Over the Singles Crises

Every year, when Parshat Chayei Sarah rolls around, I find myself reading emotionally charged articles from various members of the community about the all too painful shidduch crises.  Each year we read this Parshah anew and commend Eliezer on his excellent matchmaker abilities as he chooses a wife for the shy Yitzchak. He is upheld as a tzaddik, a righteous person, as he is directed through the hand of G-d to choose Rivka for Yitzchak.

One could say that I am fairly obsessed with helping people find love and form successful long-term relationships. But not in the way most people would think. I for one am not a matchmaker. This isn’t to say I have anything against matchmaking. It’s just that I’ve chosen a path instead of helping people by being a relationship therapist and dating coach. I feel this can be, in many ways, even more helpful as I help people unearth barriers that may be getting in their way of finding love. I’ve often found that to simply throw suggestions at people who are properly petrified deep down of being in a relationship can be terribly unhelpful and sometimes damaging. To be both a matchmaker and relationship therapist simultaneously creates a conflict of interest.

Over the past two decades I’ve seen many people who were stuck in repeating the same patterns over and over again as they attempted to meet people and find love. I’ve seen how matchmakers and other well-meaning people continue to throw dating suggestions their way to no avail.  While I believe that matchmaking is a very noble practice and would encourage others to take on that role, for many the thing holding them back from a relationship has a lot less to do with “Finding the One” and much more to do with overcoming the barrier of how to form a loving and long-lasting relationship.

While helping people unearth difficulties that hold them back from finding love, I’ve picked up on several reoccurring themes. These include issues such as being raised by parents who remain  together “for the sake of the kids”, witnessing or experiencing family violence of any degree, drug and alcohol abuse, and of course, also more basic themes such as suffering from low self-esteem, finding it difficult to attract and be attracted to anyone, and over-focusing on building a career during one’s 20s and only getting into the dating game in one’s 30s and 40s.

For years I’ve read articles about the shidduch crisis largely blaming the single person themselves. “They’re selfish”, “it’s the “I” generation”, “They feel everything should be delivered on a silver platter”, and “No one will ever be good enough for them” – are but a few of the insulting and hurtful comments I’ve seen over the years.

However, through the work I’ve been doing with singles, I see things from a completely different perspective. I see people who are in lots of pain and who would literally give their right arm to be able to “find love.” I see people who feel ashamed that so many around them have been able to find love and for some reason or other it just hasn’t happened for them. I see parents of marriageable age children wringing their hands and feeling depressed, hiding away at weddings and other social situations, lest they be forced to confront the hurtful fact that they feel like failures because they have an unmarried child.

I, along with many others, try to do our bit to help people get married, either directly or indirectly. The truth is, many of us are just walking around blind in our efforts.  While I am largely guided by figures such as Drs. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, John Bowlby, John Gottman, Dan Siegal and Stan Tatkin – giants in the field of love and relationships in my humble opinion -there is so much research we need to do in our communities to really uncover what is getting in the way of young people finding love, so we don’t misplace our efforts.

For years I’ve been presenting research proposals and speaking with community Rabbis and Rabbaniyot of seminaries and yeshivot. I’ve suggested  time and time again that we really need to conduct research in order to learn more about the underlying issues that are getting in the way of our young adults from finding love. However, I’m more often than not, met with silence. It’s as though the underlying subtext is we all agree there’s a need to help young adults get married, but the hard graft can’t possibly take place in our backyard lest people assume bad things are happening in our community or institution.

This all may be true, but how can our world class modern orthodox rabbis pay such lip service to the importance of creating Jewish families without wanting to do more to actually make this happen?

I’ve also met with members of Knesset who agree that creating more healthy Jewish families is a top priority for Israel. Yet when I follow up with them about actual programs the government could and should fund to assist with this endeavor, once again, I’m met with silence.

Despite all the relevant research in this area from bodies such as the WHO (World Health Organization) that show happily married couples having fewer significant illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression, I am still met time and time again with apathy.

For 5 years, I worked with a non-profit organization as the Young Professional events coordinator.  It was my job to put together creative monthly events to help encourage singles to meet and marry.  I created events ranging from shabbat dinners, Shabbatons and Friday night onegs, sporting events and game nights.  I received a month pittance through the Jewish Agency to support my efforts.

