Hello it’s me again!
Last month, I introduced myself for the first time on this platform, where I’ve been contributing articles for several years. I’m a mom, wife, photographer, part-time writer, and – like all of you – a full-time community member. I’ve been writing monthly about an array of community “hot topics,” interviewing community members and sharing their personal stories, experiences and opinions.
This month, I have taken on one of the most delicate and sensitive issues that our community struggles with – the “singles crisis.” (All names have been changed to protect privacy.)
An Emotional Roller Coaster
I began with a conversation with Mrs. Cohen, who has been through the “shidduch system” with several children, and thus brings a good deal of experience to this topic.
“It was an emotional roller coaster ride for me and my daughters,” Mrs. Cohen said. “It was either, ‘She is not religious enough,’ or ‘She is not educated enough’.”
The experience was disappointing in several other ways, as well. Mrs. Cohen complained that during her daughters’ seven years of dating, they were only taken to a fancy restaurant once. This was somewhat of a turn-off, Mrs. Cohen explained, because she raised her sons with the principle that dates should be treated with more than just a cup of coffee. Mrs. Cohen also found that the matchmakers she was working with were disorganized, unprofessional, highly discouraging, and lacking in communication skills.
My conversation with Mrs. Cohen left me discouraged. I went into this project with an open mind, not knowing much, and so I decided to hear from the other side. I called someone I have known for many years who reached out to me recently regarding some singles I’m related to. I know her as a friend first, and matchmaker second. I felt inclined to see her perspective because I trust her opinion – she’s smart, firm, and kind. I know her intentions are pure, so I let her speak before addressing the Cohens’ concerns.
At the start of the interview, I explained to Lisa that the article was about the “singles crisis,” for lack of a better term. She stopped me in my tracks.
“I wouldn’t call it a crisis, nor should anyone else,” Lisa protested. “Everyone has to take a step back and take a breather. Everything will happen in the right time, as Hashem intends it to be.”
She proceeded to lament the amount of pressure that we as a community put on young adults to find their lifelong match as soon as they reach marriageable age. Her philosophy is that life should not revolve around what is lacking. Singles – and, for that matter, everyone else – should focus their energy on what they can control, not on what they cannot control. Lisa suggests that singles find productive and fulfilling pursuits to engage in, trusting that they will meet the right person at the right time, rather than wallow in frustration, anxiety and angst.
“If you didn’t find a match at 18, 21, 25 like you’d imagined,” she said, “isn’t it better to wait a little longer and marry the right one, than to rush things and potentially be married to the wrong person?”
I couldn’t argue the point, but I was still disturbed by my discussion several minutes earlier with Mrs. Cohen. I asked her to address Mrs. Cohen’s complaints, starting with the fact that when one of her daughters would tell the matchmaker that she was not interested in a potential match for one reason or another, she would be labelled “picky.” This seems unfair, considering that we’re talking about one’s lifelong partner.
“I understand that everyone has standards, and that’s important,” Lisa replied. “What I don’t like to see is people looking at certain superficial qualities as ‘make or break.’ For instance, not all young men are blessed with parents who can give them a job in the family business, like others are. Those matches should not be ignored. As long as the ambition and competence are there, they should be given a chance.
“Men are also part of the problem, sometimes saying, ‘It’s not my look,’ without paying any attention to the girl’s personality and middot [character traits] in order to discover her true charm that can then bring on the attraction. In general, singles should focus on what they can give to a marriage, and not just on what they can take out of it and what they think they deserve.”
Putting Character Ahead of Finances
As for Mrs. Cohen’s complaint about inexpensive dates, Lisa gave the following the response:
“When I dated my husband, we didn’t go to fancy restaurants. We went for walks, we went skateboarding, we did small things and actually got to know each other. It didn’t bother me that he couldn’t afford a fancy dinner. We were ‘in it to win it,’ and I am proud to say that after six years of marriage, the financial struggles that we faced were not easy, but were not all that bad. We were both able to commit to one another and come up with a financial plan that thankfully, with Hashem’s help, worked out.”
Another important point to consider is that many boys of marriageable age date quite frequently, and not everyone has $100 or even $50 to spend on each date. It is entirely possible that later, after feeling that they might have found the right one, they will invest more.
But even more importantly, how can we judge someone based on finances? True, generosity is a vitally important virtue, especially in marriage, and nobody wants to marry a stingy person. But, as we all know, money comes and money goes. As long as you’re doing your effort, we believe it is in Hashem’s hands. In a relationship, it often comes down to how you react to such challenges, how you work together and grow from them.
The main thing to pay attention to when dating, Lisa continued, is the other person’s mind and character, and working to improve one’s own character and being the best he or she can be.
Lisa concluded by saying that the many matchmakers in this community are working nonstop, as volunteers. Single individuals should take every opportunity that comes their way; or, in her words, they should “Be in it to win it.”
Keep it Simple
Next, I wanted the opinion of a trusted community rabbi on the matter, so I turned to Rabbi Eli Mansour.
