Going it alone in a society that is mostly composed of couples and families can be daunting at times and painful at others.
Hamodia spoke with five women about the challenges inherent in their status, what kind of comments they do or don’t appreciate hearing from others, how they prefer to be treated, what gives them chizuk and how our community as a whole can make their lives easier.
Tova, 29, Williamsburg
I have a very simple and easy nature. I don’t compare myself to anybody and I have an internal simchas hachaim.
That being said, it can be difficult at times. I taught preschool children for over 10 years and I felt like I finally needed a change; I did have some burnout. But because I love the educational setting, I chose to work as a secretary, which gives me that satisfaction. I enjoy the school setting; it’s stimulating, and that’s something I need. I had a busy summer job this year as well. My days are pretty full, which is how I like it. I also do hair styling after school hours, sometimes for simchos.
Ironically, my married friends sometimes want to get together more often than I do! Some of them are real extroverts and they are constantly arranging shalosh seudos, melaveh malkahs, etc. And I’m the one not available.
One variable that really helps me through is my sisters. I have a few singles at home with me and we have a great time together. We speak openly about shidduchim, and the environment is very chilled and easy.
What I mind most is people’s pity. I have no issue with my status, although of course I’d love to be married. But it’s the pity that I mind above all else.
I hate when friends stop conversations and whisper to their kids to get out of the room. Brachos I can use, but chizuk I don’t need.
That being said, there are rare situations that I find uncomfortable, for example, recently I was at a wedding of a friend and we were taking a group picture. I was the only single one in it, and I just knew that the whole hall was staring at me and thinking the same thing. I just couldn’t handle the pity.
I do enjoy going to weddings though, and b”H, I never feel a drop of jealousy at all. In general I’m pretty easy about doing things some people would find uncomfortable. In camp, I ran a program with a bunch of married women and we did a performance on stage together. My sister says she would never have done something like that. But I think it’s worthwhile. First off, I land up enjoying myself. And it means people are more comfortable with me because of my easy nature.
Yom Tov time is not difficult for me as it is for some singles. My married siblings come to us, but I have my single sisters and we enjoy helping out with the kids. I feel 100% comfortable. I never have it hard.
I do find going to shul on Yom Tov or Shabbos to be awkward, when my sisters and I are all standing in a line —all of us single girls — I know people’s eyes are on us. People are usually tactful and I don’t often get comments that are uncomfortable, but it’s the energy in the air.
One thing that really bothers me is hearing people covertly criticizing my parents for being “too picky.” My parents are open with us and I can say from having watched them over the years that that is not the case. They are doing everything they can and take each suggestion seriously. People will even make comments to me like, “Why don’t you take responsibility and take charge?” with the assumption that my parents aren’t managing it properly. They truly do everything in their power. It’s hard enough for them; please don’t blame them.
Leba, upper 30s, Brooklyn
In the past number of years, I have thought about being an older single, a term I don’t actually like. I think maybe because it highlights my situation in a distinct way, and perhaps causes people to pity me. Let’s be honest. Most people, no matter their circumstances, don’t want to be pitied. However, I do think that some sensitivity is needed when interacting with people in my situation. Sometimes it’s extremely subtle and maybe even subconscious, so let me explain. I work in a professional field that is often very stressful, with long and sometimes odd hours. I try to employ compassion and empathy at work, and maybe I give the impression of being too accommodating, but I’ve been getting better at saying no. I’ve noticed that sometimes people assume that I can work certain hours, or that they can change my schedule without consulting me. I always wonder if they are just not thinking about what they are doing, or if subconsciously, there is the thought that since I’m single, I should definitely be available. I don’t want to sound bitter or accusatory, because I’m neither, but I have wondered.
