Having spent countless hours over the past three years working to improve the world of shidduchim, including moderating an online message board with thousands of postings, I've been exposed to the gamut of ideas and viewpoints on the many related issues. Not surprisingly, some of these ideas and viewpoints are illogical, erroneous, and even preposterous. Here is a sampling of myths and misconceptions that have become widely accepted as facts throughout observant Jewry.
Singles are getting married too young. / Singles are waiting too long to get married.
Depending on whom you ask, one of the above statements is a major part of what’s wrong with today’s world of shidduchim. Both these statements have an element of truth to them, but neither statement can be applied across the board.
In general, it is preferable for people to marry younger rather than older. The Gemara and Halachic literature are replete with adjurations for singles, particularly men, to marry young. The Gemara warns that a man who does not marry by the age of twenty will struggle all his days with impure thoughts (Kiddushin 29B). It is a blessing for people to get married young so that they can live to see many generations of descendants (see Eicha Rabba 1:2, where being a grandparent at the age of 26 is held to be the fulfillment of a blessing in Tehillim). Even in terms of building a relationship, it is ideal for people to marry while in their formative years, so that they can begin growing with their spouse before becoming too set in their ways.
This is not to suggest that everyone is ready to get married by the age of 19 or 20; there is no universal magic number. Putting pressure on singles to get married by a certain age has already led to many unsuccessful marriages. (I fear that ten years from now the rate of divorce will increase exponentially, leading to thousands of 20-something divorcees. I only hope I'm wrong.) Conversely, advising singles to wait until a certain age can unnecessarily delay the essential benefits of marriage and complicate the search when it belatedly begins – after all, singles don't become more appealing with age.
It is foolhardy, if not prohibited, for a man to get married when he has no conceivable means of supporting a family. It is the height of recklessness for a woman to get married because "all her friends are getting married". (Is getting married at 19 for social reasons worth the increased likelihood of getting divorced at 21 or having a miserable life?) These are examples of people who are not yet ready to get married.
Conversely, it is a poor life decision to put off getting married because one is not yet completely financially secure. This is reminiscent of one who would gather extra man every day because he is afraid he would find nothing tomorrow. It is the height of hedonism and the abyss of un-Jewish values to put off getting married because one is enjoying the single life. This is reminiscent of one who would choose to live in galus after the redemption. There are enough difficulties and impediments to getting married without us creating excuses to push it off.
The correct approach is in fact quite intuitive: the proper age for a person to get married is when he is emotionally, intellectually, materially, and spiritually prepared for it. As with all aspects of maturation, the exact age varies from person to person, and therefore "readiness" to get married must be determined on an individual basis.
By the late teens and early twenties, if one is not yet ready to get married, he should be actively engaged in the personal development and practical preparation to become ready.
Singles should not begin dating until they are ready to get married.
It has become mainstream in many circles for young men to learn in Yeshiva full-time until an advanced age (insert magic number here) before devoting any attention to getting married. The thinking is that until they are "ready to get married" it is inappropriate and otherwise unwise for them to be going out on dates.
The shortsightedness of determining a "right" age for everyone to get married has already been discussed. However, the widespread, seemingly sensible advice for singles not to begin dating until they are "ready to get married", regardless of the age in question, is foolhardy and literally catastrophic.
Consider: if one's lease runs out on September 1, does he begin searching for a new home on August 31? If one hopes to start a new job next year, does he wait until then to begin looking? If not, then why are singles advised to wait to begin dating until they are ready to get married?
In a utopian fantasy world, the first person everyone dated would be the right one, and the courtship would be swift and without uncertainty. In reality, it often takes years to find the right person even after one is fully prepared to get married, and it takes more than three dates to determine that this is in fact the right one to marry. Consequently, those who wait to begin dating until they are ready to march down the aisle waste youthful years because they foolishly delay beginning the search.
Someone who is ready to be married by 25 should begin dating by 22 or 23 at the very latest, with hopes that by the time he is ready to be married he will already have found the right person. Similarly, someone who is ready to be married by 20 should begin dating by 17 or 18. To get married, one needs to be ready to get married. To date, one needs to be ready to date. There is a difference. What if someone begins dating with a two-year head start and finds the right person immediately? How fortunate is that person! All singles should have this problem! If these two people are really right for one another, they will accept having to wait a few months until they get married. In the old shtetl that is so glorified, it was normal for couples to spend a full year preparing themselves for marriage after they'd already decided to get married! Whatever challenges may be involved with waiting are normal challenges, and are not sufficient reason to delay searching for the right one.
