Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How Did They Ever Get Together?

I still keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening in shidduchim today, and the more I take that pulse, the more I'm puzzled as to how any shidduchim get made, ever. Despite all the sleuthing that goes on, despite the ever-increasing amount of checking that goes on before a date even comes to fruition, fewer and fewer dates are happening. Some people point out that this is not a bad thing; only those dates that are really "shayich" get to the starting gate. Young people today aren't wasting their time going out with people where there really is no chance that a shidduch could result. Really?

A group of us. all married for well over 30 or 40 years, were together and started discussing this situation. The general consensus was that if we had had to fill out the dossiers required today and go through all the checking out to the extent that it is done today, probably none of us or very, very few of us would be married to our current spouses, because nothing would have happened beyond the questionnaire stage.

When I got home I started thinking about that and decided to do an informal study of the married people we know. Given the "facts" that everyone requires today, would these couples have been seen as potential spouses? And the answer was a resounding "NO!" One woman, who I knew when she was young and single, had some definite ideas about the type of guy that would make her happy for ever and ever. She was never, never, never going to marry a man who wasn't doing X and who didn't enjoy doing Y. And if he wasn't uber tall he wasn't going to walk into her house. And then one day, while planning sheva brochas for a mutal friend, she met the choson's best friend and the rest is a 27-year old history.

Couple after couple I went down the list, and couple after couple I found myself scratching my head. According to today's standards, these couples should not have wanted to be married to each other, should never have gone out, and certainly should never have made it to multiple decades of solid marriage.

So, if they didn't use those questionnaires then how did all these couples meet? Sure, some of them were fixed up by other people who thought they might be a good match (and based on what criteria nobody knows) but a whole lot of them simply met on their own. They were together somewhere--school, a simcha, a social event--started talking, decided to go out on a "formal" date, and the rest is history.

When a tool for societal organization is as widespread as today's questionnaires are, then it behooves us to ask if that tool is 1)the best tool available and 2)does that tool produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If less dates are coming about and if the divorce rate and sholom bayis issues are high for those couples that do manage to get married shouldn't we be reexamining the tools of matchmaking? Apparently knowing that a person's great-great-great-grandmother was makpid on cholov yisroel and that someone is considered rightish leaning centrist modern orthodox machmir light is proving insufficient to bring marriages to fruition and keep them going.

I took one of those lengthy questionnaires and tried filling it out based on what my situation was when I was dating. I also filled in the answers that would have applied to my husband. And there it was in black and white: my hubby and I were not compatible and would not be considered a match. And yet, here we are, 38-1/2 years married. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, not in the questionnaire.

Bottom line? The answer is not to make those questionnaires longer and longer, more detailed and full of "facts." The answer is to look for a better tool and a better way of making shidduchim. Thank you God for being my shadchan--I truly couldn't have made it without you, and certainly not if my family and I had had to rely on those questionnaires.


efrex said...

This concept needs to be shouted from every rooftop and beat into the head of every shadchan. As the bard succinctly put it: "Love reasons without reason." I've long since lost count of our happily married friends who would NEVER have gotten set up under the "system," and I only need to look to my parents and grandparents to see unusual pairings that have stood the test of time.

At the same time, it's important to note that the shidduch system *does* produce wonderful marriages. I have no problem with people (particularly very young people only starting "in the parsha") creating a detailed wishlist. I *do* have a problem with someone thinking that said wishlist is eternally valid, and will only date those who "make the grade."

alpidarkomama said...

Love it! My husband and I definitely shouldn't be married either. But somehow we've managed to absolutely be each other's beshert and to have a very peaceful, lovely, happy home. All those lists? Patooey. But my husband does have a good time laughing when he catches a glimpse of that REALLY big tallis I bought for my future husband many years ago. (He's 5 inches shorter; but better him than me since I'm the one who has to reach all the cupboards in the kitchen!) Lists, shmists. :)

Eva said...

