Thursday, July 19, 2007

MisMatch-Making

I commented at the Brookyln Wolf about some ideas that he was throwing around in regard to the frum world's approach to shidduchim. As it turns out, I just started reading The Outside World, which has quite a sarcastic take of it's own on the shidduch process. One of the things he was writing about was the idiotic way rabbis advise people to turn down prospective matches without even meeting the people involved, based on superficial and irrelevant issues, and disregarding whether the person really is a compatible match in the ways that truly matter. Not that it matters, but I think he's conflating various issues in his criticism:
1) the problem of irrelevant details mattering so much
2) the tendency to think there's only one right way for a person to be and discounting people who don't fit that picture
3) the increasingly common trend for people to defer these decisions to their rabbis.
They're all problems that are touched on by various comments that he and his readers made.

I'm not going to get into all the things I see wrong with the shidduch issue. Suffice it to say, that even when I was a believer, I had enough sense to understand how that aspect of frum society highlighted so well the many dysfunctions endemic to chareidi life. And the simple fact is that my life now is free of all those idiocies that frum society demands of its adherents, so I could care less if they continue their silly games. But when one commenter made the point that she finds it absurd that people who have had the maturity to make the monumental decision to get married are not thinking for themselves about who to marry, I felt it prudent to set the record straight:
Shoshana, you said, "...these are people who have declared themselves mature enough to be married..."

I disagree with that. Most people in the shidduch market have not declared themselves mature at all. The only reason that they are in that arena is because they've simply arrived at that stage in their life where this is what "they're supposed to be doing". You know.... went through high school, a few years of post HS beis medrash or seminary, maybe a year in Lakewood for the guy or a short stint working for the girl, and now, at the age of 19-20, it's time to get married. And just like every other decision of their life which they submitted to the dictates of their handlers (whether that be family, school, or rabbi's), this decision too is being deferred to them.

Hardly any of these people have seriously looked at themselves and asked if they understand what starting a family is about, and if they are prepared to take on that responsibility. It's just assumed that when you reach a certain age, you're ready! For these people, marriage is just the next fad in their life, to be followed shortly by having a baby...

Sorry, I don't see any maturity here whatsoever. Only reckless and shallow self-indulgence.

To just put a bit of a finer edge on my point above, Why is anyone surprised that shidduchim are being broken off for the most superficial and idiotic reasons, when actually the very decision to marry someone is probably also really based just as much on unthinking and shallow motives?

Another point - the way the rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva often look at marriage is as a solution to the problem of a guy or girl becoming too independent now that they are older. Instead of asking "Are they mature and ready for this?", the question they seek to address is, "How can we make sure they don't stray or get involved in unsavory activities now that we have less control over them?" The answer: get them married as soon as possible!
I appreciate the points made by the Wolf and his readers. Yet, as I read them all, I can't help thinking that they're actually very sad, yet unsurprisingly, also so very typical of popular frum thinking. All the attention is focused on the idiotic details after the fact (which I agree are definitely worth criticism), and they avoid scrutinizing the more serious and significant problems that are at the root of the issue itself. Sure, it's obvious the whole frum approach is flawed, and all of its myriad issues are each worthy of a post all their own: how people are rejecting (and accepting) each other based on superficial criteria; that people are allowing others to make such important and personal decisions on their behalf; how just because someone has a different hashkafa they are deemed sub-par and unworthy; how being a "learner" is the overriding criteria for so many people; that people seriously consider keeping crucial information about themselves hidden from their potential life partner; that people are rejected based on things totally unrelated to their character and often totally out of their control. Sure, that's all stuff that is problematic and in need of serious remedy.

But all of that hardly matters at all when the whole motivation for people getting married in the first place is so misplaced! Why do these sad and pathetic behaviors matter at all when they're stemming from something so much more troubling?! It's like someone going to a restaurant and being upset by the poor service when the food they're being served is a putrid glob of guck.

It amazes me that anyone is surprised at all about all these various problems of the "shidduch crisis". When the basis of the match is originating from a distorted perspective, then it's only natural that the reactions to it are going to reflect that skewed ideal! Of course the color of the shabbos tablecloths is important if getting married is just the next step to take in fitting in to the community! Sure the car they drive (or the size of the house) matters when the whole point of the match is to increase one's status in the community! And why is it so surprising for the rabbi to deem the prospective partner unfit when to him getting married is primarily a means to make sure his young charge "stays on track"? Why shouldn't the candidates misrepresent themselves if what matters more than anything is just to get married already? And of course, all those countless trivialities, the endless rules and rituals of who does what, when, where, and how, matter so much when getting married is just the latest fad they're into. Like all other fads, you have to fit in with what everyone else is doing...

