Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Different approaches to "The Shidduch Crisis": Analyzing the causes and solutions

Recently Yeshiva World News and YU/ YUConnects each put out videos addressing the problem of “The Shidduch Crisis.”

To sum up, the Yeshiva World News’ video (click here to watch) explains that many girls ages 24-29 are not married- according to their survey about 14%. They attribute the problem to “The Age Gap,” which means that “In a growing population you have more younger people than older people,” and since guys marry girls who are 2, 3 or more years younger than them, there end up being a lot of girls who have no one to marry.

The YUConnects video, (click here), which is considerably longer (about 19 minutes) does not clearly define the problem and does not clearly define the solution. The tone of the video is more casual and informal. It is discussion-based and includes interviews with singles and shadchanim to paint a picture of some of the problems with the shidduch system in what I would call “YU type” communities.

Both the Yeshivish world and the YU world agree that there is a problem that exists which they call “The Shidduch Crisis.” However, there seems to be debate on two points: What is the Shidduch Crisis/how do you define it? And secondly, what is the cause of the shidduch crisis? It is only once you have answered those two questions that you can try to come up with a solution.

For the Yeshivish world, it seems that the problem (the definition of the Shidduch Crisis) is that there are many older girls who are still single and cannot find guys to marry. This premise assumes that the problem is mathematical (more girls than guys) and therefore the solution is about numbers. While it would be great if it was that simple, I have two problems with this:
1. If the problem is really the age gap, then how come there was never a Shidduch Crisis before? The population in the world has always been growing, and guys have traditionally married girls younger than them, (and in fact I would argue the age gap was larger in the past), so why wasn’t there a Shidduch Crisis 100 years ago? This makes no sense to me.
2. The solution of “Close the Age Gap, Solve the Shidduch Crisis,” only makes sense if the problem is the abundant number of single girls. Maybe in the Yeshivish world the problem is only that girls are single, but in the YU community at least, there are plenty of guys who are single as well.

So for the “YU world”, so to speak, what is the problem? What is the crisis? It seems that the crisis is that there is high number of both men and women who are single and who would like to be married, who have been dating for a long time. Now comes the second question: What is causing this problem of so many singles who cannot find a spouse? The way I see it, there are two possible points in the dating/marriage timeline that could be the source of the problem:
1. The right guys and girls are not being set up with each other, so they never meet, and so they never get married. Problem: They don’t meet.
2. Guys and girls are being set up, and they do meet, but after they meet they never progress from the stage of going out to getting engaged. People are too quick to break up. Problem: Relationships have no problem beginning, but they do not continue.

From the YU Connects video it seems that they believe the answer is choice #1, that the problem exists because singles are not meeting each other. In fact, I have yet to hear someone attribute the problem to #2; it seems the problem is that singles have difficulties meeting each other. As one of the guys in the YU Connects video said, “There could be a guy who is right for a certain girl, but they may never meet.” Why are singles not meeting each other?

This is where it becomes unclear. The video seemed to suggest a few possible sources of why singles aren’t meeting:

1. There is a problem with the shidduch system. Some argue that singles need to meet naturally and not only through being set up. Often two people do not appear to be compatible on paper, but when they meet in real life they work perfectly, and visa versa. Singles never meet because the system doesn’t allow them to. As they put it in the video, “Young people are not meeting in a normal fashion” because there is an “increasing tendency to separate the sexes.” If this is the problem, then the solution is not only create more singles events, which can be awkward and forced, but to create more events where singles can meet naturally, where the main goal isn’t necessarily dating, but just for fun.

2. There is problem with the mentality. Some say that the Shidduch Crisis exists because people focus on ridiculous details that are not important. Things such as the color of a table cloth on shabbos. (Side note: I have never actually met someone who cared about that- is that one of those things that is for real or people just like to use it as an example because perhaps one person asked it once and it is so outrageous?) I feel compelled to quote my favorite line from the video here, when one of the shadchanim interviewed says, “Don’t ask what Yeshiva he went to, ask if he’ll change diapers at 3 in the morning.” (If only it were possible to find that out!) This is the point where I feel shadchanim accuse singles today of being too picky, as that same woman said, “Maybe go out of your box and try it. Maybe that’s why you’re not married yet.” So, according to this reason, singles never meet because they refuse to go out based on unreasonable criteria.

