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Dating Maze #237 - Younger Sibling First?

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

How to handle when a younger sibling precedes you in marriage.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 30-something single woman. I am getting more and more depressed about the fact that my younger siblings have passed me by in marriage. Of course, I am very happy for them. But as my own search stretches longer and longer, I find it increasingly painful to be around them and their growing families.

I don't want to be selfish, but I really could use some good advice on how to deal with this.


Dear Esther,

One of the most difficult experiences to encounter is watching a younger sibling marry. A younger brother's or sister's engagement often brings a rush of conflicting emotions -- ranging from anxiety, jealousy, resentment and bitterness, to joy, happiness, love for one's family, and even optimism for one's own future. As much as we would like to offer a magic formula that could help older siblings completely overcome the negative feelings and celebrate their family simcha with unbridled joy, we don't have one. It is hard. However, there are ways you can minimize the pain and develop a more productive outlook.

First, do not feel guilty about the mixed emotions you are experiencing. It is perfectly normal to feel sad and resentful about your own single status at the same time you're happy about a sibling's marriage. Instead of bottling up those emotions, it would be a good to express them in an appropriate forum. You may find it cathartic to express your feelings by writing in a private journal, or by describing them to an empathetic friend or mentor. You can tell that person, "I need to express how I feel to someone who can listen, empathize without offering suggestions, and never discuss our conversation with other people."

Your conflicting emotions may surface from time to time during your sibling's engagement and wedding celebrations, but if you have an outlet to express these feelings, it will be easier for you to compartmentalize them. You can then be freer to enjoy the celebrations by focusing on love for your family and a desire for your sibling's happiness.

Another way to gain emotional strength is to focus on the fact that your sibling's engagement or marriage has nothing to do with your own. Your brother's bride, or your sister's groom, is right for them, not for you. Why they met at this point in time, and why you're still waiting, is something beyond human control. The person who turns out to be right for you to marry will come along at a time that God decides is right.

That frame of reference helps with another way of coping through this emotionally challenging time. It's hard to think, "I don't mind that it is taking years, as long as I know that it's going to happen, and when." We have to remember that no matter how much we may want to be married, it is within God's control rather than our own. Someday in the future, we may find out the reason why we had to wait, or we may not. Either way, there is a reason.

Waiting Time

So the best advice is to use this "waiting time" productively. That can mean strengthening your personal weaknesses, so that when the time comes, you'll be a better marriage partner. It also means continuing your dating efforts, and periodically re-examining and adjusting your strategies and perspectives. It also means taking some of the focus off yourself by performing kindness for others.

Many people who have dated for a long time before meeting the right person say that, in retrospect, the personal growth they went through during the difficult years of dating helped to refine their character traits, develop a more enlightened perspective, become more spiritually connected, individuate better from their parents, or become more attuned to the needs of others. Only after they grew in this way were they able to meet and develop a great relationship with their future spouse.

One of the best coping mechanisms of all is living a full life, rather than waiting until you marry to do so. Why should we waste the next three, five, or seven years in an unrewarding job, not managing money properly, forgoing interesting vacations, living in the same dismal apartment as a college undergraduate, or not being involved in the community? Marriage should be viewed as a way to enhance your already-full life, rather than a means of rescuing you from an unrewarding one.

Family Dynamics

Regarding your specific situation, it may be helpful to look at it from the opposite perspective. Sometimes, the younger sibling also experiences mixed feelings when deciding to get married. In spite of their own happiness, many younger siblings feel somewhat guilty that they will be the one to marry first. Each family member may wonder how to display sensitivity to the older sibling without diminishing the joy and excitement they feel about the wedding preparations. Some of them may avoid discussing wedding plans with an older sibling in order to spare them discomfort. Or they may not realize that when an older sibling expresses joy and offers to help with wedding preparations, he or she may still feel somewhat resentful, anxious, or jealous.

While some families find it difficult to discuss such sensitive issues, it is always better to do so. The engaged sibling could have a heart-to-heart discussion with the older sibling, to express love for them and sensitivity to the discomfort and pain they may be feeling, and to describe her appreciation for the happiness and graciousness her sibling has displayed. It's also a good idea to ask older siblings to what extent they would like to hear about wedding plans and the engaged couple's efforts to set up a home, and if they want to help with the event. Many older brothers and sisters are happy to enhance their sibling's simcha with a personal touch, while others will have a hard enough time just attending the wedding and its associated festivities. The best way for one sibling to be considerate of the other's sensitivities is to talk it out together.

Parents, too, need to acknowledge that their older child may have conflicting emotions, and to express appreciation for child being gracious about the wedding.

And this a good time as well to express optimism and hope that the older child will soon find his/her soul mate. Sometimes, it also helps for a parent to let their child know that they've been setting aside money for his future wedding, or that they've been praying or doing other mitzvot in the merit that the child will find and marry the right person.

The Talmud says that making a match is "as difficult as splitting the Red Sea." What is the connection? When the Jews stood at the sea, it did not split until one man, Nachshon, took the plunge. Then the sea split and everyone else was able to walk through. The same concept could apply to matches: Once one sibling takes the plunge, it can provide an opening for the other siblings to follow right after.

We've seen this phenomenon played out in real life, time and again. So may the weddings of your younger sibling be an opening for your own wedding -- may it be soon in the future.

Rosie & Sherry


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