2019 Shidduchim By the Numbers: Failure Touted as Success Part 1
Chananya Weissman
May 3, 2019, The Times of Israel

One of the great impediments in convincing people that drastic changes in the shidduch world are required is the lack of data on the subject. For many years the more cloistered segments of the community refused to admit that the so-called “shidduch crisis” was a problem for them; it was limited to the “more modern” segments of the religious world.

They no longer pretend that this is the case. The burgeoning number of older singles and divorcees simply made it impossible to keep up the pride-based denial. You will still hear the occasional stubborn claim that the Chassidim, with their arranged marriages and pristine piety, don’t know of any shidduch crisis, but even that has become infrequent and I doubt anyone really believes it anymore.

I suppose it’s a good thing that harsh reality has forced them to acknowledge some serious problems in their society – that indispensible first step – but one can only wish it didn’t have to come to that. All these years spent posturing and clinging to the state of denial could have been spent addressing the problems, and sparing needless new victims.

I take no sides here. The “more modern” segments of the religious world, who are a bit more willing to acknowledge shortcomings, have proven no more diligent and effective in addressing them. This is because everyone wants to take the most convenient path, which is to believe that the system works just fine for most people most of the time, and we only need to make minor changes here and there to smooth out the rough spots.

If individual singles are having problems, most likely it is their own fault, and they should go for coaching, mentoring, and therapy, which the new cottage industry of semi- and pseudo-professionals will be delighted to provide at no small cost. It’s the Orthodox Jewish version of a protection scheme; tightly control the way religious adults can meet and date, break their self-confidence, and make them pay every step of the way for guidance and assistance from approved authority figures. I’m not saying it was originally designed to be this way, but that’s what it has become. There’s no longer a do-it-yourself option for mainstream religious people. If you’re religious but can’t neatly check off the desirable labels and categories on shidduch forms, you go to the bottom of the pile and stay there.

All of this is exacerbated by the lack of data to show people that the problems are more severe and widespread than they would like to believe, that thousands of seriously marriage-minded adults who would make wonderful husbands and wives and build beautiful Jewish homes are finding it virtually impossible to do so, and they don’t need dating tips. Until the problem hits home – and it is hitting more and more homes as time goes on – the community continues with its denial regarding how severe and widespread the problems are, and how everything it has done to address these problems has only made things worse.

Therefore, I am pleased to report that I have come across real data that will offer some very valuable insights into what’s going on right now in the religious world, and that will debunk some common misconceptions that are part of the denial process. This data is not scientific – such data does not exist and would be almost impossible to obtain – but the data is as good as we can get, and validates the anecdotal evidence we have all experienced but were thus far unable to “prove”.

A new shidduchim initiative (which I will not name, as they did not want me to write about this data that they had publicly made available) has been encouraging the Orthodox community to ramp up its efforts to suggest shidduchim. They have been keeping track of the number of shidduchim suggested, the number of first dates that come from these suggestions, and the number of engagements that resulted. Even more interesting, they shared a breakdown of suggestions and first dates based on gender and age. (They have since removed this part of the data.)

As of this writing, the initiative has recorded 7,237 total shidduch suggestions spanning Israel and more than 30 of the largest communities worldwide. These have led to 946 first dates and 49 engagements.

According to this information, a shidduch suggestion leads to an actual meeting 13% of the time. An actual meeting leads to an engagement 5% of the time. A shidduch suggestion leads to an engagement 0.6% of the time. These are hard numbers, not an interpretation.

It must be noted that this shidduchim initiative was directed mainly at the more “frum” segments of the Orthodox world, where meeting through a third-party suggestion is, for the vast majority of people, the only option. In addition, before a suggestion leads to a first date, extensive research is normally conducted, which can take weeks. If two people (and their parents) agree to a first date, it means a great deal about the two singles has already been checked out and approved. We’re not talking about two college kids having a cup of coffee; we’re talking about a very formal process that is one or two steps away from being “serious”, with an engagement not far behind.

Consequently, it must be understood that, in this context, for a first date to lead to an engagement 5% of the time is an extremely low percentage. It means singles on average will need to go out on 20 first dates to get married, with each first date being the culmination of an exhaustive, intrusive inquisition into their lives, their childhood, their families, and all sorts of minutiae to determine if it “makes sense on paper”. Since once singles (and their parents) agree to “look into” a shidduch, the single is declared “busy” and will no longer explore any other options, and since singles can go long stretches of time in their non-busy periods without a shidduch, for singles to go out on 20 first dates will likely take several years at least. It is no wonder, then, that there are burgeoning numbers of older singles even in the more “frum” communities. It’s not working often enough, and it takes far too long until it finally does.

