By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
I’m 41 now, and I’ve heard the story of how my parents met more times than anyone really needs to, but I occasionally still ask them to relay their versions of the story (respectively) so I could play it out in the Netflix of my imagination.
According to my mother, she gave him the wrong number.
According to my father, he persisted until she relented and agreed to a date.
According to my mother, he was from a completely different world, hashkafically, and showed up to the date not in a suit and tie exactly, had not had a recent haircut, and with funky horn-rimmed glasses that were fairly stylish. He didn’t need references because his father was a distinguished and well-known Yiddish journalist. One of his articles written decades ago appears on the front page of this edition.
Her father wanted to know who she was dating. When she said he was Nison Gordon’s son, that was the end of the discussion. All was good.
According to my father, my mom dated men completely wrong for her until he showed up dressed casually and in need of a haircut.
Let’s backtrack a bit. The year was 1979. The hotel was Grossinger’s in Liberty, NY. It was July 4th weekend and the staff was gearing up for a summer Shabbos where there would be droves of single men and women checking in to the hotel and checking each other out.
This practice was a normal one 40+ years ago and remains normal in some circles to this day.
There was no need for professional pictures with formalwear and casual wear (portraits and full-length shots, please) or maybe even one where you’re holding a child to demonstrate how good you’d be with kids.
There was no need for references as if applying for a lifelong job, or the list of accomplishments in the hope that we could make ourselves sound appealing to someone. Anyone.
Nope, it was a simpler time where men would check out the women (and vice versa), maybe approach someone, and strike up conversation.
The horror, right?
The time I spent in the shidduch market 20 years ago was bad enough. And that was a time before I had a family to care for.
It was before the practice of résumés, when a woman would approach me at a wedding and simply ask if I had dated a particular guy. I’d confirm or deny and we’d go from there.
And although the résumés were introduced innocently enough as a way to keep things organized and orderly, I think most of us can agree that it’s gotten completely out of hand. It’s not the way G-d intended things to be, of this I’m abundantly sure.
I laugh to think about what the kids back in the Catskills hotels would think if they had to do what we do today.
And here it is in all its ugly, unnatural glory—here’s what we’ve reduced our insular, overprotective, dysfunctional dating system to:
We fill out forms and hire shadchanim to spend time scouting out men and women on our behalf instead of the actual subjects practicing vulnerability and asking someone out without a second or third party intervening.
We date and then awkwardly leave the car at the end of the night, thanking one another for a nice time until we get the official report from the matchmaker at the end of the first, second, third, fourth dates, until we decide to emote without any figurative hand-holding.
Not great groundwork for preparing kids for relationship dynamics or communicating in a marriage, that’s for sure.
What’s going to happen when they have their first fight? Can they call the shadchan then, too? Mommy, perhaps? Maybe the chassan and kallah teachers? Someone?
Can we standardize and sanitize away all the human issues, so they don’t have be dealt with by them? That would be ideal. And also immature and not the way humans should develop natural communication skills.
I don’t know how we got here because I spent the majority of my adult life as a happily married woman, in a relationship built by the two of us, but when I decided that it was either me being alone or putting myself out there, I started laying the groundwork to market myself.
I felt horrible about it. Objectified and not valued for the person I am. It was all based on some words on a paper and a picture.
People would scan the paper and a few key words would pop out. I’d be denied dates because of my widow status, because of the ages of my kids, because I am a food blogger on Instagram and surely must be airing all my dirty laundry on my stories and be totally inappropriate on my platform and “he’s a private person and doesn’t want to deal with someone with a public persona like you.”
I held out on making a résumé because I felt that it was too ridiculous to do such a thing at my age but I quickly realized that If I wouldn’t have my own pdf titled “malkie hirsch shidduch” in my notes app, I’d get even fewer inquiries than I already did as a widow with young kids. And I’m one of the relatively “lucky” ones—I’m well-connected, I have family and friends advocating for me, and an online presence. So while I do have the opportunity to date, I know other women who can go many months without so much as message—all at the mercy of this system that demands almost complete passivity in seeking a partner, complete reliance on others’ actions, in the most undignified way.
I’d occasionally get contacted by a well-meaning shidduch group or someone called a “dating recruiter” who would try telling me that I’d need to employ a dating coach (what’s that?), a shadchan who’d be paid a monthly fee to weed out the right men for me and then “work on them” to agree to a date (gee, thanks), and a photographer to get some new current pictures in an attempt to entice some guy somewhere to want to take me to a drive-through Starbucks for an hour-long date. Yes, my friends, to find a partner, you now need an agent and a PR team.
Imagine how this feels. I’d take turns laughing and then crying. It’s demoralizing. I’d call my friends to double check that I was a nice normal person with a lot to contribute and then would scroll on my Facebook feed through all the men and women desperately trying to find their partner in life and realize just how many of us are out there.
Why does it seem like the number of singles increased exponentially? Why do we subscribe to such a flawed system? Why are we still letting it happen?
Again, I’m “fortunate” in that I “get” to straddle both worlds. I’ve played the game and worked with shadchanim but I’m also comfortable meeting and being introduced to prospective dates in a more casual way, through friends, at simchas, and on frum dating sites. I’ve never been privy to attend a singles Shabbaton in the style of the 1970s but I sort of wish we could get back there—back to a time when things were simpler, people spoke to each other instead of through a third party or via text, WhatsApp, or over many of the apps that’ll prevent you from ever truly getting to know a person because they get to hide behind a screen and edit their responses to just about anything.
Back to a time when a person could approach you and express a desire to get to know you better and it was just normal.
When they didn’t use mediators or parents or any of the other ways to control the process or ostensibly prevent the possibility of being hurt. A breakup or rejection is inevitable in life. And the disempowerment of this system is inherently hurtful anyway.
The reason it’s healthy to go through the ups and downs of dating is because it presents you with the chance to build and believe in yourself, regardless of what others think.
You experience rejection, often from both sides, and then decide it’s OK to not be for everyone and move on. We’re taking this away from our children if we continue employing this way of matchmaking and dating.
We’re doing them and our future generations a disservice by making them believe that the way we set couples up is the proper way.
Why is there a shidduch crisis today?
There’s a lot to unpack there, but perhaps part of it is because of how we go to great pains to keep our boys and girls apart until they’re ready to date and then throw them into this new world, expecting them to have a clue on how to do this coed adulting thing. Maybe part of it is because many shadchanim are usually focused only on setting up the top 1% of the dating population (whatever that means) because of the financial and social advantages they’ll glean from making a match. Maybe it’s because it’s become so competitive that it’s not safe to be honest; it’s now just about marketing. Or maybe the system is just too flawed in and of itself.
I know I’m not the first one trying to crack the code as to how and why this has gone completely wrong. I know I won’t be the last, either. The Gemara says that making matches is a difficult as splitting the sea. Humans can’t split large bodies of water—no matter how much money or yichus they have. But for G-d, splitting the sea isn’t difficult. He’s G-d, so He’s omnipotent and He can perform miracles when He wants to—big or small.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.