I

never thought it would happen to me.

Everyone knows the people who have a hard time with shidduchim are unreasonable and unrealistic. At the smug age of 21, I firmly said, “If someone isn’t married by 24, then they don’t really want to be married.”

Ha-ha. Until I became a one of them: an “older single.” The price of membership? Mental and emotional exhaustion.

We dress up when running out to get milk, because “you never know.” We smile in the face of insult because we can’t afford to antagonize anyone, even if our dignity is being ground underfoot — what if they won’t set us up or give good information about us? We voluntarily visit accredited and unaccredited shadchanim, who insist they hear us but usually don’t.

We struggle to rejoice at the engagement of younger relatives and friends, wondering what they did “right,” and when we bravely enter those l’chayims, we’re greeted with one pitying “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you” after another. On. A. Loop.

We are proud of our accomplishments, be they professional, extracurricular, spiritual, or otherwise, but they don’t matter. All that matters is our age, and that there is no ring on the finger, no tallis baatel slung over the shoulder.

We are repeatedly asked, “What are you looking for?” and when we list our few criteria, we’re told that we’re being ridiculous, those things don’t matter in a marriage. There’s no acknowledgment of independent needs, only unfair generalizations.

Instead, a suggestion is offered that violates all requested standards, paired with “Give it a chance.” But dating, in general, is emotionally grueling, riding the roller coaster of expectation, disillusionment, then disappointment. “Chance” dates can be soul-crushing.

We are admonished — by strangers, acquaintances, family — about what we must be doing “wrong.” After all, why else would we still be single? We’re all “too” something. (In my case, I was too opinionated, too tall, too smart, and I wore too much makeup. Don’t forget too picky.)

Settle already. Marry anyone so at least you’ll have children. All that matters is that the other person will be a good parent. And don’t act so smart on a date.

Have you tried dating websites? What about shidduch events? That’s all part of hishtadlus, after all. Perhaps you need a dating coach. If you’re not married yet, you must have commitment issues.

Ad nauseum.

We put our pictures on our profiles, even though we don’t want to. Our images are not printed in magazines and newspapers to preserve modesty, but now modesty doesn’t seem to matter. Strangers will be passing around our photos, judging us without comprehending who we are as a whole, dismissing human beings at superficial and inaccurate whim.

We dread Rosh Hashanah. It means another year has passed and we are still “behind.” Shuls are packed, full of witnesses to our new Yom Tov outfits, stunning shoes, and failure. Because it’s our fault, after all. (We are reminded of that constantly.)

Yet we still strive to look hopefully forward toward possibility, rather than dwell on past aggravation. But the year passes again, and the next Rosh Hashanah arrives, another 12 months gone, with supposedly nothing to show for it. I may have improved as a person. So what?

The shidduch process can be harrowing, especially since all the established rules of old have fallen by the wayside. The men are supposed to be approached first. They rarely are. Women are often tossed a name, asked if they ever heard of him, and then hear nothing back.

Then there is the occasional demanding other side, who not only insists on a picture, but several shots. The list of references is insufficient, they want more names. We aren’t exactly infants anymore; a date would be less effort. It’s enough to make us walk away, but we can’t, because that will be construed as not trying.

People don’t realize that those “charming” suggestions of theirs can morph into completely different creatures on a date. We don’t have the heart to tell them that it was actually one of our worst dates ever, hesitating in the name of potential lashon hara. So we simply say, “Thank you so much, but he wasn’t for me,” only to be attacked: “Why?” While we’re crying internally, “Please stop asking,” and they keep pushing, “Just go out one more time!”

We aren’t allowed to keep our self-respect. It’s torn from our grasp, bit by bit.

We sometimes think: We can’t do this anymore. We can’t keep getting beaten down. Maybe we should settle? But then we hear of another who gave in to the pressure, married, but then divorced.

We don’t want to wed for the sake of marriage. That’s why we are “older.” We want to marry for the right reasons, to be happy to come home to our spouses every night, to feel fulfilled in the most significant human relationship in one’s life.

Every sheva brachos speech invokes Hashem’s hand in the shidduch. But when we’re on the search, He is never referenced. It’s all about how we are in the throes of a “crisis” (a term I never believed). We’re either victims of a situation bigger than us all and must cut our losses, or we are incompetent and our own worst enemy. Perhaps both at once.

Then one evening, I had a date, like any other date. But it was my bashert who rang the doorbell. He met the criteria I was told were “ridiculous,” but turns out, weren’t. I was told to settle. I was told to compromise. Turns out, I didn’t have to.

My husband and I recently celebrated our first anniversary. I’m 33. Marriage was definitely worth the wait; it has been a wonderful year for us both. But I’m still haunted by my time as an outsider, the “older single.”

Did Cinderella promptly forget all the hours sweeping out the hearth the moment the glass slipper slid onto her dainty foot? The myth of “happily ever after” is that the preceding years of frustration and belittlement somehow vanish.

According to the Rambam, whatever pain one feels at the words or actions of another is min haShamayim. However, he clarifies, one shouldn’t volunteer for the job. Whatever agmas nefesh I experienced is from Hashem.

Yet I’m still having difficulty shedding my resentment at all the “volunteers” during those dating years.

 

You probably never realized that:

The hardest thing about being single is not being single. It’s about how our society treats us.

Many are acquainted with commitment-phobic, self-sabotaging singletons. But that’s not everyone. Sure, you know an alter bochur from yeshivah or a girl from work with ridiculous expectations. But they’re not me.

I heard Chevi Garfinkel (one of my favorite speakers) say, “Getting married is a brachah, not an accomplishment.” Yet many people seem to view their wedded state as something they achieved. No. It’s a blessing to be paired with one’s soulmate, the same way one may be blessed with parnassah, good health, or children. None are things mere mortals can take credit for.

Being single doesn’t have to be a negative state. We are actually freer to expand ourselves, to work on ourselves, to become better people who are more prepared for marriage. I definitely changed for the better over those years as I came to rely more on Hashem.

 

Don’t say:

“Im yirtzeh Hashem by you.” (It means we are being seen strictly as “single.” We are more than our marital status.)

“Don’t be picky.” (If I had a dollar every time I was accused of being “picky,” my wedding would have been covered. Twice over.)

"Why won’t you go out?” (Sometimes two people aren’t for each other. We know ourselves pretty well and what we require. Explanations are not necessary, especially if they might lead to lashon hara.)

 

The nicest thing anyone ever said:

In response to my joking comment about settling, a grandmother of two “older singles” told me, “Sure, you can settle, but you pay for it down the line. You’re spending the rest of your life with this person.” Despite what others loved to tell me, it was good to hear that I shouldn’t ignore what I needed in a marriage partner.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 620)