On Being Muddled

A hat tip to the Curious Jew for sending me to this post by Fudge. It captures the enervated malaise of an Unmarried Person taking stock of his/her life.

It’s not that I’ve ever thought I was a crummy human being because I wasn’t married. I’m good at lots of things, even if getting myself married isn’t one of them. Rather, it’s about that detached, confused state that a single person so easily slips into. Where do I belong? What should I be doing?

It’s so simple, or at least so defined when you have a family. Family first. Husband and children. The important parties are there to give their input. But for single people, it’s all a tangled muddle of loops of hope fading off into a million uncertain futures.   Maybe half the desire to get married stems from a desire for definition and clarity in life. To just know what you should be focusing on.

An example of this that frequently arises in my life is the Career Question. Everyone knows that your chances of bumping into the right guy are higher in the tri-state area than out of it. But career progress in a job can often lead to OOT. (Which is not unwelcome. Who wouldn’t want to live outside the tristate area if they had the option?) However, if one moves OOT for a job, one is being Career Oriented and Independent, which is anathema in a (n ultra-orthodox) woman and bad for dating in general. Also, there’s nobody to go out with. Whereas if one stays in NYC then one is being family oriented sans the family – and how pathetic and depressing is that?

(It gets even more muddled if the OOT job is more family friendly than the IT job. It loops, cancels out, and leaves you stranded someplace, pathetic, but not entirely sure why. Well, you know why. It’s because you’re single.)

Fudge’s solution is to get direction in life from something else. Slot yourself into the grand scheme of things without a spouse. Find meaning in life as an individual.

The idea is inspiring. It sounds wonderful.

…except, yeah. It still doesn’t help. I’ve never really had a grand personal ambition. I try to do well in my education, employment, and hobbies. But I’ve always taken a more passive approach to Big Meaningful Missions. I take them as they land in my inbox. It’s given me some interesting tasks in life, but nothing near steady employment. So choosing Fudge’s route is going to require a full-blown mid-life crisis. Why am I here? Why do I exist?

But even so. Let’s just say I’ve found meaning in expressing my love for God by bringing spirituality to knock hockey. Does that mean I can move to Thailand now? Stop paying the SYAS tax? Channel my spare cash into trust funds for the kinfauna? This approach may help me figure out how to spend my spare time, but it doesn’t answer the big question of what should be important right now.

And so I remain, befuddledly yours,

A Uxorially Challenged Person

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26 thoughts on “On Being Muddled

  1. Just so you know, life doesn’t magically fall into place once you get married. Everything always looks greener, you know. But once you’re married, none of your decisions are really your own, and you often are forced to put aside what you really want for the good of the whole. And, for a lot of people, just because you are married, a fulfilling life of husband, children, family isn’t always so simple. Life is life, no matter your relationship status. There are tough things about it and wonderful things about it. Enjoy what you can and focus on those (as much as possible). (Btw, I’m not knocking marriage. I’m all for it. And I know well how much it sucks to be single. But life isn’t necessarily simpler when you’re married.)

  2. Not simpler – just differently complicated. At any rate, you have all the people you will affect right there making the decisions with you, instead of hypothetically floating somewhere in the atmosphere.

    I don’t mean that I think decisions are easier when you’re married. I think the decisions only get more complicated (especially when they’re kids). But they are more linear, if that makes sense. There isn’t quite as much “what if.”

  3. Agree with both of you. I do not, for one second, think that making decisions is easier when you get married. But there has to be something to be said for having a partner, who cares about you and is equally as invested in the decision-making process, there by your side.

  4. Wow Bad4, congratulations on making me look up a word. I never even heard of the word uxorially (nor did spell check, judging by the little red squigglys), but now that I know what it means, I have to say I’m not quite sure that it fits in the context. Still, mad impressed by your vocabulary.

  5. What everyone said above.

    Also, I’m a fan of balance. In an oversimplification, if there’s a reasonably good job available that someone would be happy at in the tri-state and most other factors are similar (pay, cost of living, etc.), and dating would be much easier and more realistic in the tri-state, then by all means, work in the tri-state. {Some people who know me just gasped.} But there’s a lot to be said for doing what will make you happy and moving forward in life – and if there’s a good job in another city that won’t impact your ease of dating too horribly (i.e. to about 0), then there’s a lot to be said for going for it.

