Every once in a while someone comes up with what they think is an original and extremely simple solution to the so-called “Shidduch Crisis”. It goes something like this: “Everyone out there, and I mean everyone out there, should think of singles they know and take it upon themselves to set them up.” Particularly creative people will propose such things as “adopt-a-single” programs (as if singles are pets) or reinvent the shidduch group in one form or another. The premise behind all these ideas is that we need to get a greater number of singles going out on a greater number of dates, and everything will magically fall right into place. And if we don’t really know what we’re doing, that’s okay. God will pick up the slack.
What winds up happening is that a greater number of singles do go out on a greater number of dates, most of which are unsuccessful, even disappointing. The singles become even more frustrated at their continued misfortune. Some of them become annoyed, even angry at the person who set them up with someone from left field. The shadchan (by this I mean anyone setting someone up) in turn becomes offended at the single person’s lack of gratitude and appreciation for all the time and effort involved in setting them up. Some singles become overly apprehensive about being set up, while those in a position to set singles up become more reluctant to do so.
Ironically, the situation is compounded by the fact that a small percentage of the time things work out just great. As with a casino, this occasional positive reinforcement causes everyone to keep playing the slots with hopes of hitting the jackpot. Singles continue to rely on those setting them up, despite the numerous debacles, while the rare successes bolster the shadchan’s confidence in his failure-ridden methods. Consequently, the flippant suggestion that we need more people to take a more active role in setting up singles is like suggesting we smother a fire with gasoline. The cost does not justify the benefit.
What we do need is to improve the overall quality of the set-up process without introducing new strains of the questions and investigations that cause more harm than good. And, dare I say it, it really is simple. The following series of “dos and don’ts of setting singles up” will relieve singles of much of the anxiety involved with being set up and make the mitzvah of setting people up so much more pleasant for those kind enough to lend their assistance. (In order to desensitize the reader’s natural resistance to an assault on the status quo, I will begin with peripheral items and gradually progress to the most vital concerns.)
The words we use are supremely important and reflect our subconscious attitudes. Don’t tell someone “I have a perfect boy/girl for you.” It is both presumptuous and foolhardy. Unless the Almighty Himself revealed this information to you, it is presumptuous to use such exaggerative terminology. (Just consider how difficult it is to find someone “perfect” for yourself!) It is foolhardy to make such a statement because inevitably it will be wrong a high percentage of the time, often spectacularly so – and singles will resent the fact that their hopes were unduly raised only to be deflated. So never tell people that you have a boy/girl for them (it’s patronizing), and absolutely never say you have someone perfect for them. Do make a friendly suggestion.
Don’t offer to set someone up without first checking with him directly to see if he is available and interested. Don’t just walk up to someone and say “Hi, I know a girl I think you should meet” as if the guy is just standing there and waiting for someone to set him up. Even if you happen to know that the person is available and interested, it’s tactless to propose a shidduch in such a fashion. We have to be acutely sensitive for people’s feelings at all times, and particularly in this most personal aspect of their lives. Asking the question before launching into your sales pitch shows concern for the dignity of the individual you wish to help.
Don’t overestimate your role when setting people up. Regardless of how many years you’ve been doing it and how many success stories you can tell, you’re nothing more than a pawn on God’s giant chess board. While He surely desires and appreciates your willingness to act as His agent, He doesn’t need you to make shidduchim. Don’t ever say that you “made” a shidduch. You did no such thing. The most that anyone can do is facilitate two people meeting one another. Whether or not the shidduch is ultimately made is up to them and the Overseer of all things. Don’t take credit that does not belong to you. Do say that you helped bring two people together, and be proud of it, too. Good things happen through good people.
Don’t ever consider setting someone up unless you’re prepared to put your heart and soul into this holy endeavor. Rule of thumb: if you’re not putting in the same thought, concern, and effort as you would for your own child, better not to get involved altogether. It’s a cop-out to say “You never know, maybe it will work”. Maybe you’ll win the lottery, too, but that’s no strategy for making a living. Just because ultimately “It’s in God’s hands” doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to try our very best. “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?” The worst that can happen is that you will be directly responsible for one or two extremely vulnerable people (plus their families) experiencing profound disappointment and increased frustration. That possibility always exists, of course, but setting people up in a haphazard, almost random fashion is just asking for trouble.
