By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I’m not John Gray or Steve Harvey or anything—but I think I’m onto something when it comes to men and women and our glaring differences when it comes to relationships and dating.
See, you might not know this, but Steve, in addition to being the best game show host Family Feud has ever seen, is also host of a wildly popular podcast and bestselling book, where he imparts his knowledge on how to get into the mind of a man and crack the code to how they think.
For a long time, I dreamt of being a matchmaker. I’ve always worked in sales and with people, which would make this an obvious choice as a hobby or part-time (unpaid) occupation.
But just as things remain unsteady as you build a house upon a shaky foundation, so too is the ridiculous dating system we’ve adopted as a means of setting singles up, no matter what their age, gender, or hashkafa is.
We’re consistently focusing on the wrong things and enabling bad behavior that’s running rampant among a world where we as Orthodox Jews should know better.
I’m embarrassed at the behavior I’ve seen and at the value systems many people have adopted as their standards as they look for suitable spouses—for themselves or for others.
And I’ve got news for you—even Steve Harvey couldn’t figure this one out. Even he’d be completely befuddled at our highly flawed system of setting singles up.
The other night, as I got ready to “present” a guy I knew on a local matchmaking chat, I felt a tinge of excitement, which actually provided the feeling of self-loathing at the same time.
Why? Because I knew after glossing over his profile and speaking to him that he was a great guy. And therefore, the minute I posted his information, I knew what would happen. I’d be descended upon by résumé after résumé of girls in a pretty generous age range with accomplishment after accomplishment, organizations they work with, portrait pictures, pictures of them holding a friend mid laugh, and a picture of them in some formal wear to show off their figure in the most “modest” way possible. (Paradox intended)
Because suddenly it’s ok, even necessary, to objectify women, if it’ll get them a date. Because listing ten references on a piece of paper might render them worthy of the illusive date. Because coming from the right family and going to the right schools and landing the right job with the right friends will make you right.
And sometimes, really not.
Because we’ve suddenly covered ourselves up with all the stuff. All the accessories that look good on a person but aren’t the essence of that person. And one day they look back and it can be months or years into whatever stage they’re currently in and they realize that they’re not the person they’re portraying themselves to be. And they’re not necessarily with the person they even want to be with. And their friends and social circles don’t match those values either. And who was it done for? For a match.
To start a life and a family with a man who’d say yes. Because of the family she came from or the financial portfolio they’ve attained.
All the accessories. Little of the essence. Little choice or autonomy in the process.
So, the years go by, the list of older singles grows exponentially, and we still play the games with the résumés and the pictures, instead of letting our children meet and socialize and observe members of the opposite sex in a safe and normal environment, just being themselves.
Giving them the opportunity to see young men and women in many different settings, instead of in a formal snapshot or on their best artificial behavior at a hotel lounge or restaurant.
Some people are lucky enough to find their spouses growing up, in the community, or in a coed camp or school. Having men and women socialize in a healthy way doesn’t mean they’ll be running wild.
It just means that maybe they want to take matters into their own hands, because they’ve seen the writing on the wall.
Having to rely entirely on the kindness and thoughtfulness of others or having to resort to paying them because that’s the only way they’ll get dates is humiliating, even dehumanizing.
It seems normal because it’s become so in the world we live in, but it’s not okay. People are suffering.
Meeting someone on your own, practicing being a self-advocate, speaking your mind honestly and practicing vulnerability without a matchmaker or a parent or a friend representing you might be scary at first, but it’s also empowering.
I work on this every night as I sit down after my kids are sleeping. I go through profile after profile and it’s never ending, and terribly discouraging.
Whereas when I was in my 20s and struggling in the shidduch world, and 25 was considered older and when I got married, is now a bygone world. I remember, twice in my life, waiting for others to “give me names.” The pathetic feeling of hoping someone will “call with an idea.” The pitying looks, the lukewarm, awkward comments: “I’m so sorry I just don’t know a lot of guys.” “I think of you all the time.” “Davening for you.” There’s so little that feels comforting to hear when you’re alone, aside from: “I think I know someone for you.”
But a lot of these men and women sit and wait and tell their friends what they think they need in a mate, often in agonizing detail, when really the opposite might be true if they met them naturally at a Shabbos meal or, gasp, a social event.
If they only opened themselves up to the possibility that maybe, they don’t know exactly what they need. Maybe G-d knows what they need.
The men surely have the upper hand in this cruel game because there’s no shortage of beautiful, smart, sincere, and successful women out there. And there is a shortage of their single male counterparts. Which means we can afford to keep raising more men to mediocrity, based on the supply and demand model of mate selection. Does this sound cold? That’s because it is.
It causes me to think of a time opposite of the one we’re living through today when our European grandparents got married. People were getting married without the questions we ask today.
“She’s outgoing, but is she too outgoing?”
“I see she’s tall. Does she wear heels?”
“How long is she willing to support my learning?”
Back then, it was more like, “Well, we’re the only survivors in our families, respectively. I see we both want to start over and have a family. What do you say?”
There were no accessories then. Just the person you were and the life you wanted to make, following a horrific time period.
Men today don’t need to give a woman a second date because his e-mail inbox is full of other shiny profiles for him to consider. That’s what gives men the illusion that their pursuit for perfection might be attainable.
There’s always another résumé.
More beauty, more money, more prestige.
Always another wonderful woman hoping for a date with a decent guy.
Where this practice comes from is a culture that just happened. I don’t think anyone designed it intentionally—I can’t imagine who would—but it’s likely reinforced by the homes they grew up in or the schools they attended.
The idea that men could get away with a lot because of the gender they were born as. That women are at the mercy of this heartless economy of scarcity, and many feel helpless to go network directly with available men.
Our shidduch system is enabling dysfunction in its highest form and I hope it’s not too late to change these practices.
It makes me truly scared for my kids. I pray that we change these norms for the better, and that by the time they’re old enough, they can date with dignity. But in the meantime, I hope we as a collective group can adapt some other way of helping our neighbors, friends, and relatives who truly need us, find their intended in a healthier manner in the future.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.