When getting married is not about two people connecting, exploring each others person, loving each other, and growing continuously closer*, but rather about marrying the right person in order to put another notch in your social belt, or about how it can fit in with your rabbi's plan for your spiritual progress, or about just following the crowd and doing it because that's what everyone else does at that age, then is it any surprise that you end up with a so-called "shidduch crisis"?

The sad thing is they really do have a shidduch problem that needs to be solved. It's just that, like so much else in their world, it's a problem of their own making, and unfortunately, like so many of their other problems, will probably never be solved, since doing so necessitates taking a long and hard look at how they approach the issue, and considering that their "Torah True" approach might not be so right after all.

* Note - I'm not saying that in frum marriages people don't do all that (love each other, grow closer, etc.). I am saying that that is not WHY they get married.

19 comments:

DAG said...

The problems is when people radically alter a traditional system while claiming they are doing things in the exact same manner as Torah Jews throughout history. A challenge to their revision is seen as a challenge to Judaism itself.

Enigma_4U said...

No solutions offered, because it would require dismantling an entire social system, but still a great post.

Also very apropos for Tu B'Av, a holiday which once upon a time had as much significance as Yom Kippur (see Ta'anit 26b), but sadly, was marginalized into near-oblivion for what is perceived to be incompatible with contemporary frumkeit.

Ask any standard-issue yeshiva boy or girl about the customs of Tu B'Av, and you get this baffled look. What???? Inconceivable!!! Girls dancing in the vineyards to attract potential mates? We can't understand it as pashut p'shat because those generations were on such a different madreiga, they had no yetzer harah, blah blah blah.

Definitely not the way things are done nowadays.

"Rich Perkins" said...

While it is not as high as the general US population, there has been a rise in divorces in the orthodox community. I have several friends around my age (low 30's) who have gotten divorced. I never remember that happening when I was younger.

I think the whole "you have to get married NOW" and "she's over the hill . . . at 24" mentality forces people younger and younger into marriage when they simply aren't ready.

Add to this the notion that the parents are pushed into supporting these kids and you have a recipe for disaster. I think if you are ready to get married, you should be ready to support yourself for the most part. I don't mind parents helping IF THEY WANT TO, but the whole idea that they HAVE to is obsurd.

Also, I agree wholeheartedly with you that most in the chareidi world care about outside appearances WAY too much. They are terrified of not conforming to the norm and what might happen if they actually have some of their own thoughts.

Juan Valdez said...

Before I post my objections, I would like to mention that I am a former BT who is slowly moving away from OJ so I am not defending the religion here. Also, I agree with most of the things you said, and overall I enjoyed this post just as I enjoy your other posts:

1.You say “how just because someone has a different hashkafa they are deemed sub-par and unworthy“. We all do that. Would you go out and date and marry an orthodox girl? Unlikely. In a way you would deem her unworthy. You deem all UO people in a way sub-par. Isn't that what your blog is about? Mind you, I don't disagree. You could argue that hashkafa is a minor issue in a relationship and there are more important things. Yes, to you; to others hashkafa is very important. And honestly, when you live with a person, philosophy becomes very important, especially when children arrive. Trust me, I've been there.
2.I have a question. I honestly don't know the answer and not trying to be facetious here. You said that young people go and get married before they are ready to have a mature relationship or a family. But, in a way, doesn't the entire orthodox lifestyle prepare young people to family life better than secular lifestyle (which I lead)? Divorce rate is still much lower among UO than in other circles.
3.Let's look at a hypothetical situation: A boy meets a girl and she is so gorgeous he falls madly in love at first sight. With the momentum of passion they develop a deep relationship and get married. After a while, and trust me – this happens 99% of the time, the mad infatuation cools down and flaws come out in him and her that they overlooked before. This is a very jarring experience that wrecks marriages. Now suppose the boy's parents let him date, be attracted and fall in love, but only with girls they preselect for behavioral and character flaws. After all, they are not madly in love and can evaluate a potential suitor soberly, where the boy would have been blinded by passion and adolescent hormones. So he meets a girl, and she is so gorgeous he falls deeply in love at first sight. They get married, but when passions cool down there are many fewer chances of flaws coming through because his parents preselected her. Yes, this approach is selfish, but effective. Wouldn't such a shidduch make sense?