Just ask the tens of thousands of aging singles in our community, many of whom waited too long to begin looking, if they wish they could have a few extra youthful years for their search. Then again, don't ask them; their pain is great enough already. Instead, encourage the boys in Beis Medrash and the girls who've begun to think about marriage not to waste a single moment. If getting married and starting a family are really foundations of Jewish life, then singles need to put themselves in a position to build this foundation the moment they are ready.
There are so many great girls out there and not enough guys.
This one is frequently regurgitated by frustrated shadchanim and people who believe everything they hear. Supposedly, a large percentage of single guys are uneducated, unsophisticated, unappealing, and have a host of psychological and social problems to boot. The few good ones have long lists of wonderful girls just desperate to go out with them, and merely getting one's name on such a list is a daunting challenge for our innocent, oppressed heroines. As a result of their great advantage, guys can be picky about all kinds of trivial and even inappropriate things, while girls are forced to settle for whatever slop becomes available to them. If a girl expresses reluctance to go out with a brute, she is labeled picky and difficult and condemned to the shidduch netherworld.
To the best of my knowledge a census has yet to be taken, but common belief is that quality Jewish men are an endangered species, while the pick of women has never been better.
Hooey. Although in some of the more cloistered communities women are not empowered to take charge of their lives and their intellectual potential is suppressed, when it comes to shidduchim, the fairer sex is at least 50% responsible for the problems that exist. For every guy who makes a crass, even vulgar inquiry as to a girl's dress size there are several girls who are just as fixated with a guy's height. This is a parallel madness – yet the men are roundly condemned for seeking stick figures, with no equivalent criticism leveled at similarly shallow women.
Similarly, women have increasingly become just as cold, calculating, and cynical in dating. Every offense that men have traditionally perpetrated against women – not calling them back, leading them on, playing mind games, standing them up, lying to them, not showing affection and appreciation, obsessing over trivialities, fearing commitment, and so much more – is something the women are guilty of in great numbers nowadays as well. Perhaps the culture of feminism, which has successfully infiltrated even the more cloistered Orthodox communities, has nurtured women to abandon their softer, empathic natures and become more like men. If so, it is to no one's benefit.
I hear a lot about how so many guys are "weirdoes". And there is no shortage of them, it's true. But let me tell you, there are plenty of women out there with issues, too. I encounter them all the time. It's easier to spot men with issues, since they are less likely to tend to personal appearance and are generally more forward in social situations. This leads to a perception that there are many more men with issues, and the women are mostly "put together". But many of these women are only put together on the outside. Weirdness does not discriminate between genders.
I also hear a lot about how the women are so educated, sophisticated, and worldly, while the men are peasant folk. I wonder, though: are there really so many more Jewish women than men in schools of higher education, especially beyond the college level? And if educated religious women are primarily looking to date men from circles where pursuing a general education is a horrific concept, then they have no right to complain with the lack of sophistication of the men they are meeting. What do they expect? There are plenty of educated, sophisticated, worldly men who are yearning to meet a female counterpart. Just not in most kollel-centric societies.
Women also tend to attend marriage-oriented singles events and enlist the services of shadchanim in far greater numbers than men. This further feeds the perception that there are far more women than men. However, the social events I've run have consistently drawn significantly more men than women (and quality men at that).
My theory is that religious women nowadays are programmed to be more marriage-oriented, to the extent that nothing about events interests them beyond the perceived odds of finding their bashert. For this reason, speed dating events, stale "meet and mingle" events, singles weekends, dating web sites, and shadchanim – all of which have no purpose other than to make marriages in assembly-line fashion and make outrageous promises to that effect – draw far greater numbers of women.
More community-oriented events that provide natural opportunities for singles to get to know one another gradually, without the pressure of deciding in 10 minutes or less whether this person is "marriage material", tend to draw fewer women. It's a shame, because if more women took a more laid back approach toward meeting people socially, they would be pleasantly surprised with the caliber of guys who are out there. One does not need to compromise one's modesty or desire to get married, either. Men can only marry women that they meet, and the more readily women are available to be met, the greater their chances of attracting the attention of a suitable man. There is nothing promiscuous or immodest about it.
These are just a few of the many myths and misconceptions that have been accepted in the religious community. Hopefully shining the light of public discourse upon them will chase away some of the darkness of ignorance and thoughtlessness, and thereby help bring simcha to many people who currently wallow in self-made pits of despair.