Guest Post: If I Am Not Married, Why Do I Matter?
Written by: For Real
*I went straight from high school to college, so I don’t know what people in seminary hear about this topic. If this question gets answered in seminary, please enlighten me.
One issue commenters raised in my last post was that they were astonished that I was so pessimistic about life in high school. I don’t blame them. On the surface, high school should be the obvious low point in a person’s life; you will never have to wear a nasty uniform and have long days filled with subject matter you find dull again. In theory, you can do whatever you want after graduation, providing you don’t care about going to jail or a mental institution. Your acne is guaranteed to fade and is likely to disappear altogether. OF COURSE things are better after high school.
The key words in the last paragraph were “in theory.” In practice, high school is the last place in which your identity isn’t questioned in the frum world.
For example, imagine a family going out for Shabbos lunch to another family. The guest family has a 16-year-old daughter Shaina. The hostess glances at Shaina, assesses her age, and asks Shaina “Where do you go to school?” and Shaina answers.
Pretty standard behavior, right? Now, let’s look at that example again. What is REALLY happening here? The hostess is basically asking Shaina “Are you a card-carrying member of the community?” and by replying, Shaina is saying that yes, she is indeed performing the role she is expected to fulfill. She is attending high school, and that is all we expect a 16-year-old girl to do.
Life is very regulated when you are a frum girl. Go through grades kindergarten-12. Go to a year in Israel, maybe 2 years. Then come back to America. Start your career, either by going to college or by getting a secretarial or Morah position or some combination of these options. Somewhere in the middle of starting your career, you are expected to find your soulmate and marry, and you are expected to have a kid within 2 years of the wedding.
I don’t know what happens after that, but something happens, and then you are all middle-aged and freaking out about paying for your kids’ tuition and keeping them on the derech. I guess after that you try to gently kick your kids out of the house by marrying them off and then you finally go scuba diving with exotic fishies and get around to trying all the awesomely named alcoholic drinks your mixology app keeps reminding you about, and general carefreeness abounds in a brief timespan before you get too old to move around without a miniature pharmacy. (I don’t know if you can tell, but the vast majority of people I know are under 30.)
The thing is, what if you miss that vital step of meeting your soulmate and having kids, after you decide to skip right to the scuba diving and drinking? You call your friend and go “HI! I WENT SCUBA DIVING!” and she goes “hrm hrm…ok, I got that spoonful of food into kid number one, so scuba diving?” “Why aren’t you able to talk if feeding involves using your hands?” “My hands were diapering kid number 2 so the spoon handle was wedged between my teeth, that’s why.” “Oh…um, you sound busy. Maybe we should talk later?”
Only, “later” comes less and less frequently because she has 2 kids, and then she has another on the way…and this is with ALL of your friends, not just her. It seems that unless you’re living like your friends are living, there is less and less to talk about.
The idea that you could end up having nothing in common with the people around you is terrifying. This is why everyone assumes they will marry; it is statistically likely and they are too afraid to think about what will happen if they won’t marry. Talk to girls in their senior year of high school; they expect to be married by the time they hit 22. I do get to hear from girls this age pretty frequently, and this is what they are saying.
If my opinion of the girl talking is slightly higher than average,(I think they aren’t fragile like a house of cards) and I actually care about them, I will ask them “I hear you, but what if you don’t meet someone? Then what?” The girl just pauses and says something like “Um….I never thought of that…I don’t know.”
See, it’s not that I don’t BELIEVE in people. It’s just that there is no type of person who is guaranteed to remain single or who is guaranteed to marry. Look at some single people; they are attractive, have good jobs, and probably don’t eat freshly murdered corpses for breakfast. On the other hand, you have some married people who are downright ugly, mean, and not the most successful. Clearly anyone might end up in the pool of “forever unwed” people.
The fact of the matter is that most of the activities of the Jewish community involve teaching your kids how to observe this religion properly. Thus, doing Hebrew homework with your kid, feeding your kid, and generally raising your kid is THE most valuable contribution you can make to the Jewish community. If being an Orthodox Jew was a game, having a kid to raise is like getting the big ladder in Chutes and Ladders. Without a kid, the question “WHY does what I do matter? Who even sees me anyways?” inevitably surfaces.
Yes, Hashem sees you. The thing is, people like getting a reaction to their actions, and Hashem doesn’t say “good job” when you turn down a date with that hot non-Jew who asked you out or “What are you thinking, dumbass?” when you accidentally turn on a light on Shabbos. When you have a kid, no one is asking you out and your kid is going to give you such a startled look if you turn on the light on Shabbos that it will help you remember for next time.
Your kid has to go to school somewhere, so you have to somewhat fit into a community for that. For example, even if you ARE married and both of you have a desire to go clubbing, the idea will probably get stopped in its tracks. Once the urge has passed, you go “Phew! Thank GD that held us back! That would have been a dumb thing to do and would have set us back in terms of being better Jews.”
These kinds of moments don’t happen if you’re living just for yourself.
The free period ended and I followed her out. I told her that every single girl in that room viewed being married as a vital part of their religious identity. I also told her that in the Jewish world, everyone sees your marital status first, and that in the non-Jewish world, you are many things: your career, your interests, your friendships and your relationship status. If I were over 25 and single, I told her, I’d definitely rather hang out with people who weren’t giving me pitying looks, and those people would probably be less religious or not even Jewish.
This took her aback, but she admitted that I might have a point.
Then I asked, “If I am not married, what exactly AM I supposed to do to be a part of the community?” and I honestly don’t remember what she answered, but I remember thinking that it wasn’t worth what raising kids is worth to the community.
The question remains unanswered. If I am not married, why do I matter?
(Note: Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinion of FrumGeek.)