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Is communal pressure to marry too high?

An old friend of mine called me in tears the other night, he had just been to his best friends wedding and he couldnt help but fear alone and like he was never going to get married. He asked me how I could live without the constant nagging fear of being alone, as I always do, I told him that I never really felt alone and that everyone was different when it comes to these matters.

My friend is succumbing to communal and societal pressure to marry and have kids, in my opinion this a good thing. He happens to live in a singles community which could be good or bad for your loneliness depending who you are. I myself think that singles communities are a great place to stay single in regular Jewish communities, singles feel left out forcing them to either get married or move to a more comfortable situation. The problem is, that when they move to a community they can feel comfortable being single in, people tend to have mixed emotions about actually getting married, especially when they become a big part of the community. I have been told that getting married when you live in a singles community is tough because you lose your friends and dont feel like you can be part of the community anymore.

I told my friend that one of his problems is that he thinks too much about singledom and considers himself to be a single. Rather than just being a dude, hes constantly looking for someone and forgetting that life can be enjoyed while looking for a mate. I find that a lot of single folks will forgo life because they think everything should be devoted to finding a mate.

This leads us to the question of the day, is societal, communal and religious pressure to marry, too high? Is it a good thing to be pressured? Or a bad thing?

I was at a Stanford learning session when a girl brought up this important question. She wants to concentrate on her career (Ive heard that one before) and doesnt feel that its right for the community to nudge her about marriage and children. She loves children and wants them, but at the same time she is adamant that if it doesnt happen its not the end of the world. Once again, I feel that insecurity is the root of a lot of these problems.

I feel no pressure to marry; if you want to feel pressure you will feel pressure. I dont feel pressure by society or community. I can chose what I like and I chose to be open to all suggestions for shidduchim, but at the same time I understand the pressure and I understand that one can never really be a full fledged member of a community that revolves around children. I mean, without Jewish education to moan about what would Jews do?

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  • Q

    I don’t think much about the fact that I’m still single at 35, because I have work and several hobbies that keep me very busy. I never enjoyed dating, and decided that I had better things to do with my time and money. I’ve accepted the likelihood of my remaining single for the rest of my life, and try to make the most of my freedom. No one in my family has ever put pressure on me to marry, which I suppose is unusual.

  • Michael

    Providing that you want to get married, I think that it’s important to be more or less constantly active in your search while single. By “constant” I don’t mean agonizing over things, or waiting by the phone for the shadchan to call. Rather, I mean attempting to meet someone new with “some regularity”–i.e. once every few weeks, even months, depending on your personal situation. Beyond that, what else can you do?

    I agree that it is important to develop yourself as a person in the meantime, for the sake of personal fulfillment. And yes there is an upside to being single. I would just caution against getting so set in your own personal routine that you reach a point where getting married seems superfluous. Getting married will never be as cushy as being a (active, and dynamic) single person, but there are other benefits, apart from it being an obligation for your typical Jewish guy.

  • David

    I really benefited from reading this post. A few months ago, a friend of mine from synagogue told me not to waste any time in my 20’s for this decade is the best. A single guy can essentially come home from work with zero responsibilities and have nothing to worry about. I told him I was (at the time) agonizing over not finding my soulmate. He responded with, ‘ marriage definitely has perks, for instance, knowing someone out there really cares about you, however, the freedom of choosing whatever it is you want to do, is not a freedom that is everlasting.”

    I have clung very strongly to his words and would advise other men and women in similar situations as me to enjoy their lives and not anguish over being single. Life is to0 short; Keep smiling 🙂

    • Glad you benefited from this.

      I think it’s important to keep an eye out, or even do your histadlus, but when it comes down to it – life is too short to worry. Isn’t there something about the yetzer harah causing us to worry and be depressed to get us out of doing mitzvos and other goodies.

  • anonymous

    Excellent post again, Hesh!

    These are critical questions that only the thinking, sentient members of our generation are asking themselves, while many of them are kind of following the herd into marriages they might not be prepared for and obligations they may not necessaily be mature enough to handle.

