By Tamar H
I don’t know when exactly, but sometime between my parents’ meeting at a party in a Brooklyn basement and when I started dating, “The Shidduch System” emerged and became the dominant matchmaking structure for frum singles. It rose to power as a well-meaning movement, but it is slowly destroying the singles scene.
The Shidduch System is the evolution of friends setting up their single friends into a more formalized system where anyone with the urge to be a matchmaker can help any single they meet, or even those they just hear of. This approach means singles no longer have to rely on their small group of friends for setups. It eliminates the need for the awkward singles events/parties so many hate. When a guy or girl is ready to date, they simply get their name out to shadchanim, and they’ll be sure to be set up. In theory, this is great! (In theory, so was Communism.)
Here’s how it works:
1. Someone (friend, neighbor, friend of a friend’s third cousin, etc.) hears the names of a single woman and a single man.
2. That someone, now officially a “shadchan,” gathers information about the potential couple.
3. The shadchan presents the woman’s information to the man.
4. If the man says yes, the shadchan presents the information to the woman.
5. If the woman says yes, they go out on a date.
6. Things progress naturally.
Did you spot where it went wrong?
It was step 3, presenting the woman’s information to the man first.
In reality, most men are approached by multiple shadchanim. Each shadchan has the name of a girl he “must” date. The obviously unsuitable are eliminated immediately, but the rest he can’t process simultaneously; there are simply too many. The remaining girls are placed on a list. This list creates many problems.
Firstly, it creates a bottleneck. With so many women awaiting a response, the process can’t progress to step 4 in a timely fashion.
Secondly, just having a list not only allows, but encourages, pickiness. In some cases, extreme pickiness. “Aaron” has five speech therapists on his list who look the same on paper. All are pretty and have good middos, come from good families, and are thought of highly by their references. Aaron can’t date all of them. He must make a choice. He can choose the nicest, the prettiest, the most geographically desirable. But what if that still leaves two or three who look the same on paper? He has to choose based on minutiae. How easy is it to park on her block when he picks her up? Is her hair straight or curly? Is her never-used middle name the same as his mother’s? Whatever the criteria, the choice is his, and no one can really fault him, because he is dating someone, and he can’t date everyone.
The last problem, sometimes most disturbing, is ego. When someone has a seemingly endless list of girls waiting to date him, how can it fail to inflate his sense of self-importance?
The reality for women is quite different. Most women are approached by no one. There are no shadchanim knocking on her door with names. She has no list and is not aware of whether she is on anyone else’s list. Whether she’s second on ten lists, or on none at all, she has no way of knowing. She feels desperate, or, at the very least, her friends and family do on her behalf. She’s told she must do her hishtadlus. She must pursue the shadchanim with her profile. She must join dating sites. She must go to singles events.
On the now exciting occasion when a guy does say yes to her, she is not given the option of keeping his name on a list. He’s already said yes, and she must answer right away. If not, he’ll move on to the next on his list, and she’ll have to wait until her name comes up in the rotation again. Not only that, but because she’s so “desperate,” she may feel the need, and is certainly strongly encouraged, to always say yes. Forget the straight vs. curly hair option; she’s pressured to agree to date almost anyone. Short, fat, and balding? Lives in Switzerland? More than a decade older? Who cares, just say yes! Any legitimate objection she might have is attacked and perceived as evidence of her lack of real interest in getting married. Standards are a luxury she can’t afford.
In an attempt to circumvent the Shidduch System and its flaws, singles parties are slowly re-emerging in frum circles, but the damage has been done. “Desperate” girls flock to them, but guys with long lists at home rarely see a reason to attend. They already have people waiting to date them, so there’s no need to bother.
Based on my observations, I’d say at least 90 percent of the men attending singles events fall into one of two categories. There are those who don’t have any women on their lists. This is generally the socially awkward crowd. Ironically, they are forced to attend social events to meet women, an environment in which they obviously don’t excel. The second category consists of men who do have lists, but their lists don’t contain the kind of women they’re interested in dating. This can be men in their early forties, certain that twentysomething women really want to date them, but for some unfathomable reason, the “uncooperative” shadchanim won’t arrange it. It can also be divorced men who are not interested in dating divorced women, and who are convinced that all those girls who were on their lists pre-marriage are still eager to meet them with no reservations.
This still leaves the 10 percent. The normal guys, with lists at home, who realize that seeing girls’ names on paper is not the same as knowing them. Who think that maybe some promising candidate might have slipped through the cracks. These are smart men. At “good” singles events, this number can swell beyond 10 percent. Sadly, at “bad” events, it’s usually more like 0 to 1 percent. The bigger the event, the more likely they are to attend. Hence the relative success of Shabbos Nachamu weekends compared to small local gatherings.
At larger events, you’ll sometimes also find one additional group: normal guys who have lists, but who are considered geographically undesirable. As the name suggests, they are not the ideal group because of logistical difficulties involved in long-distance dating. However, their appeal improves by comparison, as well as by their encouraging willingness to travel.
My knee-jerk reaction is to say to stop giving men names, but you don’t solve a bottleneck by stopping all traffic, so . . .
Shadchanim: When you have a shidduch idea, get the information for both parties and give the information to both the guy and the girl. This way the girl doesn’t feel left out, and can even start her own list if either the guy or the girl is unavailable. The guy’s list will be cut down by eliminating the women who aren’t interested in dating him. No one will be given an inflated sense of self, and no one will be forced to feel desperate.
Single guys: Go to singles events. They’re filled with really great girls, and it’s much easier to choose who you really want to get to know better when you meet a person, rather than just seeing their “vital” information written out on paper.
And finally, single girls: Don’t give up; your guy is out there, and you might already be on his list. v