(Please forgive the frivolous title. I hate thinking up titles every day. It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)
I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely. In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday. It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out. Or maybe my break-up just hit me again. I did feel better in the afternoon.
This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness. Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married. There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)? You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).
I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men. Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with. Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.
At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me. See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!) I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me. I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo. I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues. Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off. It’s sad.
It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind). I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried. I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses. Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).
These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel. The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away. If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.
(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps? No wonder I’m so depressed.)
I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex. It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times. I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism. Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married. The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews. I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.
I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for. It’s difficult though. I wish I could just turn my lust off.
Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words. The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time. I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did. It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week. If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.
I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study. It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat. I’m not sure why. I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired. I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house. I can’t prioritise everything all at once. Sigh.
I went for a half hour walk. I also did some ironing. I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries. However, my sewing is lousy. Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.
I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days. We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met. One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home). I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t. All have good careers and one is married with a baby. I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel. When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it. In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented. The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.
I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago. I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.
I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past. I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do. I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:
I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.
I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.
I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week. I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.