    In general, if you’re happier and are happy with the success you’re having with work life, that will positively impact your dating, since you’ll be a happy person with a happy life who is looking to add to that and share that with someone, rather than a somewhat miserable person who’s held back their own life hoping someone will come along and pull you out of it so you can pursue what you want (or still not) with a spouse in tow. (Note: Over-generalization.)

    Or to put it better, if someone is not being who they’d like in order to date, then they’ll be set up with people who are for a person they’re not anyway and be consistently disappointed.

  6. I’d just like to say I really enjoyed this post a lot. (Maybe we should be rating the new ones as well?) I can’t seem to put down in words why it rang so true to me. (I’m on version 3.0 of this comment.) I’ll just say that, even though there are very similar problems once you’re married (as has been pointed out), this particular strain of single-muddledness is particularly harsh.

    I wish you the best of luck and clarity in this and all your other endeavors and decisions.

  7. I am not particularly ambitious in terms of a career. Probably because I know of enough girls who killed themselves in education and internships, only to give it up to be a stay-at-home mother. I would like to be one. So I see no need in pursuing a serious or lofty position when those qualifications will not be needed in twenty-odd years. The whole premise of my employment is based on the hypothetical future. Although, maybe I’m not professionally ambitious without my imaginary home life hanging over me. Who knows? All I know is, I would rather a guy showed up sooner rather than later to give validity to my philosophical life choices.

    Pathetic.

  8. I once had a long conversation with my dad about what-if decisions and how there is so much anxiety on the decisions I make right after college, because they form the direction my life will begin to head. My dad said to me that, though it may not seem that way from the outside, every stage of life is riddled with decisions like that. Even if you’re married. Even if you have kids. He said that throughout life, you are constantly faced with decisions where the “correct” choice is unclear and you feel all in a muddle.

    The way I see it, no matter what stage of life you’re in and who you’re in it with, if you have something you’re passionate about or striving for, you can use that as a guide. If you love writing, or teaching, or singing, or practicing law, or working in a physics lab, etc. etc. etc., recognize how important those things are to you and focus on them when you feel directionless.

  9. Ah, how non-Jewish people with whom I network look at me like I’m crazy when I turn down a job in the middle of Nowhere, USA. How do I explain to them that I am exclusively dating orthodox-Jewish women and none of them are found in Nowhere, USA?

    Sacrifice is part of serving Hashem and no one said it was easy to be Jewish. I’m racking up the s’char. As are you all in the same boat. At least I think so but I welcome the arguments.

  10. I should mention that Nowhere, USA can still be a metropolis to the non-Jew. It is just not populated by you specific women. So call it Nowhere frum women are located, USA.

  11. Opposite view, but I have never looked at marriage as giving my life direction. Rather, I see it that my life should have direction before I get married. Once you get married, you’re locked in, to an extent, to whatever track you’ve chosen. IMO marriage tends to magnify whatever problems you’re already having. If you’re aimless and depressed, I don’t see marriage magically fixing it up. And yeah, I have no idea if I’m coming or going right now, but AT LEAST I’m not married. At least I still have a chance to figure it out. This is a consolation for me. If I had my act together, then I’d think about marriage.

    So choosing Fudge’s route is going to require a full-blown mid-life crisis. Why am I here? Why do I exist? 100% TRUE. Exactly what I’m going through (my quarter life crisis). But I’d rather do it now than with 4 kids, a hubby and a mortgage. I’m hoping if I get it over with now, I won’t have to go through it later. These things tend to have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt you if you don’t resolve them.

  12. SaraK – what I meant. You said it better. FYI I will steal your line if I ever get around to rewriting this post.

    MCP – any ol’ time. I’ve been dying to use uxorial (it’s perfect for this blog) and finally just shoved it in.

    Princess Lea – that’s kind of why I bothered investing in a career. I’ve seen people hanging around into their 30s waiting to become stay-at-home moms. If I’m going to become an old maid, I’d rather be an old maid with a career. If I get married tomorrow, well, education never hurt. Much. At least in retrospect.

    Erachet – so are you saying one should live in NYC with a dead-end job, but at least they have their hobby to light up their life, or move to OOT and become a dateless bachelor(ette), but at least they have their hobby to light up their life? (Or either, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have your hobby?)

    tamar – in my experience, once married people have a kid or two, all raison d’etre aside from child-rearing pretty much flies out the window. Secondary life goals are for the birds. Or the single folk. Unless you’re talking about emotional issues or hashkafic confusion. Those obviously need to be dealt with. But I don’t think simply being restless counts as an issue (though the DSM-5 will probably disagree).

