It’s been nearly 20 years since I started writing about the shidduch world, and it’s only gotten crazier. There is a new generation of singles that has entered the shidduch scene with no idea that it wasn’t always this way. People who grow up crazy think crazy is normal.
Consider this, then, an introductory course in normalcy for neophytes and a refresher course for veterans. Here are seven lies and shenanigans you will encounter in the shidduch world. I’m writing this from the male perspective both because I’m male and because I believe women get away with a disproportionate amount of shtick nowadays:
- This is the Torah way: I’ve devoted tens of thousands of words to debunking this false claim, but for now simply consider the following: If the shidduch world is a shining example of Torah-based values and conduct, why does the Orthodox world not speak of it with pride to the outside world?
There are many aspects of Orthodox life that may seem quaint and bizarre to outsiders, but kiruv rabbis don’t shy away from them and comfortably portray them as charming and authentic. Yet, detailed disclosures about the shidduch world tend to be avoided until those unsuspecting souls have been proverbially saved.
- Women seeking third-party authorization for a suggestion: I still remember the first time I encountered this one. Someone who knew me reasonably well thought I might like a friend of hers. Sounds good, I’ll give it a try.
She later gets back to me with a request from her friend before we proceed. I was asked to find a rabbi who knew me from my days in YU and the girl from her days at Stern who thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to meet. The fact that someone could make this request and someone else could forward it as if it were entirely normal, reasonable, and appropriate marked a new low in the shidduch world as far as I was concerned.
This kind of request, though, has become mainstream. The shadchan thinks it’s a good idea, the guy says yes, the girl doesn’t say yes, but instead searches for a “neutral” third-party who knows both the guy and her and assures her that it’s a “good idea.”
Only then does she agree to allow the guy to take her out and spend money on her. And when she somehow remains single into her 30s and beyond, everyone wonders why. At least she avoided wasting time or being hurt.
- You have to compromise in a relationship and in marriage: This statement may be true, but it’s not relevant. It usually is voiced prior to a first date when the single is being urged to change something just to suit the other person. Put on a black hat just to please her. Go against your principles, values, and philosophy to make her happy.
You’ve never even met this person yet – she’s literally nobody to you – but if you’re not willing to change for her, then you have no idea what marriage is all about. I’m sure after hearing this enough times, singles can hardly wait to find out.
- The profile picture: Profile pictures didn’t exist when I was growing up. Neither did shidduch profiles. The vast majority of people met on their own, through friends, or through other people who actually knew them, even people who thought they were more “frum” than everyone else.
Shadchanim were the shidduch world’s version of alternative medicine. They were out there, and the people who swore by them tended to be a little out there too.
Now the entire shidduch world is an alternative universe, and the do-it-yourselfers are condemned as heretics or crackpots. We might as well join the Flat Earth Society.
But back to profile pictures. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a profile picture is a thousand-word lie. There is no reason you should ever see a picture and be excited to meet someone.
If the person appears unattractive, it’s nearly impossible to overlook that and agree to meet him or her. Why would you? How could you? Even if you know on an intellectual level that people look different in person, and their personality might make them shine, and attraction can grow, and all that jazz, the picture doesn’t lie. Not in this case, anyway. To use a crude numeric system, a 5 can turn into a 7, but a 2 isn’t turning into a 6.
In the olden days, when people met naturally, this was simply never an issue. But if human beings are reduced to pictures and boilerplate profiles, well, there are plenty more where that came from. No reason to start with someone who doesn’t sound and look like a total match immediately.
The thing is, even if the person looks like a 5 or a 6, it’s a bad thing. In the olden days, people with average or slightly above average looks fared average or better than average. In the age of profile pictures, a 5 or 6 will have a very difficult time.
Since profile pictures have become so widespread, we must assume that the picture shows the absolute best this person has ever looked. This is the one moment when the stars aligned in the best possible way and the camera caught it. If the person at that moment turns out to be only a 5 or 6, what shall we assume he or she looks like in real life, when the moment isn’t captured by a professional photographer, with the perfect angle, lighting, and profile, perhaps enhanced by cosmetics and technology? You have to assume a 3.
You have to assume everyone is at least two or three notches lower than he or she appears in the profile picture simply because many people will be two or three notches lower in real life. And since there is an abundance of profiles and most people can manage to appear as a 7 for a single moment, there’s no reason to settle for anything less.
By the way, I’m not condoning chicanery, and I think it’s all disgusting. But if you’re going to play the shidduch game, this is the instruction manual for profile pictures.
- He or she is busy: One day I’m going to do an Abbott and Costello routine on this.
“So I spoke to Sarah, and I’m afraid she’s busy right now.”
“That’s okay, I can meet her next week.”
“No, you don’t understand, she’s busy.”
“So what? I’m also busy.”
“Wait a second, you didn’t tell me you’re busy.”
“I didn’t know I had to.”
“Of course you have to. How am I supposed to know you’re busy if you don’t tell me?”
“What’s the difference?”
“What do you mean what’s the difference? It’s unethical not to tell me!”
“Unethical?! What are you talking about?”
“You can’t go out with a girl when you’re busy!”
“Why not? I do it all the time.”
“You do it all the time?!”
“Of course! Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I can’t go out.”
“Of course it does!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I work it out. I’m not that busy.”
“Well are you or aren’t you?”
“Fine, I’m not busy. So when can I call Sarah?”
“I already told you! She’s busy!”
You get the point. Because dating is dirty, so we have to speak of it in euphemistic terms.
- Those little lies: Here are a few from “The Dating Survival Guide for Orthodox Jewish Men” printed in my book, EndTheMadness Guide to the Shidduch World.
- “I don’t think it’s going to work out.” Commonly featured in the break-up speech. Of course it’s not going to work out if you don’t intend to see me ever again. How could it?
- “I’m not sure if we’re right for each other.” Then you should continue to go out. Isn’t that the point of dating? Ah, but you don’t want to continue going out. So you’re quite sure after all.
- “She’s just a little overweight.” Translation: She’s fat.
This is something shadchanim say about a girl, and it always means the same thing. If the girl was really only a few pounds above the ideal weight, no one outside of a dietician would describe her as “a little overweight.” They wouldn’t mention it at all lest they give the impression that she’s really a little more than a little overweight.
So if they are already saying that much, it means she is fat and the shadchan only wants to cover for herself; she can say later on that she did tell you she was a little overweight, and that your impression of her as fat is simply a matter of perspective.
- The ultimate lie: “The shin in ‘shadchan’ stands for sheker, because there always has to be some falsehood in shidduchim.” They seem like they’re joking, but they really mean it. It’s their way of kashering all of the above lies, shenanigans, and so much more.
It’s a lie. It doesn’t have to be this way. People can be honest and normal and still get married. When people who are honest and normal do get married, the marriage is probably going to work out much better. I like their odds better than the odds of those who play games and try to manipulate everyone else playing the game.
Instead of being scared to stop playing the game, I would be terrified not to.