Today we don’t have the shidduch crisis of women in the time of Esther Hamalka who, once called to the palace of Achashveirosh, could not marry anyone else, leaving Jewish men without potential wives. Nor do we have the crisis of the Cantonists, the Jewish boys called up to the Russian army who served 25 years and were left withered, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, unable to marry and leaving many Jewish women without potential husbands.
Today we have many quality men and women who simply do not want to date or marry each other. The difference could be in hashkafa, personality, or a range of other criteria that people have established for themselves, usually unwilling to compromise. Today, women are often independent – emotionally and financially, and they do not feel compelled to marry for a sense of security as many women did decades ago, in previous generations. We have many men who are successful and feel entitled to wait it out as long as possible to find their “dream woman”, despite its impact on fertility and the physical harm it could cause the next generation.
The failure to “compromise” for marriage is a weakness of our generation, because it means we are not creating the next generation, the children and legacy for ourselves, and it also means we are not bringing couples together to fulfill their tafkid, their purpose in this world. We are putting our materialistic comforts above the discomfort of marrying someone who may have been designated by Hashem as a bashert to join in a union for a higher spiritual purpose.
Sadly, everyone thinks they have more time. But if Hashem showed you a roadmap of your life, and you were destined to only live 10 more years, would you continue to be as particular as you are, or would you move your life forward? Sadly, everyone thinks that tomorrow, their shidduch will miraculously drop from heaven, with the perfect person showing up at your doorstep. So singles move from shadchan to shadchan, from event to event, from one dating website or app to the newest one. But statistically, there aren’t more marriages in this population…just more people getting older.
Why haven’t shadchanim like myself given up on them?
I don’t work with all singles. Many have been told by me that they don’t need a shadchan, they need a therapist. Often, there are deep-rooted, underlying issues that are causing people to hold out. Fear of marriage. Inability to commit. Unable to become emotionally intimate. These are not issues that a dating coach or shadchan can help with; these require therapy. But shadchanim like myself continue to help singles that we believe want to get married because we know that Hashem has His plan, and we are just His messengers. What becomes a challenge for us is when we see singles trying to play G-d, trying to decide that they know better than Him who they should be dating and who they should marry.
When is it okay to say no to a shidduch?
There are many reasons to say no to a shidduch suggestion before you even go out once. And many reasons to say no to someone after you have met them in person. But often, people are saying no to matches for the wrong reason – for superficial reasons.
I’m pretty sure if I had done an informal survey of most single men in the last 20 years, they would have jumped at the opportunity to date actress Jennifer Anniston. Likewise, when he was alive and young, comedian Robin Williams would have been considered a catch. Have you heard of Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Elon Musk? Each of these people mentioned have tremendous strengths and positive attributes that helped make them famous, but each one also experienced serious challenges that would have gotten their shidduch suggestion nixed. Autism/aspergers. Dyslexia. Depression. Paralysis from polio.
And what about Georges Couthon, a paraplegic who was a leader of the French Revolution? Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole had an arm he couldn’t use due to an injury from World War Two. Former New York Governor David Paterson was legally blind from birth. And when Abraham Lincoln led American through the Civil War, Winston Churchill led England through World War Two, and Martin Luther King Jr. led America through the civil rights battle, they were each battling depression. Most singles today reject a shidduch suggestion of someone medicated for depression or anxiety despite their potential for greatness that often comes out far after a spouse is helping them overcome their challenges.
Let’s be honest – everyone has their baggage. No matter how perfect someone, or a family, seems on the outside, behind closed doors there’s often a lot more going on.
That’s why I am usually flabbergasted when some people reject shidduch ideas, without having met the person, based on things they may have heard. Sure, perhaps you heard something that wasn’t what you were looking for. And yes, sometimes it can seem scary if you are unfamiliar with it. But everyone will have some issue, and it makes sense to first get to know someone’s positive attributes and qualities before you decide if you can live with the more challenging things.
