It’s crisis time again! No, not because of ISIS or the chill between Netanyahu and Obama or the difficulty of forming a governing coalition or even finding and purchasing prepared food for Pesach that has no kitniyot. It is spring and the dating season has begun to heat up. The yeshiva boys are coming out of the freezer while the seminary girls are shopping for Shidduch dating clothes. All this primping, prepping, defrosting, and purchasing can make dating a thrilling and anxious time. It can also make it an overwhelming time for some. In the last several weeks I have received numerous calls – “How should I prepare my son to speak with a girl? He never really had a conversation with a girl.” – “My daughter’s friends are all getting dates but my daughter has not been set up yet.” – “We are looking for a very specific person for our son and the shaddchanim don’t get it. They keep sending us the wrong type of girl.” – And, of course, the classic “Dr. Salamon, we know that you saw this boy/girl when they were younger. What can you tell us about him/her?”
Since publishing the book The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures (Urim), I have collected hundreds of stories about both the worst and the best of the Shidduch dating system. Perhaps as a function of a self-selection process among those who chose to contact me, I hear mostly painful stories of this dating system. To make it clear it is very rare that those who are actually dating contact me directly. These 17 to 21 year old young women and men almost always defer to their parents, without any embarrassment about this arrangement. When I do have the opportunity to speak with them directly and ask them why their parents call for them and decide for them who they may date I often get blank stares. In their minds, it is understood that they are too young to decide for themselves. On the dating side, this is perhaps the biggest crisis. If you are old enough to date for the purpose of marriage, you should be mature enough to handle decision making more independently. Fostering dependency is a sure way to create a fear of handling real world issues. This is a major problem; however, it is not the only point of crisis. There are others more insidious and damaging to more people.
These greater crises are related to what happens when two people who dated using someone else’s script, have difficulty communicating with each other, barely know one another yet get married and live together. We are seeing increasing reports of domestic violence and higher divorce rates among those in the Shidduch system, sometimes after having brought a few children into the world. Decades of research indicate that those who date between nine and twelve months before deciding to get married are less likely to get divorced than those who spend less time getting to know one another, especially if dating lasts only six to nine weeks and the decision to marry is made. It is true that expectations for dating are different in the Shidduch world but the process whereby two people truly get to know one another is not. It takes time and that time cannot be productively rushed.
It is naïve to say that the divorce rate in the Shidduch world is very low. From all reports, it is not. It is also wrong to blame the divorce rate on the ease of getting a divorce, an excuse I hear far too often. Getting divorced is anything but easy. No one who gets married looks forward to an easy out from the marriage, unless the marriage was a gross error. Blaming divorce rates on society, an easy excuse, makes no sense either. People want to stay married but only to someone that understands them and loves them, not someone who ignores, is rarely around, or worse, abuses them.
As long as there is a system in place people feel compelled to follow that scheme sometimes without giving it a second thought regardless of the consequences. I am not so pessimistic though. Within the last year I have been hearing from parents, more and more, who have some insight and awareness. Perhaps they have had situations where their older children or the children of relatives and friends have experienced the sequalea of a bad marriage. For some of these parents the questions they ask are more sophisticated, targeting issues related to trust, respect, and love in a healthy relationship. Children need to be allowed to grow up and make some decisions for themselves. Parental insight should be offered. But, dating takes time and that time should also be enjoyed. It should not be rushed or minimized.