For all the talk in recent years about problems with the way shidduchim are happening or not happening, not nearly enough attention has been given to the disordered state of shadchanus.
The Jewish world abounds with people who attempt either publicly or discreetly to match singles. We should assume that the vast majority of these people have noble intentions, yet shadchanim tend to be frustrated with singles, singles tend to be frustrated with shadchanim, and the horror stories far outweigh the success stories.
Perhaps the worst thing about the situation is that there are any success stories at all. Strange as this may sound, the occasional success makes it easy for shadchanim with haphazard methods to pass themselves off as competent, for singles to continue putting their fragile hope and energy into something that depletes them of hope and energy, and for our inertia-laden society to delude itself into believing the system is working pretty well. (After all, it worked for so-and-so.) As a result, change continues to be slow and tentative while the ranks of suffering singles continue to grow.
As things currently stand, a shadchan proposes a match between two singles. This is usually followed by many days or even weeks of negotiations, hemming and hawing, even arm-twisting. A small percentage of the time this results in an actual date, after which another round of the above ensues. Generally the proposed match is quickly scuttled, often with great disillusionment on the part of the singles and irritation on the part of the shadchan. Singles dread being set up, but consider it hishtadlus. Shadchanim find singles difficult to deal with, but consider it a mitzvah.
There is a better way for shadchanus, courtesy of my friend Zevi Adler. It makes extraordinary sense and protects the concerns of both the shadchan and the client. Zevi first proposed the idea in 2000 and has employed it very successfully on a small scale. If the idea is implemented on a larger scale it will revolutionize the shidduch world and make a lot of people very happy.
Instead of the above scenario, a shadchan would propose a match between two singles. The shadchan would then say, “I am so confident that this is someone you should meet that I am giving you $20 to help pay for the date. If you decide to see this person again, give me back the $20. If you ultimately marry this person, then pay me $2,000.” (If one is completely uninterested in making a business of shadchanus, the $2,000 can be donated to the tzedakah of the shadchan’s choice.)
This format would solve a host of problems associated with shadchanus, for both the single and the shadchan. For starters, it changes the relationship between the single and the shadchan to a partnership infused with professionalism and mutual respect. (It is far too common for shadchanim to view and treat singles as lesser people, or even to take advantage of them. Even the “good” shadchanim often view singles not as mature, sophisticated adults but as chesed projects.) This system elevates the status of the single to that of a client and a business partner, which is far more dignified and appropriate.
It is unreasonable for shadchanim to expect singles to invest their own time, money, and energy on suggestions if the shadchan is not willing to invest anything in the suggestion – especially if the shadchan expects to be rewarded for a successful match. Singles bear the brunt of the expense, which can include hundreds of dollars for travel and dates, while shadchanim risk only a few bucks for phone calls if it doesn’t work out. Just because the single is the one with a need to fill doesn’t make this arrangement equitable.
I can imagine shadchanim reading this and exclaiming, “Why should I pay someone to go out on a date? I’m already doing enough for them by finding them a date, not to mention all the time, energy, and money that I spend making all those phone calls. I should pay singles for the privilege of helping them too?!”
If one thinks about this soberly, however, the benefits for shadchanim make the $20 a very wise investment. Certainly the annoyance of having to persuade singles to go out on the date will be almost entirely eliminated. After all, the single will say to himself, “If the shadchan is willing to lay out money for me to go out with this person, it can’t be a bad idea. If the shadchan is willing to take a chance on this, then I’ll take a chance on it, too.”