A huge thank you to my internet server (who also provides my filter) for figuring out why my internal control panel on my blog has been blocked from me for the last week!
Today I’ll (finally!) respond to some concerns/questions that were expressed about the shidduch system after my last post.
As highly as I think of the shidduch approach, that doesn’t mean that I’m oblivious to areas where there is room for improvement. But the minute my children entered shidduchim, I decided I would no longer engage in theoretical conversations about the drawbacks.
You can be part of the problem or you can be part of the solution. If I were to complain and have an intellectual discussion with no intent to actually do anything, I might be able to convince you or even myself that in some way I was doing something positive by raising awareness. Sounding convincing isn’t the same as being productive. I want to draw positive energy into my life, and complaining doesn’t flow with my goals and intentions.
>>Shidduch dating works as long as the kids are from what deemed to be “right” families and “right” background. If you have anything going against you (BT, ger, foreigner, handicap, weird), the system will not set you up with good matches, but with nebachs.<<
I don’t agree with this at all. The ‘system’ doesn’t set up anyone! The system is made up of individuals who put their time into helping others find a life partner. Some of these people won’t be tuned into you and what you want, and won’t be very helpful. Others will have a more accurate sense of who would be suited to you, and make suggestions accordingly.
When people think about who will be a good match for someone, they look at the most obvious factors first – someone who has a similar background/life path. Converts and baalei teshuva are often matched because they share a similar path that is harder for someone who hasn’t had that journey to relate to. Someone with a disability is likely to be matched with someone with a disability. Someone from a certain culture is often suggested to someone of the same culture.
I’m uncomfortable with the comment that anyone in one of these categories won’t be set up with a ‘good match’, because it implies that only those outside of these categories are ‘good’.
There’s no such thing as any one person who is ‘perfect’. There’s only the person who is ‘perfect’ for you! Since every person has their divinely ordained match, he will be the perfect match for the person that is right for him. And he won’t match those he isn’t meant to match.
Everyone is looking for something else and cares about different things. And what seem like drawbacks really are just factors to help you in the winnowing and sifting process of finding your soul mate.
>>I am Russian, and, although I was lucky to meet my husband very early on in the game, the fact that I was being set up with other Russians over my objections, whose level of observance, or whose goals did not corresponded to mine, was just an example of how things go wrong.<<
I understand that hearing suggestions that weren’t a good fit for one’s goals other than sharing the same cultural background can be hurtful. But it’s very important when in shidduchim to know what you want and to be consistently clear in communicating that. No one is forced to go out against their objections. If someone doesn’t like a suggestion, they say they’re not interested and they don’t go out. If someone feels pressured and goes out to get someone off their back, they haven’t respected their own needs and boundaries.
I had the experience more than once of feeling pressured to say yes to someone who I didn’t feel was the right match. I was concerned my explanations of why I didn’t want to say yes would be seen as petty and of course didn’t want to seem superficial. But more important than my ego was honoring my child’s needs. So I had to honestly state my position and stick with it even when it was uncomfortable for me.
>>Also, how is all these humble young men feel that it is OK to demand a picture of a girl before agreeing to a date?<<
Is it unreasonable for young people to want to see a picture before agreeing to date someone?
No, it’s not. I completely understand it.
That doesn’t mean I like it. Pictures don’t show the most important qualities a person has and could lead to someone saying no to someone based on something superficial that wouldn’t be an issue for them if they got to know the person. It could also lead to someone going out with someone else based on their looks rather than the more important qualities.
Personally, I don’t send pictures of my children and don’t ask for pictures of those who are suggested. This is typical in charedi circles in Israel.
When I follow up a suggestion, I ask a lot about character but not at all about appearance beyond height and hair color. I don’t ask if someone is attractive because everyone has their own sense of what that means, and this is heavily influenced by feelings of emotional connection.
>>How can they say that they will not date girls whose fathers will not support them?<<
I assume young men who plan to learn Torah full-time are being referred to in this question although in virtually every community, Jewish or non-Jewish, religious or secular, finances play some part in a couple’s decision making.
