2006 Natural Meetings Revisited
Chananya Weissman
June 9, 2006, The Jewish Press

Yankie and Rochie were in a car together, and were attempting to make conversation. “Attempting” is the appropriate way to describe it, because conversation between them was difficult and awkward. This made for an uncomfortable car ride. Further complicating matters was the fact that Yankie and Rochie were expected to converse with one another, despite being complete strangers; in fact, they really had no other reason to be there. Despite being coached on what to talk about and how to express themselves, and despite having gone through many similar experiences with other people, there were many gaps and dead-ends in the conversation, which only further heightened the discomfort.

Needless to say, neither Yankie nor Rochie enjoyed the experience, despite the way they smiled and pretended otherwise. It was clear that they had little chemistry, and whatever they were told they had in common was surely exaggerated. Maybe they would be persuaded to give each other “another chance”, though they would look forward to it with dread or indifference at best; maybe they would go through this unpleasant experience all over again with hopes of developing a rapport; maybe they would eventually become comfortable in each other’s company; maybe they would become capable of talking naturally to one another as they could with everyone else; maybe they would even wish to get married.

But probably not.

Yaacov and Rachel also had their first conversation during a car ride. However, the circumstances surrounding this meeting were entirely different. They had each spent Shabbos in the same neighborhood and were sharing a ride back home. They had never previously met, and knew nothing about one another, yet they conversed freely and without strain. When there was a lull in the conversation there was no palpable tension in the air. They were both comfortable presenting themselves without subterfuge and acting naturally, since there was no pressure and no expectations. After all, they were just two strangers sharing a ride.

When they parted at the end of the ride they still hardly knew one another. After this one chance meeting they definitely had more questions about one another than answers — but that’s always the case. They discovered that they had a lot in common. They also discovered that they were not entirely alike in terms of background, personality, and even religious outlook. However, after this lengthy, engaging, enjoyable conversation, these differences seemed trivial to both of them. In fact, rather than cause tension and anxiety, these differences actually contributed to the conversation.

Yaacov and Rachel found each other to be interesting, similar enough to understand each other, yet different enough that their time together was never dull and monotonous. They even discovered qualities in one another that they had never before thought of in a potential date, yet appreciated now that they had stumbled on these qualities. Not only that, they discovered that some of the trivial, tangential “requirements” that they fussed over when being set up just didn’t matter. This real person was so much more than a generic list of qualifications. Needless to say, they made it their business to meet again, and they both looked forward to it.

After two weeks of nerve-wracking negotiations and deliberations, Yankie and Rochie agreed to meet a second time as well. They went out for dinner at one of the usual restaurants. They found a few things to talk about, but again it petered out before too long, and they found themselves grasping to fill the empty spaces. They didn’t really care how many siblings the other one had and what they all did, but they feigned polite interest as they exchanged monologues. Rochie kept glancing around the room, hoping no one she knew would see her. Yankie almost gritted his teeth when he saw the bill, and reminded himself that this was hishtadlus. They were also not very attracted to one another, and did not find that spending more time together helped matters.

Two tables away, Yaacov and Rachel were comfortably enjoying dinner and each other’s company as they found out more about one another. They got a good laugh by observing that some other couples there were clearly on a date, and clearly not enjoying themselves. Yaacov and Rachel felt sorry for them. Maybe they were right for one another and maybe not — only time would tell — but finding that out didn’t have to be unpleasant and filled with artificial obstacles.

Same people, same setting — yet an entirely different experience.

Those who are fundamentally opposed to “natural meetings” would do well to consider that natural meetings are in reality not so dissimilar to “shidduch dates”. What is a shidduch date, after all, if not two people meeting for the first time, going somewhere together, and getting to know a little bit about one another? Maybe they will get married, and maybe they will not.

Natural meetings are very much the same thing, only without pretentious third parties, intrusive and far-reaching “research”, artificial expectations, and a pressure-filled personal encounter. Whether or not they get married will still be determined only by getting to know important things about one another and developing a genuine relationship “ but the process will be more palatable.