We must always be mindful of the fact that we are dealing with people’s lives, their deepest emotions. It is no favor to set someone up on a bad date, or a date just for the sake of having a date. An ill-conceived date is lost time, lost money, and, most of all, lost emotional energy. It makes it that much more difficult to keep one’s spirits up and approach the next date with a hopeful attitude. If you don’t really care about the people you are trying to help, if you don’t really appreciate what you’re dealing with, then leave whatever you had in mind in God’s hands as well.
So what’s a well-intentioned person supposed to do to avoid these daunting pitfalls? Simple. Get to know whoever you’re setting up personally. Not as an index card. Not through hearsay and assumptions based on where they’ve been. Personally. Asking questions about total strangers will give you a terribly distorted impression of who they really are. Don’t tell me that “x” percentage of people who attended a certain Yeshiva turn out a certain way, because “y” percentage of them don’t turn out that way – and we’re dealing with human beings, not numbers! By lumping people together based on labels and stereotypes we only increase the pressure on everyone to keep up with the latest pseudo-religious fads (that’s all they are), and destroy the uniqueness and individuality with which we are all blessed.
The role of the shadchan is not that of a statistician, nor is it to work with the greatest number of people possible. The role of the shadchan is to be sure that each individual he deals with is cared for and assisted to the greatest of the shadchan’s ability. The minimum and maximum that can be expected from a shadchan is that the date at least makes sense, even if it doesn’t work out. It is better to assist five people out of five than ten people out of a thousand while causing pain to all the rest.
The only way to help people in this most personal aspect of their lives is to get to know them as the unique individuals they are. If we are truly acting as God’s agents in this matter, we must follow His game plan: just as God takes a detailed personal interest in each individual, so must we. If this means spending a half hour just talking to each single about regular things, thereby getting a real sense for who they are and what they’re all about, that is what must be done. And if this means that you will have time to help fewer people, so be it. That’s the job that you were given, nothing more and nothing less.
The bottom line is that singles must have confidence that the people setting them up have devoted serious thought to the matter. For example, if all you can say about a girl is that she is “nice, pretty, and smart,” you’ve failed to distinguish her from every other potential shidduch that will be proposed to the boy in question. Focus instead on meaningful descriptions; what has she done that demonstrates her wonderful character or intelligence? If you cannot provide even one reason why this boy in particular should meet this girl in particular (not just that they’re both Jewish, religious, and single), you haven’t fulfilled your responsibilities to the parties involved. If singles are confident that the people setting them up know them as unique individuals and are devoting serious thought to them, they will look forward to their dates instead of dreading them.
Don’t disappear into thin air after approaching a single. It’s hard to believe, but many decent, well-meaning Jews follow in the footsteps of Efron. They get off to a great start: they approach the single directly, ascertain his availability and interest in a potential shidduch, and promise to be in touch. Then, after getting the single person’s hopes up, they enter the witness protection program, never to be heard from again. If you’re not involved with shidduchim, you’d be stunned by how often this occurs.
The single person is left wondering what happened. Has he been forgotten? Has he already been rejected for some mysterious reason? He might never know. Even if he knows how to get in touch with the shadchan (which is not always the case), it’s awkward and embarrassing to chase after someone to set you up.
Never put someone in this situation. If you aren’t committed to following through, if you’ll forget all about the single once he’s out of sight, don’t start making offers and suggestions. Once you do, you’ve accepted an obligation to be in touch with the single before long, even if that means simply telling him that you’re still working on it. It only takes a minute, and it shows that you really care. And if the person you had in mind isn’t available or interested after all, let your single friend know. He’ll understand, and will appreciate having proper closure to the situation. Don’t be an Efron.
Finally, once you’ve successfully facilitated the introduction, step back and let these two mature adults decide what is best for them. If you can offer them further assistance along the way, then do so – but don’t be overbearing about it. And if they turn down your offer to be set up, don’t try to force it on them or get offended. After all, you’re only trying to help, and it is up to the singles to decide if your idea is appropriate for them. Remember, you have no right to presume that you know what’s best for them.
By setting people up in a more qualitative fashion, instead of a more quantitative fashion, many of the pressures of dating will be avoided. If we truly care about those we are trying to help, we can be sure that our efforts will be appreciated and ultimately rewarded, both in this world and the next.