directions but it is never impossible. I know people who have gone to med school or law school after a PhD in physics and a few years working. Another who went to culinary school after engineering and is now a pastry chef. And music majors with PhD's in math. Marriage is (at least going in) for a lifetime.

nmf #7 said...

This is so true. Now, can someone explain this to the parents/teachers/rabbeim who say that it is wrong to wait to get married?
Mike- it's quite hard to get up the gumption when one is married, has a family, and a job to start over again. One might just suffer in the profession one chose, due to the fact that it is too hard to change.

Anonymous said...

I believe you are right and that the high rate of divorce among young couples today shows that far too many of them were not yet ready for marriage but caved in to the pressure put on them by schools and parents and other "well meaning" people.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the lucky ones whose parents didn't start pushing me to marriage before I was ready. But the pressure from my yeshiva was unbelievable. I even had one of my rebbeim ask me when I was 22+ if I was healthy or was there a problem I needed to discuss with him. I got married when I finished grad school. I got the absolutely right person for who I was. So what did I miss by not getting married in college? Nothing!

G6 said...

Excellent, thought provoking post.

Sadly, many of these young people allow themselves to be coerced into readiness (and/or altering the type of mates they are looking for) because they fear exactly the stigma that Tuvia describes.

Marrying them off "young and stupid" does have some advantages and I will say that I do hear that argument in this day and age as well, but cookie cutter decisions are never a good idea.

Anonymous said...

If we would stop pushing our children into getting married so young there would be all kinds of benefits for them and for us. They would have some experience to be able to choose a partner for life instead of worrying that they have to take what's offered because the good boys/girls are all going to be gone if they wait. The divorce rate would go down. Shalom Bayis issues would be less. They would have professions in hand so they could earn a good living. Parents would not have to be supporting two or more families at the same time. Children would not be being raised by parents who aren't fully grown up yet. And yet no one looks at the advantages of marrying a little later. Sad.

SubWife said...

I consider myself lucky that I married at 25. I was dating and thought that I was ready, but I think it really worked out for the best that I had extra 2-3 years to mature.

I also don't understand that push to marry off 19 year old girls and 21 yr old boys. When I weigh in all the pros and cons, waiting a few years makes so much sense... If this push to get married early wasn't there, my years of looking for the right person wouldn't be filled with so much anxiety and fear of ending up alone.

So I think everyone, those who are and those who are not ready, would benefit if young people decided for themselves when the right time is to look for a spouse.

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking post, the question is if those who could use the provocation will read it.

Will make the following comments

1) The gemara itself advises a man to be deliberate in marrying.

2) Yitzchok was forty when he married Rivkah.

3) Chazal also say, and it is brought down by the Rambam, yivneh bayis viachar kach yisa isha. Those who do not follow this sequence are strongly criticized.

4) I don't see why the pushing of some youngsters into marriage is that surprising. After all, some of those same young people are also pushed into what to do with their lives, how to live, etc., so why should marriage be different?

5) It's also interesting that this push for earlier marriage is taking place when people are living longer.

Anonymous said...

I can so relate to this. I was one of those who didn't want to get married when I was 19 but I knew I couldn't say it to anyone because they would wonder if I was ok. Despite all the pushing I managed tto make it to 26 without getting into marriage. I made some of those dreams you talk about come true. When I was on a trip to see the Jewish memorial spots in Europe I spent Shabbos with a wonderful family. And their wonderful cousin from America also happened to be there that Shabbos. We lived about 2500 miles apart in the states and there was no way we would have met there. We knew no one in common in the states. And yes, wonderful cousin is my wonderful husband now. We met when we were both ready.

You should have seen the shock on some peoples faces when they heard I was engaged--almost 27 when it happened. Some even asked my parents if everything was alright with the boy.

Anonymous said...

That's what kills me about the shidduch system. If you don't want to get married young then there must be something wrong with you. What's wrong is the system. i understand those comments people made to Lisa's parents really well because they said them to my wife's parents also. I remember one person who finally met me who was in shock that I seemed so normal. What is even stranger is that some people still look at my wife and me and shake their heads. We're in our early 30s and our oldest child is only 3. Some people are 'sad' for us that our children aren't older already because we started so late. Please, someone get these people a life!

Anonymous said...

No it doesn't seem to make any sense to push the kids to get married so young, certainly not economic sense. So why do the rebbeim and parents push for the young marriages. I hate to state the obvious but they are terrified of sexual misconduct. They see what kinds of influences there are in the outside culture and they want the kids safely married. Get a guy married at 20, 21 and maybe you can avoid a shomer negiah problem. They don't want them falling of the purity derech. I would also say that it's probably true that fewer married couples go of the frum derech then individuals do. Get them married young and they are more likely to stay frum. I don't say I necessarily buy into their reasoning but I can see where they are coming from.

Anonymous said...

Expanding on d's #3
The Rambam says first one should find a job, then build a house, then get married. The opposite way is part of the toch'cha (and thus is a curse). Of course, no one learns that part of Mishna Torah anymore...

ProfK said...

Elitzur and D,
I won't pretend to learning I don't have and will take your word that what you have said is what the Mishna says. But I would add that plain common sense seems to be what the Mishna is advocating; first prepare yourself with the necessities for marriage and then get married.

the apple said...

Hear, hear!

Gila said...

Well said. I suspect that, in certain cases, the fault finding is subconsious--these kids may not even realize themselves what is going on inside their heads.

Anonymous said...

prof k,
the mishna torah is a halchic work by the rambam, it is not the mishna.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to this conversation, but as a frum woman who is 21 and not yet dating, by choice, I do feel there is an expectation that I should be, if not married, than investing significant energy into becoming so.
Just wanted to state my presence.
Thanks for the support, Apple!