“Marriage on Their Minds”…But Is It? I Mean, Really?
Like many long-time single Jewish Upper West Siders, I read “Marriage on Their Minds,” by former editrix of Heeb Jennifer Bleyer, with great interest, and admittedly, some jealousy. The color green (jealousy) comes courtesy of the writer in me, who’s always been jealous of the category known as “people I moderately know who are suddenly writing about Jewish single life in the NY Times instead of me.” And the interest, of course, comes from what seems a sudden interest in the social lives of UWS Jews -an area I’ve had some interest in for some time – from the Grey Lady.
The piece is a basic intro for those not familiar with “the scene,” and a trip down memory lane for those of us who, at any point in our lives, lived it. To sum up: lots of singles in NYC, lots of Jews, Lincoln Square, Jewish Center, Bangitout and their annual Tu B’Av festivus (scheduled for this Thursday in NYC), “not in the shtetl anymore,” singles with marriage on their minds (on paper, at least) but who never have to grow up. To sum up even further: News Alert–Jewish Singles Found on Upper West Side: Who Knew?.
On paper, “not in the shtetl anymore” is a good thing: increased freedom of choice, not having to marry someone just because your parents say so…but one can’t help but look at the numbers of people who move here and get singles-stuck vs. the number of people who move here and actually do get married, and which, if either of those groups succeeded because they had “marriage on their minds.” Or rather, we couldn’t help but look at those numbers if we actually had the data to peruse. Although there was a study recently published about the role of single Jews in Jewish life, as far as I know, no one’s done a survey that predicts the average length of Upper West Side stay for a single Jew before he or she either a) gives up and moves to another state, b) succeeds and gets married, or c) continues to live on the UWS, hope persisting, but optimism dwindling. All we have are anecdotes: “my cousin’s best friend met her fiance on JDate!”; or “you went out with that guy? Now we’ve all dated him…”; or “all the women I date want to know how much money I make,” or “I felt like I was out on a date with a Hobbit/Rob Schneider pretending he’s a ‘hot chick’.” (OK, so that last one may not be widely repeated, but hey, it happens.)
I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’ve been here so many times that I feel like it’s MY limb, engraved with a little gold-plated plaque like they have on the pews in the synagogues. There are lots of issues at stake when examining “single life” as some sort of quantifiable entity. I don’t know much of anything about quantitative/qualitative analysis, but I have to imagine that there are no numbers or statistics because there are too many variants to be able to predict anything. Some people are superficial, others fear commitment, still others are waiting for the perfectly tumultuous storm of beauty, brains and money. And still others are just unlucky, in the right place at the wrong time or vice versa, trapped in their urban tribes with some friends who get married and move out of their neighborhoods (and often, their lives), and others who form their seemingly permanent posse of the uncoupled.
But while the Upper West Side may offer an expanded pool of singles, some say its social offerings can distract from the presumed goal of marriage. The lifestyle sometimes resembles a relatively chaste version of that depicted in the television series “Sex and the City,” featuring below-the-knee designer skirts and kosher wine in place of Cosmopolitans.
[Allow me to interject here. Most of the UWS singles aren’t necessarily all that into kosher wine–to generalize, it’s about beer and the occasional cocktail. The one thing about this sentence I thank God for is that it says “kosher wine” instead of “Manischewitz.” Because really, I’ve had enough of that brand name being injoked (def: invoked in the name of comedy). Plus, a great many of those skirts only pretend to be below the knee. I’m just saying. Thank you. You may now return to the regularly scheduled article.-EDK]
“In a way, the West Side is like Never-Never Land,” Mr. November said. “People tell their parents they’re going to meet someone, but it’s an extended childhood.”
And paradoxically, the large numbers of eligible singles can make for more pressure to find a mate, not less. “You don’t have thousands of Irish-Americans moving to Boston to try to meet someone Irish,” said a brunette from the Midwest, who declined to be identified because openly criticizing the community might hurt her own marital prospects. [Believe me, it does.-EDK] “I’ve met people who said, ‘I’m here for two months to date.’ In a way, it becomes too much.”
While some of these complaints are specific to the Orthodox community, others are common to many young New Yorkers. The freedom to live an extended single life and the wide array of potential spouses can foster what is sometimes called option paralysis.
“It’s the cable TV syndrome,” explained Rabbi Schwartz of Congregation Ohab Zedek. “There are so many channels, so many things to watch out there, you don’t end up watching any one thing.”
It’s the paradox of choice. But choice itself and alone cannot be blamed. Nor can singles be blamed for the individual aspects of their personalities that might contribute to their singleness–believe me, enough of them spend enough time blaming themselves already; they don’t need the community to chime in with disapproval.
I’m not sure this is interesting to people who don’t live in it, and to people who do live in it, I would think that it’d be more depressing than exciting to see news of this “phenomenon” hit the mainstream media (if you consider the Times MSM, which is fodder for other conversations…)
I do think that quoting a woman unwilling to go on record doesn’t do the biggest service such a quote, critical of the community, could do. I think the conversation about communal criticism at the expense of real communal help is an important one. But anonymous quotes don’t raise the issue in a way that leads to real discussion and the potential for change.
But I think part of my issue is that no one called me to ask my opinion, which I admit with some queasiness because it stems from an egomania that I’m not proud of. But I’ve been living in this world for more years than I’d care to count – part Dian Fossey and part Carrie Bradshaw – and writing about it for more time than the average person spends in university, so it’s possible that I feel I might have something to contribute. This is my ego, I realize, and it’s not attractive, so I’ll stop.
I feel like this article is lodged in my throat and I’m not sure what that means. So I’ll leave it to the masses. Discuss amongst yourselves.