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Why are an increasing number of Jewish singles choosing to stay out of relationships?

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Launy Schwartz knows what he wants: to see movies he likes, go for wings when he wants and continue teaching up-and-coming hockey goalies how to hone their craft.

Perhaps more importantly, Schwartz knows what he doesn’t want: to argue with someone about what movie to see, to get into a fight about where to eat or to interact with people who will write him off because of his job as a goalie coach.

Schwartz, 41, officially renounced the world of dating in July, although his last serious relationship ended in December.

“I’ve been so much happier. I’m far less stressed, I have a greater feeling of self-worth, and all because I said, ‘You know what? I’m happy being on my own for now,’ ” he said.

Schwartz was an early adopter of online dating, having first used it around 15 years ago. He met his ex-wife on JDate. They got married when he was 30 and divorced when he was 35. Since then, he has been in two relationships that lasted six months and some other, shorter ones. His recent decision to give up dating stems at least partially from his disillusionment with the patterns of modern romantic encounters – especially through websites and apps.

“Eventually, the swiping pattern became a cure for boredom,” he said. “It just becomes part of your daily habit. And it ends up playing on the game of rejection. You feel dejected, and your self-worth, being attached to a relationship, especially within our culture, is really disheartening.”

Schwartz is one of a number of Jewish Canadians who are opting out, for one reason or another, of the traditional model of long-term relationships.

The last comprehensive study of Canadian Jewish demographics, the National Household Survey (2011) Study: The Jewish Population of Canada, was written by Charles Shahar and Randal Schnoor for Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA in 2014, using data from the 2011 census.

According to the study, the last 30 years has seen “growing numbers of single adults in the population,” owing to the fact that “the centrality of marriage has declined in general in North American society.”

The incidence of singlehood among the adult population is not a uniquely Jewish phenomenon. But the study found that Jewish young adults aged 18 to 26 had a much lower likelihood of being in a steady relationship, compared to their non-Jewish counterparts. Jewish people in that age bracket were slightly more likely to be married (6.6 per cent, compared to 6.4 per cent), but were significantly less likely to be living in a common-law relationship (5.3 per cent, compared to 11.9 per cent for non-Jews).

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath of Chabad NDG in Montreal has been setting up Jewish couples for almost 15 years. He says in terms of people staying single, it’s not his place to tell any one person what to do – only to support their life choices. That being said, the dating and marriage trends he sees make him “tremendously” concerned about the future of the Jewish people. In his opinion, some reasons for staying single are legitimate, but others – such as not having seen a model of a healthy marriage as children or the instant gratification of hookup culture – can be worked through. For that reason he believes it’s important to educate young Jews about the value of marriage.

“I would answer it on an individual level. I don’t know if it’s a question that you can answer on a more global level. I can give you some canned answers and generalizations, but I don’t think it’s going to help anyone,” he said. “The fact of the matter is every single person is unique and different. The fact that someone doesn’t choose to get married at a younger age is their personal choice… So I think it’s a conversation that has to be had with a single, and if it’s something that they wanted to explore, then that’s a very important thing for them in that junction of their life.”

Tina, 24, who did not want to use her real name, is one such single. She’s based in Caledon, Ont., northwest of Toronto, and works for a Jewish educational organization that requires her to travel. For the moment, she has decided to prioritize her profession over a romantic relationship.

“I don’t think I have the time to be able to balance them both,” she said.

READ: EXTENDING A HAND TO INTERMARRIED COUPLES

Tina was actually in a long-distance relationship that ended in February. She’s continued to date since the split, but not in the hopes of finding anything long-term, at least not for a while. Instead, she views dating as a way of making new friends.

“The way that I date is just to make sure I stay on top of social cues, because if you stop dating, then you lose the touch of being able to be in that kind of an atmosphere,” she said.

To be clear, Tina still plans on settling down in the future. In an ideal world, she would hope to be on that track by the time she’s 27 or 28, but recognizes that it will probably take longer than that, at least if she continues putting her career first – which she plans on doing.

Tina’s situation is not unique among young adults, said Libby Bear, who just finished her PhD thesis, titled Singlehood by Choice or by Necessity, at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Her research focused on the reasons that singlehood is becoming more prominent in Israel, but she said that there are three main factors that apply in all industrialized countries.

“One of the reasons for that, in general, is more women participate in higher education today, and the labour force,” she said. “Another reason is that economic change made it more difficult for young adults to attain economic stability. And the other reason is that there is a normative change with respect to the institute of marriage,” meaning other, non-marital relationships are becoming legitimized.