“I think a big part of this issue is that it has become overly complicated,” the rabbi bemoaned. “It’s not supposed to be complicated; it’s not a science. We have to go back in time and try to put our faith in the natural order. You must do your effort and trust the process to work. I hear a lot of people psychoanalyzing every little thing before they even agree to meet the person.”
Rabbi Mansour pointed to the fact that our parents and great-grandparents didn’t have all the various formal steps that people now assume are necessary, and they didn’t have “shidduch resumes.” He never asked for a picture of his wife before he met her. This whole process can be quite simple, he said, if we allow it to be.
“Matchmaking is Gd’s business,” he added. “It shouldn’t be agonizing or take too much thinking. If someone has a potential match for you – give them a shot. A lot of it is putting faith in Hashem. You hear these young men saying, ‘How am I going to support a family? How am I going to live?’ Let me tell you something – our parents never thought that way, and it worked out. No one ever died from marriage, no one ever starved to death from it. It’s not your job to think 2-3 years ahead.”
The rabbi had more wise words for singles:
“Berachah [blessing] comes after marriage. People want to see the blessings before they jump in, but that’s not how it works. As the story goes – you jump in, and then the sea splits for you. Only when you have faith and commit will miracles happen for you. If a match is presented to you or you happen to meet someone, then even if they don’t seem to match your equation, give them a go.”
The Pool Has Become an Ocean
A male community member whom I asked to weigh in reported that through the matchmaker system, he dated 27 girls until he found his wife. Reflecting upon the process, he said, “I don’t think the matchmakers tried to know me well enough to match me with the right girls. I would still put my kids through the system because there’s no wasted time like there is in regular dating. You have two people who have already made it clear they want to get married, and that alone takes away a lot of the time, hassle, and heartache of regular dating.”
Just to make sure I was hearing enough perspectives, I made a point of speaking to another, widely-known community matchmaker. I’ll call her Sally.
“It’s not the same as it used to be, that’s for sure,” she said, explaining, “I’m not ancient, but in my time, our dating pool was much smaller. At this point, the community is so large and there are so many venues, the pool feels like an ocean, and it can be difficult to navigate.”
Sally also lamented the unrealistic expectations that many singles – and their parents – have. She said it’s important to be honest with yourself in deciding the kind of match you’re looking for, not to chase a fairytale, or, to put it bluntly, someone who’s clearly “out of your league.” And, one must assess a prospective match based on his or her suitability, not on the basis of what others will think.
Sally also appealed to singles and their parents to hesitate before criticizing matchmakers. “Being a matchmaker is the hardest thing,” she said. “It’s one of those heseds that no matter what, you’re going to get slammed and criticized. The parents and their children see only the ‘no,’ and not what goes on behind the scenes. A lot of time we’re protecting people and can’t disclose certain information which leads us to make the tough and, sometimes, seemingly ‘unfair,’ decisions that we make.”
Many whom I’ve spoken to about this emotionally charged topic gave similar advice – that everyone needs to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, without rushing to criticize.
“My best advice,” Sally said, “would be to try not to turn anyone down. There’s no harm in going for drinks, going for coffee. If you have a positive attitude, you never know what might come out of it. Let’s say that date wasn’t for you, but they think of someone who may be suited. Or maybe down the line, someone says, ‘Hey, you know this person?’ and they say, ‘Yea I went on a date, he/she was very positive and pleasant to be around.’
“At the end of the day, no one wants to be with someone who brings them down, so try to look inward and be a positive person in general. This in itself will attract others and bring you other untold blessings.
“Try not to say ‘no’ so quickly, because if you change your mind, the opportunity can be lost. Try to push your preconceived notions about people out of the way and give a potential suitor a real chance. When you actually sit down and have a conversation with someone, you’d be surprised how much you could have in common.”
Sally informed me of a very exciting development in our community’s effort to help singles – that many community matchmakers are joining forces.
“Different groups of matchmakers have different people they work with, so their cooperation leads to more opportunities for matching singles,” she explains. “Plus, we bring in experts to train and talk to the matchmakers about how to go about their work in the best way. We all now have a great opportunity to learn and grow and become better at matchmaking.”
Sally reported that these efforts have thus far proven very successful, giving us reason for optimism as we look ahead to the future.
Of course, this article barely scratches the surface of what is a very broad, complex, and delicate topic. Nevertheless, delving into this topic has changed my outlook. Before conducting these interviews, this topic seemed so far out of my league that I felt I had no way of helping even the singles in my own family. I would try to think of a match, but if an idea came to mind, I convinced myself out of it and not mention a word about it to either party. Now I realize that this is unproductive and unfair. I can do better. In fact, Sally said that if we all individually stopped our life in its tracks and actively took the time to match the singles we knew, we could make an immeasurable impact.
If this article results in something positive – a new idea for a solution, a change of perspective, or, even better, a match, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to reach out via Instagram @friedaschwekyphoto or email Frieda@sephardic.org.