What is the Jewish "Happily Ever After?"
HBI eZine editor Michelle Cove’s latest book, Seeking Happily Ever After, was profiled at Feministing. I’ve seen news about the book in a couple of places, and there is a documentary film (here’s the trailer of the same name that Cove co-made). Using interviews, the book discusses what it means to be single today, what kinds of pressures normalize couplehood as the preferred status, and the implications of being single for women over thirty. While I haven’t read the book yet, the Feministing review got me thinking about Leah’s post from earlier this summer about the perils of JDate, which – surprise! – is not a panacea for all single people.
But maybe we don't need a panacea for single people. Maybe being single can be as fulfilling as partnership. Not so, according to the Jewish communities that I’ve belonged to, where there are huge emphases on dating and life partnership, usually of the heterosexual variety. These emphases are usually connected to a call for Jewish survival and Jewish futures. In other words, the great crisis of middle-class North American Jewish diaspora life is a fear of annihilation through assimilation. As a result, there is an immense pressure to date Jewish, marry Jewish, and raise Jewish babies (who will date Jewish and marry Jewish). That pressure manifests itself in family relationships (“So… are you seeing anyone special?”), in community programming for youth (study session theme at a Shabbat retreat for 14-17 year olds: interfaith dating), and in marketing techniques for Jewish programming (meet your mate on Birthright, anyone?).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking dating Jewish, because there are countless reasons to do so, including finding a partner whose values and lifestyle and ritual practice match your own. But I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy devoted to Jewish matchmaking, even when the matchmaking is supposed to be a derivative effect of the main event. My summer camp abounds with pressure on campers to pair up at young ages, and everyone coos over the latest engaged former campers and staff, because it means that camp succeeded: Jews are marrying Jews! And there will be Jewish babies! Meanwhile, here I was thinking that camp was about providing fulfilling and enriching cultural and spiritual experiences to young people.
Can’t we just be single sometimes, and still lead successful Jewish lives? Or be happy as we are, even if our relationships don’t match the ones that our parents or the powers-that-be deign appropriate for young Jewish adults? Doesn’t anyone have a little faith in me to choose a Jewish life, even if I haven’t found a partner, or if my partner isn’t the one someone else would have chosen for me?
What do you think? Do Jewish communities place too much pressure on youth and young people to date (and date Jewish) at any cost?