Why do you want to get married? I tend to ask this of people a lot. You’d think that I’d usually get something like “I want to fulfill my tafkid by raising a family of good Torahdik Jews” with a “And support/sacrifice for Torah” for those who want learning boys. Well actually, I think I’ve only heard that once or twice.
It’s always possible that the girls I hang out with are smart enough to realize that they are not mechuyav to have any family at all, and that there are other ways to sacrifice/support Torah than by doing its laundry. In that case, they would give an answer to the tune of “I want to find my soul-mate and become whole so I can serve Hashem bishleimus.” I actually did hear something like that once, but in response to a different question entirely.
I was asking two recently engaged friends why it is that for the first two months after they get engaged, girls don’t stop yapping about how they’re going to set all their friends up with all their husband’s friends and marry everyone off happily ever after. (This usually lasts until they get busy arranging their wedding. It totally falls off the radar screen once they become “young couplish” and fail to touch base with their friends at all, let alone set them up.) Anyway, they answered that it was twofold: first of all, they never knew guys before (except the ones they were dating, and you can’t exactly say, “Some guy I dated was totally off—maybe he’d be good for you?”) and now they have someone who knows dozens. Secondly, they now have a significant other; they are a team; they are whole… it is such a great feeling that they just want to share it with all their friends.
Well, it’s nice to know what it is that makes engaged people so euphoric—if only single people knew to want it. But nope—never got that answer to my question.
So what answer have I gotten? Here’s a very common one:
“What? Whattaya mean? (nervous laugh) Why wouldn’t I want to get married? Like what—don’t you?”
In other words, either she has no clue why she’s getting married, or she has such a deeply personal reason that she cannot bear to voice it to me. I’ll accept either possibility, because I like to think I’m open-minded, but I’m also a tad cynical, and I suspect that it’s usually the first reason. After all, we all know that after we come back from seminary we start getting married. This is so obvious, that many of us fail to wonder “Why?”
“I want to move on to the next stage in my life already.”
How’s that for a reason? The girl is simply sick of being single—and mind you, this is after only a few months of it. I don’t think she was so sick of $350 rent in a Brooklyn attic (meals and laundry included) that she wanted to swap it for $900 rent in a Lakewood basement (no meals or laundry included, and maybe not even utilities). She was sick of “being single”, the worst possible stage a girl can inhabit in our community. She was sick of “trying to get married”, a pursuit that consumes time and robs us of our dignity. And of course, she was sick of not being taken seriously simply because she didn’t have a wig on her head. Who can blame young Orthodox Jewish women for trying so desperately to get married? Marriage beats pre-marriage hands down. And for post-seminary girls, it’s all pre-marriage.
Another answer I only heard once, late at night. Me and a friend had attended a wedding out of town and stayed by a third friend who lived nearby. We stayed up well into the wee hours, chatting in the darkness about just about everything, but particularly marriage.
“Don’t you want to get married?” she asked me in exasperation, after some discussion.
“I wouldn’t mind it at all, providing I found the right guy. But I don’t want it for its own sake,” I explained.
“Well of course not, but most girls want to get married.”
“Do you?” I asked.
“Yes! Of course!”
“Why? What do you mean? That’s what you do!”
“Oh come on. That’s not a good reason to take on a lifelong relationship!”
She was quiet a minute, and then said, “You want to know the real reason I want to get married quickly? I mean, I want to get married, but the reason I want to get married right away? Because I don’t want to be the nebach case. I don’t want to be the one everyone looks at and thinks ‘Oh that’s so sad, she’s not married yet.’ And I don’t want to get left behind. I don’t want all my friends to be on to the next stage, raising babies and talking about mother things and I’m left out of it all. That’s why I want to get married.”
And that’s not the end of the story. So desperate was she, that she got engaged before she was ready, and within two months broke the engagement. The stigma would follow her into all her other shidduch attempts, sabotaging her chances, potentially leaving her the old maid she feared so much to be.
How many other girls harbor such fears in their hearts? How many feel pressured to marry simply so they won’t “be left behind” or be the subject of pitying whispers at gatherings?
What are we doing to our young women—and what are we young women doing to ourselves?
Yes, to ourselves. Nobody can make us feel any way we don’t allow them too. After that conversation, I vowed (b’li neder, of course) that I would not feel any pressure to marry for any reason whatsoever. Let them cluck sympathetically and shake their heads. My eligibility for marriage is between me and God, and no third parties need stick their noses in.