OK, no more disagreements. The one thing I find infuriating about the shiduchim is when you get those funds that collect money “for a yeshiva bochur to be able to afford to take a girl on a shidduch date”. You see, he cannot afford to pay for a restaurant meal, a nice suit etc. What?! So I have to give my $ for this lazy putz who doesn't want to work, so he can give the poor girl a false impression that he can actually support a family? As Rich Perkins said, if he is not able to provide for his wife and 7 children he is about to have then he is not ready to be married and should not go on shidduchim in the first place.

sprouter said...

Many good points.

To dan l'chaf zchus, people's expectations of when they are going to fall in love and get married are also informed by societal expectations. So the motives may be a bit purer then how they are portrayed - yes, they want to get married at a young age, and yes, that's the next step in the community, but also, to them it feels developmentally appropriate to get married at that age. It's possible that it's not a huge introspective thing - am O ready to get married and start a family - but also not a cold reality - I'm doing this because I have to to fit in.

frumsatire said...

It seems as if the frum community is anti love in the marriage process. It seems as if the whole point of marriage is a race against time, a race against being "considered" old by the shadchuns and family members. Where the hell did all this racing come from.

On one hand there is this race to meet someone- yet- there is a push to separate the sexes so they will never meet in a natural setting under their own pretenses.

Another question you may want to ask is this. WHAT EXACTLY IS A SHIDDUCH CRISIS???

Does it mean that instead of getting hitched right out of seminary people would like to explore themselves and their options. Maybe people are beginning to realize in the back lash of all the rising divorce rate in the orthodox community that getting married is not just a cool way to have sex and get out from under your parents wings.

It seems like the whole concept of a shidduch crisis is just another Jewish Press worked up theme to get more people out to singles events and make more money for Dr. Yael and her cronies on the family themes page.

I also think with the mass media such as internet- it exacerbates the issue and creates more hype about it then actually is.

The Hedyot said...

> You say "how just because someone has a different hashkafa they are deemed sub-par and unworthy". We all do that. Would you go out and date and marry an orthodox girl? Unlikely.

Firstly, you’re wrong. I have. Numerous times. Secondly, even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be because I deem them sub-par. (I don’t think of anyone like that. Well...some people :) It would be because I thought that indicated something about them which was too much of an incompatibility. Before you answer me that that’s exactly what frum people do, I admit that it’s part of the reason, but from their reactions its quite clear that the dismissal is less because of compatibility, and more because of “es pas nisht!” (“It’s just not appropriate!”)

> But, in a way, doesn't the entire orthodox lifestyle prepare young people to family life better than secular lifestyle?

I never anywhere indicate that things are "better" in the secular world (whatever that's supposed to mean in this context. There is no monolithic secular world way of dating. There is so much variety (especially in this arena) it’s pretty much a misnomer.) I never compared anything. I only was showing some of the reasons I think that things are particularly flawed in chareidi society. Additionally, I see absolutely nowhere in the frum upbringing where they prepare people for anything remotely related to the reality of a married life. Unless you consider feeding them images of an unrealistic fantasy preparation. Do you think keeping the sexes separate their entire lives (not to mention the subtle, yet pervasive, negative portrayals of women that men are constantly given) is a healthy way for men and women to better understand one another and prepare for married life together? Do you think that instilling a mortal fear of all things sexual adequate preparation? I’d love to know what things about the chareidi upbringing you think better prepare people for married life. If you’re referring to the way that chareidi life maps out of every minute detail of peoples lives, from their actions, to their dress, to their schedules, to their familial roles, to their economic expectations, to their magazine subscriptions, to their music, to the color of their underwear, to their thoughts, to their sex schedules, to their shabbos menus, to the songs they should sing, then yes, I agree, that probably is better preparation.

And please don’t mention the lower divorce rate. Everyone knows that you can’t draw comparisons between a society where divorce is acceptable and one where it’s so taboo that it’s practically forbidden (until relatively recently).

I hate to break it to you buddy, but if you still believe in the myth of the blissfully happy frum family then you’re a bit out of touch with things. (Hell, I didn’t even think any frum people even believed that one anymore.)

Regarding your third question, it seems to me that you’re committing something akin to a common logical fallacy. If choosing between your first scenario and second, I think you’re mostly correct in your conclusion, but I don’t think your first scenario is one that any non-religious person would consider a healthy way of going about things, and your second one is not the scenario which I have been discussing.

