July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Vexing Question: So, Why Aren’t You Married?

I doubt if a married person can pose a more vexing question to a marriage-minded Jewish single than the oft repeated quote, “So how come you’re not married?” Other forms of the question include, “My God, are you still single?” usually exclaimed with great surprise after meeting someone by chance some 20 years after the questioner originally met or dated the single and took a kind of liking to him/her, confident that he/she would have been snatched up eons ago.

The recipient of this question frequently experiences it as a challenge or gauntlet that needs a response. Often, a polite, “I haven’t met the right person” is mumbled while the real feelings are frequently closer to a “Why don’t you mind your own business” or “Would you please get off my back?” When coming from a person who has never been married, the stiff-upper-lip response, ‘I’m perfectly happy the way I am” doesn’t hold much water in Orthodox Jewish circles.

Interestingly, however, when two singles meet and exchange the “how come” question, serious introspection sometimes takes place and the question is no longer seen as a taunt but rather as a mutually shared pain.

In contradistinction to the above mentioned reactions, at my workshops for singles, the question is posed at the very beginning of each workshop and is greeted with enthusiasm and relief, albeit with a touch of anxiety because the question hits close to home. Here, indeed, is an opportunity to explore this frequently tormenting problem with an open mind and no need for a defensive posture. The locale is a psychologist’s office, the atmosphere is supportive and non-judgmental, and the participants are all in the same boat: single and marriage-minded.

I’d like to share with you some of the responses. In view of the fact that both sexes enter the labor market after completing their formal schooling and that many continue their education far beyond college, many singles base their response to the “how come question” on their lack of time to socialize and their failure to meet people on the job. And even when one does meet an interesting person, either on the job or anywhere else, another answer to the “how come question” is: “The feelings are not always reciprocated.” One 32-year-old woman complained, ‘The men I’m interested in aren’t interested in me and vice versa.” Other answers follow.

Many marriage-minded singles are quite candid about the schoira (in marketing terms “the package”) that they present at the marriage mart, confiding that they have too many personal problems, e.g., “I drive other people crazy—over demanding, dependent, expecting the man to make decisions for me….” Others realize that they are looking to their prospective spouses to solve not just some of their problems, but all of their problems. Still, others admit candidly that spouse-seeking though they may be, they are truly too immature to carry the burden of an intimate relationship. At times the immaturity is limited to social areas, but in other areas the person may be highly accomplished, financially successful, and recognized in his field at a high level.

Still others fear for the success of the marriage. With friends and family falling out of marriage at an alarming rate, singles today are all too conscious of the pitfalls of marriage and they cite impressive statistics to bolster their fears. One 35-year-old man said: “I’m probably too particular and I’m therefore afraid that it won’t work out; sometimes even two seemingly nice people get divorced. This doesn’t encourage me.” Another young man expressed his fear: “I might get bored with my wife. A lifetime together is a long time!”

Some singles blame their anxieties on specific issues, e.g., religious doubts and lack of self-definition. One perplexed woman confided: “I don’t know what I believe and whether 1 will live up to the requirements for an Orthodox wife or a more liberal type of wife.”

Of all the responses to the “how come” question, in terms of sheer frequency, the response “I haven’t found the right person” is the winner, summa cum laude hands down. Virtually everybody begins his response list with this reply. And yet, a number of singles reject this as a valid reply on the grounds of solipsism: the fantasized spouse just doesn’t exist. One 39-year-old man challenged this reply with “I’ve dated hundreds of girls and the ones I date now are no different from the ones I dated then except that they’re 10 to 15 years older.” This man went on to say: “If I haven’t met the right one yet, I probably never will. It appears that what I’m looking for does not exist and may never be created.” A female single summed up what many believe in their hearts: “I’ve changed a lot over the years and if I had the same chances again I would probably be married.”

Reuben E. Gross, Ph.D., is a NJ dually licensed Psychologist and Marriage Counselor. He is a Fellow, Academy of Clinical Psychology and a Diplomate inPsychotherapy A.B.P., and A.B.P.P. Dr. Gross has a private practice in Teaneck, NJ. Letters, comments and questions are invited.  To read more articles on related topics go to Dr. Gross’ website: www.MarriageCounselorNJ.com.

By Reuben E. Gross, Ph.D.

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