Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Time To Be Single, A Time To Wed

Note: I originally started writing this on December 28th, but was swamped by finals - and that explains the slightly dated other blog postings I make reference to.

The third chapter of Koheles is famous for its list of parallel "times" that mankind experiences in our earthly existence, and in fact starts off by declaring (in 3:1): "Everything has an appointed season; and there is a time for every matter under the heaven." Of all the parallels mentioned here, one can come to wonder why a coupled mention of "A time to be single, a time to wed" wasn't one of them. Then again, this may just be something that bothers us still single, "in the parsha" people.

A recent discussion begun by ProfK over at Conversations in Klal, and continued by bad4shidduchim really got me thinking. The issue is basically: the conflict between the desire for, or push toward marriage and how that can conflict with the fact of inexperienced youth making major decisions, and the impact this has on their educational careers and life in general.

So for what it's worth (and I will take the honest, humble road and venture to say my opinion isn't the most valuable or experienced one out there), here are my thoughts on the topic.

I definitely agree with ProfK's concerns based on her own extensive experience (being married and watching youngsters struggle with the dating/marriage process) that marriage is without a doubt a life-altering experience, which in many ways limits personal exploration and unconfined growth. Everyone needs time to figure themselves out, not only when it comes to their personal avodas HaShem (meaning hashkafa, the focus of their learning, what sort of religious community and Rav fits them best) but what their individual tachlis (essence or perhaps goal) is in life. Getting married severely limits one's ability to properly focus on oneself, in a "selfishly positive" way, to quote on of my rabbeim in Israel, and to figure out just who you are and what you're about.

Upon getting married, you're thrown into a set framework of responsibilities that continue to build - the developing relationship with your spouse; household duties; having, caring for, and raising children. The amount of free time you'll have to sit down and think, or to use ProfK's words "you cannot decide to say to hell with what I have to do today, I'm heading for a museum and enjoying myself," are far more limited than you once had. I don't think the average "fresh-back" from the year(s) in Israel can handle such immediate stricture - especially when they need to focus on adapting their newly gained, lofty perspective to the more mundane and challenging reality of being back in America. True maturity is necessary to approach such a serious decision as choosing a spouse, and the ongoing growing process that a young man/woman undergoes living on their own in college (not to knock those who live at home during this time) certainly adds a lot to one's overall perspectives. The self-exploratory process doesn't end in Israel, and some critical "freezer" time (as they say in Lakewood and elsewhere) really enhances one's views on life and what he/she wants out of marriage and his/her future.

Even so, I also empathize with what Bad4 says regarding the built-in lack of desire to get married while in college. I know with my own schedule from the past 3 semesters that I had basically no time for a real ongoing relationship, kal v'chomer being married. One person I went out with very frustrated by my inability to have lengthy phone conversations or dates at certain times because of my very busy academic schedule. But, as my parents have mentioned to me, that's simply how life works. If you can't handle the pressures coming from every direction while in college, the multitude of responsibilities and demands that build up during marriage (and don't end when that last paper is turned in for the semester) will very much overwhelm you. You have to be grateful for the time you are able to spend with your spouse, and find the small chunks of time where you can voluntarily and totally set aside everything else to focus on your him/her. I think that the inability to work within that sort of fluid framework - of being appreciative for those sometimes brief moments, and remaining intently dedicated to making sure they happen - is an indicator that one isn't quite ready for the often un-glamorous realities of married life.

But as Rav Goldvicht says at his annual dating schmooze - one shouldn't put off dating and marriage for college alone. I would add: especially as you get toward your later years in undergrad, when the class load will hopefully be a bit lighter (this is entirely based on how you pace yourself with requirements, fulfilling a major, things like pre-med/dent requirements). Specifically with regard to YU (which could be applicable elsewhere), Rav Goldvicht says that spending the first year of marriage in the yeshiva environment can be a really wonderful thing. Living in an atmosphere of Torah is inherently beneficial, and the opportunities for growth are more present than if you're already stuck in the "real world" or graduate school elsewhere.

I've had friends get married while still in undergrad, and their formerly busy academic schedules still stay ever-so-busy, but now things like class scheduling become a major consideration. No longer can you simply think about trying to load up all your classes on one or two days, staying in school until 9 PM just to have one less day of class each week; your significant other's opinion and need for time to spend with you carry major weight. The option of Friday morning class/labs are now also basically off limits - since you need to be able to help get ready for Shabbos and have the ability to go out to visit parents and in-laws, etc. Night Seder, which is often a struggle at any rate, is non-existent during Shana Rishona (and with good reason, obviously), but former chevrusas (like yours truly) get shafted in this annoying, yet necessary, and even rabbinically approved/mandated course of action.

Having said that, I know I could not have handled being married with the coursework I have had recently, there still exists an inner turmoil that attempts to balance out between being academically functional and dealing with the increasing feelings of loneliness that stem from seeing friends (both my own age, older, and even younger) getting engaged and married.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy as can be every time I hear of a new simcha among my group of friends (I tend to get injected with a new burst of positive energy with each bit of good news), and I often breathe a sigh of relief after I pull a really late night to finish some assignment without having to worry about putting unnecessary strain on a "better half," but I definitely feel like I am missing something very important in my life. At some point, the "need for freedom to work and do what I want to do" rationale simply gives way to the greater emotional tug of not having that certain other person there - a best friend better than any of my guy friends can be... Perhaps this shift in priorities is a bit different for someone who is further along in their undergraduate studies versus someone just starting out, with another two or three years ahead of them.

Looking ahead toward next year and (hopefully) grad school, I will admit that I am honestly a bit worried that I need to find that particular person before I become enmeshed in all the trials and tribulations that next step in my education will bring. So many people have mentioned to me that having someone there to support you in those often difficult situations really makes a world of a difference. Knowing that no matter what, you won't have to face these trials alone, is certainly a comforting thought.

Here's hoping this conflict doesn't last much longer... for me, or anyone else facing this dilemma.


  1. Heavy stuff. Well said. Do you know where it's possible to download R' Goldvicht's shiur?

  2. College - someone tried to record the shiur (it's given annually, usually during the week of Parshas Chayei Sarah), but Rav Goldvicht asked him to not record the shiur. His reason was (delivered with classic Rav Goldvicht humor) was "This is Torah sheba'al peh." I do have written notes, though, that I could type up when I get back to YU if you would like (hoping that I find some free time to do so).


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