You’re making a lot of presumptions here. I never say that match-making is a bad idea. I say that match-making (or match-breaking) for the WRONG REASONS is a bad idea. Just because I personally don’t use that method doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s so bad. I just think that the way in which it’s utilized in that society is reckless and self-serving (among other things).

Juan Valdez said...

I am someone with no OJ family life and marriage experience of his own. Could you please explain to me how they manage to average 7 kids per family if there is no closeness and love? In such a sorry state, how can "kshiyut ha'eivar" be achieved?

The Hedyot said...

First of all, I never said that there is no closeness or love. I said that they don't CHOOSE to GET married because of closeness or love.

Secondly, if you think there needs to be love in order to procreate, I think you ought to spend some time revisiting your seventh grade biology textbook.

Ezzie said...

Sorry, but this is one of your weaker posts. You're contradicting yourself in the comments and painting Orthodoxy with a broad - and incorrect - brush. You seem to be projecting your own experiences and opinions onto everyone else.

It would be because I thought that indicated something about them which was too much of an incompatibility. Before you answer me that that’s exactly what frum people do, I admit that it’s part of the reason, but from their reactions its quite clear that the dismissal is less because of compatibility, and more because of “es pas nisht!” (“It’s just not appropriate!”)

Come on, that's exactly the same thing. They've simply realized that this is an obvious differentiation, an obvious incompatibility, and why waste time thinking about it?

* Note - I'm not saying that in frum marriages people don't do all that (love each other, grow closer, etc.). I am saying that that is not WHY they get married.

That's just a bunch of bull. Are there a few random cases where that's not what it's about? Certainly. But as a whole? That's idiocy to believe.

Juan Valdez said...

I am not certain why you are so determined to hurl insults at me every time, but leaving that aside, I didn't really expect you to respond to my procreation question. Unless I misunderstood your previous posts, your experience of marriage is anecdotal. Mine is not. And while there is no need for love and intimacy to screw around, when it comes to married sex life it very often becomes essential a few years into the relationship.

Ike said...

Gotta agree with Hedyot on this one - granted, there are many cases where the basis of the marriage is love and a strong relationship between man and woman. But in the chareidi and chareidi-lite communities, these issues are definitely more prevalent.

The Hedyot said...

> Come on, that's exactly the same thing. They've simply realized that this is an obvious differentiation, an obvious incompatibility, and why waste time thinking about it?

Sorry Ezzie, but I know you see the difference between the two, because the “es pas nisht” response is simply an extension of the underlying and pervasive chareidi worldview that non-chareidim are less worthy than their "Torah-True" brethren, and I’m pretty sure you’ve acknowledged the reality of that. When someone declines a shidduch because of acknowledging a significant difference it’s way different than declining it because they look down on the other person. Just like you can tell the difference when someone disagrees with you while still respecting you, or they disagree with you because they think you couldn’t possibly have anything of value to contribute.

> That's just a bunch of bull. Are there a few random cases where that's not what it's about? Certainly. But as a whole? That's idiocy to believe.

That’s funny, because I can almost be certain that I recall many mussar shmuezen where the rabbeim would tell us that love comes after marriage, after many years of spending time building a life together. Why would rabbeim tell people that if they were loving each other already before marriage?

Hatam Soferet said...

Nice analysis. Shkoiyach.

rebelwithacause said...

Great post and even better responds to the commentators!

Anonymous said...

lots of good points. to Juan Valdez - I would say that in many chareidi families, the no. of kids produced is absolutely no measure of any love between the parents (spoken from experience!). Also, you are naive in your thinking as many parents, when choosing a shidduch for their child, are seduced purely by increase to their own social status (whether money or yichus) even if they dont properly admit this to themselves and their children are left to pay the price.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog. I am a mental health professional serving the Orthodox Jewish community. Very sad but often true, many marriages are arranged for the wrong reasons. The couple is very often too immature to get married and they then feel trapped in a dysfunctional or love-less marriage. Sadly, this often results in a situation where the children of this couple suffer.

Anonymous said...

Adding on to the comment I made earlier. I have worked as a social worker for almost 30 years, and have literally seen several hundred Orthodox couples. I was warned by the Rabbi who runs the agency not to comment publically about my observations because he thought that it would hurt the popular impression that religious Jews are better parents than nonobserant Jews.

The Hedyot said...

Anonymous - Thanks for contributing your informative perspective.