I just went on a fifth date with a bachur. He seemed like everything I’m looking for in a husband, until he dropped a bombshell by disclosing that neither he nor his parents checked any of my references. His rationale behind refusing to check references is that he prefers natural face-to-face communication, rather than using reference-checking, the latter of which I consider to be the most valid form of dating someone. Should I end it with him? Your answer to this question will make or break our engagement.
Before I respond to your question, I urge you not to rely exclusively on my feedback as the make-it-or-break-it of your engagement. My reply to an e-mail query is typically based on the brief question or one-sided information conveyed, with very little background information or explanation of the interpersonal dynamics of the parties involved. When people write to me, I take their dilemma apart in various ways so that they can look at it from a wider perspective to help them come to a healthy conclusion.
With all that said, I will focus my response to you with my opinion regarding reference-checking for shidduchim—how people go about it and the various angles surrounding it, as well as the viewpoints that come into play.
Heavy reference-checking is routinely conducted in almost all important professional settings, as well as when applying for certain financial services, apartment rentals, etc. When interviewing prospective employees for hiring, companies will oftentimes require a full background check, looking for possible criminal activity as well as social media behavioral patterns. They will also include fingerprints as part of the search, and sometimes they insist on a full psychological evaluation. Furthermore, it is not unusual for some businesses to insist on personality, behavioral, and cognitive assessments. And this is just to get a job. Imagine if every person would do that before agreeing to stand under the chuppah! I have no doubt there would likely be fewer divorces if people would utilize such tactics. There would be fewer stories of people falling into tragic types of marriages where a spouse turned out to be completely different. I’m not advising that people make use of such methods for a shidduch, but if they did, divorce courts would be freeing up their calendar quite a bit!
The problem with reference-checking in shidduchim is that people are not looking into what is really important in an individual. Rather, they are just calling random people (even if they are considered people of authority) and asking for their opinion about a specific single person and his or her family. Those who call end up treating the reference information as Torah Mi’Sinai when making a permanent, life-altering decision. In tragic circumstances, there are references who inadvertently, or sometimes purposely, ruin a shidduch with information that is completely inaccurate. I have seen shidduchim ruined because of untrue commentaries.
In the shtetls of Europe, people used to reference-check for yichus. For the most part, that is all they cared about. To some extent, even today, in certain families, yichus is the number-one determining factor in making or breaking a shidduch. Interestingly, there are still stories circulating today where ordinary families look into yichus going back several generations to the extent that that are shidduchim that have broken off because it was determined that the mikveh in Europe where the great-grandmother lived was not considered kosher according to certain authorities. I am not joking.
My name circulates on many shidduch résumés as a reference for single people. It boggles my mind each time someone calls me to ask about a single man or woman. The nonsensical questions I am often asked border on bizarre. Such queries include: what type of child was the 40-year-old person like growing up? Where does the young lady shop for clothing? What type of snacks does the mother serve the family? What does the mother wear on Friday night? This is just the tip of the iceberg. It would take a full book series to go into all the questions that I have been asked about singles before someone agrees to meet for a cup of coffee.
People also waste time on cross-examining a reference about hashkafah, which in many cases is inaccurate. The black-hat guy about whom people in his shul or community swear up and down about his frumkeit can turn out to be someone who is privately mechallel Shabbos, while the kippah serugah type of guy never misses a minyan, deals with people in an ehrliche manner, and learns regularly with a chavrusa. And the young lady who is never seen with a skirt above her knee or shirt below her collarbone has a major metamorphosis in her dress code outside her city borders!
There can be so much hypocrisy with the way people present and who they truly are. I will go even further. The big ba’al tzedakah who buys expensive aliyahs in shul even for others could turn out to be so frugal that he literally starves his wife and children. Or the woman who is known to be the “hostess with the mostess” makes her kids and husband eat cereal every night for dinner. I know of cases where women who were wined and dined by the men they dated were placed on a strict allowance after marriage. There are women reputed to be aidel and soft-spoken, yet privately will scream the house down and verbally abuse everyone who comes into their sight. That is why it is assumed that you really don’t know someone until you live with them. Well, that’s a ridiculous accepted fallacy. They would know if it would be acceptable ask the right questions to psychologically assess someone, and to do background checks on people to find out how they live their lives, leaving out the wacky questions that have no bearing on a future marriage.
I totally get where the guy you are dating is coming from. He sounds like a laid-back, reasonable person who wants to get to know someone based on one-to-one communication interactions. He is not wrong at all. I usually recommend that people first meet each other on a date or two before looking into one another. The reason being that most dates end up being one-and-done anyway, and all the time put into reference-checking turns out to be a waste, in addition to making it public knowledge of everyone the person went out with. My frequent suggestion when I introduce people to one another is to meet for that cup of coffee or a quick walk someplace just to at least see if there is substance regarding compatibility. And if yes, that’s when it would be appropriate to find out more about the individual.
This bachur you are dating may have had the privilege of living in a black-and-white type of world where no shades of gray exist. He assumes people to be good (and very rarely bad, in newspapers only) and he believes that he can see that just by communicating. It is possible he was fortunate to meet only genuine and sincere individuals. Sadly, those are the very people who oftentimes fall into bad marriage situations, G-d forbid. They see only the pure and good, so that even when something unacceptable surfaces they are quick to be dan l’kaf z’chus. There could be another perspective as to why he and his parents never investigated your background. Are they, or have they been, in the Modern Orthodox community? I find that in those circles there is very little checking about potential dates. People rely on their own intuition and place full emphasis on integrity based on how their significant other portrays him/herself.
In a way you should feel honored that he is so secure with you and trusts everything you say and have shared about yourself and your family that he is ready to move forward with you. Although I think it would be to his benefit to find out what he cannot see on the surface, I wonder why you find fault with his lack of checking. Is there something you want him to know about you, but you don’t feel comfortable sharing that with him? Typically, I get complaints about the opposite—where a single person wants to do heavy reference-checking and the other party objects to it. Here it doesn’t sound like he objects to your “investigation” on him, but you are worried that he’s not doing that to you. Why is that? Are you concerned that he may discover something serious after marriage, and he will walk out on you?
Clearly, there is more to what you shared with me. The other thing is that you say you went on a fifth date, yet the word engagement is on your tongue. That tells me that in your hashkafic circles you get engaged after such a short courtship. Please speak to the bachur you are dating and express your concerns.
I don’t know anything about him, but since he and his family refuse to do reference-checking on you, it is possible that he might be more open-minded than you think. You will never know if you don’t give it a chance. You have nothing to lose by talking to him. Thus, although I did tell you in the beginning that I will only talk about reference-checking, I will add that you should speak to him and communicate from your heart all that is on your mind. You might be pleasantly surprised!
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. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com and Israel News Talk Radio. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at here.