  13. Feel free to steal the line, no problem.
    I’ve seen people hanging around into their 30s waiting to become stay-at-home moms. If I’m going to become an old maid, I’d rather be an old maid with a career.
    I have seen this way too much. But don’t just invest in a career, become part of a community as well, or whatever “extra-curricular activities” you think you’re going to do when you get married. I guess I was lucky that my family was always very community-minded, so I was introduced to this at a very young age. My mom recruited me for all her tzedakah project and events since before I was a teenager, so when I was in college and beyond, it was only natural for me to continue things like that. And I have been extremely fortunate to live in communities where singles are appreciated for their talents.
    But if you think you’d be good at a chinese auction or whatever, don’t wait for that married status to contribute. It’s extremely rewarding. And it can’t be bad for shidduchim 😉

  14. I don’t know how to break this to all of you, but after you get married, your career often becomes more, not less, important. When you are single, you are buying shoes and lattes. When you are married, you are often helping to pay for your mortgage, health insurance, and kids’ tuitions.

  15. I have a job which I like. It’s not a career. I buy my shoes (though not lattes). It’s not like when one is an old maid one gets extra brownie points for having a career. Old maid is an old maid, at least by the standards I know of.

  16. Why not make what you’re passionate about into your career? Why does it have to only be a hobby? I’m just saying, don’t look at marriage as the answer to “Why am I here?” That question will still exist after marriage, just with more components. Like…so I’m married and having kids and raising them to be good people and good Jews so…they can marry and have kids and raise them….etc. etc. etc. What’s that about? Why bring more people in the world? So we can further humanity? Why? What for? See? The questions are still there. 🙂 Regardless of your family situation, you are still faced with that desire to find reason and purpose in your life.

  17. Also, I once had a professor who stressed that it’s always good to be in the middle of a project. It’s always good to have something important to you that you’re focusing on.

  18. Fantastic post. All of us feel this way sometimes. And sometimes, we just have to really allow ourselves to feel it, and interestingly enough, when we stop fighting the knee jerk reaction that we *shouldn’t* feel so confused and rudderless, we somehow find our way back to feeling like ourselves again. Beautiful post by Fudge, and your take on it was also fantastic and thought-provoking. Keep it up…

  19. Old and married – that would depend heavily on whether you marry a brain surgeon or a rebbe, and how many children you wind up having.

    Lea – Obviously, I’ll be able to afford more shoes than you. 😛 Also, in theory, when we’re hoary old maids, I’ll have a more fulfilling job.

    Erachet – It’s not like I lack hobbies and projects that I love doing. I have two ongoing at the moment. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that one hobby I’d like to have is my own family, and I don’t. And maybe writing a great American novel is like giving birth, but I can’t imagine it has the same returns that really giving birth does. Can I be perfectly content while remaining single and entertaining myself? Yeah. I’m easily entertained and hard to depress, whatever impression I give via the blog. It’s still not quite the same thing.

    Noah – thanks.

  20. Pingback: See, It’s Really Not New… « Bad for Shidduchim

  21. Most of the people in my typical frum community married professionals who earn considerably more than a rebbe, although considerably less than a brain surgeon (lawyers, CPAs, doctors, systems analysts), and family size varies. I don’t know any wife who doesn’t have to work. Not saying you won’t get lucky, but odds are you will need your income. (Have you priced tuition recently? Health insurance? Food?)

  22. No, I haven’t priced tuition lately, but I know there are plenty of families that don’t earn two incomes and muddle through somehow. Or they consist of a teacher married to a rebbe, and they muddle through too. Often enough, childcare can cancel out income. Personal finance is just that – personal. So we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

  23. I don’t know any families in my community who have only one income, and it’s not because we have a high standard of living, or because none of us wanted to be stay at home moms. True, the wives of rebbeim were some of the last hold-outs, but they get substantial tuition breaks. My husband works in one of the higher-paying professions, and there is no way we could pay tuition without my salary. I’m not saying it’s impossible that you will not need to work, just unlikely.

  24. Obviously there are too many variables to determine how necessary a second income is. I can only point out that those who seem to believe it’s a possible ideal tend to come from single income families.

  25. wow, bad4 – i know i’m late to the game, but i just saw this post. this is a really fascinating discussion and i’m glad that you started it…

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