Written July 21, posted on August 5, Tu B'av
The title of this article might strike you as sensationalist, but the shidduch world resembles actual torture in significant ways. Though our parents and grandparents may have experienced frustration and even heartbreak in their search for a partner, they would never make this comparison. In our time, it's disturbingly apt.
Consider the following:
1) Singles who are despondent after a long, fruitless search will occasionally be asked if they have “lost hope”. Complete strangers speaking with singles for the first time have no qualms about probing their innermost feelings as if it's a casual greeting to a passerby. “Good morning. Do you still have hope?”
The purpose of this question is not immediately clear, but it seems those who ask it wish for the single to respond that yes, he is full of hope that he will get married very soon, with God's help. This response delights the questioner, for he can then proceed to dash the single's hope in a variety of ways.
He may challenge the single to explain what he is doing to get married; you can't just sit and wait for God, after all. Since whatever the single did to this point obviously didn't work, he will urge the single to do the exact opposite – irrespective of what is actually a sound approach. He will admonish the single for being too picky (without any knowledge of his dating practices), for missing opportunities, for sabotaging himself, and for letting precious time go by.
In short, if a single declares that he still has high hopes, the questioner will do everything possible to reduce his hope and rattle his confidence. He better listen, he better change, and he better settle. Or else.
If, on the other hand, the single replies that he has lost hope, the questioner will be horrified. “Don't give up! You have to believe it can happen anytime!” The questioner may relate a heartwarming story of someone who got married after almost despairing, who now has a large family. See? It can happen to you, too! But only if you believe it! If you give up hope, it's all over. Lehavdil, Santa only comes for little boys and girls who believe in him, and singles only meet the right one if they believe it will happen.
If this desperate attempt to lift the hopes of the single is successful, the questioner will then proceed to knock him down again. He will advise the single to go for coaching, maybe even actual therapy instead of the lite version, to drive home the point that there is something deeply wrong with him. Of course there is hope for you to get married someday, but definitely not as you are, and definitely not as you're going about it. You better become someone's annuity to figure it all out for you, or at least give the appearance of guiding you through some ambiguous process until the miracle happens.
Singles should never have too much hope, just enough to stay in the game and remain dependent on others.
This is exactly how a good torturer goes about his business. A good torturer waterboards someone until he passes out, but makes sure to revive him so he can endure another round. A good torturer beats someone within an inch of his life, but never beyond that critical one-inch mark. A bad torturer doesn't bring his ruler with him and kills his victim far too quickly. What's the point of that? Then it's all over.
The point of torture is to keep the victim alive and responsive enough to actually suffer and react as you desire. The same is true in the shidduch world. If you go too far, the single will abandon the system and possibly even leave the Orthodox world completely. The trick is to keep them hoping and compliant without allowing them to become free and independent.
Considering how some singles suffer for decades, yet remain firmly committed to shadchanim, shidduch resumes, and the usual process, without mustering the courage to do more than complain anonymously, it seems the one inch of hope is being maintained quite well.
2) Stockholm syndrome is an interesting phenomenon in which hostages and victims of abuse develop a bond with their captors. It seems to be a subconscious coping mechanism to increase their chances of survival. Of course, those in control have their own interests, not to mention severe moral deficiencies, and are far less likely to develop an emotional bond with their victims.
This may help explain why so many singles and parents staunchly defend shadchanim and others who treat them abusively in the shidduch process. They are captives – or at least believe themselves to be – and believe that sympathizing with those in control affords them the best chance of survival. This may or may not be true in specific cases, but on a larger level it guarantees that the situation will not change.
Those afflicted with Stockholm syndrome will not try to escape even if they have the opportunity, and they may plead with rescuers not to harm their captors. Similarly, victims of norms in the shidduch world may dismiss opportunities to create positive changes as impossible or otherwise doomed to fail, and may even condemn those who try to fix the very things they always complain about. They will grumble about shadchanim, but will defend them and the overall system like German Shepherds from attempts to make real changes.
3) Some people, when tortured long enough, may become numb to pain, or at least more resistant to it. This is another coping mechanism. When singles go through enough suffering, they eventually go numb as well, emotionally detaching from the process to protect themselves from being hurt again.
The downside of this is that there are long-term consequences for emotionally detaching from shidduchim. The same reaction that makes it difficult for someone to hurt you simultaneously makes it more difficult for them to love you. After being burned a few times, singles often learn to refrain from making themselves vulnerable or showing small signs of affection that can allow a relationship to develop. They approach potential partners with a demeanor that ranges from neutral to cold, believing that “if the right one comes along” they will be able to flip a switch and instantly become charming and attractive.
Unfortunately “the right one” will generally not subject himself to multiple dates with a cold fish, trying to win over someone who treats him with apathy and clinical scrutiny. So while this approach insures the single will not be hurt, it all but guarantees he will remain single indefinitely.
4) Torture affects not only the victim, but the torturer as well. A torturer must block himself from caring about those he tortures. Inflicting suffering upon others can cause psychological trauma.
If you've ever met a shadchan who seems completely detached from the feelings of singles, or otherwise seems psychologically disturbed, this might explain why.
5) Long-term abuse can destroy a person's self-esteem, break a person's will, and cause severe psychological problems. It can take many years of therapy to be able to heal and overcome this.
This shidduch world destroys people's self-esteem, breaks people's will, and can cause psychological problems. It is mistaken to assume that singles are unsuccessful because they have “issues”. It is just as likely that they developed these issues precisely because of their experiences in the shidduch world. The best treatment, therefore, is one that addresses the cause, not the symptoms.
The community currently touts mental help as a solution for suffering singles. It might be more effective to stop making them crazy in the first place.
6) Victims of abuse often come to believe that they deserve it.