Note: I am utterly unqualified to write this post. I just want to tell you what you already know, so that you understand I also know this. I went through the shidduch system very briefly, because my wife set herself up with me and we had known each other since high school. My main experience with the shidduch system is watching it in action in my three years in Crown Heights and two years in Israel. I have no right to write about this topic. So, if that matters to you, I suggest you stop reading after this sentence.
You may be surprised how often I get this email:
“OMG, I love your blog. I want to write for it (or one like it, or do something different with the same spirit), but it would ruin my shidduch chances. Let me get back to you about that in 1 to 20 years (G-d forbid, G-d forbid).”
Inevitably, these are people I love with all my heart the moment that I receive their email. They are the type of people that have something beating inside of them, and so they decide to send a private message to a person they don’t know because they are dying to get it out, at least in one small way.
I’ve been thinking about these messages quite a bit for the last few years, because they come in more often than you might think. I’ve also been thinking about my friends, religiously-born and otherwise, who have struggled with the “system”.
And one thing is clear: on the face of it, there is no question that we actually can ruin our shidduch chances. The pressure is enormous on single people to act a certain way, behave a certain way, and live a certain way. For the people who are a little quirky, a little nuts, a little out-of-the-box, this can be quite difficult.
But, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, while I don’t disagree with the pressures of the single frum person, I do disagree with the way many handle it: namely, letting their fear of shidduch-failure stop them from pursuing their goals.
1. Single people matter too
The biggest message that always seems to be spread around the single people who do not embrace whatever project or idea they have is that somehow this is something they can package away and save until they are married. Everything is put like that. They say things like, “I am laying low until I get married,” or “I’ll tell the world that I’m bipolar and this deep, incredible message I’ve learned from the experience after I’m married,” or “I’ll start dressing like the nutball I am after I get married.”
There are many implicit messages in these statements, but this most glaring is this: “My life as a single person does not matter. Or, it matters only in order to reach the goal of marriage.”
Isn’t that sad? I’m not talking here about people who want to self-indulge in whacky things before they get married. I’m talking about people that feel they have some deep message about themselves they want to share, or some project they want to undertake, or some life they are waiting to live deep within. In other words, these people have a mission from G-d that they are completely and utterly aware of, and yet they ignore it. Because, whether they realize it or not, they think that being single means that you shouldn’t fulfill that mission.
So let me break it down for you: your life as a single person matters. It matters just as much as anyone else’s. And, in fact, you have something unique as a single person to give to the world that people like me with jobs and kids and wives and rent and debt and 2 bedroom apartments don’t have. Something pure and beautiful that only a single person can give to the world. And it will be changed (not in a bad or a good way, just changed) when you get married and start to take on all those things (yes, I’m aware some of you have jobs and two-bedroom apartments).
I don’t think G-d ever said life doesn’t matter before you are married. Life matters. You matter. And that thing bubbling inside of you called your life’s mission also matters.
2. It’s the best thing for everyone
Let me repeat: this post is not about self-indulgence. This is a post about people that feel they have some mission, some goal, some G-d-given desire to share or give something to the world but are worried that this mission or goal will ruin their shidduch chances.
There are many different ways we give to the world. Some people devote themselves to feeding the hungry. Some people volunteer at old folk’s homes. And they get lots of praise because they deserve it.
But there are others who want to give in ways that are subtle and that are, perhaps, looked down on by the world around them. This is unfortunate but true.
But still, this does not change the fact that this need within exists. And it does not change the fact that there are people out there who need what only these people can give.
In other words, you are holding onto some money. It’s that 10% we don’t own, and that G-d wants us to share with the world. But because some people have a problem with the form of currency you are using, you aren’t willing to reveal it until you feel “safer”.
But that money has value no matter what you or anyone else thinks of it. It is valuable to you because G-d is begging you to give it out. It is valuable to the person receiving it because you happen to have a currency only she can use.
That mission, that divine desire, in you is the best thing you can do for the world. It’s money, baby. And all of us, from G-d to the poor person to a world yearning for Moshiach, are waiting with baited breath for that money to be given out.
3. Maybe you’re just scared
The shidduch system is a fascinating prism through which the light of our fears and desires and best intentions comes out in varying colors.
People do not realize how much fear (the not good kind) colors their thinking.
I know many people, married and unmarried alike, who are constantly finding reasons to not pursue their dreams. They don’t have time. They don’t have money. (By the way, both those things are huge issues for us married folks). They need time to perfect their idea. They don’t think anyone will like it.
And now we can add one more to the list: they are afraid of ruining their shidduch chances.
I don’t think this is true for everyone, but I think it’s true for many. And I think the fact that this has become a socially-acceptable reason to not accomplish our mission has made it an all-too-convenient excuse to not pursue our G-d-given mission.
I can’t answer that one for you. But you can. Look in your heart. What’s the real reason you aren’t writing that prose poem about the dog that pooped in your yard who somehow taught you about the meaning of life? Are you afraid of ruining your shidduch chances? Or are you afraid of looking screwing it up and looking stupid?
