W hen I used to be involved in research projects during the beginning of my career, I’d sometimes hear from pharmaceutical company consultants who had questions regarding my papers on treating psychosis. When I was writing articles describing mental illness for the lay public, I’d get e-mails from individuals in search of local treatment resources or support networks.

Writing this column is no different. I’ve gotten some nice messages from people who felt that the articles allowed them to discuss previously taboo issues with their loved ones. I’ve gotten some calls from individuals in search of a referral in their area. And, I’ll admit, I’ve also gotten some less-than-positive feedback (“Why are you encouraging people to start Alcoholics Anonymous Groups in shuls?” “Psychiatric medications are overprescribed,” “You shouldn’t talk about abuse because that doesn’t really help anyone anyway”), which I appreciate, even if I don’t agree.

But of all the articles I’ve written over the past year, I was most surprised by the scathing critique I received about a piece published this past July called “The Right Girl.” It was about a single guy named Zaki whom I was a little sharp with one day in the office for his long list of excuses for why he couldn’t find a girl who was good enough to marry. The only initial feedback was from my wife, who told me that a few of the ladies in the community “had a brother just like that” and had “sent the article in his direction.”

And then I got cold-called by Koby, who was clearly the single brother of a woman who had read the article. I had a few minutes between appointments when he called, so I figured I’d answer the unidentified call with the NYC area code.

“Is this Dr. Freedman?” he asked.

“Howdy,” I responded. “Yep, this is Yaakov Freedman. How can I help you?”

“The same Dr. Freedman who writes articles for Mishpacha?”

“The same guy, although I’m a lot less funny in person,” I answered.

“I don’t think your articles are very funny, Dr. Freedman. My sister sent me one of your articles and I just needed to call you,” he said.

“Okay. Do you mind if I ask who you are?”

“I’m Koby, no last name for now. But let’s just say that I’m a single guy in my early forties and live in Manhattan.”

“Hmmm… okay. So she must have sent you the one about the single business guy in his early forties who lives in Manhattan and has a million excuses for why he can’t find the right girl?” Fair question, I thought to myself.

“Right. So you know why I’m calling then?” Koby asked.

I figured I did, so I told him, “You’re calling because you’re interested in a therapy consultation to figure out why you’re not able to let go of your hang-ups in order to finally get engaged and start your life?” Another fair question.

“No!” Koby yelled defensively. “I’m calling because you’ve got it all wrong!”

“I do?”

“Yes!” Koby continued. “Sure, there are plenty of self-obsessed single guys who can’t get over their own egos in order to get married to a nice Jewish girl. But there are also plenty of single girls who can’t get over their own hang-ups to just marry a nice Jewish guy!”

“I’m listening,” I told Koby. Honestly, I was.

“All of these girls will say things like, ‘money doesn’t matter,’ but all of them living in New York want a man with a good job to give them the good life. They’ll do everything they can to explain it to the shadchan in a nice way, but won’t go out with a guy who doesn’t make six figures.”

“Uh-huh.” This wasn’t the most empathetic response, but my next patient was due in a few minutes.

“They all say, ‘I want to marry a professional who also takes his learning seriously.’ How is that possible?! Professionals in New York City work minimum 65 hours per week, and with keeping Shabbos that means 11–13 hours most days! Just getting to davening is tough enough, and now it’s not even good enough if you only make it to the daf every morning! They’re looking for something that doesn’t exist!”

“Uh-huh.” Koby was obviously hurting — and not painting the best picture of himself.

“And then they’ll say things like, ‘looks don’t matter,’ but they’ll never go out with a bald guy. Don’t they know that their dads also went bald at 23? Plus, who has time for the gym if you need to be a ‘professional who also takes his learning seriously?’ It’s just impossible!”

“I feel your pain, Koby.” But in truth, I was feeling lucky that I was married before I went totally bald.

“So it’s not always the guy’s fault that he’s single especially when—” Koby was clearly going to go on and on, so I took the liberty of cutting him off, as he was the one who called me.

“Koby, I hear you. But there are also plenty of good Jewish girls who just want to marry a guy who isn’t an egomaniac and is ready to start a nice frum family somewhere in suburbia.” This was emes.

Koby started with a bunch of “buts” before I cut him off again.

“Koby,” I said, “when is your next date?”

“Tomorrow,” he answered.

“Okay, fine. If you don’t get engaged to her, then call me and we’ll set up a consultation. Okay?”

“Is that an incentive to get married, a sales pitch, or an offer to help me?” Koby asked.

“It’s whatever you want it to be. I gotta run and see a patient now. Be in touch?”

“You know what? Okay,” agreed Koby.

“Great. Hatzlachah then,” I bentshed him.

“Amen!”

I really did hurt for Koby, who obviously isn’t having an easy time navigating the rough and tumble shidduch scene, and he brought up a good point — the “shidduch crisis” isn’t one-sided. But there was one thing he wasn’t getting, and that’s the idea of personal achrayus, that at the end of the day, people need to get out of the blame mode and take responsibility for themselves. No matter what the problem, achrayus is always a major part of the solution.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 681. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Jerusalem. He serves as the medical director of services for English-speakers at Bayit Cham, a national leader providing mental health treatment and outreach within the religious community. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.