If this is the problem, then the solution is to try to change the mentality- of the entire community, not just of singles- to focus on things that are important. This problem is not a problem only singles have, unfortunately many people today stick people into boxes and categories largely based on how a person dresses. A lot of this problem is a focus on the external and not the internal. As one of the shadchanim points out on the video about guys who only date girls who are sizes 0-2, “She might not be a size 2 after you marry her. Are you gonna throw her out?” While attraction is undeniably important, true love should prevail no matter if a persons appearance changes. That is just one example.

Obviously these two issues are not completely independent of each other; the fact that people focus on insignificant details exacerbates the problem with the shidduch system where couples are set up based on pieces of paper and not chemistry.

I have some problems with the first option, that there is a problem with the shidduch system and singles should just meet naturally. My first problem is that those of us who are products of YU type communities are being given mixed messages. All through high school and Israel girls are told not to talk to boys and guys are told not to talk to girls. We are separated, and I believe this is a good thing and that is how it should be. When girls and guys build relationships without the intention of it possibly leading towards marriage, then things get complicated. I know there are many couples who meet in high school and continue dating and get married, but my teachers always discouraged this citing the reason that being shomer negiah for that long is very difficult.

One could argue that although interaction between the sexes is discouraged before one hits a marriageable age, once a person is ready to get married, interaction should be encouraged for the purposes of shidduchim. This is what I think the argument is for singles meeting naturally, not through a shadchan. The problem is that since we have been trained not to interact with the other gender, it’s hard to suddenly begin interacting. I remember when I first started Stern College and all the sudden the administration was pushing us to attend co-ed events. I had just come back from Israel where talking to guys was extremely discouraged, and all of the sudden it was like, “Go! Talk to guys!” It was quite overwhelming and I had no clue where to begin. I was way to shy to start talking to a guy at an event (still am somewhat, but less so) and there was no way a guy would dare approach me- it would come across as being way too forward. Bad For Shidduchim has a post about this where her parents were disappointed that she had barely even looked at a single guy who she had a meal with, and she comments how her teachers would be so proud. So while meeting naturally sounds like a great idea, in reality there needs to be some sort of transition from “Don’t talk to the opposite gender!!” to “Talk to them now!!!”

And after you’re married, you’re expected to go back to not talking/interacting. That’s why it makes more sense to pick one- the Yeshivish approach that it is never OK to seriously interact with the opposite gender except on a date, or the more modern approach that it is always OK to do so. I think the middle approach is possible- that it’s not OK before and after you’re dating, but when you’re in the dating period, it is OK to break that rule- but there needs to be some serious coaching and assistance in the transition from one to the other. For both the guys and the girls.

My second problem with singles meeting their spouses “naturally,” is that there is a very fine line between interaction that is for the purpose of marriage and interaction which is not for the purpose of marriage. (I put the word “naturally” in quotes because meeting your spouse through a shadchan is also a natural process- the opposite would be a miracle, which would involve no median, but rather being handed your Bashert directly from Hashem. People tend to overlook that. Hashem is equally involved in making a shidduch whether two people meet at an event where they start up a conversation or whether another human being thinks of the idea and appears to be the cause behind the shidduch. Hashem is ultimately the only One who truly makes a shidduch.)

Back to my point, if there is a singles event where singles have the opportunity to meet, then hopefully the guys and girls will be talking and building relationships. Firstly, this brings us to the whole platonic relationship debate, of whether it is possible to have a platonic relationship and whether Hashem approves or disapproves of such relationships. Secondly, in this environment there is a possibility that a guy and girl could meet who are completely not shayach for each other, but they do have chemistry and so they develop feelings for each other. While sometimes these feelings have the potential to override the hashkafic or other differences between the two people, sometimes feelings are not enough. Then what you are left with is two people who are deeply in love, but should not be getting married. Perhaps one could argue that these are risks worth taking. No matter what there will be pros and cons, and if this method results in less singles and more marriages, then it’s worth it.

For those two reasons (mixed messages make meeting naturally difficult and meeting naturally could result in tricky relationships), I’m not sure that the solution is to drop the shidduch system entirely and just have singles meet at events or without being set up. I find the second reason I mentioned as to why singles aren’t meeting (a problem with the mentality) to be a much more compelling reason. This brings me back to the debate as to what is considered an insignificant detail that should not be used as criteria, and what is considered to be settling. The bottom line is that you never know what you would be willing to give up until you actually meet the person. It’s not that there are certain criteria that one should never give up and there are others which you should never be picky about. The mentality of focusing on details which might not be important is a problem and that should be changed. But that is not an easy thing to do, nor do I propose that it is the only way to solve the shidduch crisis.

