I was recently asked in an interview about the shidduch world if I have seen progress in the community in the nearly 9 years since starting EndTheMadness. I replied that, in my opinion, things have actually gotten worse during that time (much to the surprise of the secular interviewer). Sure, the community has definitely become more aware of the existence of a great problem and more sensitive about certain facets of the problem, but overall the community has remained almost entirely unwilling to face up to the real issues and embrace the right approach. As a result, the community has become 9 years more entrenched in faulty ideas, and has a new generation of singles that was educated in the problem as opposed to the solution.
Perhaps after all this time some people will be willing to step back and take honest stock of where things stand and where they may be headed if things continue on their present course. If we are still having the same lamentable discussion about the shidduch world as we did a decade ago, then perhaps some people will acknowledge that all those exciting initiatives that merely repackaged micro-controlled shidduch dating have failed. After all, have they not had more than enough time to make the “shidduch crisis” a thing of the past? If we stand in the same place today — or worse — that we did 10 years ago, then why would anyone continue on the same path?
I invite readers to take the following questionnaire to help determine what changes they wish to see in the shidduch world, and whether their present attitude makes those changes at all realistic. After all, singles are frequently admonished to have realistic expectations. That goes for the community as well.
- You don’t like the petty, intrusive, and degrading questions asked about singles and their families. Are you willing to give mussar to those who ask these questions of you? Are you willing to honestly reconsider whether some of the questions you ask are inappropriate, and modify your own behavior accordingly?
- You think matchmakers should spend more time getting to know singles as real human beings, not as superficial facts and figures on a notepad. In your own involvement, be it as a single, a parent, or other concerned individual, do you describe singles strictly in such clichéd terms? If so, are you willing to change that? Or do you just want others to change that?
- You think there aren’t enough social opportunities for singles to meet on their own. Are you willing to create more such opportunities? Are you willing to bring this up at the next board meeting and see it through? Or are you just waiting for it to happen on its own?
- You think labels put people in a box, obfuscate communication, divide the community, and don’t even help besides. Are you willing to stop using them?
- You think it would be nice if singles could sit together at the wedding meal of their friends, just as they did a generation ago. It would undoubtedly lead to more matches, naturally and pleasantly. Are you willing to have mixed seating at your next simcha, even if others object to the idea?
- You think a “professional” by definition is someone who has undergone professional training in a given field and is held accountable to professional standards. Are you willing to stop referring to matchmakers who do not qualify as professionals?
- Ladies: you don’t like it when men objectify you based on your weight and your body. You want to be appreciated for your character, personality, virtues, and inner beauty. Are you willing to stop objectifying men based on their height and occupation? Are you willing to stop rejecting men out of hand for superficial reasons that have nothing to do with whether they will make worthy husbands and fathers?
- Singles: you don’t like the fact that many married people are oblivious to the needs of singles and are often grossly insensitive. Are you willing to commit to being forever attuned to the needs of singles and sensitive toward them after you get married? Or are you going to drift away from your single friends shortly after you get married and then start to look down on those who are still single as inferior to you for not sharing your good fortune? Do you care a great deal about the shidduch world only so long as it directly and immediately affects you? If so, do you really care at all?
- Married people: do you think singles beyond a certain age are probably seriously defective in some way that is holding them back from getting married and that they should seek professional help? Are you willing to consider the possibility that you are being unfairly judgmental, blaming the victim, and even influencing perfectly normal people to drive themselves crazy fixing something that isn’t broken? Also, do you seek professional help for your various unrealized dreams and hold yourself to blame for them?
- You think rabbis and other community leaders should speak more about the issues and get more personally involved. Are you willing to voice your own opinion about the issues and get personally involved, even if that means taking some criticism? Or do you want to just write a check to support some dubious initiative and then look the other way?
- You think “shidduch résumés” and singles profiles are nauseatingly superficial, uniform, dehumanizing, and generally useless besides. You think they only perpetuate a culture of fear and conformity, and are part of a perverse culture in which people try to stand out while simultaneously trying to be as parve and uncontroversial as possible. You think this runs entirely counter to proper Torah values, aside from being unhealthy and encouraging shidduchim based on wrong or irrelevant criteria.
If you are single and feel this way, are you willing to stop playing this game?
- You believe shidduchim come from God. If so, are you willing to be entirely honest and genuine in the shidduch world? Are you willing to do what you know is right and true for you on an individual level, even if that means bucking the trend? If not, do you really believe shidduchim come from God? Do you believe God wants you to engage in “hishtadlus” that is backwards, unhealthy, and even immoral, even if that’s what “everyone else is doing”? If so, how do you reconcile this with a wealth of Torah teachings to the contrary?
- You think the Jewish community should support the honest exchange of ideas. You also think singles should portray themselves for who they really are, so that dating will be a more honest and effective process, and so that people will find suitors who appreciate them for who they truly are. Are you willing to stand behind your own ideas with your real name, or do you have to remain anonymous every time you voice something that someone out there might disagree with? Does your religious practice consist more of superficial displays of conformity to social expectations than true spiritual commitment? Do you perpetuate such practice in your own family so that you “fit in”? Are you ever willing to do something unpopular in your community because you know that’s what God really wants? Do you want singles to be true to themselves and others, yet your own life is largely just an act?
- Rabbis: You think much of what goes on in the shidduch world runs counter to fundamental Torah principles. Are you willing to give a series of hard-hitting lectures that cut to the core of what’s wrong and what needs to be done, even if not everyone will love you for it? Or do you think drashos that make vague, general points and avoid controversy will be enough for people to get the idea? (Is that why you wanted to become a rabbi back in the day?)
- Matchmakers: You think singles should generally go out on at least two or three dates so they can get to know the other person and not form opinions about them too quickly. Are you willing to extend singles the same courtesy and take the time to get to know them on a substantive level?
- Matchmakers: You think singles should be willing to change, often fundamentally. Are you? Are you willing to even consider the possibility that your methods of matching are highly flawed, and change accordingly?
- Everyone: Are you willing to consider the possibility that the community’s entire approach to the shidduch world needs an overhaul, and that minor tinkering will not be nearly enough? If not, why do you think minor tinkering will solve what you believe is a crisis?
- You want everyone else to give up their shtick. Are you willing to give up yours?
- You want things to change. Are you willing to do anything to change them? Or do you want to make a variety of excuses, complain, cling to false hope, and thereby perpetuate the likelihood that what you want will never happen?
- Are you willing to write a letter to the editor with your real name and describe specifically what you are willing to change in your own life to help bring about the changes you want to see in the shidduch world?
Or do you want to have this same conversation 10 years from now?