Can we honor the right of each person to choose whatever parameters they want when choosing the person they want to spend their life with? Someone else may not agree with those parameters but that doesn’t make it wrong.
There are young men for whom it is very important to stay in learning long term and look to marry into families that share those values and have the financial capacity to be supportive, and young men who want to stay in learning long term who would rather be financially independent even if it means living a much simpler life.
There are parents who want to support children who are learning Torah full-time who have the financial capacity to do so, and others who don’t have the ability to give that help but feel pressured to give what they don’t have. Unfortunately, we live in a peer dominated world and most of us are afraid to be honest about who we are and what we can do.
I completely understand that people feel very pressured to do more than they can do because they don’t want their child to be left out in the cold. Shidduchim come from G-d and each person will be sent their soul mate when the time is right for them – not a minute before and not a minute after. There’s a lot of calm that comes with being able to trust the One who is directing circumstances, rather than thinking our efforts and financial abilities are the most important factors to making a match happen.
Each of us has the power to be the change we want to see in the world. If there’s something I don’t like about how shidduchim are conducted, then I don’t have to engage in it. My responsibility is to make the choices that are in alignment with my values and accept that others will make the decisions that they make. The choices others make are totally out of my control.
>>What does it mean to check someone out? And what kind of criteria do you look for?<<
The way it works is this. An introductory suggestion is made to one side first. The parent (or whoever is handling it) asks for the basic details to see if the suggestion is in the right ball park. If based on the initial description shared it sounds interesting to that side, the introductory suggestion is made to the other side. Once both sides agree that the idea sounds compatible at the most basic level, then references are exchanged and each side starts researching to get more specific information. (This is time consuming and part of why you don’t see as many posts from me – I spend several hours a week looking into shidduchim suggested instead of blogging :).)
If after all these inquiries are made and both sides want to move forward, the couple goes out. Often during this process one side will agree and the other won’t. Sometimes someone will feel hurt when they want to meet and the other side isn’t interested.
A good friend told me it’s a blessing when someone says no and to be grateful, because it’s clearly not for you and you don’t need to spend any additional time and emotion on it. I’ve come to completely agree with her. Any time the other side says no, I’m so glad that they saw something that gave them clarity that the match wasn’t a good fit. I hope others feel similarly when the ‘no’ comes from our side!
Different people have different priorities when making these inquiries. My priorities are: a mature, responsible and emotionally healthy young adult who comes from an emotionally healthy home, who is compatible with my child in terms of personality and life direction (and height :)).
My son would like to learn long term, and the amount of financial support has never once been a factor in me saying yes or no. I’ve said ‘no’ to young women whose parents had the means and desire to purchase an apartment for the young couple and said ‘yes’ to young women whose parents who can’t give anything. I have never once put financial support ahead of my primary criteria. My job is to help my child find someone with whom he/she can build a happy marriage and meaningful shared life.
“The shidduch system can work, but it seems to be bringing out the worst in people, especially when the practitioners are not as highly-minded as they should be.”
What the shidduch system does is bring out who you really are and what you value. I’ve been amazed by how many special families there are with wonderful children, and regardless of if anything moved ahead with them or not, am honored to have them all be part of my experience.
I don’t know of any other method or any other society that has a success rate like the shidduch system in the Orthodox world. The success of this system isn’t just the way people are matched up, but the mutual focus on Torah values and living a principled life that includes a focus on self-growth, striving to be better individuals and to be the best spouse/parent you can be.
Is the divorce rate among young charedi couples too high? Yes. Should people be more focused on emotional maturity and being prepared for life rather than the external trappings of marriage? Absolutely. Is there too often a focus on the material or superficial? Definitely.
Having imperfect results doesn’t make the system bad. It simply highlights the importance of doing your research well since everyone in the shidduch world doesn’t share the same values and expectations. It’s not always easy to navigate the shidduch system but I’m so grateful to be part of it!