It sounds weird to begin a letter like this, but I will. I’m a Jew and I’m not embarrassed by our mitzvos or minhagim. When my co-workers said I was too young and never had the chance to live or be young and crazy when I got engaged, I took it all with a smile. They didn’t understand that we get engaged and married young. We’re married with kids by the time they figure out they want to settle down. Do they know something we don’t? Is it better to get married when we’re older? Shouldn’t we know who we are before “I am” is “forced” to become “us,” and before “us” becomes a family?
Was it always like this? Back in the old country, did kids marry kids? Times were different in the 1800s and early 1900s. Do we have to do everything exactly the same as they did back then? Because that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re marrying off kids. We don’t know ourselves well enough to begin to share our lives with someone else. I read somewhere that personalities are still developing into people’s late teens, early 20s. So why do we think that between 19 and 25 years of age that we’re ready to set up house and live in the real world when we’ve never been exposed to the real world in our short, sheltered lives?
I was 22 when I got engaged and married. I went from my father’s house where I had my parents’ credit card since I was 16, access to the car since the age of 18, and had all expenses paid for including vacations and a year off in Israel all taken care of. What makes us (as a society) think we are ready to get married at 20? My parents and in-laws paid our rent for the first few years, and we still had access to their credit cards. My salary couldn’t cover expenses and my husband wasn’t working when we were first married, so we lived a fantasy life. Everything was basically taken care of. We paid some bills, but without wasting words, we were still children living on our parents’ dime. The only difference was, we were married and living in our own apartment; in other words, we were playing house in real life.
I’m in my 30s now, still married, but many friends are divorced. They have the support of family, and some have financial support, but most were forced to learn some life lessons very quickly. One friend told me that she never knew how cruel a person can be until she was getting divorced. She felt slapped in the face and thrown into the ugly, hateful world in which she never lived before. She’s right. Would she be better equipped to deal with this if she was 40 instead of 30? Had she not been placed into the shidduch world at the age of 19, when she didn’t even know who she was, would she have married this man that she is now tied to for the rest of her life because of her children? Of course, she would say that she would do it all over again because of her kids – but I’m talking about being real. Would she willingly marry someone at such a young age after a short dating period (two, maybe three months?) when she didn’t even know what life was, or what she wanted out of life? She and other friends say that married life isn’t like dating; that’s why couples have “date night.” It’s to remember when they were in lala land, before the world and reality hit them, before responsibilities. You wrote that life isn’t like dating. According to my friends, you are right on the money there.
It may sound like it, but this isn’t a letter of hate. This is a letter to ask if we should continue allowing very young adults to marry. I think we should stop encouraging 19-year-olds to start dating. Stop making 30- and 40-year-olds to feel like old maids and old bachelors and nebachs if they are single. Gentiles only begin to think of marriage when they’re 30 or 35 and they aren’t considered “old” by their peers. I know so many girls who were upset when they felt they were one of the last few in their grade to get married, and they were only 23! What type of pressure is that? It’s not necessary. Live life, experience what you can, go to school, get to know yourself, and then you may have a better idea of who you want to spend the rest of your life with!
I’m not saying to wait until you’re 35. But would it be so bad if we didn’t begin dating until mid-20s? Why are we pushing our children out of our homes when they only know what it’s like to live in the protected bubble of their family? Is it better to help them after the divorce, with or without kids, or to guide them in making informed decisions in life? And how informed can one be about another if both are 21 or 22 and date for two months?
I understand why my co-workers think Jews are crazy for the way we do it. I look around at my divorced friends and all the others I hear who are getting divorces and ask if it would be better if children didn’t marry children and have growing/maturity pains together and sometimes realize that there is just no way to make it work and so you divorce at the age of 30. Not that “older people” who marry never divorce, but this is just something to think about.
Why should a 25-year-old feel pressure and a 45-year-old be crying?
Sarah, thank you for your email.
Wow. Your letter packed quite a punch. You seem to be writing about two issues, from how I see it. The first issue: Should we allow people to grow up and mature before they marry. They may have a better idea of what they want and who they are at the older age and so may make more informed decisions, which may cut down the rate of divorce in the under-30 crowd. The second issue: Is it normal for a 23-year-old to feel pressured not to be the last in class to stand under the chupah while a 45-year-old is already seen as a nebach. If we don’t put pressure or “encourage” dating at a young age, there won’t be that big of a shidduch crisis, because we wouldn’t think of a 30/35-year-old as a nebach. Did I sum up your email correctly? It packed so much in. I had to separate the points you wrote about so they wouldn’t get lost.
Sarah, you’re seeing your friends and other couples married at young ages getting divorced and think that if people wait until they feel they are mature, know themselves, and have a taste of life and what they want before they get married, there will be a lower divorce rate? Possibly. But you can’t say that with certainty. There are no guarantees that couples who marry when they are older don’t have the same divorce rate. You are looking at this from a very personal and subjective view, which is fine, but then you can’t make general and objective statements. Your friends may have been immature at the time, pretending to be adults, getting married, playing house when they themselves were kids, but each couple is different. Two individuals are entering into the marriage. Some young adults are very mature and not always unsure of themselves and what they want at that age. You feel that as a younger couple ages there is more of a chance for their personalities to grow apart as they actually discover who they are. Again, it’s a possibility, but it’s a possibility at any age.
Look at your own life: married at 22 and still married in your 30s. You and your husband made it work. And I’m sure you’d agree that marriage is work. Don’t bail if there are bumps in the road. Try to work it out. But sometimes it just isn’t possible and it’s better for both parties to divorce. That’s true with older couples as well, and with couples who were married in their early 20s who divorced in their 50s. There’s no secret recipe or combination to make a marriage last.
It seems that you feel as if frum society is at least in part to blame because we encourage 19-year-olds to date and we “tsk, tsk” at 35-year-olds if they remain single. Many people will agree with you. Why are children getting married? But I’ve heard this conversation over the years, and nothing changes. I agree, it’s horrible for a 23-year-old to cry because she’s the last in her class to marry, but it’s also heartbreaking that the 45-year-old is crying, as well, as viewed as a nebach.
I don’t think society will change, though. My heart is with the “older” singles who are only considered “older” by frum society. Believe it or not, I was told, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.” I always answered back, “I’m not worried about myself, but rather about you who think something’s wrong with me because I’m 32 and not married.” The only idea I have is to be there for our friends who need us if they are feeling held back or left back, while others move ahead of them down the aisle to the chupah whether they are 25, 35, or 55.
I recently heard of a group saying T’hilim for a 21-year-old bachur who is still single. I shook my head. I honestly don’t know what to make of it or what to say to those who are so worried about the 21-year-old that they put together a T’hilim group. We are of different minds and worlds. But as I said, let us just be there for all who need our support.
Hatzlachah to you all.