By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
A rant, part deux.
Here’s something most people don’t know. Well, truthfully, no one besides my therapist (who moonlights as my editor) knows that I wrote more than a few articles on shidduchim that I had to refrain from submitting because they sounded too angry and accusatory towards the people responsible for causing our new standards to be what they are.
I wrote them during my brief struggle in dating and after I met Jeremy and realized, surprisingly, that my tone hadn’t changed much.
I was still frustrated that this behavior was being accepted by the masses. It didn’t matter that I had thankfully found my person; there were so many others out there trying to find theirs in a healthy manner but kept coming up short.
I was furious at the people setting the tone for these young, impressionable kids embarking on a continuation into adulthood with a life partner, and that these people were wrongly emphasizing things in life that shouldn’t be a priority—educators, matchmakers, and parents who enable the inappropriate questions that are being asked and the trickledown effect it has on men and women who have arrived at the time in their lives when they want help finding their intended. But apparently it comes at a price—oftentimes it’s emotional and sometimes it’s financial.
Both will find ways of ruining the lives of good people who are simply looking for love.
The art of the shidduch (and I use that term sarcastically) causes many young adults to eventually leave the fold of our Orthodox tribe because of the intense pressures to be someone they’re not. And not being accepted for who they are. Or the threat that if they are, they won’t find love. And being told time and again to learn to be someone who some guy somewhere will find more attractive.
Do you know how often I’ve been guilty of trying to be someone I’m not for someone I was dating? Too many to admit, sadly enough. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that you’re being accommodating to the point of your willingness to forgo being the person you were meant to be.
How often do I see these babies who aren’t necessarily ready to date but are thrown into that harsh world without the proper education or self-confidence, and there’s that blind hope among their parents that they’ll grow up together, in the same direction.
They feel that panic from their elders, they feel what it’s like to not get the phone calls or the interest from others the minute they graduate from high school. That it’s somehow a failure to perform on this competitive stage of social acceptance.
Eventually, they feel like they’re not worthy and end up (sort of) liking someone who likes them enough to continue dating them, which then turns into accepting a marriage proposal and starting their lives with someone they’ll look at one day in the future and think to themselves, “How did I get here and how do I get out?”
They got there by listening to their teachers and parents reassure them that if they don’t feel things they should feel, or if there’s something that’s said that didn’t agree with them, to just ignore it, move past it. If it’s not terrible, then that’s good enough, right? It’ll get better with a baby (wrong), or with gifts (wrong), or with time (wrong).
Divorce rates in the frum community aren’t sky-high. So, people try to interpret that as marital bliss. But maybe they’re a result of men and women being paired together, not being taught the basics about how to recognize compatibility, establish and strengthen relationships, how to communicate, and when it’s necessary to get a therapist involved before it’s too late and too much damage has been done. And it’s hard and stigmatized and expensive to divorce, so staying married doesn’t necessarily mean it’s working.
Schools and seminaries and shadchanim need a new kind of basic training when it comes to establishing connections and being a responsible mediator. They need to educate young men and women and be clear about the values and needs that take precedence and those that are negotiable when it comes to entering a relationship. They need to teach daters to differentiate the feelings between liking their suitor independently from being liked themselves and therefore just going with it. These topics should be taught like any other, and maybe if they were, young adults would start being more selective in the right ways.
This, of course, wasn’t my issue. I had been married previously to someone I really loved, and I knew my way around a good marriage. My issue was that I wasn’t being set up at all. At first, I was upset. Then I took matters into my own hands. I started realizing after a bit of time that relishing being bitter and angry wasn’t going to help me, either. So, I took to the dating apps.
To this day, whenever I’m approached by anyone asking about who set me up with my husband, instead of the former feeling of shame associated with meeting him on a dating app, I wear that badge proudly and tell anyone and everyone that we met on JWed. What at first felt humiliating became the very reason I’d tell people who feel they’ve got no other options than to wait for others to think about them to take control of their dating lives and try something new. After all, according to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Try something new and get a possibly desired result.
Now, it wasn’t an overnight miraculous meeting; it was preceded by a lot of messages from weirdos and even some 70-year-olds asking if our age difference was too big (my default response was “I have a 4-year-old,” and that usually scared them off), but one day, he was there—and the rest is history.
Did I get to skip over a lot of cringe-worthy breakups and awkwardness in person? Totally.
But like any relationship, compromises had to be made, and eventually you meet off the app and take the relationship to real time if both parties are serious about it.
There are side effects to app dating.
Ghosting (a word that 40-year-old me never thought she’d use), among other noncommittal members of the male species completely forgetting your existence for one.
But the nice thing was that it was between you and a computer screen as opposed to an actual human matchmaker. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a blow to my ego. It’s a much nicer feeling to be pursued by shadchanim or humans than to self-advocate online. However, a good rule in life is: Do what works, not what you think is ideal but empirically isn’t working. Being proactive about something important to me felt healthier than caving to my pride or stubborn societal judgements.
My point to all is the following:
I was forced to think outside the box. It ended up working well for me and for my family and I’m here to tell people who read this column to start taking control of your own dating life. Even if it feels odd, even if you swore you never would. Don’t leave yourself to the mercy of others about something so vital. When you’re looking for work, you don’t just sit home and wait for job offers to come to you—you network, read the classifieds, apply, and schedule interviews. You intern a little to see how it feels. You can do the same thing looking for a partner. And using dating sites doesn’t mean you can’t also be fixed up the “regular” way—it just broadens your prospects and gives you some proactive autonomy.
Reason with yourself that it’s a temporary distraction if that would make things easier—and watch it become more than that.
At the end of the day, it’s your future and happiness at stake. “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?” says Hillel.
Don’t rely exclusively on others; start being your own advocate in matters of the heart. The internet is a mixed bag, but it can be a wonderful gift—a vehicle for miracles.
I’ll continue doing my part by unapologetically, even proudly, telling others about my experience on dating apps. Sometimes you can find joy in the least likely of places after refusing to give up on yourself.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.