I have come to realize over the years that I have been given very powerful gifts from Hashem. A sense of humor — more important than you may think, a non-jealous nature, an amazing career that lets me help others, optimism, forgetfulness, lots of patience, and amazing friends and family. If you put all these together, you will find lots of support, joy in celebrating with others, a productive and fulfilling way to keep busy, the ability to both wait for the right one and forget the other ones, and a way to enjoy life even in what can be a very lonely situation, if you let it be.
I won’t say that I never get lonely. As you get older more and more friends, b”H, get married, and I’m always happy for them, there are less and less peers in your situation to “get” you, and to get together with. I remember hearing a quote from the sefer Living Emunah, that if a person realizes that he is in a particular situation for the sole reason that this is where Hashem wants him to be at this time, even if he is not happy there and seeks to change it, this is an incredible zechus. I have been working on internalizing that since I heard it, because it resonated so strongly with me. Yiddishkeit, and our society that is built around its tenets, is so focused on marriage and family life, that I realize that the only reason my life is this way is that Hashem wants me to be here. Maybe I have something to accomplish that I can only do if I am single.
I have heard from other single girls over the years that when someone wishes them “Iy”H by you,” they feel terrible, but I’ve never been that way. I think it’s usually from a good place, a place of them wanting you to find more happiness, and I accept it as the brachah it’s meant to be.
I love getting together with friends and family. As I’m getting older, so are my friends’ children; some are even in shidduchim already. It would be easy sometimes to feel bitter, however, I find that if you really love them, it’s easy to fargin. Some incredibly special people taught me that years ago, and it’s such a powerful tool to live a happier life. I actually enjoy going to most simchos, getting to see family and friends, and I love when my siblings come to visit. I babysit for my nieces and nephews whenever I can, and love being the best aunt that I can be!
When I get together with friends, it’s usually a great time. They may talk about their children and other things going on in their lives. Sometimes, especially in more recent years, there is a twinge in me when that happens, which is only natural as I am human, however, I don’t blame them at all! When I have something to say, I do, otherwise I listen. Iy”H, one day soon, I may be able to use all this accumulated knowledge! Sometimes they’ll ask my advice, as my profession can be useful when dealing with children’s needs, and that makes me feel relevant and needed. I generally don’t begrudge others the life and happiness that they have. I have my own! I generally see the happy or absurd side of situations, and tend to laugh at much of what happens to me, which I think is important.
I also feel that a shidduch can come from anywhere, so when people ask me what I’m looking for, or for my resume, it’s not a bother. It’s actually a form of chizuk. I haven’t been forgotten, I’m not invisible. There are people who care, and want to help. I know of girls that got older and felt that everyone forgot them, whether it was true or not. Sometimes just acknowledging that the single person is there and not letting them be invisible, letting them know you would like to help — in a tactful way — can make all the difference.
Some occasions can be very painful. For example, Simchas Torah. For women, it can be very boring unless you have family on the other side of the mechitzah. That’s how I usually feel, although I enjoy going and seeing friends. However, for the older single men, it is a knife through the heart. Some don’t attend shul on Simchas Torah because of the pain. Someone recently told me that at one point someone organized a minyan at a dying shul in Brooklyn whose congregants were getting older. It’s not that there were no children at the minyan, but many fewer than the average shul, and many of the men were in the same boat. There is a sense of support in that. Other older singles understand what you’re going through. I think people should try to be aware. Yom Tov is coming up. Is there an older single that you notice isn’t coming to shul? Maybe visit them on Simchas Torah. The mitzvah you get is incredible.
It may sound like I dwell on this a lot, but I usually don’t. I try to keep myself distracted and, most of the time, it works. I think keeping busy with life instead of dwelling on it is very important. I volunteer with younger people and it helps me stay young too! Maybe we can organize events for single girls to meet each other socially. Sometimes, the loneliness is the worst part. So is the feeling of being stuck in the same place while others around you move through different stages. B”H, I am in the minority! I have to believe that the only reason I am single is because Hashem wants me to be, but I can choose how I go through my “singlehood,” b’ezras Hashem, with hope, a sense of humor, and family and friends who bolster me up.
