Life & Culture

All the single (Jewish) ladies: women across the generations on the highs and lows of going it alone

What’s it like to be unattached and female? Women from their 20s to their 70s tell all


Izzy Benardout, 20, student, Surrey

When I started at uni, I hadn’t even had my first kiss. I was very academic, very focused on my work and the idea of having a boyfriend or fancying people wasn’t on my radar at all. I think I kind of scorned it a bit.

I’d decided I was definitely going to marry Jewish, which was quite a good excuse – rather than looking like I just wasn’t interested. There were no Jewish guys at my school in south- west London, I was the only Jewish person.

But then I had my first kiss at a nightclub in Cambridge, with a guy I didn’t even know. I had always struggled with my self confidence, but I think that was the start of me seeing myself as someone who could be in a romantic relationship.

After that I started dating a guy I met on Hinge. It wasn’t really a serious thing, but I expected a level of respect from him that I thought I wouldn’t have had to communicate too clearly. When I saw him in a nightclub getting with another girl, I felt really mugged off.

Apparently he said we weren’t “exclusive”. That word is just a cop-out people use to mask despicable behaviour. “Are they exclusive? Are they not exclusive?” Having a boyfriend or girlfriend is a level up from being exclusive. My therapist says she feels sorry for my generation.

So yeah, it’s a lot of hard work and I think that’s why me and my friends can’t be bothered. We’re on the apps, but almost as a form of entertainment. We like to have a quick flick through, a quick scroll, but nothing really serious at all.

I would like to settle down one day  — the idea of having to date for ever makes me feel a bit queasy. I’d love to have children, I really want to be a mother. I’m not particularly fussed about getting married though, divorce is really scary.

None of the guys I’ve dated so far have been Jewish, but my children will be Jewish no matter what happens. I know you can be Jewish and have a very strong faith when the person you love isn’t.

Anonymous, 22, Fitzrovia, London

I feel like because I’m young, it’s good to be single. Everyone tells you to enjoy yourself in your twenties, have some fun while you still can. Part of me thinks this is my chance to grow as a person and discover who I am. But at the same time, I guess it would be nicer to have that genuine connection. Everyone my age, they constantly talk about relationships and whether you’re seeing someone. So there’s added social pressure as well.

I think within the Jewish community, it’s more normal to get married younger. My childhood best friend is getting married now and a lot of people I grew up with are engaged. It would be nice to have something like that for myself.

I wouldn’t say I do a lot of dating, but I go to a lot of Jewish events and conferences. They’re not specifically singles events, but there’s often an understanding that they’re secretly targeted towards singles.

I’m on the apps too, but I find a match can fizzle out fairly quickly. A lot of guys my age are really nice, but either they’re immature or they’re too serious, too clingy from the get-go. When I was younger I always said I wanted to get married by the time I was 24, but now I think maybe that’s a bit soon. About 26 might be a good age. Ideally, I’d like to have my first kids before I’m 30.

I guess the idea of being named here is just a bit daunting. Our generation has always been told that anything on the internet can get back to you. But, for sure, it’s antisemitism as well. A lot of us people are bit nervous of being identified as Jewish. We’re already getting a lot of hate.

Chaya Odze,35, family psychotherapist, Hendon, London

Back in the day, you would walk down the street and there were always a lot of repair shops. But if you tried to find someone to repair something now, it’s not nearly so easy. You’d probably just order a new one from Amazon.

It’s all very convenient, but very disposable – and I think that’s reflected in the way we form relationships. People aren’t investing in a partnership the way they used to. If that connection has broken down, if it doesn’t seem to be working, we just split up.

There’s also a real crisis around people getting together. Thousands of people my age are still single when, in a previous generation, they would have been married or in a committed relationship by this point.

It’s not that we’re not trying. I’m doing so many singles events – meals, parties, trips all over the world, with hundreds of people coming together and having a great time. They all want to marry someone and have a family, but it’s just not happening.

