Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shidduchim – The View from the Other Side

Prototypical Shidduch material (FrumPics)
I received an e-mail from young man who asked to be identified only by his initials, JS. He otherwise prefers to remain anonymous. Considering the sensitive nature of his post I have agreed. His letter follows.
Dear Rabbi Maryles, 
We have been in touch in the past. While rarely commenting, I have been an avid reader of your blog since the last 4 years.
As a frum Jew, the frum world has disappointed me again with the age gap theory. I am a 25 year old male, and it drives me crazy to hear things presented as if only girls have a hard time in shidduchim. 
In the last 2 years, I have gone out only 5 times. Truth to be told, I don't buy it that nice guys are in short supply or that it is an age gap problem.
Do you think that if people were told that it is because of corrupt values and lack of meeting opportunities that we have a shidduch crisis? No way!
Hint: what happened to mixed seated weddings and kiddushim that used to be common 40 years ago? And why on earth is it so wrong to ask a girl out after having met her at a kiddush (whether directly or asking a mutual friend). Yet dating in a hotel for hours is ok (I am sure you are aware that rooms can be booked to fool around and it DOES happen)????
The reason I write to you this email is to give a voice to the men aged 18-30 who have no voice at all in this so called shidduch crisis.  
This letter was obviously written out of a sense of frustration at what he believes are flaws in the Shidduch system. 

As I have said before many times, the dating game in the Charedi world has evolved into something untenable as evidenced by the massive numbers of young women who have little to no chance of getting married once they reach the age of 25. 

But as JS points out, it is not the one way street as is commonly believed. It isn’t only young women who aren’t getting a lot of dates. There are plenty of men who fall into that category.  I know some very fine Charedi men who are still not married well into their 40s. And it’s not for a lack of trying. It is because they do not measure up to the ideal mate that young Charedi women are indoctrinated to seek: The full time learner. While being Charedi in every other sense these young men have opted to prepare for and join the workforce. They set aside time for Torah study either before or after work. (Sometimes both.)

The fact is that there are a lot of fine young Charedi men who are simply not cut out for the Yeshiva life for various different and very legitimate reasons.  And though some of them (maybe even most of them) tend to stick it out and stay in Yeshiva anyway - they do this either because of peer pressure – or so they can have the ‘right’ resume for Shidduch purposes.

This is why many young men of dating age become students in Lakewood Yeshiva. And it is why Lakewood instituted ‘the Freezer’. Which is a policy of not letting their students date for at least six months so as to discourage those who attend their Yeshiva mostly for dating purposes. To a Charedi - having ‘Lakewood’ on your resume when looking for a Shidduch is as important as having Harvard on your resume when looking for a job.

There are a few brave young Charedi men who realize that staying full time in the Beis HaMedrash is not the best use of their time. They realize that their strengths lie elsewhere. Instead of staying in a Yeshiva and learning Torah at a mediocre level because of peer pressure or for Shidduch purposes - they opt for choosing careers where their true talents lie, prepare for them… and then go to work.

Unfortunately for them, the young women coming out of Beis Yaakovs and seminaries these days aren’t interested in them. They have been indoctrinated to seek only full time learners  – those who are learning full time in Yeshivos and will continue to do so in a Kollel indefinitely after marriage. They will not accept dates with those who don’t, no matter how fine their character.

To that end these young women are encouraged by their teachers and mentors to support their husbands by being the bread winners. Ironically many of them get the kind of education that will give them great incomes. Some attend colleges and universities and become professionals in various fields with good paying jobs. All with the goal of supporting their future husbands in Kollel.

For their troubles, they seek true Talmidei Chachamim, and will not date anyone that does not fit that bill. And we wonder why there are so many single women? There are a lot of women who seek such men… but not all that many men who measure up. What about the fellow who decided to work for a living and be Koveiah Itim? They won’t even look at him.

But... as I have said before, the definition of a good girl is one that wants a good ‘learner’. The definition of a good boy is someone that IS a good learner. It is a lot easier to want a good learner than it is to be a good learner. The ‘cream’ that these young women are looking for just is not there in sufficient numbers to satisfy the numbers of young women seeking them.

So it is no small wonder that there are so many ‘good’ girls and so few ‘good’ men. It’s not that they aren’t there. They are. But they do not make the cut. These are all men of fine character, that will make wonderful husbands and fathers. They are bright; they are kind; they are generous; and they are loving. They have the same values that these young women have. But instead of learning full time they found another way of serving God. What do they get for all their introspection and honesty? They are thrown off the dating grid. Charedi women will not consider them at all for a date.

How strong is that indoctrination? I am reminded of a story from a few years ago about a young Charedi working man who had great character and values. He related a horror story about his Shidduch experience. No matter how much he tried he had a very hard time getting dates. Sensing that he was being seen as a 2nd class citizen in the Charedi dating world, he decided to ask a former Rebbe (or Rosh Yeshiva… or Mashgiach…) why he was having such a hard time.

His Rebbe’s answer was astonishing! This young man was told that he was indeed a 2nd class citizen! In fact this Rebbe told he was sub par compared to the full time Torah learners… and that is how he was seen by the pool of women he chose to date.

Where does all this leave people like JS? It leaves him unmarried - with only 5 dates in 2 years.