    When I was a teenager, I certainly thought I’d be married around 19, and certainly no later than 21. Now that I’m 22, I realize how young and stupid I was at age 19-21, and how young and stupid I still am to an extent.

    It helps to remember, for those agonizing over their solitude, that it is almost ALWAYS easier to get oneself into a position of personal responsibility (relationship, marriage, kids, communal obligations), than to extricate oneself from those responsibilities. Divorce is way more stressful than planning for a wedding. Once a child is in the world, he or she is usually here to stay.

    I advise all my peers, from newly HS graduated 17/18 year olds to people up to age 30, to take on responsibilities highly deliberately and conscientiously. If you want to minimize your regrets long-term, it is best to get your act together and not be hasty when making major life decisions in the short -term.

    And that’s all I have to say about that!

    • Anonymous

      I do agree that people are overly hasty. I know some young girls who walk around saying “I just need to get married NOW!”..I think the more mature thing is to be able to acknowledge “I’m not ready at this instant…but maybe in a few years I will be”. If you just want to be married because it’s like the latest fad then that is a stupid reason. If you are young and happen to have found your soulmate..someone you have known for a while and want to spend the rest of your life with, then good for you.

  • I think that the problem with Orthodox Judaism when it comes to marriage is that too many people get married, too fast, they are not yet prepared to get married. My high school friends of 21 and 22 are getting married off soon. I think this is bad for them, but they do not see it as such, they are too young and should enjoy being alone for a little while more.

    • I can see it already with the amount of divorces in the first year or two of marriage. I have noticed that religious differences tend to be the biggest reasons – because the guys want a girl frummer than them until they realize that religious compatibility is a big deal in marriage. Lots of folks in this category lie about their current situations – just because they don’t keep shabbos once in a while doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal and so on.

      • Anonymous

        For me, observance cannot be compromised. I don’t mind if your minhag or background are different, but the basics- kashrut, Shabbat, niddah, tsnius, cannot be questioned. Breaking Shabbat even once is a red line that should not be crossed.

      • For me, observance cannot be compromised. I don’t mind if your minhag or background are different, but the basics- kashrut, Shabbat, niddah, tsnius, cannot be questioned. Breaking Shabbat even once is a red line that should not be crossed.

  • Anonymous

    Related to this post, has anyone seen this website yet?

    http://www.endthemadness.org

    • Julia

      That site uses Comic Sans. I couldn’t even read it due to that. 😉

      • Yochanan

        What are you, some font nazi?

        • Bob

          No, just a plain Nazi.

      • Julia

        Julia, what do you do for a living? I ask because I am a graphic designer and know that very few people out there pay attention to things like comic sans as choice for font… I agree. I cannot take that font seriously and would not use it in a design unless I am trying to make it seem child-like. But I also know that its my professional mishugas and this thinkings is not commomplace.

        • Yochanan

          Maybe they use comic sans on purpose to show “This isn’t your father’s Shidukh site.”

          • A. Nuran

            What Comic Sans shows is “This is your illiterate, half-blind imbecile cousin’s Shidduch site.”

            Comic Sans is the blink tag of the 21st century.

  • Malya

    I never felt pressure to get married but once I did the presure to have kids is insane. Since my husband and I have been together (before we were married) for so long our lives are not that much different. We like to have singles and couples over and don’t feel it nessesary to only go out with other couples. Sometimes it feels that we aren’t invited out with our single friends. I’m not sure if it’s because we know with whom we are going home or if we just bum people out (maybe we aren’t fun, although I don’t think thats the case). Maybe there is just a natural tendency to stay with your own, singles with singles, married with married, and parents with parents. All in all, good post.

    • I heard that the communal pressure never stops, as you said, marriage is not enough. Then you have to have kids, then where you send them to school and college and so on.

  • Julia

    Heshy, I think the difference between you and a lot of other singles is parental pressure. I can ignore societal pressure. I cannot ignore when my father says to me as he’s driving me to the airport the morning I’m moving across the country, “You are never going to get married if you are too concerned with your career. That has to be your first priority.”