Even more disturbing, though not surprising, is the 13% “success” rate for a shidduch suggestion to even lead to a meeting. Roughly 7 out of every 8 suggestions will be discarded without the two people even meeting one another. Again, this is in the more “frum” segments of society, where there is far less differentiation between individuals. The vast majority of people share a near-uniform hashkafa and vision for what their future family will look like. Of course there are variances – that’s why there is even this scaled-down version of dating – but since we are talking about a society that mandates external uniformity in so many ways, and it takes meeting a real person to be able to tell them apart from others, it’s astonishing that 7 out of 8 shidduch suggestions will be stopped at the moat.

Most incredible of all is the fact that a shidduch suggestion on average has a 0.6% chance of leading to an engagement. In other words, the average single will need to receive 167 shidduch suggestions before getting engaged. Since dating in our world is for the express purpose of getting married, and it is almost impossible to get a date without a shidduch suggestion, the evidence of failure here is overwhelming. Out of 7237 shidduch suggestions, 7188 were ultimately fruitless.

We often hear a shadchan boast of having made a certain number of shidduchim, and we are supposed to be impressed. If a shadchan boasts of having made 49 shidduchim, most people would think this shadchan is the greatest of professionals, is going straight to Gan Eden, and should be both admired and feared. A shadchan with 49 shidduchim under her belt should be lecturing all over the world, training others to follow in her ways, and placed in charge of the fate and fortune of thousands of singles. She should charge a three-figure fee just to meet her.

What this shadchan won’t tell you is that to make those 49 shidduchim, she likely made over 7000 attempts, and she gets it right barely half a percent of the time. If a single needs to make 200 attempts to get married, we send him straight to therapy. If a shadchan needs 200 attempts to marry off the same single, we praise her success. How does this make sense?

Furthermore, such a pitiful rate of success – such a large rate of failure – indicates that shidduch suggestions are generally haphazard and wildly off base. When people say they are “trying to help”, not only are they not helping, most of the time they are not even trying. There is a common misconception, which is perpetuated by those who encourage people to “make as many shidduchim as they can”, that merely making a shidduch suggestion is helping people and solving problems. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the time it is not helping anyone, and is only perpetuating the problems.

Those encouraging shoot-from-the-hip shidduch suggestions insist that this is a “tremendous mitzva”, but in fact it is nothing of the sort. For one thing, when singles receive numerous off-base shidduch suggestions, it only makes them more skeptical and suspicious when the next person on the fringes of their lives comes along with a “great” girl or guy who is “perfect” for them. It only makes them more likely to shoot down the suggestion, or to intensify the pre-date research, to expect to have a negative experience and therefore invest less of themselves into the whole process to limit the pain and frustration. No wonder singles increasingly suffer from burnout and need extended “breaks” and professional intervention to continue in shidduchim with any semblance of a positive attitude.

How is it a mitzva exactly to contribute to the frustration, pain, and burnout of singles with a shot-in-the-dark shidduch suggestion that is almost certain to fail? It’s like throwing a lottery ticket at a homeless person and declaring it an act of charity.

These numbers indicate that there is a great deal of desire to help singles, which is translated into shidduch suggestions. This is a good thing. However, shidduch suggestions are an inefficient and unsuccessful method for getting the vast majority of people married, and are extremely unpleasant besides. Those making the suggestions are woefully inept and are causing frustration and burnout among the single population.

They will argue that the 49 engagements justify 7188 failed suggestions. But do they? Would the 7139 singles who weren’t lucky winners agree that this is a successful system they should feel optimistic about? Is the collective pain, frustration, and burnout suffered by those who weren’t fortunate worth 49 engagements?

Is there any way to quantify this? How much pain and frustration caused to other singles is worth a single engagement? I think we would all agree that a shadchan who gets it right 50% of the time is an astounding success, and the 50% of singles who experienced an unsuccessful shidduch suggestion should get over it. But if a shadchan makes 10,000 suggestions and only one leads to a shidduch, should that shadchan be considered a success? Should we encourage more and more of the same? The community needs to realize that there is a serious cost to all this, and at some point there is more harm being caused than good. I’m not sure exactly where that line should be drawn, but I’m certain that we are a far way on the wrong side of it.

Barely half a percent of shidduch suggestions, in a community where shidduch suggestions are treated very seriously, lead to an engagement. 99.4% of these suggestions fail. If this does not convince people that the shidduch system needs a massive overhaul, nothing will.

In the next part I will analyze the breakdown of suggestions and first dates based on gender and age.