Or maybe both. Or maybe neither.
Either way, the most sensitive of us are often the most likely to find excuses to not do these things.
And the worst part? If we don’t realize this fact, it continues after marriage.
4. There will always be an excuse
Do you know how many people I’ve heard talk about ruining their childrens’ shidduch chances? This is also a very real concern and something that is sometimes even brought up to me as a BT who has written about his near death experience, being a crazy bipolar person, and the fact that he didn’t love his wife when he married her.
But you know what? Someone also told me that I shouldn’t pursue writing before I was married. A very sweet, wonderful woman who was only interested in helping me out came up to me after my first year of yeshiva and told me that no one would want to marry a writer because they’re all poor (okay, she said it nicer than that).
In other words, there will always be people whispering in your ear and telling you not to do the things you consider dear to your heart. You also happen to be one of those people, all too often.
We need to be able to filter our unhealthy fear from the honorable desire to be tznius and in showing the best part of ourselves before marriage.
5. Ruining your shidduch chances will help your shidduch chances
There are two reasons that ruining your shidduch chances will help you get married. Can I do two parts to a listicle post? Let’s go for it.
5a. There are other people who want to ruin their shidduch chances
This is the physical reason. The funny reality of the way the shidduch system works now is that there are a lot of people, men and women alike, who are essentially saying the same thing: “There’s a part of me I want to express but I’m not ready to!”
This is so silly! There is no better way to get the attention of that weirdo on the other side of the fence who’s meant to spend the rest of their life with you than to publicly be a weirdo.
The thing that attracted me to my wife initially was her weirdness. I remembered how weird she was from high school (seriously, super weird). She was into painting and doing crazy stunts for school spirit. I was so excited to date a fellow weirdo who also happened to be a baal teshuva.
And we got married etc etc and now we have weird kids who are going to a weird school run by a weird artist.
Do you see what I’m saying here? Yes, you may hurt your chances in one sense, but you may also help them in another sense. There are weirdos out there, just like you, looking for other weirdos. And the best way to marry a weirdo is to act like a weirdo.
5b. Doesn’t anyone believe in G-d anymore?
Honestly, this last part is what this whole post is about.
Let’s do this mathematically, shall we?
G-d loves you + G-d has a mission for you + you living your mission = only good things.
I mean, this is why people tell me to do mitzvahs. I believe them even though doing mitzvahs can sometimes be a hassle or it can, in theory, hurt me in some physical way.
The day after I started keeping shomer negiah, I had a job interview for a tutoring job. It ended up being this interesting/weird sort of group interview where they had us do group activities and then do a personal interview.
The first activity: go around, in a group that is 75% women, and shake their hand and introduce yourself.
I walked around, repeatedly apologizing that I do not shake hands and that it was wonderful to meet said person.
Then I sat down in front of another woman for my personal interview, again didn’t shake her hand, and proceeded to be interviewed with my shaggy beard, kippah and strings hanging out of my pants.
I got the job.
Why should it be any different with marriage? Why were people constantly telling me to keep my beard and my tzitzus hanging low and proud when I was looking for a job but the same people telling their fellows around them to be fearful and cautious when looking for a match?
Fulfilling a personal mission, from art to a certain lifestyle to a controversial cause or project, if it truly comes from G-d, is a mission that fulfills so many beautiful mitzvahs. It is about Ahavas Yisrael, at the very least. Something that can’t just be fulfilled by corny programs set up by rich organizations but by little weirdos like you and me creating something out of pure love for the people who need it. It’s about spreading awareness of G-d in a way only you can do. If you believe in that mysticism business (and if you don’t, what’s the deal, man?) then this is your way of raising the sparks only you can raise.
It can even save lives. A bipolar social network I made because I was bored the summer before leaving for yeshiva did just that. One of the moderators messaged me to tell me that someone was considering suicide, logged into the site, read some of the forum stuff, felt loved, and changed their mind.
I hope you don’t think I’m bragging, because it had nothing to do with me. My job was to make this site, and because I did, weirdos had a place to call home and because it is very hard to be a weirdo, some weirdos can feel that their lives don’t matter.
Do you see how this is coming full circle? I hope so. You matter, and your single life matters and even if the world doesn’t realize that, G-d does. So does that one other weirdo out there.
And the more you accept this, the more you’ll help the other weirdos out. Maybe you’ll even save a life. But either way you’ll be helping the world. You’ll be doing it in only the way you can. Every weirdo that comes out strengthens the other weirdos.
We’re waiting for you. We need you.
This post dedicated to a wonderful weirdo, Rochel Spangenthal, who is looking for a fellow weirdo to marry and who wrote a beautiful post in Hevria, a home for weirdos, about this topic a few days ago. And if you read the comments, you will see just how many other weirdos needed to read her beautiful thoughts.