    I feel no internal pressure. I know that it will happen when it happens, and I’m fine with being 26 and single (though a lot of that probably has to do with leaving my Bais Yaakov background far behind). But my parents are not fine with this, and no matter how many times I tell them my feelings on the matter, they feel the need to harp on it all the time. And I do not believe this is only my parents.

    I may be immune to what society tells me I have to do, but my parents are not, and I am not immune to what they project onto me.

    • You are correct, I have no parental pressure to marry, well according to me at least. I hear my father say things like, nu when you gonna get married or do you have a girlfriend? But it’s not pressure in my opinion.

      • Like you, I also have very tolerant parents. Sure, they want me to marry, but it can’t just be anyone with ovaries.

        In New York City, a marriage license costs $35. A divorce can cost some $400 in court fees alone. So a marriage should not be taken lightly, unless you can afford a divorce.

  • Anonymous

    As a college girl , I feel huge pressure. Not from my parents. My family is MO (I am as well, I went to Yeshiva my whole life but not seminary) so they have the “career then marriage” mentality. I plan on hopefully going to law school.
    It’s not that I feel like my parents are pressuring me, they aren’t at all. I just worry that if I hit 23-24 as a single girl I will have trouble finding someone since everyone else seems to be married by then.
    Guys seem to have a few years extra since many girls want an older guy who works and guys don’t have to worry about being “Old Maids”.
    I guess it is a combination of insecurity that since so many girls are married young I won’t find anyone/will feel/be seen as inferior if I am not. It’s also conflicting because law school is 3 or 4 extra years-21-25ish and those are critical years for marriage in the Jewish community. And not wanting to be involved in the Yeshivish Shidduch scene makes it more difficult to begin with.

    • If so many girls are married young, how can there be a shidduch crisis?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know about in general, but in my particular area there seems to be tons of young married girls and I’ve been hearing of engagements left and right lately.

      • Yevreyechka

        because if u dnt marry young, u miss the boat, next load of sem girls comes and guys grab them. the leftovers r left to feed the shidduch crisis.

      • David

        Hey I am single and graduated from college a year ago and I am definitely not an “Old Maid”!!

        • Anonymous

          David, r u a girl?

          • David

            No… Anonymous, are you a girl?

            • Yevreyechka

              So then obviosly ur not an old maid. (i am a girl)

              • david

                haha I was joking… you definitely seem like a very good girl 🙂

                • Anonymous

                  Tad creepy…

                  • david

                    haha… how awesome is this site… I read this site every single day at lunch

              • Whoa, another Russian Jewish Heshy fan. Have we met?

  • ELL

    To me, the elephant in the rooms is that in Orthodox Judaism, marriage = relationship and sex. Unfortunately, you can’t have a real, meaningful relationship, especially in the physical aspect, if you are single and want to stay within the terms of halacha.

    I got married at 25. Glad that I had some time to be myself but felt that lonely feeling of not having that significant other in my life. I also did feel out of place and worried that it would never happen to me. If somehow, sex before marriage became OK, I think people would marry later and be OK being single and even never marrying, because there’s always an option to at least be in a relationship even if you are not actually tying the knot.

    • I think the issur of premarital sex is largely ignored by much of the orthodox population. Even those in shidduchim who are frum have probably had sex – especially over 25 year olds.

      • ELL

        I don’t know how true that statement is Hesh. My husband was 29 and never did it. I guess it depends what circles you run in, but definitely in the more RW circles, this ‘ignoring the sex before marriage issur’ is not so pashut.

        Anyway, if people do have sex, it’s often between a couple who is already dating seriously and whatnot. There is much less casual ‘meeting at a bar and hooking up’ going on, at least in my circles. The folks I know who are still single are really really single, no SO in their life, and some with little prospects on the horizon. Since just meeting and going through the whole shidduch process is so hard just to get to that point that you are ‘in a relationship’ or ‘getting married’, its tough cuz a lot of them feel they are so far from having that love in their lives.

