Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fixing the System--Another Step

Let me state the obvious here--men and women are different from each other in many ways. Societally ingrained dictates account for some of those differences--you know, like that old one that men should not cry under any circumstances. Other differences arise from genetic features. Still others are idiosyncratic, individual traits. Looks are also highly individualistic; even identical twins are not really identical.

Humans have likes and dislikes. Sometimes they may not even know they harbor these likes and dislikes until they are put into a specific position where their likes and dislikes may be important. If likes and dislikes are going to be important in a specific situation, shouldn't we fully explore those likes and dislikes before making a decision?

Now look at shidduchim. Ask someone to describe what they are looking for in a spouse in twenty words or less and words come up such as mentsch or baalas midos. Right--a perfectly intelligible description--NOT. There is a lot more to getting married than can be conveyed in a few words written on a piece of paper.

So, how does someone develop likes and dislikes? Well, it can't be done in isolation, no matter how hard some people try. To know what is out there is the first step in determining whether or not you like it. Knowing what is out there requires time, keen observation, an ability to separate the gold from the dross, an ability to be honest with yourself and, last but not least, a clear and detailed understanding of any "item" being viewed and its intended purpose in your life--in short, it requires experience.

Ladies, you need/want a new pair of shoes. Do you walk into a store, point at the first pair you see and say "I'll take those." Uhn uhn you don't. First, you've given some thought to whether or not the pair should be black, brown, blue, beige etc. You pretty much know that you prefer a black shoe. Okay, fine. So you wander the store looking at all the shoes. You may look at only the ones already presented in a black color, or maybe you spot a pair that you like and wonder if it comes in black also. You may have decided that the pair you are looking for is only for special occasions and needs to be "fancy" enough to wear to a wedding. Or maybe you are looking for a pair of everyday shoes, something that will take you through your busy days. Maybe what you are looking for is a winter-weight shoe, one that can stand up to the rigors of cold and yucky weather. Maybe you are looking for a summer-weight shoe, one that will be light on your feet. Maybe you are looking only for real leather, perhaps unusual leather. And maybe you are looking for canvas or man-made material. Perhaps you want an arch support or more room in the toe area. Perhaps you want a slip-on as opposed to a tie shoe. Perhaps you want a shoe that will last for a long, long time, or perhaps you don't care just how long the shoe lasts as long as it does what it is supposed to do while you have it. Perhaps you are looking for a particular brand, and perhaps you don't care which brand it is. Perhaps price is an issue, and you are looking to pay the least that you can. And perhaps you are looking for a pair just like the ones your friend just bought.

But how did you know to ask yourself all the questions above about the shoes you are looking at? Experience. Mayhap you once went shopping and bought the latest fashion in the latest color and you found out you didn't much like it--it pinched your toes, rubbed your heels, clashed with your favorite outfits. Just perhaps the pair that looked great on your friend turned out not to fit you well when you tried them on. Regardless, you know that there are hundreds, thousands or pairs out there and it's going to take time to find the one pair that will fit you best. The only way to find what you are looking for is to visit a lot of stores and shop around.

Know anyone who opens a catalog of cars, perfunctorily glances through the pages, randomly stops on page 27 and points to the third car from the top of the page and says "I'll buy that one"? No way. Something that costs as much as a car does takes a lot of time, effort, patience and thought to purchase. You may go from dealer to dealer to see what is out there. You're going to look at all the features that come with each model. You're going to agonize over what color to get. You're going to sit in the seats and move them around to see if they fit you well and give you the leg room you prefer. You're going to look at the price tag really closely. You'll look at the estimated gas mileage figures and the safety features. And when you've looked and looked you are going to have to--GASP!--decide what you will compromise on. Car X has 8 out of 10 of the things you like most, but the two things it doesn't have are things you really hate. Car Y only has 7 out of 10 things you like most, but you don't, in retrospect, really care all that much about the other three.

Okay, cars and shoes--we spend a whole lot of time in thinking about them, but even more time in shopping around for them and doing comparisons. It would be nice if we could find just what pleases us in the first place we look, but we know that doesn't happen all that often. We are resigned to having to shop around and to take time and view the merchandise available because otherwise we might end up with something that we won't like very much in the end.

Now to shidduchim. Just what lame brained idiot decided that limiting the exposure of males and females was the "perfect" way to make a shidduch? A maximum of six dates and you should know with certainty that someone is your heart's desire? Seeing each other in "regular" situations is dangerous and only arranged dates will give you the knowledge to make a decision? We're far more sensible about buying shoes and cars than we are about making shidduchim.

First, shopping and browsing venues need to be expanded--singles need to be able to see each other outside of a date and need to be able to see just how many different types of "shoes" and "cars" there actually are out there. It may well be that a whole lot of people, if exposed to each other in this way, might change their mind about what they really want or need, once they know the full range of what there is to choose from. Instead of wailing that they are going to have to settle for second best, they just might redefine what "best" means. Occasions for social interactions among singles need to be promoted. This can be as simple as having a whole group of single males and females at someones home for a Shabbos meal to planned social occasions during the day or evening on a larger scale.

Second, we need to stop limiting our singles to what is presently "in style." Everyone here has had the experience of trying on something that was absolutely the height of fashion but looked terrible on or didn't fit right or was just way too much money to pay. Just as shoes or a car need to feel comfortable, how much more so does a shidduch need to "feel comfortable." We need to keep in mind that old saying: "Different strokes for different folks." And we need to stop turning up our noses at what we see as ordinary as opposed to extraordinary. Nope, a Toyota is not a BMW. And who says that a BMW is the be-all and end-all of car driving? Three little letters on the bumper do not necessarily a stellar car make--it depends on what you want, need and like in a car.

