Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an event discussing the primordial struggle between matchmakers and singles. The event, a joint Habitza-AACI production, featured a panel of matchmakers and singles to discuss the problems of marrying people off – always a hot topic in the religious and traditional community. About forty people – men, women, married and not-yet-married – were in attendance.
The subject of matchmakers trying to put round pegs through square holes is often a source of acrimony; indeed, the host of the event, Ms. Deena Levenstein, told me that online questions submitted for the panel were often intemperate and had to be toned down. Both blame the other for making their job harder. Fortunately, none of this acrimony was in evidence last night; all the panelists addressed issues on point and in good humor, even with subjects that are often painful.
Perhaps most impressive of all was Malka-Eta Chaiken, a Hebronite, widow and matchmaker of twenty seven years. Besides giving good mussar to singles who don’t act like decent human beings or shoot out of their league, she reminded the audience of the many benefits of marriage that go beyond “Hollywood love” such as growing old together. In an age where everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, is often only interested in butterflies and romantic ecstasy, this was an important reality check.
The other two participants, Yonah Engel and Yehudit Singer also provided important insights. Singer in particular put important emphasis on self-improvement in order to find a high-quality mate – like attracts like, if you will. The audience and the panel discussed many subjects, each of which deserves its own article – the often arbitrary definitions and “boxes” singles are forced to fit in the dating world, whether girls should approach guys (yes!) and many more.
As this is the first of many projected events by Habitza, I thought I might propose two subjects which didn’t come up in the panel, but which are important for the Jewish “single’s problem”.
The first is overcoming provincialism. The problem of dating in the modern world is universal and affects many non-Jewish religious communities, Christians especially. There are many good traditional websites with insights on the subject such as Haley’s Halo. Many issues have often been thoroughly analyzed there which could spare us from constantly reinventing the wheel. We can learn from other’s wisdom and apply it in a Jewish context.
The second and more important issue is attraction: what attracts, how to attract and how to maintain that attraction. To put it bluntly, in the non-Charedi world where arranged marriages are non-existent, individual desire counts for a great deal more than it used to – yet religious Jewish men and women have little to no understanding of how to attract the opposite sex, and no – knowing how to be friendly doesn’t cut it.
Nor can people be “shamed” into ignoring attraction. We all need to remember that when we’re dating, we are effectively trying to convince a complete stranger to make the most important commitment of their life. Attraction is an important component, though by no means the only component, of a successful stable relationship.
Furthermore, men and women are attracted to different things. To quote a favorite blogger of mine:
The masculine attracts the feminine, the feminine attracts the masculine.
There’s much more on the subject worth discussing, but I will stop here.
I wish Habitza success in furthering discussions on the perennial subject of coupling with the same good humor and forthrightness that was on display last night.