By Baila Sebrow

 

Question

I used to be the well-liked girl on every shadchan’s list. At 25 years old, that is now over for me because I have a record of a broken engagement. It all started because of COVID, when I was redd to a guy and we dated only on Zoom. We got along very well, and we had a lot of fun. Then things were looking better, and places like backyards opened up for us, and we were able to stay outdoors together. We went out a few times and got engaged. From start to finish, we dated two and a half months. My shadchan who was helping me for so long felt that I finally lucked out.

After we got engaged, more venues started opening, and so we were seeing each other more, and that’s when I started noticing problems. For example, he would get nasty with waiters and waitresses. One time I was in his car, and I spilled my water bottle, and he got so angry at me. He was invited to spend time with my family, and he would put them down in the middle of conversations and even criticize them to their faces. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I broke it off with him.

Now everyone wants me to start dating again. But COVID is not really over yet. I keep hearing about upticks, and I refuse to date over Zoom, or in a backyard, because the same thing could happen again, in that I won’t get to know the guy well. My boss, who is Modern Orthodox, doesn’t see why there is such a rush. He thinks that the problem I had is because I dated the guy for such a short time. But that’s how we do things in my circles. What do you recommend?

Response

When the pandemic started and social distancing became the way of life, I, like many other shadchanim, encouraged singles to continue dating, albeit in a safe, social-distanced way. In those earlier days, it was assumed by many that the duration of social distancing would be short, and the consensus was not to hold people back from their pursuit of a shidduch. So, just as schools and certain places of employment were able to continue functioning via electronic platforms, dating followed suit.

Due to statewide prohibitions on the number of people who may attend a live event while adhering to the rules of social distancing, I brushed up a bit more on my knowledge and skills in advanced technology, and I started arranging various targeted online events to increase opportunities for singles to meet. I published several articles advising dating couples how to date electronically, and things were looking even better than good. Dating couples were having fun playing all sorts of online games with their dates. Not only that, but the dates were increasing. Meaning, with in-person dating prior to COVID, many relationships ended after a few dates, whereas with online dating, dates were increasing.

I was thrilled to see that in the middle of a pandemic, singles who rarely had a date or who never attended a singles event were meeting and dating. I was overwhelmingly pleased with the results observed, and I started thinking ahead to utilize similar tactics in a post-COVID era. I even designed concepts of incorporating online dating with in-person dating to maximize the effectiveness.

When the engagements quickly started following one after the other, society couldn’t be happier, and it appeared that the “shidduch crisis” was becoming less of a problem. “It’s a miracle!” people said. But that’s when I began to worry. I discussed with a few colleagues my concern that couples who barely know each other are rushing to get engaged and married. However, most people dismissed my fears and felt that it’s a good thing to see so many singles getting engaged. Some even stated, “It’s a good thing they don’t know too much about each other!”

As a shadchan and relationship coach, I am aware that a Pollyannaish approach to such matters can backfire. Not only that, but when relationships blossom and intensify too quickly in a society accustomed to formal dating, such ostensible victories can boomerang. And for many couples, including you, it has met with disaster.

For clarity purposes, I need to reiterate that the principal purpose of encouraging electronic dating was so that options could remain open. The objective was that by using this medium, singles would get to know one another, similar to long-distance dating, and then continue in person when it is considered safe. It was absolutely never meant for couples to date exclusively online and then meet once or twice in a backyard and get engaged.

So, what happened? Although shadchanim meant well and earnestly wanted to see singles get married, some overextended their enthusiasm and pushed for engagements when they saw the couple liked each other. Parents who were ambivalent were scolded by these shadchanim that we don’t know how long COVID will go on, and it’s a mistake to hold people back from getting engaged. Many were guilt-tripped into going along with it.

Meeting the guy you were engaged to was a great idea. Zooming to converse with one another was a great idea. But in light of the abbreviated quality of time you spent with him, following the custom of a short dating period was not. If you would have been in a car with him prior to the engagement, even if you didn’t spill water, something else would have likely happened for you to notice that he has little control over his emotions. Had you gotten together in restaurants, you would have seen how he mistreats those who don’t serve him to his liking. And if you had invited him to hang around your family, there is no doubt that those scenarios where his interaction with them went sour would have surfaced.

A skeptic might argue that there are cases where quick courtships result in extraordinarily successful marriages, and there are plenty of stories where people dated for a long time and the relationship turned to shreds. That is absolutely true; however, there is a major difference. First let’s explore the research about marriage and success. It has become accepted that the longer a couple dates, the less likely they are to get divorced. Those who get involved in shalom bayis issues know that it really comes down to impulsivity and impatience, not so much the length of time a couple knows each other prior to marriage. The more anxious a person is to get married, the greater the chance that he or she will not only rush into a union but will overlook important issues. Getting married for the sheer reason of the drive to seal the deal, rather than putting rational thought into it, results in less satisfying consequences.

When you date somebody, and the chunk of time spent together is in-person, you have the opportunity to view body language. Body language can be more powerful than speech in ascertaining compatibility and emotional health. Electronic dating precludes a couple from benefiting from that vital facet. Simple things like somebody rolling her eyes when it is uncalled for, rapid breathing when things don’t go his way, tapping fingers or shuffling uncontrollably when it is typically not warranted will give the other person enough clues to see the type of individual he or she is dealing with. How can anybody figure all that out while playing a cute shared-screen game? You were never given the chance to discover that something seemed off with this guy. By the time you met in person, you were so convinced that you were meant for each other that you believed that the appreciation for each other’s appearance was enough to warrant a l’chaim.

You come from a background where dating is kept to a minimum of a few short months. I am in total agreement that, ultimately, that method provides a higher chance of success. The problem is that the way you dated the guy you were engaged to meant that you were deprived of quality time.

You have good cause to fear that Zoom dating can lead to another bad experience, G-d forbid. It doesn’t have to end that way if mastered correctly. We don’t know when life will get back to the way it was, but, in the meantime, if you are used to dating for two to three months, you need to increase the amount of time to make up for the opportunities you would have had if you were dating as in previous times. Zoom should hold the same weight as a phone conversation. Just as you would not decide to get engaged to somebody because you had a good few phone calls with him, the same applies to Zooming. When you do decide to meet in person, you must arrange the same type of dating scenarios as in the past before you even think of getting engaged. Zoom for dating should only be a fun activity, not a means to an end.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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