So how do we solve The Shidduch Crisis? I definitely don’t claim to have the answer to that question. Perhaps by closing the age gap, by adjusting the shidduch system and by working to change the mentality of our community. Perhaps by being open to meeting people outside our box, and by trying to find ways for singles to meet each other.

Food for thought: How do you define “The Shidduch Crisis”? What do you think the cause is? How would you solve the crisis?

Update: There are a number of things I forgot to mention in this post.
1. I forgot to point out that even on the YUConnects video, they say that the problem affects girls more than guys- more girls are single.
2. In terms of the Yeshiva World News video, is 14% really such a high number? I suppose it is if you are one of the people counted in the 14%. I would be curious if they did the same survey in Yeshivas to find out what percentage of guys are single. I assume it would be lower, but it would be interesting if it wasn't off by that high a percent.
3. Another problem with the "let singles meet naturally at events and not through shadchanim" approach is that the Yeshivish world would never go for that.


  1. nice job breaking it down. coming from the more yeshivish community and after watching the video, i have to agree with Dr. Pelcowitz that there is a tendency to separate the sexes more and more nowadays. I heard a quote about 10 years ago (before there was talk of any crisis) that a prominent yeshiva world rabbi, who now sits on the Moetzes, once said that the separation that exists nowadays was never like that before in the yeshiva world.

    I have a cousin who when it came to her own kids did a ton of research and they all married fine people. She pointed out to me that we date like Chassidim (the research etc.) yet want to fall in love like Americans. therein lies the problem, balancing the two extremes.

    I have a theory, but its not PC at all (therefore i think its true :-))

  2. Harry-er: interesting way of putting it, that is SO true "we date like chassidim yet want to fall in love like Americans." Nicely put.

    I would really like to hear your theory, even if it's not PC!! I'm curious.

  3. The problem in the Yeshiva world is much more complex. There are a number of things that are causing the crisis. (Note: Harry-er - I'm going to make generalizations which may not apply to you - but do apply.)

    In the Yeshiva world, the unfortunate fact is that most "normal" guys are married before 26. Yes, there may be a few guys who break that mold - but pretty much, if a yeshiva guy wants to be married by 26, he is. They older yeshiva guys break into 3 groups 1) the really have no interest in getting married although, they probably talk a good game; 2) they are super, super picky when they are younger and 3) have some serious mental or physical flaw (hence why they are not "normal"). So when a girl in the yeshiva world gets to 24+ - all they are left with is pretty much this category of guys and which is pretty much unappealing.

    In the yeshiva world, there are a number of factors that significantly contribute to the crisis. I'll give you a top 10. 1) people are much more concerned with small stupidities, that really should not make or break whether you marry someone; 2) "yeshivishness" and chumras = frumkeit (rather than halacha) and people only want the "frummest"; 3) money for support; 4) what will the neighbors think about this shidduch?; 5) Girls who are brainwashed and think they want learning guys but it takes them 5+ years to realize they don't; 6) boys lack of education; 7) people are coached to avoid any friction in dating and when there is some - breaking it off; 8) parents wanting only the "best" for the child; 9) the daters not involved (applies more to those 22 and under) and refusing to be involved; and 10) the rigidness of the yeshiva world (and the fact that it pretty much bannishes anybody breaking the mold or tries to marginalize them ) is itself the cause of many of the crisis' that the yeshiva world faces. But the yeshiva world refuses to change itself to combat the problem.

    My last point is the key - as long as the yeshiva world does not change and becomes more exclusionary and more demanding (and moves more to the right) the crisis' will not be solved. Solving crisis' requires work from all ends and coming to a common ground. If the system won't budge and demands that all parties come to it - then we cannot solve this because the root of the problem is that these people are outside of the system and we need to figure out a way to get them in besides demanding that they come in.

  4. Nice post.
    Harry, tell us your theory already!

  5. Amen, sister!

    So many points you made are so true - the "age gap" is a crock, considering that how men have married for MILLENNIA. Orthonomics debunked this theory recently, saying the factor(s) have to be specific to the past 20 years.

    The shidduch system has been the way my family works, at least known to prewar Europe. My premise is, that people whose parents met on their own are now suddenly taking up the shidduch date. Since it's not natural to them, and they aren't so comfortable with it, rules and assumptions are tacked on that had no place in the shidduch system of my mother's - heck, even my older sister's age.

    References? No. At least, casually calling someone for information (not odd questions like "On a scale of 1-10, how pretty is she?")wasn't called that. Calling the girl first to ask if she went out with a guy? Never. Resumes? Perish the thought!

    Although, the table cloth story never happened to me either. Maybe the story itself is causing crises.

