On the one hand, the greater attention being paid to the world of shidduchim and its flaws is a good thing. As we know, admitting the existence of a problem is the first step toward solving it, and observant Jewry does not generally take this crucial first step readily. On the other hand, the multitude of simplistic analyses and suggestions being proffered can have a great negative effect by drawing attention away from the real problems and what truly needs to be done.
One of the more popular simplistic "analyses" going around is that singles are "too picky", and that singles above a certain age are by definition too picky. That's supposedly The Problem. I've never understood this. First of all, it behooves us to be picky about who we will build a family with and hopefully spend the rest of our lives with. Are those who lump all singles together and criticize them for being "too picky" any less selective when it comes to themselves and their own children? Do they advise their children to just marry the first nice person who comes along? I wonder.
What we choose to be picky about is, of course, another matter, and requires a more nuanced and personalized approach. To be picky about matters that have no bearing on marital compatibility (which is the norm nowadays) is indeed inappropriate. But when it comes to core matters of compatibility, one should never settle. Clarifying which items on one's wish list should never be compromised, which items one should be flexible about, how flexible one should be, and which items do not belong on anyone's list is a complex and sensitive matter that varies from person to person. Telling people not to be too picky just doesn't cut it.
Some suggest that the real problem is a numbers game: too few men for all the wonderful single women out there just desperate to find a decent guy to marry. I have a lot to about this one as well, but the solution (encourage men to marry older women) is incredibly simplistic and doesn't even address the root of the presumed problem, which can only be solved by increasing the supply of men. Worse still, this analysis completely ignores the widespread corruption of values that has overtaken the shidduch world and reduces the problem to a numbers game that encourages no one to rethink their mindset and practices in real life. (I can see why this sort of analysis has appeal.)
Then there are those who claim that the problems in the shidduch world are the fault of television, movies, the Internet, the secular world -- in other words, the usual cast of characters that are supposedly to blame for all of our problems. This agenda-driven approach is conveniently non-threatening and shifts the blame to amorphous culprits. It also fails to provide any guidance for what the many thousands of singles who are struggling to successfully marry are supposed to do beyond promising to shelter their unborn children from the outside world, nor does it explain why the more insular Jewish communities are experiencing far more shidduch problems than they would like to let on.
Simplistic approaches such as these are insulting to singles and trivialize the serious issues they face in navigating a shidduch world that is hostile, corrupt, and entirely untenable. These approaches also deflect attention from all that is fundamentally wrong both with the shidduch world and the value systems that manifest themselves when it comes to shidduchim. It behooves us to shine the spotlight on these value systems and analyze them in contrast to the Torah-true values to which we should be adhering.
In my next essay I will focus on the most subtle and sinister corruption of Jewish values that has overtaken the shidduch world like perhaps never before.