To sum up, we need to stop pushing certain labels over others when it's usually just a lot of advertising hype. We need to let our singles become savvy comparison shoppers. We need to stop thinking of compromise as a dirty word. We need to let our singles mingle to discover what suits them best through actual experience with the "product" being looked for. And we need to stop assuming that any and all contacts between singles may lead to unacceptable behavior and/or thoughts.

Back in my dating days there was a somewhat risque joke going around, but it had some truth in it and applies here. Why do we Jews forbid pre-marital sex? It might lead to mixed dancing. Why limit social interaction between singles looking for a shidduch? You fill in the answer.


Rae said...

I agree that more socialization is necessary so our kids can get a realistic picture of what the opposite sex is like and who is available for marriage. But you really need to read the latest posting on Orthonomics. Some idiot of a rabbi believes that the answer to all of our society's problems is to lower the marriage age to 15 and marry off our girls at that age. As long as lunatics with smicha after their name are the ones that are going to be listened to there's no chance of putting your practical advice into play.

Primum Non Nocere said...

Beautiful piece and right on target, ProfK! Several years ago, I ran a kiruv camp overseas. We had a staff of about 35 all-star madrichim and madrichot from all across the world who worked closely together for several months. The atmosphere was entirely aboveboard, supervised, and kosher and the camp was a tremendous success (and yes, a few shidduchim did come out of it). In the years since, I've had a few friends who have gone out with some of the madrichot and have called to ask me about them. I can't begin to tell you how remarkably different their impressions of the girls were after a few dates from my impressions. The fact is that people are usually not themselves on dates, and the only way to really get to know someone is in real world environments interacting with other people and encountering real world situations...kind of the way the rest of your marriage will be spent. Great piece!

Primum Non Nocere: Taking Care of Business

JS said...

I think the problem with the shidduch system is that it's not meant to create happy marriages or to create ideal pairings or even to help people who are maximally compatible get together - it's meant to create marriages, plain and simple.

The goal is not nearly as lofty as you (and most other people) would like. The goal isn't a soulmate, it's a mate. To switch to your analogy, the goal is simply find a pair of shoes or a car, not the best pair of shoes or car for you.

And to take the analogy further, the shadchan is the pushy salesman who is simply trying to get you to make a purchase - they just want to make a sale. They'll work with you to the extent necessary to make that sale - they'll go to the back room and find out if they have the shoe in a size 8 - but, if you're too picky or too fussy, they lose interest. It's not worth their time anymore.

If you don't "get" what the shidduch system is all about, you're going to get left behind. As you rightly point out, it's impossible to get to know someone in 6 dates or fewer and to summarize what you're looking for in a paragraph is absurd (is anyone out there NOT looking for someone nice, with good middos, and who is a baal chesed? No, I want the mean-spirited, cranky person who is always in a bad mood and is too demanding). If you don't settle quickly, you'll be left out in the cold.

Marry young to someone that isn't half bad, or don't marry at all - at least as far as the shidduch system is concerned. The goal is marriage as young as possible and kids as quickly as possible so you are locked in to the frum lifestyle. Otherwise, don't bother.

Miami Al said...

In sales, there is a term, it's called a laydown. It's the prospect that you call, and with no convincing, signs up, whips out their credit card, and is a customer.

Everyone closes the lay downs. The lazy salesman only closes lay downs, and gets out of the business because the costs of prospecting is too high. The over-eager salesman goes out of business, because he works every prospect over and over for a sale, and some customers are not worthwhile. The successful salesman knowns how to take the lay downs, and the slightly harder sales, and when to cut bait, they maximize their income.

The Shidduch Process follows the same model. A few hacks that don't do the work can take lay downs. The rich skinny girl, the rich good learner, those are easy, pairing them up with anyone is pretty easy.

Sure one could specialize in "hard luck" cases, but why bother. There is no incentive. Someone pitched a sliding scale of compensation, more for older "girls" and everyone went ape shit. However, if you want the process to work, align the incentives.

I knew my wife was the person for me NOT on a contrived "date," but when we met up with some long time friends of mine at a bar, and she just slid into the conversation like she'd known them for 7 years as well. She just fit in my life. She knew that I was the one when I met her grandmother, who quickly warmed to me and I felt like part of the family.

None of that would become apparent in the Shidduch scene.

What stuns me are the happily married couples that met their spouses like normal people, that then choose to throw in with the crazies an dthis "shidduch" system... while the word shidduch is old and traditional, the current system is ANYTHING but.

JS said...

"What stuns me are the happily married couples that met their spouses like normal people, that then choose to throw in with the crazies an dthis "shidduch" system... while the word shidduch is old and traditional, the current system is ANYTHING but."

Oh, come on, Al, you're not that naive. The story of modern-day frumkeit is doing things frummer for your children than you ever did them - it's the Jewish equivalent to the American value of trying to do better for your children.

Your mother didn't wear a sheitel or cover her hair outside shul, so you cover your hair all the time. You grew up with only one sink, so you have two sinks, two dishwashers, and even a pareve set of dishes and silverware. Your mother wore pants and short sleeve shirts, so you only wear black and white dresses and skirts and 7 layers in the summer. You went to public school, your kids only go to cheder and public school kids are all off the derech animals. You get the idea.

Miami Al said...


At least in the boonies, many people are seemingly under the impression that this is actually Jewish tradition, and this is customary.

The revisionism is complete.