Chaya, 24, Boro Park
When it comes to “im yirtzeh Hashem by you,” and comments like that, it’s really very simple to me. Technically it’s a brachah. People who say it don’t mean to be mean or insensitive; they mean to give you a brachah. That being said, sometimes it bothers me when it comes from people that I don’t have a great relationship with, from people who are holier than thou or give off an air of snobbery. I know they don’t care one way or the other, it’s just a thing to say. I wouldn’t even call them if I get engaged; it’s not like we’re close enough for those kinds of comments. To someone I know well who has my best interests in mind, I’ll say, “Amein,” and take it seriously. As for myself, I’d never say it to someone who I don’t have a close relationship with. I recently went to a cousin’s wedding, and my relatives said it to me and I took each one to heart and I said amein. By contrast I was at a classmate’s wedding and someone I haven’t seen in six years, who I’m not close to, said it and I was ticked off.
Some people don’t appreciate being invited to married friends for Shabbos. I happen to feel strongly about this the other way. I was not zocheh to get married when I was younger. All my friends are married for five or six years (it’s a segulah to be my friend by the way; you’ll get engaged right away). I am sort of missing out, I don’t want to punish myself by not being involved in my friends’ lives and their children’s lives. I’m always going to visit, joining in, I don’t want to deny myself the excitement and pleasure of building relationships with them just because I don’t have it. If they include me, I’m there. My friend went to take professional pictures with her kids. She asked me to come along and I was so excited to go. It was so much fun. I’d love to take my own kids, but one day I will. Why lose out on the fun activity? I don’t want to wake up one day married with kids, iy”H, and realize that I missed out on years of spending time with my friends’ families just because I resented the fact that they had a husband and kids and I didn’t. And, by the way, I don’t at all resent it.
I think the hardest challenge about being single is the obvious one — it’s very lonely. It’s a lonely existence sometimes. Even though I live in a house with incredible parents and siblings, and I’m in no way looking to run away from that, but everybody has their busy lives, and they’re not struggling with this particular nisayon. It’s a lonely feeling. It’s not that I don’t have people in my life, I do, I’m blessed, but it’s the fact that I don’t have a friend going through the same thing; as much as people try to be there for me, they don’t have the same challenge, so I sometimes feel like nobody understands me, but that feeling doesn’t take over.
There’s also that fear of the unknown. How long will this last?
If I had to give over a message, I’d like to offer the following. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I don’t want people feeling uncomfortable around me and feel that they cannot discuss certain topics with me. Don’t dance around topics. I know you have another life somewhere; going out of your way never to mention that secret life just bothers me. It’s OK to say “my husband,” “my baby,” etc.
The older single realizes you’re being so careful around her. Then again, someone who is single should be careful not to come back with a cynical or snide remark, like if your friend says, “I was up all night with the baby,” don’t respond with, “I wish I was up all night with a baby.” That’s not true. You don’t want to be up all night, you just want to have a baby.
At the same time, it has to be respectful. The person with the baby doesn’t have to always be talking about her baby or her husband and the fun vacation they were on and the supper they made. A little bit of sensitivity and empathy would go a long way.
I have somebody in my life, we’re officially good friends. I told her about a shidduch I thought was going to be and in the end it wasn’t. I could have used a word of sympathy. Instead I got a rendition about her own experience. She married the first boy she met. She was 19. She said to me, “Yeah, I remember the first time I met my husband and I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t know if it would fall apart, I was so nervous, I didn’t know if it was going to work, it was such an anxiety-provoking experience … ” and on and on. To me that was so obnoxious. She wasn’t sure, and then she married her husband; nebach for her. That is a very insensitive comment. She should have shown some compassion.
