Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top Five Revisions to the Shidduch System

PNN asked me a while ago what my top five revisions would be to the shidduch system currently in place. There's more than five revisions I'd make, but here are the ones that I'd put into place first, in no particular order.

1. Remove the middle man or woman. Once a first date has been set up and gone on both sides have to say yes or no within 24 hours. The shadchan will report the results to both sides. After that, the couple is on their own. You want a second date? You call and ask.

2. Mixed events for males and females (can't get too much more mixed than that) will be a requirement for every community to host on a regular basis. While there may be programs presented at these get togethers, let no one mistake that sufficient free time for the attendees to mingle will be a requirement of every program. In point of fact the best of these programs will be the ones where the mingling is built into the program, such as a game night where the males and females will be playing against/with each other, or a chesed program--let's have them preparing food baskets or sorting clothing or what have you.

3. Get rid of the age ranking system in place. For some reason that escapes me the "greener" the male and female, the more valuable they are in the system. Mother Nature is laughing at us for sure. While young bushes and trees and plants are surely necessary, it's the more mature specimens that are the most valuable. Go ahead and walk into any plant nursery. The cheapest item there is a package of seeds with a picture on the package of what the planting should look like when full grown. Of course, there is no guarantee that those seeds will sprout at all or that they will grow "straight" or that they will ever get to full size. The next cheapest items are the small seedlings stuffed 6-12 per tray. Again, they may show that they have roots but what they will actually do as they grow is not known. The most expensive items in the nursery are the full-blown specimens, the ones where you can see just what kind of plant you are getting, with what strengths and weaknesses. They come in their own individual pots and the more mature they are, the more they will cost you.

We need to stop pushing our young people into the shidduch parsha before they have sufficient roots and growth to thrive. While some plants may mature relatively early, a whole lot of them don't.

4. Stop the crazy time proscriptions. There are any number of people who have proscribed that dating has to run according to specifics of a clock and a calendar. First dates shall only be X number of minutes/hours. Subsequent dates may not exceed a specific hour count. Six dates maximum and you decide yea or nay. On the basis of what may be only 12 hours of interaction, we expect that our singles will be able (and willing) to make a decision that could impact them forever, both in a good way and a bad way. What other items of great importance do we attach such a timetable to? Shopping for a house can take months, if not years. Investigating and deciding upon a college to go to can take months of steady research, visitations and thinking. Even buying something simple, like a couch or an outfit for a wedding or a new car can involve weeks/months of looking, re-looking and re-re-looking. Yet, we suppose that following a simple and condensed time formula will allow all singles to make a life-altering decision based on 12 hours in a fairly artificial environment--not only suppose it, but require it. Unlike that outfit, which may turn out to be unsuitable when viewed in the privacy of your room at home, "returning" a shidduch or marriage is fraught with difficulty and is an emotionally scarring situation.

Let me simplify this one a bit. You get on an airplane at JFK heading towards Israel. You are squashed into an itsy bitsy seat that is not all that comfortable and you can't stretch out the way you want to. You are not necessarily dressed for comfort but for public view. You and a stranger are going to be sharing that space and are expected to be friendly but be formal. This is not a place to be raising subjects that might bring about emotional or heated discussion--social chitchat is the rule. Now add this--you disembark in Israel and are accosted by your nearest and dearest (and yes, some who aren't so near or so dear) and are told that you must make a decision RIGHT NOW: are you going to marry your seatmate or not? Yup, 12 hours of limited travel and a life-altering decision must be made.

5. Get rid of the "Too many cooks spoil the broth" syndrome in place. If only the male and female dating were involved in the process of trying to get married there would still be problems because of points 1-4 above. Now add in that there are whole slews of people who are actively involved, who push themselves into the process. Granted, it's perfectly natural to want to talk things over with someone you trust. But we've gone way beyond the "talk things over" aspect. The way things run today there are way more than two people who are going to be making the decision about who gets married to whom. Parents/grandparents/siblings/other relatives/rabbis/rebbis/morot/friends and just plain acquaintances all seem to feel that they are an integral part of the decision process, with a vote that counts at least as much as the dating people's do. In the end only two people are going to walk away from that chupah and go home together, only two people are going to get married. It's THOSE TWO PEOPLE whose wishes must be paramount. They might be making a mistake? Maybe yes and maybe no. But the mistake is theirs to make, not the entire world's.

