I have just read the article titled “Ultra-Orthodox matchmaking: Everything it’s best not to know” by Dr Ruchama Weiss and Rabbi Levi Brackman. It was certainly not the best choice of literature at 4:30 am (I should probably diagnose myself for insomnia) and as I tried to fall asleep my thoughts accelerated projecting all the terrible examples of abhorring dating experiences and failed relationships.
In a very thin nutshell, the above article talks about how difficult it is to find a match for yourself or your children in the ultra-religious world if you, or your parents, are anything out of ordinary. The ultra-orthodox world prefer sameness, in other words, anything that is slightly different is rejected. The author speaks about the difficulties in trying to find schidduchim for her children considering that they come from a mixed background. They are both Jewish, just different backgrounds. The author continues describing the terror of ensuring that everything is proper: how you dress, how you speak, where you work, who your family members are, are there any family illnesses involved, has any of your sibling become secular, or simply less religious, has anyone in your family divorced… the list is endless. It doesn’t therefore take much effort to imagine the list of criticism coming from all directions about how despicable the system is. How dare they discriminate people on the basis of where they are coming from? Why should it bother anyone that someone’s parents are divorced? Or Sephardi? Or that they have an autistic brother…? The list of accusations goes on and on, and on. Am I here to defend that system? No. Do I think it’s wrong? Well, right or wrong doesn’t seem to carry much weight when your match will determine the matches for your children. What do you do when people do not marry for love, but for pedigree? “How dare they! Someone should tell them!” Really? And what do we do?
I think my permanent place in life in the middle. The healthy middle, hopefully. The Rambanian derech emtza. Fine, the charedim are criticised for marrying after one to five dates. They are told off that they allow families to decide who they should marry. Or whether the potential match is classified into class A, B or C. After all, why should someone be forced to marry a person with serious mental illness only because their parents are ba’alei tshuva?
A quick example, Rivka (obviously I am changing names) and her sister, let’s call her Chaya, come from a very devoted and religious family which lives in one of the heavily religious communities around Tel Aviv. They were full of life and determined to build religious homes and have a generally happy, content life. There was one problem though, despite the fact that the family was very much involved in the community and were as religious as the frum from birth people, they were ba’alei tshuva. What does it mean in the dating world? I haven’t personally spoken with their schadchan, so I don’t know, but the truth of the matter is that these daughters were married off to orthodox men, who were born religious. The parents were overjoyed about the matches. Not only would they help their daughters’ status, but would also give way for better matches for their prospective grandchildren.
As years passed things started to show. One of the husbands had a severe mental illness. That fact was not mentioned to the bride or her family during the “checking” process. He wouldn’t have been able to marry anyone “good” so his family “settled” for her. The sad thing? The girl isn’t even 25 years old and has to think what to do with the situation she found herself in. Divorce? The children were affected by his illness too. How to treat them? The second daughter discovered that her husband was not at all religious. She caught him smoking and watching television on the roof instead of going to shul on Shabbat. Did his family know that he wasn’t exactly what the girl was looking for? They did. Was her family informed? No. Why? “Well, we thought he would come round and become more religious again”.
I don’t want to delve into all examples here. There’s no use. The fact of the matter is that on the other side of the spectrum, arranged and orthodox marriages work perfectly well. People date, they manage to fall in love during those couple of dates, they marry and they stay together happily for long, long years. I do not argue against the system. Not at all. Personally I think that the schadchanim take so much pressure off people’s heads, doing all the background checks and scourging the Earth for the appropriate and desirable match.
“Pfff, schadchanim. What a stupid idea! Can’t they just date like normal people?”
Hmmm, please, define “normal” to me, because last time I checked the exact same problem happens at the other side where people actually can date longer, get to choose for themselves who they want to marry and don’t feel pressured to do so straightaway.
The stories I heard from this end are actually more horrendous. One girl I know, let’s call her Lea, met the guy that swept her off her feet. Not literally though. He was shorter than she was so sweeping her off her feet would be slightly problematic. The list of her expectations was compromised for this man. He married her very quickly despite the violent opposition from the side of her family. She had eyes only for him. Soon after the wedding she discovered that he married her for money; abused her financially and psychologically and controlled her every move. Somehow she managed to divorce him; all that before the age of 25.
Another example, from a different angle, Deena decided that she would not settle. She was approaching the age of 35 and she decided that she’s had enough of failed dating and men falling short from her expectations and so she made the decision to have a baby. In vitro. Because, after all, why buy a whole cow, if you just want to have a glass of milk, right?
What I am getting at is thus: there is no pattern and there is no better or worse world. It’s very easy to point a finger at the charedi world and say how much they discriminate in dating, but, don’t we, the non–charedi people, do the same? We are looking for someone that will fit our lifestyle; someone that will fit our expectations of what good-looking is. For example, if you just want to sit at home and have babies, then you are looking for someone who will provide for all your needs. If you want to have a career, you’re looking for someone that will not force you to sit at home and give birth to children year after year. We make lists.
I honestly wish that men truthfully told me what they are looking for. It’s very difficult though, because what they are telling me is that they are looking for a nice girl who will love them. Hmmm, the problem probably is that it is I who is asking them. If a woman asks a man what kind of a woman they are looking for it’s hardly plausible that she will get an honest answer which could potentially jeopardise a prospective date with her. I usually get a much more honest answer from my male buddy-friends, who are out there in the vast sea of the dating world. Regardless of whether they are religious or not, it always surprises me how particular some of them can be.