    As for the socializing with guys thing, you said it perfectly. "Don't talk to him! You can talk to him . . . now." I don't think young girls should hang out with guys when they're still emotionally immature (especially when a recent study said marriages made after age 25 are more likely to succeed)yet chatting to someone casually should be permitted at a mature age (yes, even when you're married.)

    What is the premise for the shidduch crisis? Once you give something a name, you give it mamashus. Maybe there isn't one, it's all in our heads. In Europe, my mother tells me, there were many older single women, not because of the lack of men, but because those men had to be able to support a family and if he couldn't, he couldn't marry. Nothing new under the sun.

    Things are so easy in the USA that if we don't get something the minute we want it, we don't know how to handle it. As you said, Hashem makes all the shidduchim any way it comes into being. I saw a testimonial: "Without Frumster, I never would have met my bashert!" That's an oxymoron.

  6. For the labeling leading to mamashus, that's what happened to Shimshon. Dillilah was hocking him what is the source of his strength, and he said, "It's because I'm a nazir." It never says anywhere it was because he was a nazir; his strength was God given. But by according his nizirus the credit, he based his strength on that and lost it. (Rabbi Yisroel Reisman).

  7. Anonymous- wow, you mention a lot of factors that I hadn't even considered. Although your #'s 2, 3 and 4 fall into the broader category of #1 in my opinion. You make a lot of good points.
    #5- is it that they "realize" that they don't or that they are so desperate to get married that they settle?
    #6- I'm not sure I does boys lack of education relate to the shidduch crisis?
    I agree that the system needs to be more flexible.

    Bookworm- Yes maybe the table cloth story is causing the crisis! I liked how you said "Without Frumster, I never would have met my bashert!" That's an oxymoron." So true.

  8. That line about dating like Chassidim and fall in love like Americans is so true. Our perception of how we should feel around "The One" is incongruent with much of what shidduch dating stands for. I like it a lot. Harry, thanks for sharing.

    The fact of the matter is, our grandparents and great-grandparents did not make emotions and chemistry a number one priority, while for us it basically is. You can have everything in common, but if the chemistry isn't there, we dismiss the relationship. There is nothing wrong with valuing chemistry, but the generations that preceded us had much bigger worries in their lives than to worry about how perfect their marital relationship would be. In general they had a different outlook on life. Our generation probably has it the easiest out of all the generations in Jewish history.

  9. Hey kiddo, you're missing the NORMAL middle ground between women-approaching-men and men-approaching-women.

    You are in control! You have the power. You are supposed to signal interest to the men who viscerally appeal to you, inviting them to approach you. Make eye contact, smile, etc. And give off negative signals to men whom you find viscerally unappealing. Ask your grandmother how it works!

    Does that make you a flirt? Not really - the term flirt is generally applied to a woman who is insufficiently selective about those whom she invites to approach her.


  10. In terms of what Bookworm said about girls not hanging out with guys when they are immature -- I'd say that's part of the problem! For a lot of girls I know, chemistry is a huge deal, and a guy who has never interacted with a girl, or vice versa, comes off as heavily socially awkward -- difficulty carrying on a conversation past monosyllabic words, not looking her/him in the eye, bringing up topics that might be inappropriate in mixed company, not comfortable talking about themselves or the other person directly, fidgeting out of nervousness, etc. If people got somewhat more comfortable with the opposite gender, it would be less awkward, not to mention easier to evaluate the person across the table -- you have little or no basis for comparison.

    My personal solution? Speed dating. Like a regular shidduch date, but on speed. :D

  11. As someone involved in the production of the YU video, I can tell you that the goal of the video was not to provide a solution, but to paint a picture of the situation. In this type of film, part of the "situation" is how people in the film themselves view the situation.

    The video was approached as a short documentary, or "trigger film" to promote discussion (which it seems to have done). It was not intended as promo (except for a little YU Connects product placement). So when watching the film, keep in mind that a documentary is just as much about the people who are speaking, as it is about what they are saying. A promo endorses and promotes what the characters are saying. A documentary may disagree with what a character is saying. With a 2nd viewing, you may find that the film to be a bit self reflexive.

  12. Anonymous- thanks for clarifying the purpose of the video. I saw the video as an attempt to make people aware of the problem, and it definitely succeeded in doing so. With the "shidduch crisis" part of the problem is defining what the problem is exactly, as people tend to use the term quite loosely. It's great that you were involved with such a great video- you should be quite proud with how the video turned out- I think it hit on a lot of interesting points.

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