I viewed this job as I would a charity project and donated much of my time to helping create these events and get them off the ground. I sadly had to leave this position since despite initial assurances, no secure funding stream was ever found, so another year would go by with no change in the situation.

The few shidduchim that did result from these efforts went almost completely unnoticed by the people who were set up and their families. Those same family members who would beg and plead that I find their child a shidduch, ignored the organization that helped their family member completely once they no longer needed our services.

The point is, there is a ton of lip service paid in every direction about the need to solve the so-called shidduch crisis, and yet, no one really wants to pull their finger out.  It is huge, overwhelming, burdensome and most of all, painful. People make all sorts of initiatives to help their own family members, but as soon as their family members are sorted, they feel so burnt out they lack the energy to consider others who need help.

I became passionate about helping people meet when I was in my early and mid-twenties while living on the Upper West Side (UWS) of Manhattan. I got married in 2000. Up until that time I tried to make an effort to suggest every decent person I had dated to friends and acquaintances, because I knew how hard it was for me to find “nice, normal people to date.”  I personally found the pain of it all so great, I wanted to help alleviate that pain for others.

Like so many others, my own dating experiences were quite painful. It was this pivotal and painful experience that shaped my career decision to help people find love.  Back then, if your family wasn’t part of the dating system, you were completely on your own. Finding people to date was super hard, singles events only began at age 25. There was nothing else. J-Date only began in 2000, several months before I met and married my husband. By the way, we met randomly at a synagogue seuda shlishit (afternoon meal on shabbat day), even though we had several friends and acquaintances in common.

Even though I’ve now been married 18 years, I won’t allow myself to forget the pain. It’s what keeps me motivated in this endeavor.

Although the road I’ve taken as a relationship therapist and dating coach has been long and challenging, I persevere, not only for my own children but for everyone. I dream of a healthier future for our communities in Israel and around the world where people put their mental health first, above and beyond the importance of making sure they and their family look healthy but actually are healthy.

I dream of a day when pre-relationship and pre-marriage education becomes a fundamental part of our system. Not just violence prevention classes, and family purity classes that are too brief to cover actual communication tools and emotional bonding.

I hope for a day when funding is readily provided in our communities for research and events so that appropriate programs and therapy are created to help everyone have more enjoyable meeting and dating experiences to create healthy relationships from the start.

If more of our leaders can really step it up, go out on a limb and galvanize members of the community and the Knesset to use their funding more appropriately, this dream of having more genuinely happy and healthy families can actually be realized, and actual solutions will come into place – PG.

Of course, if members of the community really want to make a difference there are many things you can do to make a difference. Here are just a few:

  • Invite singles around for shabbat meals or an informal Friday night “oneg shabbat” (but please don’t just throw people together, think it through)
  • If you make a wedding, have mixed tables for singles
  • Work on your attitude. Don’t look down or feel sorry for singles. Have compassion without judgment.
  • Stop talking about singles as if they are the problem. Understand that most people want to be in a relationship, and just as fertility is an issue for some, getting married in the first place is equally as difficult. People aren’t choosing to be single out of spite and selfishness.
  • Encourage marriageable age children to attend workshops so they can explore who they are.
  • Consider the fact that there are people who have chosen to remain single by choice and for them this is often a far better option than getting married just for the sake of it.
  • Lobby your community leaders to support efforts for building healthy relationships.
  • Look at your own relationship before judging others. Ask yourself if you really represent a good healthy relationship role model. We need more of those to inspire others to want to join the club.

I’ve witnessed so many people get excited about wanting to do their part in helping others to get married, but then getting burnt out very soon after. If we tackle the underlying issues with a team of professionals who are paid to support the creation of healthy relationships, I believe much more can be done to create true long-lasting change.

There is no doubt in my mind that the benefits would most definitely out-weigh the costs over a wide range of surprising areas. For example, poverty would become less of an economic burden as healthy families are much better at utilizing their resources. Health expenses for major diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer would drop as healthier couples experience less illness associated with stress. And “all” we need to achieve this are leaders who are willing to stick their neck out and take some healthy risks based on sound scientific research!

May we soon be on the road to creating many more happy and healthy families in Israel and around the world!

About the Author
Micki Lavin-Pell is dedicated to helping Jewish people everywhere create healthy and successful relationships for more than 15 years. She's a Marriage and Family Therapist in Private practice. Micki, her husband and 3 children made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia in 2008. They had their first sabra in 2015.
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