Sunday, November 14, 2010

The System

Despite complaints directed against the shidduch system, I recently had an experience that reminded me of its advantages. I was talking to a co-worker who is a non-religious Jew, and she was telling me about the guy she is dating. She explained that although she likes him a lot, she knows he is not the right person for her, and she does not want to marry him. For those wondering why she was dating him at al, it had been clear from other conversations as well that she was just dating him for fun- she liked him, she enjoyed spending time with him etc. When I asked her why she would not marry him despite her feelings for him, she paused and responded that they have different values and went on to elaborate a few areas in which he did not share her outlooks on issues that were important to her.

The conversation reminded me why the process of finding out important information about a potential date before dating is a good system. If you’re dating because you want to find a life partner, it is important to first make sure you are basically on the same page as a person. Because if you don’t do it that way, then you end up meeting someone, developing serious romantic feelings for them, and by the time you realize that he’s headed in one direction and you are headed the opposite way, you end up with a painful break up. I guess, if you’re only looking for fun and not marriage, then why not go out with anyone who you get along with and are attracted to? In the case of my coworker, (or those like her) I think she is started to reach the point where she is done having fun and ready for a serious relationship, but is so used to just dating people she is interested in without checking out the important stuff early on in the process. That’s the problem with dating for marriage outside the shidduch system.

On the other hand, one problem with the shidduch system,(which I also wrote about here) is that at times, too much emphasis is placed on compatibility on the values level and not enough on the “do these two people get along” level. Or not necessarily too much emphasis on values, but rather emphasis on the wrong values, or on small details that people pretend are values. This video which I have recently seen posted in a number of places and has been emailed to me by a number of friends is a humorous demonstration of how extreme it can be. For example, people have suggested guys for me whose parents are divorced, and they made sure to tell me that in advance. Things like that (that is just an example) slightly bother me because they are not make-it or break-it items, as opposed to factors such as religious level/observance or the type of lifestyle that they would like to have. One might argue that a person whose parents are divorced is probably negatively affected by that and/or perhaps have not had a positive model for a healthy romantic relationship.

To that I respond that if that is the case, we should also be asking about whether a person has had any traumatic experiences that might affect their future relationships, such as being abused by a teacher or being bullied as a child or every single negative. Perhaps some people do ask about those things. In which case I wonder: Are all of those whose lives aren’t perfect (by certain standards, anyway), which describes most people because such is life, doomed to never get married? My decision to go on a date with someone is not based on if their parents are divorced, or what their cousins do for a living. Nor is it based on what happened to them on the second day of school in fifth grade or how many times they blinked when they were two weeks old.

Despite the flaws of the shidduch system, namely that people can get carried away in attributing importance to small details, luckily most people I have personally encountered are pretty reasonable, and my conversation with my coworker was a good reminder that the system is at least good in theory. Before you develop feelings and become invested in a relationship that you hope will lead towards marriage, it is good to make sure your basic values are the same. Once you know you’re headed in the same direction, you can meet up and figure out whether you would like to head in that direction together.


  1. Welcome back!! Missed you here :)
    Great post!

    The shidduch system definitely has advantages, and when I hear about how some others are suffering outside of the system, I'm often reminded that I appreciate it.
    For example, I met a girl over the weekend who told me that she's dating a wonderful guy, and more than anything, she wants him to commit to her, but she has to wait for him to initiate any marriage talks because she doesn't want to appear clingy. She said that in the secular world, that usually doesn't even come up until you're dating for at least a year...which is very painful for someone who is only dating for a few months.

    I agree that we need to view people as individuals, not job applicants or patients at the doctors office.

  2. Welcome back!
    The system does have its advantages...we have to remind ourselves of that especially when it gets so frustrating.

  3. Sefardi Gal- Thanks! :) I've also heard those in the secular world complain how it is hard to find a guy to commit. It's definitely better to date someone you know is dating in order to get married.

    aminspiration- quite true!

  4. For sure. I feel a lot "safer" emotionally in the shidduch system that I imagine that I would in the secular dating world.

  5. Great post! There is a lot to criticize with regards to the shidduch system, so its nice to remind ourselves that the alternatives are not that great either. It can just use a little tweaking : )
    (FYI - I just put up my first posting on my blog today!)

  6. It IS a good system, however flawed it might also be. Other people have called it a cold and methodical way of picking a spouse, but there is a method to the madness.
    We establish that we are compatible on a realistic, hashkafic, and personal level before creating an emotion connection that -- once formed -- is hard to break.

  7. Lawyer Dov- Yup, but most things in the world can use tweaking. Good luck with your blog!

    Donyel- that a good point- you put it quite nicely!

  8. This is actually excellent advice. I'll tell you the sad ending. Sometimes the attraction is too strong. Maybe it is being sick of dating, maybe it is believing that the other side will change (extremely unlikely, no matter what is promised) or maybe it is the physical attraction - but the ending is not good. The marriage is hard and involved with constant second guessing. At the engagement, someone's family will put in all the smiles and happiness, but not so deep down will lie extreme disappointment and if the situation doesn't improve will always be a separation between the party and its family. But the bottom line is religious values are a tricky thing and never should be compromised.

  9. Anon from Columbus- Wow, it sounds like you have had some negative experience in this area. I agree with your bottom line, but I think it also depends on how great the difference is between the two people's values and how flexible each of them are.


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