Protocols of Shidduchim
We live our lives distorting reality, at least to some extent, to the way we want it to be, not the way it is. Nowhere is this more salient, as in shidduchim.
Shidduchim has its own protocols – usual and customary practice – which does not change because that’s the way you want it to be. Shidduchim is not long-term dating. Nor is it casual dating. Priorities are not the same in shidduchim. The focus in shidduchim is on the relationship, not endless judgmental hypercritical vigilance for red flags. Nor is it cerebral. It is getting close to the one person you will build a family with, building a relationship that your children will emulate so they have loving marriages. This means a frightening level of genuine openness that makes you terribly vulnerable. It means having the courage to be yourself and accept the other as they are, and here using your powers of distorting reality to idealize the other – forever.
Rav Yonason Eibenshitz was asked as a boy, “Why did Hashem create crooked thinking?” and without batting an eye-lash he answered, “so that you can דן כל אדם לכף זכות – judge each other favorably”.
AVOID HURTING THE OTHER
Avoiding hurting the other starts before the first date and the shidduch system was designed to minimize hurting anyone. Before the first date, the shadchan suggests one at a time and you, or your parent, mentor or friend calls references who know the one suggested. It is only first- hand knowledge that they are allowed to relay and there are limits on what you are allowed to ask. Rav Walkin advised us that the most important thing in shidduchim is to ensure that a bas yisroel maintains her dignity throughout the shidduch process. That means that you respect each other’s privacy and confidentiality. When a shadchan makes a suggestion, it is mutually understood that the shidduch information is not relayed to anyone else even if well intentioned, such as, you think you have someone for them. It is geneivas daas – and violates the implicit trust that you respect each other’s privacy and confidentiality.
Shadchanim have an interest in getting you married, not to supply you with a never-ending flow of dates. So, they suggest only if they feel that it is a good fit. If at the moment, they do not have someone who they think is a good fit, they don’t suggest. As women are more sensitive to men, many shadchanim suggest the woman to the man and only after he says yes to this shidduch, does she first get his information. Other shadchanim send to both sides, with the understanding that the woman’s side does not call until the man’s side gave a yes. If she says yes, it is the shadchan that sets up the first date. The usual and customary practice is that they would meet in a public place, such as a hotel lobby, for an hour to an hour and a half. After the first date, they can set the times to whatever they are comfortable with.
DURING THE DATES
During the dates, there is also a protocol – usual and customary practice. You show respect to the meeting by dressing up. You show respect to each other by being genuinely interested in the other while giving the other safe space to open up rather than being forcibly pried opened up like a can of sardines. A shidduch date does not give you license to violate the interpersonal Jewish laws which includes the Torah prohibition of hurting another. This and other interpersonal Jewish laws are delineated in this pamphlet you are free to download. Rather, you show respect for the other’s feelings by keeping it fun. Yes, it is not only ok but probably imperative to mince the conversation with jokes. Get her laughing, you got her. More important is to get her – look into her eyes and look into her, not at her, and just let it happen. And vice versa.
“If I knew that, I would not have married you” may render a marriage invalid. Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that around the 3rd date, you must disclose anything that would make the marriage invalid. For example, if someone cannot have children. If you are taking medication for a psychiatric disorder, or have a medical condition, this is the point that you disclose that. Ask a posek. For couples that were divorced, it is a good idea to avoid talking about the first marriage and divorce until the 3rd or 4th date and then it is wise for that to be a one time conversation and then go back to building a relationship.
AFTER THE DATE
Again, responsive to women’s sensitivity, after the date, he first tells the shadchan if he wants another date and then the shadchan tells her that he would like to set up another date and asks her if she wants to set up another date. If either don’t, then the shadchan tells the other person that it was not a fit – avoiding any inuendo that it reflects any fault in either of them, but rather just not a fit. Anything after No, is loshon hara.
If you are continuing with this shidduch, after dates, it is advisable to use the shadchan as a sounding board, not friends, family or even mentors who do not know the other side and who are not privy to the other side’s perspective. The shadchan is there to smooth over the bumps inevitably in the way of building a relationship to engagement.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
You can’t force it. But you can forcibly prevent it from happening. You are not looking to fall in love. You are looking for your lost other half. It is not falling in love, but recognition.
When you recognize it, you can’t not be in love. Love is a byproduct, not an end in itself. Even marriage is not an end itself, but as the brochos under the chuppah explicitly state, now you are permitted to each other. You now can start a family.
You can’t recognize your lost other half if you never meet. You can say no to your bashert and you are left with marrying Acher – the other. The more you say no to suggestions, the more likely that your bashert is pastover (pun intended).
Saying no after a date or a number of dates is not your inalienable right. A father of a boy who just started shidduchim asked Rav Shteinman if his son who dated a girl twice can stop and start dating someone else because this was the first girl he met. Rav Shteinman asked if there was anything wrong with the girl. The father answered, no, we just want him to meet more people. Rav Shteinman said that for that reason alone, you are going to hurt a Bas Yisroel? No, he is not allowed. Before saying no, ask your Rosh Yeshiva or posek who is a dayan.
Not hurting a bas Yisroel is the fundamental consideration in shidduchim. By going through the shadchan, she is never put in a position that she is waiting for a call that never comes or has to tell him to his face that she does not want to see him again. It also avoids harassment or stalking as it is all through the shadchan. Even after a number of dates, even if they are setting up dates themselves, if either wants to end it, it goes through the shadchan. Throughout dating, the shadchan gives feedback so each side knows where they stand and the shadchan not only validates each, but encourages both to always make the other feel good about themselves. With the shadchan in the middle, it is safer, there is accountability, you get guidance and encouragement to build the relationship one step at a time.
At your engagement, you pay the shadchan and then hire a madrich choson and madricha kallah to prepare for marriage. It is advisable to find one who will remain available after marriage to resolve little problems before they escalate to irreconcilable differences.
Shidduchim sets the stage and lays the foundation of your lifelong relationship, one where you respect each other, have a capacity to forgive, replacing selfishness with selflessness, replacing “What’s in it for number one?” with “What’s in it for us?”. You quickly learn that nothing – no difference in opinion or preference is more important than this relationship. Being right is no longer important. You can either be pigheaded or be married. It is the relationship you cherish and constantly strive to improve – it is this relationship that brings the shechina to the world. The Maharal puts it succinctly – “A man and a woman is the mishkan for the shechina”.
SO WHY DO YOU NEED A SHADCHAN?
The old fashioned, time tested shidduch system works as it is, not the way you want to it to be.
Even Hashem needed a shadchan: Moshe Rabbeinu, humiliated himself repeatedly to bring the Jews close to Hashem and incessantly cajoled Hashem to give the Jews another chance. As soon as the shidduch was closed at Har Sinai, Hashem immediately paid Moshe shadchanus, the קרני אור.