I am in my 40s and single. In all my years of dating, I think I may have gone out with a handful of men that I really liked, but for some reason or another, things didn’t work out. What my family (parents and married brothers) doesn’t understand is: I’m not the same 19-year-old girl that began dating over 20 years ago.
When I started dating, I was a fresh off the plane from seminary, still “brainwashed” as some say. I was looking for a yeshivah boy who wanted to sit and learn for a few years before he started to go to school or to work. As the years went by and I graduated college and my friends began to marry and started to have families of their own, I changed what I wanted. Post-college, I was looking for “an earner.” Many years went by, as did many guys whom I dated, and my friends married and, as per the usual, I lost touch with some. At this point in my life, I had a career but still lived at home. Instead of crying about being single, I went traveling, and met new people who became good friends. Last year, I decided to move out into an apartment of my own. I just couldn’t take “the talks” about shidduchim and shadchanim and who may know someone for me. It was becoming too much. I felt like I was disappointing my parents every time a relationship ended.
I was in my early 40s when I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment building full of frum young people who were career-oriented and out to live life while they also went out on dates. What I’m trying to say is, we didn’t mope around. We went out to dinners, planned day trips, and tried new things all the while looking for our bashert. We were not waiting in our parents’ houses, sitting and looking at the four walls of the living room every Shabbos.
I go home for a Shabbos every five or six weeks and for most yamim tovim, but I am happy with my new life. I still have friends from childhood who are perfectly happy living with their parents while waiting to marry. They are living the same life they always had been living, but they replaced going to school with going to work and bringing home a paycheck. They are sleeping in the same bed in the same room they had been sleeping in all their lives. I am not knocking it, but I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore; that’s why I moved out. To me, it seemed like they are “waiting” to get married. I didn’t feel like I was “waiting.” I am living life and not the same one I had always had since I was a child.
A couple of weeks ago, my parents mentioned that they noticed a change in me that they did not like. The conversation happened over Shabbos lunch, when one of my brothers and his family had also come for that Shabbos to visit. I will not go into specifics, because details don’t really matter, but just know that my family didn’t make me feel bad about my new life, the choices I had made, or anything like that. They wanted me to know that in some ways it didn’t feel as if I was the same Bais Yaakov seminary girl I had been until I moved out. They didn’t know what “type of frum” I was, although I have never given them any indication to worry that I am not the same level of frum that I have always been. They worried about me dating and what type of husband I would end up with. I wasn’t hurt, but I was shocked and disappointed by this left turn in the conversation. It felt like an intervention, but what bad habit or drug did they want me to stop? I assured them that I wasn’t going to bring home a guy with a nose ring or a tattoo, and I was basically the same person they have always known; Bais Yaakov and seminary were a long time ago, but it’s unfair that they are still expecting that same girl and for her to bring home the same type of yeshivish fellow she had originally wanted at 20 and 25.
Like I said, it wasn’t done in a harsh manner, but I couldn’t help but be a little insulted. Didn’t they trust me to be the person they raised? After I got over the insult I felt, it actually touched me to know that they still cared so much. But I don’t think they can understand that I am still the good, frum person that I always was. I may have different interests than I may have had in the past, and I may enjoy things I may never have even tried if I still lived at home; an example is rock climbing, but not in a gym – on actual rocks in National Parks. Since that conversation, I am careful when I speak to my parents or brothers on the phone. Now I wouldn’t mention an amazing day trip I had with friends whereas I would have told them everything to the last detail.
I don’t want them to think that I am becoming less frum or becoming a “free spirit,” a phrase they use when they think someone doesn’t know what he or she wants out of life and lives like a “hippie” – that is their word, not mine. I now see how insulated I was while at home. I can’t be the same person I was when I was 20 or 25, and I am the way I am because of the opportunities I have had by moving out and living this new life. Last week, when my mother called to tell me of a shidduch that was redt for me, and the guy was learning for half a day and working for the other half, I was stunned. Don’t they hear me, see me, and understand? How can I make them understand that I am still a good, frum Jew, just as I was raised to be, but I’m on my own and developed my own likes and hobbies – and that is perfectly normal?
Do you understand what I am saying? How can I assure them that I’m still okay, because no matter what I seem to do or say, I still feel their worry and anxiety over me?
Thank you for your email, Ilana.
I have many things to say about your letter. First, I applaud you for moving out of your parents’ house, into your own apartment and carving out a new type of life for yourself. It had been suggested many times that I move out on my own when I reached the age of 30, but I didn’t want to. The truth was, I liked my set up. I considered my parents my roommates. I always had someone to speak with, we knew our habits, schedules, likes and dislikes, so the bathroom was always open for the one who needed it between 7:25 and 7:35 a.m. and my favorite coffee creamer was always stocked. Plus, I didn’t really want to be alone. I have friends who moved out on their own – and some with roommates – but I didn’t want to move in with new roommates; I wanted the next roommate to be a husband. So I chose to stay at home. But I know that I would have had many different types of life experiences, like you are having now, had I moved out.
Secondly, I can understand your parents’ concern, and I don’t have to be a parent to know where they are coming from. You are correct; it was coming from a place of love. I’m glad you recognized that (after the insult wore off) and didn’t take it to the extreme of “They think I’m not frum anymore” or something like that. They are worried about you because they don’t see you on a daily basis, and what you share with them on the phone and during your visits home may not be in the same manner as when you lived at home – you admitted as much at the end of your letter. They may feel that you are holding back, and they worry what you are holding back. All parents worry about their children – whether they are two or 52 years old, married or single, living in the same house or 400 miles away. You said you are having new life experiences, and they worry because that’s what parents do. They may even see some of their friends with single children still at home, living the “same life they always had been living, but they replaced going to school with going to work” and feel that is normal and wonder if there may be more to why you moved out.
You sound like a mature adult who thinks before she acts. I’m sure you have tried to explain why you moved out and that you are still the “good, frum person that I always was.” I think I can understand what your parents mean about being a “free spirit” and living like a “hippie,” but they mean no harm. They may not understand that it has become somewhat of the norm for singles in their 20s or 30s to move out of their parents’ houses before they marry, whereas 20 or 30 years ago it may not have been very popular, but I do know it was done. Now with so many younger and older singles, everyone has to find his or her way to survive and just surviving isn’t enough for some: They want to live life before they feel that they will be chained to home once they marry (which is not true).
The fact that your mother tried to push a shidduch on you with someone whom you may have been interested in 20 years ago just tells me that she doesn’t know what you are looking for anymore and she may not know who the real you is. She knows you, speaks with you, spends time with you, but as you said, you are having new life experiences, and your opinions are no longer shaped from conversation you hear around your parents’ dinner table. I would sit down with your parents again. Do it when you are there for a Shabbos; don’t make it official or a scene. Work it into the conversation. I would lead off with something about their support for your choices meaning so much to you, so they should trust that you will continue to make the right choices when it comes to shidduchim and living life. If you want to have this conversation with one parent at a time, do it (but I can tell you from experience, your parents will discuss this and the other parent will be ready for when you speak with him or her).
It may take some parents longer to get used to the idea that their children are grown up and they aren’t needed as much, while other parents push the children to go out into the world and make their own choices when they graduate college, whether or not they are married. Just know that your parents do love you and want what’s best, but they may not know what is best for the new you.
Hatzlachah to you all.