M y oldest just started shidduchim and I’m having a hard time with the information process. When calling references, I try to ask open-ended questions but every response is vague and superlative.

“What gets him angry?”

Response: “Oh, he never gets angry!” (Is he related to Hillel?)

“If you could describe him in one adjective, what would it be?”

Response: “Oh, he’s a top boy! Mamesh tops!” (Can’t top that!)

One relative coached me that I should ask the same question to many people and compare responses. While this seems like a sound tactic, it’s also extremely time- consuming, and after hearing 30 people say he’s neat, you start thinking maybe he’s obsessive about it.

I know checking things out is very important, but in reality, I’m finding it a useless and draining process. I was wondering if you could give me a cheat sheet or some tips on what questions to ask to obtain helpful, practical information.

Thanks,

Genuine, Not Generic



Dear Genuine,

When you enter the foreboding halls of “The Parshah,” at least one friend will pull you over, sit you down, look deep into your eyes, and explain that this is not a time to be nice or dan l’chaf zechus. After all, your child’s life, I tell you, their life, is at stake and it’s totally up to you to ensure that no harm befalls them. You must hire a private detective, believe no one, and for heaven’s sake, don’t call any of the listed references.

Call me crazy or call me a good question asker, but I’ve actually gleaned some incredibly incriminating information about boys from guys they listed as friends on their rיsumיs.

Understandably, the rיsumי can’t be your end point, but it’s certainly a good starting point.

You’re looking for patterns and themes. For example (I apologize for crude generalizations — they’re solely for illustrative purposes), the Philly-Brisk-BMG trajectory tells a different story than the Chofetz Chaim-working part-time one. It says nothing about middos or marital compatibility, but it does speak of life choices. Starting one path and veering to another tells a story. Jerky, frequent transitions are yet another narrative. When you initially skim a rיsumי, you’ll get a feel. Your next step is to fill in the details.

Often people are reluctant to share any genuine information, especially if it’s “incriminating,” so they resort to useless descriptors that could fit 75 percent of the shidduch population: “He’s not like the loudest guy around, but I wouldn’t say he’s quiet.” Aha. Well, that clarified nothing.

But if you approach them with pointed, directed questions, they’re more likely to be honest. If 30 people tell you he’s neat and you have a sneaking suspicion he’s OCD, ask his roommate point blank: “Does his neatness border on OCD? I’ve been hearing a lot about his neatness and I’m concerned it might be extreme.” This will often result in the respondent giving examples of the bochur’s neatness, which gives you objective data upon which to make your own assessment. I’d like to emphasize this point because it’s far more helpful to get objective data than opinions. You can form your own opinions once you get the facts.

You’re looking for process as well as content. How easily does the person answer your questions? When you ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me about Shmuly,” do they launch into an excited list of his mailos or do they resort to useless clichיs? If the first thing seven out of seven people tell you is that he’s such a nice guy, he’s probably a nice guy and that’s probably his most defining feature. Listen closely for what they’re not saying. If no one spontaneously mentions his hasmadah, chances are he’s no “groise masmid” even if you ask and they say, “Yeah, yeah, he’s really into his learning.”

I also feel good about Klal Yisrael’s future when I do shidduch checking because, based on reference answers, there has not been one bochur in the entire yeshivah system who has ever once gotten angry. This makes me very happy — and a little suspicious. Sometimes, you get more productive information by offering two palatable choices. For example, “Obviously, everyone gets upset at some point. Is he the type to talk it out or does he just kinda move on?” By normalizing anger, you make it safer for the respondent to give you some indication of how this person truly reacts.

Obviously, references alone are inadequate for gathering information. You want to talk to people who have your best interests at heart to get a clear picture. Sometimes this is the biggest challenge of all because you don’t know anyone affiliated with the boy. You might have to ask a rav or rosh yeshivah you’re close to if they are connected to the boy’s rosh yeshivah or the family’s rav. If the boy attended camp, that offers additional options. Daven for help; chances are, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find a shared connection.

Stay focused on your priorities for this specific child. You might need a masmid for one daughter and a chevrehman for another. You’re not trying to find the flawless person; you’re trying to find the right match for your daughter.

And, yes, this process is time-consuming and draining. That’s okay. This is her life, her life, I tell you, that’s at stake. And while her future is b’yad Hashem, when you give her your best research and your best tefillos, you can rest, knowing you’ve done your best.

Hatzlachah,

Sara



Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a columnist for inshidduchim.com. She also lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at inshidduchim@mishpacha.com. This article was originally featured in Family First, Issue 542.