Usually what bothers them following dates is that women do not look as well as they expected them to look, because they like long and curly/straight/blond/dark hair and the poor girl had the opposite. I heard that some of them were too driven. They are too loud. Too serious. They wanted to have a house and the man didn’t want a responsibility of paying the mortgage. One complained that his date was a rich girl and he, being a snob, wouldn’t go out with a rich girl because her life expectations are too high for him (the girl wanted him by the way). One complained that there aren’t many women with considerable breasts; one complained about the hips. One complained about the tattoo and one complained that the girl was shomeret negiya. One wasn’t short enough (because he couldn’t date a taller girl). One Ashkhenazi guy only wanted to go out with an Ethiopian girl and a few Sephardi girls despised Askhenazi men.
I could populate this list for another 5 hours, but I simply see no need in that. We are all bloody hypocrites. Or are we just afraid? Perhaps we are just petrified of the growing dishonesty, which is a result of the fast go-get-me lifestyle? What if we are scared that nothing really can be checked in this world? Who will we end up with? Afraid that we will settle for less out of the fear of being alone for the rest of our lives, bound to always look beyond the life we settled for and think that perhaps there is someone better out there that we missed out on.
I think we are both. On the one hand we are quick to accuse another person of what we single-handedly do. I used to have a very long list of requirements in my early twenties. A very, very long list. I probably had around 100 points there. I am laughing to myself as I recall some of them. “He should know how to cook”. “He should be taller than me”. “He needs to like all my friends”. And that’s just three, I cannot recall more – obviously they weren’t that important. Well, as years went by I discovered that I am an excellent cook, so even if he didn’t cook we wouldn’t die of hunger. In addition, I am not as friendly as I used to so he would only need to like four of my friends, two of them being my parents. The height is still the issue, but what can you do, not everything can be readjusted in life. At this point in life, if someone asked me to write a list, would I know what to put down? If I could find 10 requirements I would consider the list to be long. Would I look for more if I met the guy? The honest answer is yes. We are programmed to select.
To be frank, I am not comfortable with marrying someone only because he is a man. Some of my “good-hearted matchmakers” behave like that this is the only important thing. “What’s the problem?” they ask. “He’s a man, you’re a woman. What are you waiting for?”
Erm… let me answer this way. Whenever someone tells me that they have a man just for me, I break into sweat. I have seen dozens of those perfect guys and every time following a chat or a blind date I would call my friends back and yell at them for setting me up with their idea of Mr. Perfect. “Oh, but he seemed so nice”. One Mr. Perfect, a religious man, grabbed my knee under the Shabbat table. Another one had an anger outburst. One was stingy; one was very short; one suffered from verbal diarrhoea; one was salivating while speaking; one was continuously belching while eating and one was so boring that I wanted to kill myself. The rest I removed from my memory. They said that I was too picky. Perhaps I am also category B? Or C?
I have personally heard that I will not be able to find an A class match, because I “come from a very unusual background and [you are] very outspoken”. It’s my mouth that gave me away again. And it’s funny how little I use it in general social intercourse. I hardly go out, because my skin crawls every time I need to have a small talk with someone.
In terms of being picky, at some point, anything raises a red flag; a man drives you home, gets angry and hits the steering wheel. Red flag. A man asks you about your living arrangement and the size of your bedroom. Red flag. The man talks extensively about his previous girlfriends. Red flag. The man tells you how much he adores your complexion. Red flag. The man complains that he earns less than you. Red flag. The man asks you to pay for the meal. Red flag. The man tells you that he’s struggling with relationships because he was forced to wear a bunny outfit in the kindergarten. Red flag. The man is continuously looking at your bosom. Red flag. The man is instructing the waiter how to properly pronounce the name of the dish. Red flag.
I admit, yes, I am demanding. Is it a bad thing? For some it is, for some it isn’t. I love to work. Is it a bad thing? Again, it depends. I am very straightforward, it is a bad thing? I like to talk about philosophy… One of my friends is an exceptional scientist, is it a bad thing? Of course not! But, listen to this: I have heard men saying that they could never approach her because she was too smart for them. But why? I would marry her in a split second if I was a man. How can I say that? Well, simply because I spent time and effort to get to know her. How many men actually care to get past their checkboxes and inferiority complex to look at her for who she is?
Why does every single date feel like checking someone’s boxes? I am absolutely exhausted with the whole chase for the partner and it doesn’t help that everyone talks about it as if the world was about to end tomorrow.
I have yet another friend who settled and got married for children. She wanted to have a child, so she found a man to have that child with. Is this what we are bringing down the union to two people to? Children? Loneliness? Society? Sex? More about the latter, I actually heard from a man, who up until the age of 23 lived in a charedi system and tried to get married on number of occasions to any woman available only because he couldn’t contain himself.
Just, stop this for a second.
At some point in life we do have to make a decision. Do we settle or do we decide to live alone for the rest of our lives hoping to meet our match, or not? Are we actually ready for that decision knowing how many lonely days we will spend, how many cold nights we will end up procrastinating in order not to think about possible mistakes of rejecting someone and how many times, seeing someone else’s children will we think that we have missed out on our chance? Or are we ready to settle with the next person that comes along? Will the fear of missing our window overcome us and push us into the arms of whoever comes long? Does the fear determine what we want or what we are desperately trying to avoid?
More importantly, even if the person who is serious about a relationship comes along, will we be ready to trust them enough to give them our hearts and marry them?