Did you feel the history-making shockwaves that reverberated when the 2016 US presidential election results rolled in? Remember how, on November 9th, voters on both sides of the aisle rubbed their eyes in disbelief?
Brilliant minds everywhere were bewildered, and choruses of “How did this happen?” echoed the nation (and the world) over. Overnight, the most powerful country on Earth was collectively faced with a winning candidate whose victory had blindsided the masses. Crowds gathered in protest as though the man they didn’t want as their national leader had snuck into the White House, when in fact, he had been voted in democratically. The whole thing was bizarre, to say the least.
So, why was the general perceived reality about voter intentions nationwide so glaringly different from the actual reality of a large number of American voters? Why were so many (if not most) of us so utterly perplexed by the election results? In the subsequent weeks, journalists, historians and political commentators explored this very phenomenon.
And suddenly, it emerged that we were baffled because…we were blind.
Blind to the sentiments of a silent majority who most of us didn’t understand.
Blind to many of the day-to-day conditions (economically and otherwise) faced by those with whom many of us in the big cities had never interacted on any meaningful level.
Blind to those whose opinions and struggles felt irrelevant to us on a day-to-day basis…. Until, one autumn day in 2016, they weren’t.
Now buckle your seatbelts, because this is not a blog post about presidents or politics; it’s about the grave dangers of “invisible disconnects,” and what’s at stake when you don’t try to see things from the other side. It’s about seeing things one way, but never trying to understand things from another’s perspective — and then, like it or not, facing the inevitable consequences. It’s about the present state of Jewish dating culture, and what we’re all doing — or not doing — to make things any better than they’ve been.
You may have noticed that many married Jewish men and women, parents, community leaders and matchmakers, feel stumped about a so-called “singles crisis” — the offensive term used to describe the phenomenon of marriage-minded-singles staying single well into their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.
Marrieds are baffled over why their amazing, successful, single friends, neighbors, sisters, cousins, etc. are dating for years (or decades) on end without settling down, “despite all of our efforts” to set them up on dates, create singles events and weekends, and offer other efforts to introduce them to “even-more singles-who-are-choosing-to-stay-single.”
And there’s a very big problem with this picture. Because instead of trying to understand their situation through genuine curiosity and sincere dialogue with the single men and women themselves, we’ve opted instead to speculate. We draw assumptions, criticize, and reason away our perceived understanding of ‘more singles staying single’ through the highly subjective lens of our own limited worldview. We act like “they’re just too picky” and so “it’s all their fault” — and some of us even tell them so.
Except it isn’t true; turns out, it actually isn’t “all their fault.”
What we’ve done, in essence, is weaved elaborate explanations for how we think “the situation” evolved, and how we believe it should be addressed. We focus on creating solutions to challenges which we, personally, know nothing about. Because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve got it all figured out; that we know why things are the way they are (and some of us are very proud of that, too.) Except there’s one not-so-small problem: We clearly don’t.
And the proof is that despite all the efforts, the marriage statistics aren’t changing.
Because we’re blind.
Blind to the actual sentiments of the majority of single men and women dating under the weight of unbearable social pressures and criticisms from others who don’t understand them.
Blind to the unjust conditions faced by so many individuals — whose married counterparts may never have interacted with them on any meaningful level.
Blind to the pain of singles whose opinions and struggles feel irrelevant to many married people on a day-to-day basis…. Until they aren’t.
Back to the election.
How might things have turned out differently if both “sides” had really listened to each other, rather than assume we knew what was going on in the hearts and minds of American voters? What if real dialogue and communication had taken place between both sides before the ballots were cast? How would things have turned out differently for the country?
On November 9th 2016, Americans en masse felt that they had missed something.
If you recall the days and weeks immediately following Trump’s victory, a frenzy of analyses ensued. Analysts crunched numbers and frantically wrestled with voter data in an effort to make sense of it all. And what they discovered is that there had been a grave divide between what most Americans had thought was going on, and what was going on according to the perspective of one-half the U.S. population. (We know now that the disconnect was huge. Gaping. Glaring. Because hindsight is always 20/20.Yet before November 8th 2016, it was like the disconnect was never there at all.)
As one NBC news writer put it, “…Pundits are disconnected from a vast majority of voters in middle America. When you live in New York City or Washington, D.C. – as many pundits do – you can become blind to seeing middle America, the south and vast swaths of the country. You must accept that your vision of America, might not match the vision of the rest of America.”
This logic applies to any social disconnect. In order to work together to create any positive change, you must accept that your vision and understanding of the so-called “singles crisis” might not match the vision—and the personal, hands-on experience—of the people who are actually dating.
What is the cost of remaining asleep to the disparity between the perceived understanding of the struggles of Jewish daters, versus their actual, existing challenges? Until we refine our sensitivity to the real issues, can anything really change?
Bridging the gap of this grave disconnection can only start once people choose to ask the single men and women whom they are trying to support, some real questions:
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing Jewish singles today? In what way(s) do you feel the current “system” (or your community) is falling short of meeting your needs? What’s the best way that I can be supportive to you in the dating process? Is it helpful enough just to introduce you to more singles—or can I perhaps be supportive in a different way? (The goal here is to be sensitive enough to respect the person’s boundaries, yet ask questions that would lead to informative answers.)
As a full-time dating coach who works one-on-one with Jewish singles between the ages of 20 and 45 and gets their take on things all day, every day, I can tell you that they (in general) are not being asked these questions by their married friends, community leaders, relatives, and mentors. And as a result of this lack of communication and understanding, singles feel misunderstood, marginalized, and shamed. (And the married members of our communities who actually care about the problem, are increasingly puzzled as to why “things aren’t getting any better.”)
The gap is widening.
When will the married majority of our Jewish community step up to truly understand the perspectives, longings, obstacles, pain and experiences of the single men and women whose plight they may not personally relate to, but whose daily lives may be deeply and adversely affected by not feeling understood?
And so, dear married friends who do care about your single friends:
I ask you this:
Are you ready to withhold judgment and ask meaningful questions to the single men and women in your life who are dating for marriage, but struggling to get there?
Are you prepared to really hear their honest answers, even if they aren’t what you expected or were hoping to hear? Are you willing to accept their version of the story? And can you see why it’s their story to tell?
What if you discovered that a large part of the solution could be accomplished simply by not judging them at all?
Coming up with an effective solution to any challenge in every community or society requires the maturity to sometimes step back and say to ourselves, “Hey, maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe I really don’t ‘get’ what’s going on, and maybe that’s why the things I’ve tried—and that we’ve tried— haven’t been working.”
Before reacting in anger or fear to the thought of trying out this new approach, try to respond with curiosity. Imagine, if just for a moment, how this mindset might lead to a new kind of dialogue in our communities. Perhaps start by asking a single person you know if this blog post resonates with them, and why?
Give single men and women a voice in this process, and watch things change.
Learn to withhold judgment, and then be amazed by what you see.
Because that’s when incredible things will happen. At Breakthrough Dating, they already are.