Sunday, February 28, 2016

A New Look at the Shiddach Crisis

Photography shoot at a Charedi wedding (Ha'aretz)
Barbara Bensoussan’s article  in Mishpacha Magazine on dating in the Orthodox world sheds some light on this much discussed subject. Often referred to as the Shidduch crisis the statistics quoted in this article raises questions about some of the long held assumptions about it.

Ms. Bensoussan interviewed Dr. Kiki Ehrenpreis, whose doctoral dissertation was on this very subject. In trying to establish some data about commonly held beliefs she found that some of them simply aren’t true.

First it should be noted that her sample had some inherent bias in that it was done via an online poll. Obviously that means that those Orthodox Jews that do not use internet were not represented. It should also be noted that Chasidim and Lubavitch  participated very little.

Otherwise her polling sample was divided into main 3 groups: Yeshivish, Modern Yeshivish, and Modern Orthodox.  I don’t really like these classifications because the first two overlap. And the 3rd is too broad. Modern Orthodox Jews consist of a wide range of Jews. The differences at the 2 poles are significant.  Bearing that in mind I still believe that a lot can be gleaned for her data.

Let us look at the parameter of weight for example. Her data shows that it is clearly an issue for males. But not so much for females. Males look at a woman’s physical attractiveness; women apparently do not. Data on dating frequency per a 3 month period was collected. The frequency of dates was the same for men no matter how thin or overweight they were. For women on the other hand those who dated the most were in the underweight category. And there is a sharp decrease in dating frequency as the weight goes up. The data showed 6 dates per 3 months for underweight women decreased to 1 date per 3 months for obese women. Weight is therefore clearly a factor in the Shidduch crisis.

What about the age gap theory. Which states that the increasing numbers of female singles born every year can never catch up to the lesser number of older boys born 3 or 4 years ago that are just now beginning to date. That leaves a lot of young women out in the cold since they are greater in number that the number of boys dating.

Well Dr. Ehernpreis’s data does find some truth to that.  But she also found that there are a lot of older single males.  Her data shows that 20% of these young women in her sample do not date at all! But it also found that 14 and 17% of young men do not date at all either. While the percentages are greater for women, they are pretty big for men too.

The question is, ‘Why don’t these two segments date each other?’ There are some obvious answers to this. One being that they do not run in the same circles. But some do. And yet those young people don’t date each other either. There are other reasons that I think are significant, like incompatible personalities and physical or mental health issues. But I have to believe that there ought to be a lot more cases than zero that could be dating. One out all of 20% of young women and 14 to 16% of young men that aren’t dating there has to be more than a few that are compatible and should be dating each other.

Why don’t they? I believe one problem is biases inherent in the Shadchan system. Another problem is the overprotective, overbearing parent who feels that no one is good enough for their child.  And yet another problem is the personal biases of the daters themselves.

I believe the heightened level of scrutiny these biases results in is major problem that is given little if any attention by those focusing on the problem. The kind of scrutiny that asks what kind of table cloths a family uses on Shabbos. Scrutiny that includes many irrelevant questions like that about a potential date.  There are some very fine Shiduchim that never take place because unsatisfactory answers to questions like that.

To back this up, Dr. Ehrenpries found that religious singles do not attribute their single status to demographics.  When she questioned them about this - a lot of them said that too many people have unrealistic expectations or the wrong priorities. 38% of boys said that the opposite sex is too picky, and 40% of the female respondents said that mothers of boys are seen as the gatekeepers and too picky for their sons.

Then there is my personal pet peeve which I believe is a major factor in the crisis. The idea that the ‘learning boy’ is the sine qua non of the dating world. Especially as the Charedi demogrpahic moves rightward. If a young man expresses any reservations about continuing to learn full time after marriage, he is not considered prime dating material in the Yeshivishe world. That leaves a lot of very good young men out in the cold. And it also helps explain the excess numbers of unmarried women. I have said this before, it’s a lot easier to want a learning boy than to be a learning boy. There are therefore a lot more people that want to marry a ‘learning boy’ than there are actual ‘learning boys’.

Now I have no issue with finding out some essential details about a potential date. Like Hashkafos, Midos (character), personality type; and general appearance. But most other questions are in my view counterproductive.  Sure there are certain specifics that a one might be looking for in a mate. Like if they have a sense of humor. But that is the purpose of the actual date.

This may not solve all of the problems in Orthodox dating. But it will solve at least one major one.

The bottom line for me that demographics are clearly not the only - or perhaps not even the primary reason for the so called Shidduch crisis. I still maintain that there are as many males born into the world every year as there are females. I therefore feel that calling it a demographic problem is the wrong approach. It is an age bias problem.  

If it were up to me, that would be the one piece of information that should be off limits to any Shadchan.  The age of a potential date should never be revealed. Because the only thing that does is add a meaningless impediment. That information should be off limits. That is surely a better alternative than lowering the age to 19 or 20 - the age where women begin to date. I do not believe that 19 year olds are mature enough in our day to get married. Promoting this approach is a disaster waiting to happen. Divorce will surely increase as the marrying age is lowered. (Yes there are many exceptions. But we are talking about the rule here).

So here is my formula for success. The Charedi world must change the paradigm to value those who will be working as much as those that will be learning after marriage.  The Shaddchan must be required to eliminate all the irrelevant questions they ask about a potential date. And finally a Shadchan should never reveal the age of a potential date. Of course this presumes the age gap is not too great in either direction. Up to a 6 year age gap or less seems reasonable in either direction – meaning whether the boy is older than the girl or the girl is older than the boy. 

If these guidelines are followed I believe it would go a long way to restoring normalcy to the dating world of the Orthodox.