As another point, never tell a single, “You may not be married with kids but at least you have ‘X’ — a good job, a nice house, you went on vacation, etc.” I would give it up in a heartbeat. A good job is very important, but that’s not what I want to hear. I do have an incredible job and I’m grateful for it, and it’s true, at least I have a good job, I can’t imagine what my mental health would be without it, so I really am grateful, but I don’t want to hear it from other people.
Some people feel that until you’re married your life is on hold. I don’t know what that means. I did so many things these past few years. I directed a play. When I took the job I knew it would take over my life. What if I had gotten engaged? I don’t know what I would have done, but what if not?! It came out beautiful, and I’m so glad I did it. It was a delicious feeling of satisfaction. I finished a course that was incredibly time-consuming. Tests, weeks of studying and prep, without pause. I didn’t worry about how it will affect shidduchim. Don’t be scared to do things because it might scare off a shidduch. And don’t put your life on hold. Just create a happy place for yourself. Do things that relax you and give you enjoyment.
When it comes to feelings of jealousy — which are only natural and people who claim that they are never jealous, they are another kind of human — there is a very simple strategy. Always remember that no one took what is yours. No one took your husband, no one took your kids, etc. My cousin recently got married. She’s very young. When she got engaged and I went to wish her mazel tov, she almost started apologizing for getting engaged. I said — did you take my husband? Because if you did then you’re right, you definitely have what to apologize for. But you didn’t!! Also remember, when you are jealous of someone it means you want something that they have. But you can’t pick and choose. If you want their kids it means you get their husband also and their mother-in-law also (!!!) But you don’t want that. At the end of the day, no one wants someone else’s life.
Rochel Leah, 28, Boro Park
If there’s anything I’d like to give over, it’s really the message of how singles should feel empowered and utilize their time as singles to develop themselves, which I’ll get to a bit later.
There are a few challenges I’ve experienced which I would point out.
I don’t want to harp on this, however, the journey I had to take was that of becoming my own independent adult. While living at home these years, I had to work on asking for space and making sure my boundaries were being respected. I found they are really tested because parents want to know your decisions, where you’re going, what you’re doing, etc.
Every time I left the house I had to tell my parents. I needed to get more private about my activities. When they would ask me, “Where are you going?” I’d say, “I’m going out.’” I started locking my room and, while I was going through the process, I felt challenged by my parents and siblings. They wanted to help me and advise me, and while I love and respect them, I think they should allow an adult to become an adult so that she can figure herself out. I think that’s valuable advice for parents. We need to become our own people.
I actually think it’s something married people should know as well. I have acquaintances who I think continue to tell their parents too much. It’s important to become your own person.
Have a mentor, someone other than your parents. I have friends with a few children who call home for everything, which is beautiful, but it’s nice to have objective people who can propel you further. The person I am today and the successes I have under my belt are significantly credited to my mentor who helped me become my own person.
Just as an interesting exercise, I sat down one day and wrote up everything I love about my home which I would want to perpetuate as well as the things I would change. Even the aspects I appreciate about my home I might manifest differently. I should feel comfortable doing that.
As for whether I appreciate the im yirtzeh Hashem by you’s, I do take them sincerely and answer amein, but I can’t say I appreciate it. I do have one person, a family member, who says it by any simchah: a vacht nacht, a bris, an upsherin, etc. I say, amein amein amein, but I wonder why she doesn’t call me on a random Monday afternoon to see how I’m doing and to tell me she’s thinking of me? Somehow her comments at simchos seem like she is trying to assuage her guilt. I confronted her about it and she was very offended. I realized she really does mean well.
In general, I love weddings, I love simchos, I’m there to partake, I’m not older and bitter, I get a new dress every so often to make it special, and I am so excited to be there.
People often tell me I seem like I’m 20, and I think it’s because I am interested in having a fun time and that shows. My friends and I always say we are 18+ with nine years of experience. You invite pity when you pity yourself. Make use of your time while you are single. At the right time it’ll happen.