Indeed, it is much more palatable because the initial meeting — be it a car ride, a meal, or an encounter at a summer camp — occurred without being labeled a “date”, with all the pressure and anxiety associated with dating. It is unreasonable for two total strangers to be thrust into such a pressurized and anxious setting and expected to become comfortable with one another. However, it is perfectly reasonable for two strangers who meet in the normal course of life to become comfortable with one another — and then to begin dating.

Consequently, those who scorn natural meetings on religious grounds need to explain why it is objectionable for a single man and a single woman to meet for the first time only if this initial meeting is referred to as a “natural meeting”, and not as a “date”. After all, what happens during and beyond this initial meeting is essentially the same. The first date after a natural meeting is roughly equivalent to the second date after an initial set-up. Only the terminology and the looming presence of a matchmaker are different.

Those who claim that natural meetings would lead to a greater incidence of inappropriate matches need to reconcile the fact that “shidduch dates” turn out to be “not shayach” the overwhelming majority of the time. All the tangential pre-date questions and intense investigations haven’t led to any positive breakthroughs. Just the opposite, in fact.

Those who claim that natural meetings are largely facilitated by physical attraction need to explain how this is significantly different with “shidduch dates”. I do not believe many people marry someone they find physically unattractive. Furthermore, when people are set up on blind dates with someone they find physically unattractive, they experience an immediate letdown upon seeing this person for the first time, and almost never overcome this. Attraction grows over time in any healthy relationship, but unattractive people do not magically become pretty people after a few dates, nor will anyone be duped into pursuing someone they find unattractive simply because they were compelled to a go through with a date.

Women in particular complain that men are preoccupied with looks. I must ask these women the following questions. Why do you go to great trouble and expense to beautify yourselves before dates and events if you do not wish for men to be attracted by your appearance (which in and of itself is not a bad thing at all)? More importantly, would you turn down a date with someone I have in mind for you who is absolutely perfect for you, yet is not four inches taller than you? What if he is a couple of inches shorter than you? How about if he is losing his hair?

If this person showed up at your door for a blind date, would you experience a sinking, disappointed feeling? Would you go into shut-down mode, merely go through the motions of a date, and be “polite” but not at all engaging or enthusiastic? Would you tell this gentleman what a great guy he is, but unfortunately you don’t see it working out, despite how well he treated you and how much you have in common otherwise? If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you are also preoccupied with looks, and therefore should not complain about this ever again.

The truth is, natural meetings are actually more favorable for overcoming minimal attraction. If two people have a chance to get to know one another outside the pressures and expectations of a formal shidduch date, there will be greater room for flexibility in terms of physical attraction. Once two people decide to begin dating one another, physical attraction will never be a concern; after all, they have already seen one another and spent time together. And the first time people who met naturally go out on a date, they will already have met and developed a comfortable basis for conversation.

Natural meetings should not be thought of as an “alternative” method of meeting, something only appropriate for “some circles”, or something to be tried only after one reaches the age of desperation, but as the absolute best and most pleasant way to meet a potential spouse. Matchmaking, unnatural singles events, and online dating should be alternative options to supplement natural meetings.

Again, there is no foolproof method of meeting that eliminates all the concerns, uncertainties, and potential risks of dating. Shidduch dating exists only for this purpose, yet continues to produce woeful results a great deal of the time. Unless the shadchan is actually a personal friend who is looking out for the best interests of both individuals, a blind date with what amounts to a stranger is simply not a pleasant or effective way to meet a potential spouse. A natural meeting is, regardless of how it turns out.

Just ask Yaacov and Rachel.

Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a comprehensive campaign to rehabilitate the culture of shidduchim. He can be reached at admin@endthemadness.org. His collection of original Divrei Torah, “Keser Chananya”, can be obtained by contacting him at the above address.