Given the high divorce rate in Klal today (and no, that is not merely a result of divorces being easier to obtain or more socially acceptable), given the burgeoning sholom bayis problems particularly among younger married couples, what do we really have to lose if we change the system being used today?

Unlike baking and cooking, no proscribed recipe for making a shidduch is going to work across the board for everyone, nor will it result in a "perfect product" every time that recipe is followed. Even in cooking and baking every good cook knows that a recipe is only a loose guideline--sometimes it will work perfectly and other times it won't. We in Klal need to stop believing that our recipe for shidduchim is the exception to the rule--a recipe that works in all instances using a whole bunch of ingredients that differ from each other and from those suggested in the original recipe.

As I said in the beginning of this posting, there are lots more than five things I would change about shidduch making, but even utilizing one or two of the changes I suggest could make a big difference for a whole lot of people.


Abba's Rantings said...

great list
good luck implementing it

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I agree with much of what you wrote here, but re: #3, I think you know why the newer candidates are more valued. The assumption is that those who have been "on the market" longer were passed over for a reason.
Let me be clear: I am not endorsing this philosophy. But that is the thinking. The seed packet analogy just doesn't hold.

Tuvi said...

Even putting one of these into use would make a difference for a whole lot of people. Put all of them into place and I think you'd see less complaining about how terrible shidduch dating is.

Rabbi, not sure why you think the seed packet analogy doesn't work. When you buy that package you're buying it because of the picture on the outside and the name printed on it. You hope that the seeds will match that pretty picture and grow to be just what is promised on the package. No way to know if all those seeds are going to grow or not or if they will be what is promised.

My wife pointed out to me that one seed packager has on the package the germination rate, and it's 80-90% not 100%. About how it actually worked out when she planted those seeds. We also had this happen to us. My wife planted some seeds expecting to have everything that grew in the place she planted the seeds be identical in color and flower type. Right in the middle of a patch of yellow small plants was a larger red one that clearly wasn't the same plant but the seed had somehow been packaged wrong. Plenty of examples in life of people who are presented for shidduchim as being X but as they grow you can clearly see they are Y.

Primum Non Nocere said...

Thank you so much for this post. It definitely lived up to my expectations. Now if only there were a way to implement these ideas...

PNN: The DOG Score

JS said...

It seems that most of your issues have to do not with the shidduch system per se, but with everyone surrounding it. To be more clear, I don't really see that you have any issue with the shadchan, shidduch resumes, how people are redt, etc. your issue is with the parents and with the community. I don't know if the take away should be that the shidduch system would be fine without "external" influences or if we can't even address the fundamental issues with all this "clutter" in the way.

If the problem is externals, it's a lot simpler to solve. If you're a guy, for example, all you need to do is be willing to look at women your own age (or older). Both guys and girls can simply tell their families and friends to butt out. If that doesn't happen, the singles have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the community issues, either stop caring what the community thinks or live somewhere more in line with your way of thinking.

There isn't really a "system" it's just a lot of people making really stupid decisions in my opinion. If you don't like the way things are being handled, go your own way. But won't that ruin your shidduch chances? No. After all, don't you want someone who is like-minded and willing to go their own way?

Personally, I don't get why people turn their fate over to others to begin with. Why is it so hard to walk up to someone at kiddush and say hello? Too shy? Why not just ask a friend to introduce you or invite you both to a meal?

If this is "inappropriate" we only have ourselves to blame, not some system.

As for the young being most valued, I think it's pretty simple. The young are clueless and much more willing to overlook any flaws or issues because they don't even know what to be looking for. They don't even know who they are and what is best for themselves. An older person is more experienced and knowledgeable and is likely to be branded "picky" when they may just be more in tune with who would make the best partner.

Ezzie said...

Much more important in my opinion: Stop giving so much information (if any). The more information people have the more they've already judged the person coming in and the less they have to talk about. Give almost no information and make them talk - it's amazing how actually talking leads to more talking.

Data said...

I agree with JS - if you don't like it, then don't go along with it, and Hashem will accommodate you accordingly. If anything, I would think Hashem would like it that one thinks He is the matchmaker, not Yenta.

Another point - if marriages are breaking up, it certainly is not the fault of the system that brought them together. If youngsters decided to rush and marry because they want a party, how is that the fault of the system? It's job is to bring two people together. That's it.