I am trying to use this time to develop myself, connect to amazing people, and learn from them, go to places I wouldn’t be able to as a wife and mother, and I’m trying not to get stuck by society. I don’t let what people think about me hold me down. Some people are so busy defining themselves based on what others expect. Realize you have so much in you and explore that. I’m happy for my husband and kids. They will have a more worked-on wife and mother, a more developed person, in their lives. When it does, iy”H, happen, I will be a calmer, more patient and happier person.
Hindy, married at 38, currently 47, Lakewood
It’s funny you’re asking about my single days because I was just telling a friend of mine how Hashem really helps you forget; it’s fascinating. When you’re in it you think it will never happen, and then suddenly you’re married. However, it’s interesting that whenever I have a yucky moment or I feel insecure about something, my go-to thought is, “I feel so single,” so clearly it still plays a role in my memories and subconscious.
When people ask me for chizuk, I shy away from that, because there are no two situations which are the same. And the fact is that once a person crosses over that barrier and becomes a married lady, suddenly you are in a different category and no one really wants to hear from you anymore. I wouldn’t offer chizuk, but if asked I might respond. The concept that helped me the most was the idea that some things just need to take their time. It’s true beyond the world of shidduchim as well. When my younger sister got married ahead of me, I think it would have helped me to hear this message: it’s just [her] time.
One thing I would say is that I never wanted my sisters to wait for me. The pressure from holding sisters back is immense; I’d never want that feeling. Letting them go ahead is so much better. I found it to be so much easier.
Some singles enjoy organized get-togethers, Shabbatons, etc. That was something I never enjoyed. The speeches and programming were often excellent, but seeing other women in their 40s and 50s — some of whom didn’t even bother coloring their gray hair and looked like they had given up — just depressed me too much. At the same time, I still have a single friend in her 50s who loves it. She needs the social stimulation.
What helped me through those years was teaching. I felt respected as an educator, and I enjoyed my colleagues who were a great support group for me.
When it came to painful comments, I found most people were kind and thoughtful, but still there were the very difficult moments. Once a fellow teacher said something to me that was painful, I still remember that it was like a knife. She was a chashuvah person and in no way meant to say something off-putting, but she said about a fellow colleague who had just gotten engaged, “It’s a great shidduch. She’s so amazing with her kibbud av va’eim, so she was zocheh.”
That was so insensitive. You can’t point to why people have what they have. Does that mean my kibbud av va’eim was lacking?
Another one that stands out in my mind was a relative who gave me a dressing-down after my mother became ill with a serious condition. This person told me that by being single and picky I was making my mother sick. Of course this person loves me and my mother and said it because they thought it might be a motivator, and they were just desperate for me to get married. However…
I didn’t like to be singled out as a single. I got away with it in my days because teaching was in style, lots of girls went into it. That is something single girls don’t have today because it’s somewhat extinct. I can tell you that for single girls today in a busy frum community it’s really hard. Teaching Hebrew was very fulfilling; I felt I was doing for Klal Yisrael.
Summer and Yom Tov were really hard. In the beginning siblings used to come home, you’re the one cleaning for Pesach for all your siblings who could be a decade younger than you. At some point my parents would go to their children, and I would also. I’m glad I had that as a choice. Let’s say a person didn’t have their siblings coming home, you still have a society where it’s family time, but she stands alone. I did at some point go to a friend who had her own apartment, we ate at her acquaintances; it wasn’t my world so it was easier. But Pesach we don’t mish so I couldn’t go and that was tough. Chol Hamoed is a good time to go away with friends. That break in-between re-energized me for the second days. But overall, Yom Tov was always hard. It’s full of calculations also, another Sukkos I’m still single. … Everyone your age has so moved on.
I actually appreciated when people said, “Iy”H simchos.” When they said nothing I felt they had given up. I found that another thing I liked was when someone treated me as a regular person. I hated hearing, “You look so good,” as if that was a normal thing to say to a normal acquaintance.
Just treat singles normally. That’s all they want.