I think social media is part of the problem. It’s very superficial, it’s very disposable and I think it creates a lot of dissatisfaction. There’s so much choice in front of you, but it’s not real. What do you know about this person from the details in their profile?

I grew up in an Orthodox home, where I was taught getting married and having children was one of the most important things to do. I did get engaged in my twenties, but we weren’t right for each other. Being 35 and single isn’t easy.

There are lots and lots of friends around me who are in the same position, so at least I know I’m not alone. I’m also passionate about trying to change the situation. We have a meeting tomorrow with some rabbis in my community, to talk about what’s available and how we can plug the gaps.

Ultimately, I think we need to educate the next generation on how to form healthy relationships.

Vanessa Kushner,48, teacher, Edgware, London

No one around me believes I want to be single. Every time I get asked out by a man and I say no, they think I’m just pretending and playing hard to get.

But it’s really true. I’ve actively chosen to be single since July and I’m getting to enjoy it more and more. I want to be single for at least the next year, so I can focus on my own happiness and my children.

I want to see what life is like without dating anyone because it’s been a long time since I last tried it. This is my chance to learn what’s really important to me. I want to be the best version of myself before I meet a man I might settle down with.

I’ve also had two bad relationships and I’m trying to learn from that, so my next one can be a lot healthier. I split up with my husband about five years ago and the divorce ended up taking three years. Then last year I met a man I thought was really special, but I soon found out I was wrong.

I’m still happy to go on the odd date here and there, but I’m really not looking and I’ve turned down quite a few. I’m certainly not on any apps. I have joined some singles groups on WhatsApp and Facebook, but mainly to meet up with single friends.

The biggest downside in the Jewish world is going to bar mitzvahs and weddings. That can be really hard. When I was married I’d walk in behind my husband, who was always the more outgoing. It’s usually OK once you get chatting though.

There’s also Shabbat, festivals, Seder night – having to make a decision about who’s going to lead the service. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.

And there are so many things I love about single life. I can choose when I go to sleep and when I wake up, and have a whole bed to myself. I don’t have to explain to anyone where I’m going or what I’m doing. I feel completely independent.

Ali Jacobs,53, copywriter, Shenley, Hertfordshire

I think it was the leukaemia that did it. It was a pretty hairy year when I was diagnosed at 35, but it allowed me to get my priorities together and think about some of the decisions I’d made in the past.

When I started dating again, I found men often had quite personal questions about my illness. Like, “Does this mean you can’t have children?” I can’t have children, but it’s not something I want to discuss on a first date.

I’ve dated a whole plethora of people since then, but no one I’ve really wanted to spend my life with. Within my circle of friends, there’s a lot of us who’ve never been married. We’re all university-educated, we all know what we want and don’t want in a partner. I think of us like the best selection box of chocolates you could imagine.

There are so many things I love about being single. I don’t have to listen to anyone putting me down or shutting me up. When I shut the door after a long day, I can recalibrate without thinking about anyone else’s needs.

But being independent doesn’t mean I’m unavailable. I’m also a loving person, a good friend. I want to be able to give that love and partnership to someone deserving of it.

I went on a coffee date yesterday, with a friend who’s a bit more Orthodox than me. I really enjoyed his company, but decided in the end we’d be better off as friends. I think I’ve become a little more selective than I used to be.

You do have to go through more as you get older. I think if I had something like leukaemia again, it would be nice to have someone there I could rely on. I’ll just have to see what the future holds.”

Rachel Gaffin Fidler, 56, actress and synagogue administrator, Mill Hill, London

I was actually quite excited. What could be more perfect than over-45s Jewish speed dating? I thought there might be a nice guy, interested in the arts and culture, someone I would enjoy talking to.

I got there to find nine women and three men. One was in his 60s, one in his 70s and one was drafted in as a favour to the organisers. I’ve no idea where all the Jewish men have gone.

I haven’t been that bothered about it for the last couple of years. In fact, I haven’t dated anyone Jewish since I’ve been divorced. But since October 7, I feel like my priorities have changed.

