Every now and then someone comes up with a supposedly original and extremely simple solution to the so-called Shidduch Crisis. It goes something like this: “Everyone out there should think of the singles he or she knows and make it a personal priority to set them up.” Particularly creative people will propose “adopt-a-single” programs (as if singles are pets) or reinvent the shidduch group in one form or another.
The premise behind these ideas is that we need to get a greater number of singles going out on a greater number of dates, and everything will magically fall right into place. And if we don`t really know what we`re doing, that`s okay. G-d will pick up the slack.
The result is that a greater number of singles do go out on a greater number of dates, most of which are unsuccessful or downright disappointing. The singles become more frustrated at their continued misfortune. Some of them become annoyed — even angry — at the person who set them up with someone from left field. The shadchan (by this I mean whoever sets people up) becomes offended at the single person`s lack of gratitude and appreciation for all the time and effort involved in setting the date up. Singles become more apprehensive about being set up, while those in a position to set them up become more reluctant to do so.
Ironically, the situation is compounded by the fact that a small percentage of the time things work out just great. As with a casino, this occasional positive reinforcement causes everyone to keep playing the slots with hopes of hitting the jackpot. Singles continue drawing from the same empty wells, while the rare success bolsters the shadchan`s belief in his or her failure-ridden methods. Consequently, the flippant suggestion that we need more shidduch groups is like suggesting we smother a fire with gasoline. The cost (added pain and frustration to a great number of people) does not justify the benefit (the rare success).
What we need is to improve the overall quality of the set-up process without introducing new strains of the questions and investigations that cause more harm than good. And — dare I say it? — it really is simple. The following series of guidelines will relieve singles of much anxiety and make the mitzvah of setting people up much more pleasant. (In order to desensitize the reader`s natural resistance to a critique of the status quo, I will begin with peripheral items and gradually progress to the most vital concerns.)
1) The words we use are supremely important and reflect our subconscious attitudes. Don`t tell someone “I have a perfect boy/girl for you.” Unless the Almighty Himself revealed this information to you, it is presumptuous to use such exaggerative terminology. (Just consider how difficult it is to find someone “perfect” for yourself!) It is also foolhardy to make such a statement because inevitably it will be wrong a high percentage of the time — often spectacularly so — and singles will resent having their hopes unduly raised only to be deflated. So never tell singles that you have a boy/girl for them (it`s patronizing), and absolutely never say you have someone perfect for them. Do make a friendly suggestion.
2) Don`t offer to set someone up without first checking with him directly to see if he is available and interested. Don`t just say to a guy “Hi, I know a girl I think you should meet” as if he`s just standing there and waiting for someone to set him up. Even if you know that the person is available and interested, it`s tactless to propose a shidduch in such a fashion. We have to be acutely sensitive for people`s feelings at all times, and particularly in this most personal aspect of their lives. Asking the question before launching into your sales pitch shows concern for the dignity of the individual you wish to help.
3) Don`t overestimate your role when setting people up. Regardless of how many years you`ve been doing it and how many success stories you can tell, you`re nothing more than a pawn on G-d`s giant chess board. While He surely desires and appreciates your willingness to act as His agent, don`t ever say that you “made” a shidduch. You did no such thing. The most that anyone can do is facilitate two people meeting one another. Whether or not the shidduch is ultimately made is up to them and the Overseer of all things. Do say that you helped bring two people together, and be proud of it, too. Good things happen through good people.
4) Don`t get involved with shidduchim unless you`re prepared to put your heart and soul into this holy endeavor. Rule of thumb: if you aren`t committing the same thought, concern, and effort as you would for someone close to you, you`re probably not doing anyone a favor. It`s a cop-out to say “You never know, maybe it will work.” Maybe you`ll win the lottery, too, but that`s no strategy for making a living. Just because ultimately “It`s in G-d`s hands” doesn`t absolve us of the responsibility to try our very best.
“Come on, what`s the worst that can happen?” The worst that can happen is that you will be directly responsible for two extremely vulnerable people (plus their families) experiencing profound disappointment and increased frustration. That possibility always exists, but setting people up in a haphazard, almost random fashion is just asking for trouble.
We must never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people`s lives — with their deepest emotions. An ill-conceived date is lost time, lost money, and, most of all, lost emotional energy. It makes it that much more difficult to keep one`s spirits up and approach the next date with a hopeful attitude. If you don`t really care about the people involved, if you don`t fully appreciate the responsibility, then find another mitzvah with which to occupy yourself.
5) How can we set up people in a more qualitative fashion? Easy. Get to know them personally. Not as an index card. Not through hearsay, assumptions, and generalizations. Personally. Asking questions about total strangers will give you a terribly distorted impression of who they really are. Don`t tell me that “x” percent of people who attended a certain yeshiva turn out a certain way, because “y” percent of them don`t — we`re dealing with human beings, not numbers. By lumping people together based on labels and stereotypes we increase the pressure on everyone to keep up with the latest pseudo-religious fads, and destroy the uniqueness and individuality with which we are all blessed.
The role of the shadchan is not to arrange the greatest number of dates possible. The role of the shadchan is to devote a dedicated effort to each individual. The minimum and maximum that can be expected from a shadchan is that the date makes good sense, even if it doesn`t work out. Someone who facilitates twelve shidduchim in ten years while causing pain to many hundreds of people has lost more than he`s gained.
If we are truly acting as G-d`s agents, we must emulate His methods: just as G-d takes a detailed personal interest in each individual, so must we. If this means spending time just talking to each single about regular things, thereby getting a real sense of whom that person is, that is what must be done. And if this means that you will have time to help fewer people, so be it. That`s the job that you were given.
If you cannot provide even one substantial reason why this boy in particular should meet this girl in particular, you haven`t fulfilled your responsibilities to the parties involved. Avoid generic adjectives (nice, pretty, smart, religious) that fail to distinguish the unique qualities of the individual. Focus instead on meaningful descriptions: What has she done that demonstrates her wonderful character or intelligence? What are his thoughts about certain issues? If singles are confident that the people setting them up know them as unique individuals and have devoted serious thought to the matter, they will look forward to their dates instead of dreading them.
6) Don`t disappear into thin air after approaching a single. It`s hard to believe, but many well-meaning Jews follow in the footsteps of Efron. They get off to a great start: they approach the single directly, ascertain his availability and interest in a potential shidduch, and promise to be in touch. Then, after getting his hopes up, they enter the witness protection program, never to be heard from again. If you`re not involved with shidduchim, you`d be stunned by how often this occurs.
The single person is left wondering what happened. Has he been forgotten? Has he already been rejected for some mysterious reason? He might never know. Even if he knows how to reach the shadchan, it`s awkward and embarrassing to chase after someone.
Never do this to a person you wish to help. If you aren`t committed to following through, don`t start making offers and suggestions. Once you do, you have an obligation to be in touch before long, even if just to say that you`re still working on it. It only takes a minute, and it shows you really care. And if the other person isn`t available or interested after all, let your single friend know. He`ll appreciate having proper closure to the situation. Don`t be an Efron.
7) Treat singles like the mature adults they are. If you can offer them further assistance after setting them up, then do so — but don`t be overbearing. And if they decline your offer to be set up, don`t get offended or try to force it on them. You have no right to presume that you know what`s best for someone. Singles will appreciate the gesture and your respect for their decision-making abilities.
By setting people up more qualitatively, instead of more quantitatively, many of the pressures of dating will be avoided. If we truly care about those we are trying to help, we can be sure that our efforts will be appreciated and ultimately rewarded, both in this world and the next.?
About The Author
Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness.org.