A number of years ago, a true story was portrayed in the film, “The King’s Speech”, which demonstrated how a good spouse can turn someone around. Prince George VI had a stutter, but his wife worked hard to help him overcome it, and he became a great orator as King of England during the tumultuous era of World War Two. As Jews, we don’t need British royalty to teach us this lesson; we see it in our own role models. Devorah Haneviya was a tremendous influence on her husband, Ish Lapidot, and turned him from a delivery boy to a powerful military leader. Rachel the tzadekes married Rabbi Akiva based on the potential she saw in him, willing to throw away her family’s wealth and support to become partner in life with someone who didn’t know the alef bais.
We hear these stories. We retell them. And yet we don’t really learn from them. Because instead of looking at someone’s potential, and considering our role and responsibility as their potential partner, we are quick to nix people because of superficial reasons, or because we think we cannot live with something (before giving it a real chance).
It is a fascinating concept to explore. We don’t get to pick our own misfortunes. Hashem made some people healthy, others not. Some wealthy, others not. Some ugly, some beautiful. Some with personality challenges, some with mental health or physical challenges. Hashem decided your nisyonos, your tests. And He doesn’t give anyone a test they cannot pass. So we invest in our own challenges, we work to succeed in life despite challenges we have in ourselves.
But when it comes to a potential spouse, for some reason, we think differently. We think we can control our lives by avoiding challenges we see in shidduch suggestions. We think we know better than Hashem whom He picked out for us. When you reject a shidduch because of a photo, an illness, a divorce in the family, a sibling off the derech, someone who wasn’t an academic success…or whatever it is that made you say no, you are potentially declining the bashert Hashem picked out for you. It is extremely egotistical for you to say “No, there’s no way Hashem picked that person for me”, before even meeting the person and giving them a chance.
I believe you have to be able to live with the challenges of your spouse. But you won’t know your own strengths, and you won’t know what they offer you as a partner, until you get to know them. Do I believe you have to marry every person suggested who has a challenge? No. But I do believe you should be giving someone a chance based on the positive attributes they have to offer, and not to nix an idea because of the negative.
The challenges you are aware of are usually better than the ones that come suddenly. Knowing someone had cancer as a child enables you to learn, from the get-go, how that can impact a marriage and to approach it properly from the start. But being married with 7 kids and suddenly the spouse gets cancer, that is much more challenging. But at that point, you confront it together because you are already married. And yet, why are you unwilling to confront things, as a partnership, when you are single being suggested to someone who may have a challenge?
You think life will be perfect if you marry someone without the challenges; you think life will be hard if you marry someone with a challenge. That is normal to think that. But it is a fallacy to hang your hopes on. Life will be what Hashem sends your way and your involvement/input/contribution.
When I was younger and in shidduchim, my family was saddled with the baggage that my grandfather had died of colon cancer at the age of 51, before I was born. Colon cancer is highly genetic. Then my father was stricken with colon cancer and passed away at the age of 59. In the dating process, me and my siblings had to tell prospects that we have colon cancer in the family. I’m sure that it shterred some shidduchim; I’m sure that some people didn’t want that baggage. But B”H some people were open-minded and were able to look beyond that. I never was upset if someone said no because of colon cancer in the family. I actually felt bad for the other person. They were losing out on something great here and now, because of a fear of what could be down the road which was only in Hashem’s hands.
So many singles reject suggestions today because of what could be down the road. And that is the real singles crisis of today. There are plenty of people to date. But not if you reject them today because of uncertainties. What does anxiety or depression medication mean in a marriage? What will the impact of a sibling off the derech or a parent’s divorce mean in a potential marriage. What does scoliosis or another physical condition mean? Dyslexia. Cancer as a child. Mental health illness. Instead of telling yourself you cannot live with that challenge someone has, explore HOW you can live with it. Because life isn’t perfect, and you are going to end up with some challenge in a spouse – either one you know about now or one you’ll find out about later.
So should you date someone who is socially awkward? Who is on the ASD spectrum? Who has a medical condition? An emotional illness? Return here next week for that answer.