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Crash Course in Shidduchim

Rosie Einhorn and Sherry Zimmerman

For those who didn’t grow up in the frum world (and even for those who did), the shidduch system can be a daunting maze, filled with obstacles and mirages. Here’s what you need to know before your children start dating.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

navigating shidduchim You can’t believe that your child is ready for shidduchim. Not so long ago, you were hoping to meet Mr. Right. And you did — at a Catskills hotel on Shabbos Nachamu, or when you were both advisors at an NCSY event. Or maybe you didn’t meet until both of you made your way to Israel after college, fell in love with Yiddishkeit, and were set up through a shadchan. During the dating process, your parents were largely on the sidelines, only stepping in to plan the wedding.

Fast-forward 25 or 30 years. You and your husband are very different from the young couple who stood under the chuppah all those years ago. Over time, you’ve grown in Yiddishkeit and now consider yourself “yeshivish” or “seriously frum.” You know that your children aren’t going to meet their future spouses the same way you met your husband. And you’ve figured out that parents play a starring role in shidduchim. But what, exactly, are you supposed to be doing? Since they likely don’t offer a crash course in shidduchim at your local shul, consider this your mini survival guide.

 

Asking the Tough Questions

Long before your child’s first date, he needs to do some serious introspection. Does he have a clear idea of who he is and what he wants? What are his strengths? His goals? His interests and needs (in both ruchniyus and gashmiyus)? Where does he see himself in six months, a year, five years? Before he even thinks about what he wants in a spouse, he should have these answers down pat.

These are questions you should consider asking yourself, too. From your vantage point, how would you best describe your son? You can help him articulate what kind of person he is — and what kind of girl would best suit him — by offering your own insights. That said, you might prove even more invaluable by acting as a sounding board. Because although your son will integrate what he’s absorbed at home and in yeshivah, it’s vital for him to look for answers deep within himself, instead of creating a shidduch portfolio based on what his friends, rebbeim, and, yes, even parents, think.

Now what happens when you and your child disagree on what kind of spouse she should be searching for? How can you use your life wisdom to influence her preferences? Ultimately, you can’t persuade her to look for a hashkafah, lifestyle, background, or character trait that you want and she doesn’t — after all, she’s the one getting married, not you. But you can ask her to seriously consider your perspective.

Most importantly, if your child can’t yet clarify the direction she wants her life to take, she isn’t ready to start dating. Take Fraydie, for instance, who came back from seminary determined to start dating by Rosh HaShanah. She was 19, which she felt was the “magic age” for shidduchim, and some of her friends had already started dating. Fraydie thought she might want a lifestyle that was very different from the one she aspired to before leaving for seminary, but she wasn’t sure what was really right for her. She likewise couldn’t decide if she wanted to start studying for a profession or take some time off to work.

With so many questions up in the air, Fraydie’s parents were surprised that she wanted to start dating. They felt she needed a few months to “land” and integrate her Israel experience. They suggested that Fraydie arrange a schedule for the summer that included chesed work, reading and talking to people about potential careers, having a routine of household chores, and enjoying being back home. Six months later, Fraydie had gained more clarity about what direction she wanted to take in life, and was finally ready to start shidduchim.

 

From Mom to Matchmaker

When you were dating, your parents played a peripheral role. In the frum world, parents have a pivotal role. As the mother, you’ll be pushed into the role of matchmaker, trying to network on your child’s behalf.

The process is not so different from networking to find a job. Just as you build a list of contacts who may know of potential openings, you build a list of people who may know of a potential match for your child. Think of relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, teachers, and others as potential resources.

Before you start cold-calling, prepare an “elevator pitch” to explain what your child is doing now, where she’s holding hashkafah-wise, and what her goals are for the future. It helps to use what we call “four plus four”: describe four qualities that capture your child’s uniqueness, as well as four qualities portraying what she’s looking for in the boy she wants want to marry. That’s a starting point for exchanging more detailed information, including how she likes to spend her time, her talents and strengths, and other information that a potential dating partner might like to know.

To spread the news that your child is dating, you can make phone calls, get together with a group to share ideas, and meet with seasoned matchmakers. You can also make the most of chance meetings, as Shaina did when her daughter Malkie started dating. Standing in line at the supermarket one day, Shaina spied a former neighbor whom she hadn’t seen for years. After the two women caught up, Shaina mentioned that Malkie was starting to date.

“Remember how Malkie was a bundle of energy when she was little — always organizing plays and carnivals for tzedakah?” Shaina began. “Now she helps plan fundraisers for yeshivos and organizations while she’s getting her business degree. She’s still got that enthusiasm and creativity, and she puts her heart into whatever she does. She’s a great cook, and a good friend, and she still loves to dance. She’s looking for a young man who has a good heart and an outgoing personality. Malkie wants someone who thinks for himself and also has a sense of responsibility for others.”

The former neighbor thought for a moment and said, “There’s a wonderful family across the street from me and their son sounds exactly like the type of boy Malkie might like. Let me get some more details and I’ll speak to his mother about the idea.” That’s how Malkie met her husband.

As with job hunting, networking for a shidduch can be a numbers game — the more people you speak to, the more likely you’ll hear a good suggestion. But that means you could spend hours pursuing leads that don’t turn out to be shayach, speaking to contacts who have no ideas for you, or calling back people who forgot (or were too busy) to return your phone call.

You might also find out that someone who sounded so promising has a long list to work through before even considering your child. This process can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, so don’t make the mistake of going full throttle until your child meets his spouse. You have to take breaks every so often.

Your energy also shouldn’t be reserved for this hishtadlus alone — equally as important is how much you pour into your tefillos. And don’t lose sight of the fact that all shidduchim come from Above. Hashem is in control, and you have no idea where the right match for your child may come from. Maybe your son will get engaged to the girl next door. Or your daughter will marry someone from another country who isn’t even dating at the moment. Leave yourself open to all the possibilities.

When Dina’s third child, Miriam, was ready to date, Dina gearing herself up for the long haul. She had worked very hard on shidduchim for her oldest two children, spending hours each week on the telephone, sometimes investing weeks of effort before a shidduch materialized. Even with this effort, her son dated three years before meeting his wife, and her daughter two years.

Much to Dina’s surprise, the right suggestion for Miriam came along very quickly, and without much effort on her part. “I hear that Miriam is starting shidduchim,” remarked Dina’s elderly neighbor. “You daughter always has a smile for me and has been so helpful, and I know just the boy for her.” As the two women spoke, Dina realized that her neighbor’s suggestion was right on the mark for Miriam, and when they began to date, they hit it off right away.

 

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