If a couple decided to date leisurely and really get to know each other, or if a couple stays married, would you be giving credit to how they initially met? You would be saying they are really working on their relationship. The shadchan certainly isn't.

The shidduch system is all I know. I don't blame it. I blame certain misguided individuals who were not born into it and so twisted it to puff up their own egos, but the fact is there are really no rules. There is, however, an abundance of fools. And if I go along with their mishagasen, who's fault is that?

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I agree that your version of the analogy ("We buy seeds in the hope that they will grow, but have no guarantees") works.
I disagree with the original presentation of the analogy: "Full-blown specimens are stronger products than seeds."

ProfK said...

JS and Data,
I stated up front that there are other aspects of shidduch making that belong on a list. Re the role of the questionaires and how shidduchim are redt, I've posted extensively on just those two issues. This list was for items that could 1) be fixed relatively easily and 2) that I believe haven't got enough press.

Data, as to individual responsibility, yes, if something goes wrong we are the ones who should bear the blame. HOWEVER, as the saying goes "no man is an island, entire unto himself." We live in communities, and to be a part of those communities can often require that we follow "group" mandates rather than our own. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes not so good a thing if the group mandate is so established that it alienates segments of the group.

The last few decades have seen a change in the community mandate as regards shidduch making. Additions to the mandate and subtractions from the way the mandate used to be applied have resulted in some truly skewed practices. Yes, there are some individuals who say forget about it to the mandate and go their own way. Some are successful in finding a shidduch and some are not.

When a practice gets entrenched the way the current shidduch practice has, it is going to take individuals grouping together for strength in numbers to make any real changes that will accomodate the variety of people found in Klal.

Data said...

I'm thinking about various interviews I've seen about current issues, like overpopulation and global warming. The gist of these conversations were that in a decade or so, situations work out. In a decade or so, third world countries will be totally implementing birth control, so we won't all fall off the planet. In a decade or so, the world will be nearly completely using eco-friendly systems so we won't all drown.

Extremes happen. While individuals may strive very hard for immediate change, it rarely happens. Things have a way of working out. Already the "system," in my view, is already beginning to mellow - when the economy goes down, then people remember discipline. Not right away, but a change will happen - not from forcing the situation, not from shaking people until their teeth rattle - but if a system doesn't work, then "evolution" will ensure that it fazes out.

Hashem wants us to wed and populate the earth. It's not something we should think we have control over - which is the problem. The system is claiming omnipotence, when things should be calmer and left to a higher power. There is personal responsibility too. I don't think I've ever seen a single 50 year old say, "It was the system's fault." We have the power over our own destinies, while we have belief in a higher power. We should know when different situations call for each.

tesyaa said...

Why do you think people are so concerned about age? Because of fertility. I have heard people say that if they marry a very young woman, even if she experiences infertility, there's usually enough time to treat it and she can still have several children. My own experience tells me this is usually true. In a society that values childbearing and very large families, why marry older than you have to? Even younger men may be more fertile than slightly older men.

tesyaa said...

Let me make it clear that I'm not advocating very young marriage in order that people have large families; but that is the view in the community. I think it is better for mature people of any age to marry than immature people, and whatever benefit is gained from having 7 children instead of 3 or 4 can easily be outweighed by other marital problems caused when immature people marry.

Mr. Cohen said...

My New Hashkafah of Shidduchim :-)

My new hashkafah of shidduchim is thanking and praising HASHEM always :-)

Even when my dating experiences are far from pleasant, I realize that HASHEM is guiding my life with His infinite wisdom and abundant love, and exact precision that only He is capable of :-)

HASHEM always knows what is truly good for me, even when I do not :-)

Often what I need most is atonement and humility, so G_d gives me those precious things through unpleasant dating experiences :-)

I now realize that I must always thank HASHEM for ALL of my dating experiences, because even the worst dates are for my eternal benefit, because they provide me with precious atonement and humility :-)

Tractate Avot teaches that the reward for a good deed is proportionate to its difficulty; by giving me difficult dating experiences, HASHEM is providing me with greater reward for Olam HaBa, in addition to precious atonement and humility :-)

G_d loves me even more than I love myself, and He would never give me an unpleasant dating experience unless it was for my eternal benefit in both Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa :-)


Thank you for all my dating experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant or mediocre :-)
You are always guiding me with endless wisdom and love; You always help me and give me everything I need :-)

I regret all the times I complained;
instead of complaining, I should have been busy thanking You.