Thursday, July 19, 2007


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.