For the past ten years I felt that I was an outsider in my own community. I was a single, someone who, in their eyes, was neither here nor there, didn’t belong. When The Layers Project, a photojournalism and interview-based blog about the lives of Jewish women, started profiling people who were single, friends asked me to share my thoughts. Some of these friends were afraid to share their own thoughts because they did not want to be labeled “bitter singles.” I, newly married, had the benefit of avoiding that label. I decided to focus on small, yet meaningful, changes our community can make.
Please understand this: I am not “bitter,” and I never was. I don’t hold any grudges. I loved my single years—they were a time of tremendous growth for me. I had time for myself—for traveling, growing, and forming incredible friendships. I was vice president of a shul at age 27. I created programs and initiatives that were important to me. I was able to spend my time productively, expose myself to different types of people and new experiences, and spend much time thinking about the kind of mark I want to leave on this world. But it was still hard.
Although there are no quick fixes, here are some suggestions for changes our community can make to help those who are not married feel less like outsiders.
- Let’s start thinking about the words we use. For some reason, you can be a “single girl” at the age of 40 and a “married woman” at 21. Our language around this issue needs to change. I am not a “single” and I am not a “shidduchcrisis”; I am a person.
- Let’s stop telling people what’s wrong with them and what they need to fix. In a community where so many already feel judged, why make people feel even worse about themselves? Finding your life partner does not make you a dating and marriage expert. I would never dream of commenting on my friends’ marriages, sex life, or infertility struggles, but random people often make comments and suggestions to people who are single. All of this advice makes you feel like there is something wrong with you (which maybe there is, but that’s for a therapist to help you with). People already feel vulnerable and isolated; let’s help them feel loved and appreciated.
- Realize that everyone has different experiences. Some people are single because they want to be, others are single because they don’t feel ready or are figuring themselves out, and others are desperate to get married but it’s not happening for them. Some might be figuring out their sexuality. Don’t make assumptions as to why people are single or how they feel about it.
- “Single” does not mean younger, less able, or less mature. Being single doesn’t mean I don’t have life experience. It seems like getting an Mrs. is more valuable than one’s experiences in You need to be “mature and married” to be a matchmaker on a very popular dating site. Why? I have made three matches, but can’t be a matchmaker because I’m single? People tend to look at you as a “single,” as if you are nebuch or less of a person, and you start to think of yourself that way.
- Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about my future. I made a separate life plan in case I didn’t get married: Where could I live as a single parent? At what age would I freeze my eggs? You realize that your life will be different than the one you imagined, and different than how most of your friends are living. It could still be amazing and meaningful, but the Orthodox community has yet to create a space for it. It’s time for the Orthodox community to support families who don’t fit the mold.
Remember to celebrate everyone in your community, including those who are not married. When a community does not know how to make space for single adults, it’s the community that misses out. So many of my close friends who are not married are generous, thoughtful, insightful, and innovative, and could add so much to different communities. But why would they want to be a part of a community that pities them?
I believe that everyone in our community is coming from a place of love and a sincere desire to help.
But if we genuinely care about people who are single in our communities, it’s time we start thinking about our words, actions, and attitudes, and treat single people like people.
Rachel Waldman is a speech–language pathologist and M.S.W. candidate who has served in lay leadership and community organizing roles in her local Washington Heights Jewish community, as well as in the broader community.
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Layers Project and is reprinted with permission.
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