I don’t want to go for a coffee with someone and end up in a heated debate about what “from the river to the sea” really means. I might just stick to dating Jewish guys for now.

I have a great relationship with my ex, who would probably be snapped up if he bothered to get out there and start looking. I know I would like to move on, but I won’t settle. I’m not desperate.

I love my single life. I have wonderful friends and I love both my jobs. I go to the cinema a lot, I hang out with my daughter when she lets me, sometimes my son will deign to watch something on TV with me.

But I miss having a plus one for the theatre without having to advertise on Facebook. I miss having someone who’s got my back. I’m not ready to say “maybe this is permanent”.

As a single woman, I find I don’t get invited to things as much. I use a few dating apps, but men my age often seem to want a younger partner. I’d like to meet someone at a similar life stage, so maybe late 40s to late 50s.

I’m just waiting to see if someone comes along who’s the right lid to my chicken soup pot.

Denise Lester, 63, solicitor and music photographer, London

I’ve always been somebody who’s strived ahead professionally. I’ve always wanted that — not just to be good as a solicitor, but to be excellent, one of the best. To get to that level requires a lot of drive and determination.

I wasn’t someone who would do this until I got married, then give it all up to have children. I’ve had long-term relationships in the past and even proposals, but it just hasn’t been right. I’ve never wanted to be a divorce statistic.

I’ve also loved deeply and it hasn’t been reciprocated. That’s awful, but you have to move on from it with positivity. I recently came out of an on-and-off situation that lasted years, so I see 2024 as an emotional turning point.

I now have the confidence to travel solo, which has been a significant change. I follow gigs and take photos of bands in London and all over Europe, visit galleries and fill my head with art. I enjoy theatre, film and the opera. I know I’m lucky and blessed to be able to do all that.

I’m quite happy if someone wants to approach me and ask me out, but I think as you get older you have to be optimistic, flexible and available. I don’t like putting myself out there online though. I’m quite extrovert professionally, but I’m still a private person.

When you don’t have a partner or children, you have to find meaning in your life — both in yourself and in terms in of your service to the community. As a lawyer, I know I make a difference to the families of children who are taken into care. I’ve been involved in causes like human rights and domestic abuse, and I’m proud to be a deputy of my synagogue.

I don’t go to shul with the idea of meeting a husband. I’m there to be involved, pray and learn, because my faith runs deep within me. I wouldn’t mind a partner with a different level of religiosity. I just haven’t been fortunate enough to meet my beshert.

Doe Solomon, 76, retired businesswoman, Prestwich, Manchester

I got divorced about 25 years ago. We were just completely different people, we lived completely different lives. When he walked out of the house, I felt such a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Of course, it was difficult at first because we lived in a big house with big expenses I struggled to pay for. But eventually we sold up and I moved into a smaller house with my daughter.

It was wonderful. We had no worries, no regrets. I did have some trouble with little things like car issues, but I can honestly say that was it. There are people you can get in to do jobs around the house if you want to.

Many years ago I did have another relationship for about two years, but that fizzled out and I’ve never bothered since. I used to have the odd look at Jdate, but those men were all looking for women 30 or 40 years younger than them.

On my own I can do more or less what I want, when I want to do it. I can have my house how I want it. I don’t have to pick up dirty clothes off the floor. I can go off to Israel to volunteer during my holidays and I never had to ask for permission.

I think Jewish people don’t like to see their friends on their own — they’re always trying to match you up. Well, they were for a long time. When you get to a certain age, they don’t bother any more.

I think people accept me for what I am now. The only thing is, if there’s a big function I often won’t go because I wouldn’t feel comfortable on my own. It’s not too bad at weddings and bar mitzvahs though, because that’s usually family.

I can’t say never again, but I don’t think the opportunity would ever arise. When you’re young I can understand it, you want to have a life and share your life with someone. But I’ve been there and done that, I don’t need to do it  again.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive