By Baila Sebrow
Last year, after my father’s complications from COVID-19 left him unable to return to work, I had to stop learning full-time in order to take over his business. As a result, my then-kallah broke our engagement, accusing me of “breaching the Covenant between Hashem and Klal Yisrael” for ceasing to learn full-time.
My family has no other means of financial support, and I am now paying full tuition for all of my younger siblings with relative ease. My ex-kallah’s family is extremely poor. Rather than accepting the responsible choice I made or agreeing to leave her beloved job as a preschool teacher in order to take over for her would-be father-in-law as the CEO of his business while I would learn full-time, she called off the engagement.
After I consulted with my rebbeim for eitzos, they ordered her to return the engagement ring or proceed with marrying me, “the apikores.” She reluctantly agreed to return it, as she had been trying to sell it, hoping to cash it in for kollel income.
Since the end of this fiasco, I have had a much more difficult time getting dates. The girls being suggested to me by various shadchanim are far below my level of frumkeit. When I recently e-mailed my ex-kallah to ask if she had any friends who would be shayach for me, she forwarded shidduch résumés of her former classmates who went OTD, as well as the résumés of her friends who are now divorced. (I am a kohen.)
Despite my prioritizing learning every night from 7:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. every night with the balabatim in shul, their still-single daughters my age (upper twenties), in addition to shadchanim, are continuing to discredit my non-full-time learning as if I were a member of Footsteps or Minyan Shelanu (the lesser-known Footsteps equivalent in Lakewood).
I notice that I am not alone, with the other working bachurim in the community facing similar situations. With the pandemic’s economic impact shattering many frum families’ abilities to support a son or son-in-law in learning after marriage, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the girls to remove their stigma against marrying working bachurim?
How do you expect such girls to otherwise afford tuition for their future children if the shidduch system treats us as if we were “off the derech?”
Do you think I am “breaching the Covenant between Hashem and Klal Yisrael” for not learning full-time?
With regard to your last question, that is something you would need to present to your rebbeim. Instead, I will respond to the rest of your eloquent letter from the perspective of a shadchan.
I first want to express to you my deep sympathies on the break-up of your engagement. Having worked with many singles who have endured such pain, I can only imagine the heartache you sustained when your ex-kallah ended the commitment she made to become your wife and to stand by you as your ezer k’negdo. Further, it is beyond intellectual comprehension that she ended it for the reason you disclosed. All I can say is that you clearly dodged a bullet. Hashem protected you from future emotional catastrophes should you have married her. A person with the inclination to take flight when things don’t go her way is the type of individual who will bail out when the slightest thing is off center from what was imagined and will always assume that the grass is greener on the other side.
But my question is why you reached out to your ex-kallah to find you a shidduch. Do you realize how preposterous that is? If your reasoning was to reestablish a relationship with her, that is bad form. If, deep down, you were hoping for a reconciliation, asking her to introduce you to her friends was a poor decision. The only thing I can say in your defense is that you were so broken inside, and your self-esteem so shattered, that had you been in a different state of mind you would have thought better than to do that.
Now I will address the issue that young, unmarried learner-earner men face in shidduchim. It is very unfortunate that your father took so ill from COVID. May he have a refuah shelaimah and be physically able and strong enough to get back to his parnassah, b’karov.
In yeshivish circles, young ladies are taught as early as in high school, and especially in seminary, that they must marry a man who will learn full-time. These women are made to feel that they are deficient if they would ever consider a bachur who does not learn yomam va’layla. Not only that, but most of the fathers of these young ladies insist that their daughters marry a “top” learning boy. It is not uncommon to hear of affluent men who walk into a yeshiva and request from the menahel or mashgiach to get him the “best and top learning boy” in the yeshiva. In fact, the reason such stories are well-known is because they are told over by the people who successfully accomplish their goal and whose daughters get married under those circumstances. The problem I have with this mode of finding a shidduch is that the learning guys are set as rivals against each other.
The pressure for these young men to get married is extreme. They are oftentimes ranked not so much by their middos or compatibilities as a husband and future father, but by their learning capabilities. Not only that, but if a young man has not started off as the top boy in learning and later became that way, he, too, becomes challenged in shidduchim, because he is then considered (I am sure you heard the term) a “flip out,” and in such circles young ladies would never consider a guy like that. Lest you think it is only the men who have the pressure in this society, the young ladies have tremendous pressure, too. The mothers of these “top learning boys” will choose the prettiest and richest girls from the most yichusdik family they can find. Yes, this is the system that is in place, and no one can change it. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for these situations. Nobody is being forced to live their life according to such rules. And neither should you feel that way!
The reason that you are being suggested young ladies who are off the derech or divorced, or what you consider below your level of frumkeit, is because they now view you as deserving of those categories. You can write all the letters you need to get your pain off your chest, but you will never change the system. You can never change anyone; you can only change yourself.
That said, look elsewhere for shidduchim. I realize that it is easier said than done. You come from a specific background and therefore have the mehalech of that lifestyle, so any change in that direction would feel foreign to you. But you don’t need to veer too far off from what you are used to. There are many accomplished young ladies from extremely fine yeshivish families who are seeking a young man who works yet also makes time for learning, just as you do. Believe it or not, you are a commodity within that unit.
In fact, it is specifically in those circles, where the girls are looking for learner-earners, that the young ladies are sitting around waiting for a suggestion. It is not uncommon to hear parents lament that their daughter has not had a date or that nobody redd her a shidduch in more than a year. These stellar young ladies who come from mainstream homes and live Torahadik lifestyles cannot find a shidduch because they dare to insist on finding a husband who not only makes time for learning but also believes in supporting his family. Sadly, many get older without a prospect in sight. There are thousands of young ladies in that situation.
You need to reach out to shadchanim who specialize in redding shidduchim for the earner-learner crowd. You need to insist on meeting with the shadchan who represents you. The shadchan should not talk just to your parents, but should have the opportunity to understand who you are and your goals and aspirations as a member of the klal. I caution you not to meet with too many shadchanim, however, because most have the same database of available young ladies, though the main reason is that I believe that the relationship between the shadchan and client needs to be compatible. You need a shadchan who will believe in you so much that she or he will make you a priority.
Ask men who are similar to you, either married or still single, to recommend shadchanim to you. Call these shadchanim and determine if they are willing to meet with you, and also to see who you feel most comfortable to have advocating on your behalf.
Please do not believe that there is a stigma to your derech in life with regard to working. Do not lose bitachon and remember that Hashem is the One who is mezaveg zivugim. Sometimes He creates situations in people’s lives so that they will ultimately marry the person they are destined to marry. I have seen this time and again. The situation in which you now find yourself will turn to your benefit, b’ezras Hashem, and you will meet the young lady who will encourage you to continue the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim. What you are doing for your family is exemplary, and it will stand by you as a great z’chus.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.