      • tesyaa

        Wow – really? I would have put it at 10% in the yeshivish non-marrieds by age 25, much higher in MO of course. But do you really think most? What about in the yeshivish world?

        • dan

          10% in yeshivish over 25? are you nuts?

      • Bob

        H, I think you’re way off.

        • Not yeshivish, but anyone who lived in a coed dorm or lived in an active modern orthodox singles community.

          I wouldn’t know of such things – I’ve never even seen a woman’s elbows.

      • Tirtzah

        From one who regularly teaches kallah classes I get the general feeling you are off on this, even among older singles. I would like to think it is an issue of issur, but realistically maybe just a lack of opportunity within Yeshivish culture. Of course my observations are strictly anecdotal, but many, many men I know always talk about how when they first met their wives their wives were much more frum then them. I always was curious about this, but have found many women/girls I know in shidduchim who tend to show their frummier sides prior to the chuppah. I would be surprised if they were at the same time engaging in pre-maritial relations. But that’s just my observations, I don’t know much about the singles scene or the MO community.

        • Anonymous

          “I always was curious about this, but have found many women/girls I know in shidduchim who tend to show their frummier sides prior to the chuppah.”

          Yup.

  • Sb

    I’ve been deliberately avoiding overt singles scenes. I’ve seen far too many people who seem content to stay single, since things are so comfortable for them socially. Why get married when I can hang out with 5 cute guys at this singles event?

    While I don’t think one should rush into marriage, I also think that one definitely can’t just cruise along and rest on ones laurels. I hope that keeping myself out of such communities will help me prioritize my need for a spouse and prompt me to develop myself until the time at which I meet him, IYH.

  • Anonymous

    It is difficult to find a middle-ground between modern “sex&the city” syle dating and traditional arranged marriages for 12 year olds. Neither way is any good. I think some people try to have it both ways so they have all problems and pressure of normal dating PLUS the extra problems of religious rules…I’m not sure if there is a solution except to marry a complete stranger when you are 17! Maybe just have fun enjoy being single and meeting new people. most people manage to fall in love with somebody sooner or later – 1 way or the other!

    Personally I shacked up with a guy I met at the beach and moved as far away from my community as possible! I recommend this solution 🙂

  • Esther

    Heshy, personally, I have always been above the pressure – whether its peer pressure, communal pressure, parental pressure, doesn’t matter. I got married at 25 when I met the right person, and I made sure I got to enjoy single dating life before tying the knot.

    However, many of my female friends have had serious pressure exerted upon them and I’ve witnessed it. A couple of my friends are now married and have a 6 month old, but they dated for 10 years before getting married. They are now both attorneys and the guy was adamant about not getting married until he was able to stand on his own two feet and support his family. So, I watched time and time again how the girl’s family would gather – for special occasions, like celebrating her graduation from law school or passing the bar – and, rather than focusing on her accomplishment (the very reason they’ve all gathered!!!!) they would all raise toasts like “congratulations to you professionally and we hope and wish that your personal life would catch up!” And it wasn’t just parents – grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends of the family, everyone would chime in. I felt awful for both her and her guy (who, as it turned out, planned his proposal months and months in advance, was working on a custom designed engagement ring, etc.) that they basically had no choice but to endure all this in the form of public toasts with about 30 people gathered around the table. It couldn’t have been easy, though they both handled it gracefully. I believe even on their wedding day people were saying things like “Finally. Never thought this day would come.” I mean, what ever happened to Mazal Tov?!

    So, yeah, the pressure is tremendous and it takes a strong minded individual to rise above it and do what’s right for them. Not everyone is able to do that.

  • Sammy

    Judaism is a family based religion. It should be our ultimate goal to reach this point. Still, I think community pressure it too big. I think that often singles are looked at as second class citizen, and thats not right. If it takes people a little longer to find the right one, or based on their circumstances they are not in a position to settle down, thats not a tradgedy. Sex drive is also a motivating factor. Sure pre-marital sex does happen, but I think its hard to assess how often. I would imagine that most people who are sexually active keep a low-profile.