I'm with you on this one! Those lists are all mostly about past history and nowhere on them is any of the info that counts more when you are married. And all those references those lists insist on? You ever hear of a boy's rebbi coming straight out and saying bad things about any of his talmidim? In fact none of those references are really going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Only way to find out what's what is to go out and pay attention on the date.

Oh and yes, another couple here that would never have been set up if there were questionaires around when we were going out.

Naomi said...

Count me and my husband as another pair who would look totally incompatible on paper. The whole list thing definitely needs a re-think.

Could you please explain something to me- what IS the reason boys and girls are only allowed to interact until age 3 and then not again until they're ready to get married? I really don't understand what these people are afraid of. What do they think is going to happen if boys and girls hang out together? Does it come down to the fear that premarital sex will take place?

I agree with you, the tried-and-true method of boys and girls interacting casually needs to come back in style.

A Fan said...

I am of the questionnaire generation, but somehow managed to circumvent it. I met my husband when I was 16 and he was 17, I was lost in a certain neighborhood, and he helped me find my way. He then gave me his number, because he was concerned about my safe arrival at my destination. I called, we ended up staying in touch. 2 years later, he asked me out- my parents, who are more modern were cool with it, his parents had no idea, because if they had, they would have insisted on the FBI-level shidduch background check, and somehow, I don't think they would have been happy with a now-yeshivish but formerly MO girl with divorced parents. Anyway, he eventually broke the news to his parents that he was imminently engaged to someone he met on his own. The Horror! The Shame! But they eventually got over it.

Then there was my brother-in-law, the good son, who did everything his parents wanted, went through the system just like he was supposed to. After meeting 44(!) girls, and not finding the one, he started going to mixed Shabbos onegs. Well, the very second one he went to, he met his now-kallah! So now my in-laws have 2 shidduchim, no thanks to the shidduch system :-)

Miami Al said...

Not only that, the questionnaires are probably counter productive. The expression "opposites attract" is based on some facts.

As a couple, you should complement each other, not match each other. By looking for identical people, you have weaker marriages.

On a practical level, at least one spouse needs to be interested in cooking on a day-to-day basis, at least one spouse needs to pay attention to financial details, etc., etc.

If people are too similar, the marriage is doomed.

It's a good thing that your wife and mother are different, whether it is table clothes or otherwise, otherwise you might be having problems.

Anonymous said...

You're spot on with your analysis, but the next question is how to change a system which looks to be so entrenched that all that happens is a lot of moaning and 'grin and bear it' comments.
One up for the sensible brigade who understand that loosening the knot can be beneficial...

JS said...

I'm married a couple years, so I'm not "in the parsha" and also my wife and I just met in college so this was never an issue. What kinda of questions are asked on these questionnaires? What's a shidduch resume supposed to look like?

I think the real problem with this approach is twofold: 1) It's really hard to encapsulate a person on a piece of paper; and 2) people think the person is fully encapsulated so they don't really need to get to know the person much better - a few dates and then engagement is sufficient for marriage.

I can't even begin to imagine how I would describe myself when I was still single. I've changed so much since then by being with my wife. I think that aspect is missing - that couples grow and change as they live their lives together. I too don't think my wife and I would match up well on paper - certainly not when we actually started dating. But, my wife is my best friend. We have a connection that goes way beyond what types of books we enjoy reading. Another thing that is lacking - it's somehow treif to have a really close bond with someone of the opposite gender, even if that person is your spouse.

Finally, all this talk of hashkafa is so absurd. It's not enough that someone is Orthodox. It's not even enough to ask about the main hashkafic difference people cared about in der heim - misnagid or chassidish. Are you right-leaning with leftish tendencies or left-leaning with rightish tendencies. And what about your rav? You do have a rav, right? Does he wear a hat? All the time or just during davening? Does he have a beard? During sefirah or all the time? I often think people should just marry their rabbi and get it over with.

Rena said...

JS...Those questionnaires are not all the same but if you want to see one that I couldn't believe, go to

Scroll through the whole thing and you'll get a good idea of just why this post thinks they should be abolished.