In a previous generation, Tina may not have entered university or the workforce and, even if she had, she likely would not have been expected to be self-sufficient. But as new economic and social paradigms have come into play over the previous half-century or so, as marriage has become simply another way for women to lead a fulfilling life, as opposed to a necessity for attaining a basic standard of living, more and more people are looking beyond the narrow set of expectations that they feel were laid out for them.

Cantor Cheryl Wunch, whose main congregation is Shaarei Beth-El in Oakville, Ont., is another Canadian Jew who is single by choice. At 38, she is content with the fact that a long-term romantic relationship may not be her path in life. But she didn’t always feel that way.

“Ten years ago, I was dating with the hopes that the person I was dating would turn into the husband. I don’t think like that anymore. And that’s not to say that I’m not open to that, but I’m also open to the other possibilities,” she said.

Wunch said it was hard for her to come to terms with the fact that she might not ever get married. For most of her life, she just assumed that meeting someone, getting married, having kids and living happily ever after was the only path in life.

“That doesn’t necessarily happen for all of us and the choices that I’m making are about whether or not I’m OK with that, right? It’s not necessarily that I’m choosing to just remain single the rest of my life, but I’m choosing to be OK with the fact that my life didn’t pan out in the quote-unquote ‘typical way,’ ” she said.

A big reason that Wunch wants to share her story is to model alternative ways of leading a Jewish life. Part of the reason it took so long for her to accept that she might never get married is because there was nobody for her to look up to, nobody to let her know that there’s nothing wrong with being single.

“To only be seeing models in leadership of the same kind of lifestyle alienates those people in our congregation who don’t have that lifestyle for whatever reason,” said Wunch.

Finding love can be a challenge for clergy members, she said, due to the long hours and their commitment to prioritizing the needs of the congregation. And it can be even harder for a woman in such a position.

“I know for myself, and many of my colleagues, dating kind of takes a backseat,” said Wunch, adding that a lot of men, “aren’t necessarily comfortable with a female partner in a leadership position.”

“It’s definitely difficult, especially in the Jewish community, to publicly state, ‘I don’t care if I get married or not,’ because you still get the people going, ‘Well, why don’t you want to get married?’ and, ‘Don’t you want to have kids?’ ” Wunch continued. “I think that stigma still exists, especially for women, and especially for women in leadership. But in the end, it’s my life.”

Wunch’s sentiment was echoed almost exactly by Tina.

“I want to erase the stigma behind people who are single,” said Tina. “There’s more to life than just being in a relationship.”

A common theme among the people interviewed for this article was that it’s OK to forgo the traditional path, and that it’s important to bring attention to alternative ways of living.

Everyone interviewed was open to the possibility of meeting someone in the future and settling down, but they didn’t all feel compelled to actively seek out such a relationship and certainly didn’t want to be stigmatized for it.

The stigma of living alone arises from the assumption that people don’t want to be alone, that it’s somehow shameful to accept singlehood or that single people are inherently unhappy. But in reality, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In his 2012 book, Going Solo, author Eric Klinenberg analyzed the uptick in single adults in the United States. He makes a distinction between living alone and actually being isolated. The people who live alone by choice “tend to spend more time socializing with friends and neighbours than people who are married,” he said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine. And in our era of hyperconnectivity, it can be healthy to have a place to unwind in solitude, he added.

Schwartz is also annoyed by people who judge him, whether it’s his friends judging him for his relationship status, or potential partners judging him for his job, such as the woman who dismissed him because she didn’t see his “income potential.”

When Schwartz was dating, he tried to go out with Jewish women because of their shared culture and values, but he said there was sometimes an unfortunate flip side to dating Jewish women:

“As a Jewish person … you don’t fall within the stereotypical job expectation, or potential salary or income expectation, and that devalues you right away. It’s not even worth a date to get to know the person and say, ‘You know what? Who cares that he’s a goalie coach. He’s a good guy. I like spending time with him.’ ”

Schwartz also said that not only does he find his work as a goalie coach enjoyable and fulfilling, but that the money he makes from it is more than sufficient to pay the bills.

More than anything, Schwartz, like Wunch and Tina, wanted to make it clear that he is truly content being single. He knows what other people think he’s giving up, but he also knows that since making the choice to be single, he is happier with himself.

“I don’t want this to come off as bitterness. It’s acceptance,” he said. “I don’t mind not having sex.… I’m not there to put another notch on the post. If I do end up in a relationship, ideally I want this to be my last one. I’m just going to take my time. If … I’m on my deathbed and no one’s there, then that’s how life unfolded, and I’m happy.”

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