For purposes of this essay, I am not addressing Chasidic Shiduchim. Their system works well albeit not without its own problems. What I have to say is not really about their situation. Although some of it would apply to them too.
An e-mail list to which I belong is once again having a discussion about Shiduchim. One poster commented that the entire Shiddach system is flawed.
I agree and it got me to thinking about the Shiddach issues of our day once again. I think we all know what the problems are. What we don't know is how to navigate through them.
Dating is an issue for both young people and for their parents. Parents are always worried about when - and even if – their children will get married. Fortunately for me, my children are now all happily married . But I was plenty worried when they started dating. And I still know plenty of young singles starting at age 18 and up (all the way into their mid forties) who are having problems. I even know a few my age who are still dating never having been married!
Finding the right person is a difficult task. But sometimes we make it much harder than it should be. It is understandable why. The divorce rate is going up in all strata of the religiously observant – from Charedim to Modern Orthodox. And there are plenty of unhappy marriages that do not end up in divorce. This is not good for the children. But that is another post.
So, how do we do it? How does one find a mate that will lead to a happily married life?
One must put in the effort - Histhadlus. That is a good thing. In theory this includes getting input from as many knowledgeable people as they can about a potential mate. People like: parents, teachers,siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, and Shadchanim. All are valuable in finding the right person. The more you know.... (as they say on NBC).
But all this checking has a downside. There is such a thing as too much information. What I mean is that people will give you their perspective based on their own biases. Biases that you may not have. Even if they try and stay positive a negative voice inflection can ruin a Shiddach too even if what is said about a potential mate would normally be innocuous in your eyes.
The more people you talk to the greater the chance of this happening. On the other hand there are so many potential pitfalls even if everything one hears is good. All the checking in the world may not find the one flaw that can ruin a marriage.
In the end it is a gamble anyway. You never really know a person until you live with them. For a while. No matter how well they are checked out. And no matter how many times you've dated them. And when I say living with them, I don't mean having sex or moving in without the benefit of marriage.
An ideal marriage does not necessarily mean that every moment of your married life will be blissful. Not every moment will necessarily bring one great joy. There is going to be disagreement. Sometimes on important issues. There is no way for a courtship to find out which issue will end up causing unbearable strain on a marriage. No matter how much you think you know about another person you never know enough to predict that.
The key to successfully finding a mate in my view is to be aware of that and to realize that two people raised in two different situations will each bring their own perspective and their own baggage. And yet while they are dating each will do their best to hide that baggage and put their best face forward.
It is true that a longer courtship will give you a little better understanding of the other. But it is a drop in the bucket compared to the understanding one gains about the other after they are married.
So again - what to do? As I said - in the end it is a gamble anyway. But one does need to have a general outline of how to proceed. Although certainly not a conclusive list - here are a few suggestions.
One needs to first find out if personalities are compatible That takes a few dates (two or three). Then Hashkafa issues can be discussed. Observing the other's temperament is important. How does one interact with loved ones - parents siblings etc.? How does one deal with people there is no personal relationship with? In other words how does one treat his fellow man? All these things can be seen during a courtship and the truth will come out eventually. That is why more then just two or three dates is necessary even in a Charedi dating relationship.
Perhaps the most important aspect of any successful marriage is commitment. One has to be committed to a marriage. This means working out problems rather than retreating from them. It is the the individual character of the each and the determination to work out inevitable conflict that will in the end make for the most durable marriage.
The problem with many young people today is they expect to find perfection - or the closest thing to it. It is on that basis that ll the current Shiddach system works whether it is in the Charedi world or in the modern Orthodox world. That has led to a huge number of singles in my view. Especially in modern Orthodox circles.
All this checking that dominates the Charedi world is in the end counterproductive. And the fear of commitment in the modern Orthodox world is killing many chances for marriage there. There has to be a happy medium between checking out one's possible future mate and not over doing it. And the fear of commitment has to be eradicated.
It wasn't perfect. But we had a far better system when I was dating back in the sixties. Much more flexibility, and a lot less - checking.
If there was a girl I wanted to date I first found out if she was available. If so, I asked her out. Sometimes I was turned down. Yes - I felt bad for about a day and then I got over it. Sometimes I was 'fixed up' by a friend. A couple of times a family member set me up. Those didn't work out either. I used a Shadchan one time (at the insistence of my parents) and that didn't work out either. But! I met my wife that way. She is the sister of one of the girls I dated. She invited me into her house and I met her then. She was still a senior in high school
But I didn't date her until about a year later (at age 18).
Here's the story for those who are interested. I was 22. An engaged close friend went to Detroit with his Kallah who had recently moved to Chicago from there. A shower was being given by one of her best friends. I went to day school in Detroit and still had many friends there. They went in for the weekend - so I tagged along. Once there I was urged to meet her. We decided we would meet on Friday night first.
I saw her then and on Shabbos again where we went for a walk. I asked her out for that evening. We both enjoyed each other's company.
She had originally scheduled a vacation trip to Chicago after the shower so we ended up traveling back together. I took her out every day she was there. About 2 or 3 weeks later I went to Detroit to take her out some more. By the end of that weekend we were engaged. We have been married for almost 40 years. Our success is due to the commitment we both made to our marriage and to our children, and we have been paid off handsomely. Four children. 21 grandchildren. And one on the way.