Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Racheli refused to discuss with her mother what happened the night before on her date. “Mommy, I can’t. I just don’t want to talk about it.” “But Racheli, I am your mother, why can’t you just tell me what is wrong?” Racheli sighed and left the table, eager to escape her mother’s penetrating glances. In reality, Racheli’s date began quite well. She and the young man with whom she had been set up seemed to be getting along. They told each other about their families and their schools, however, eventually, Racheli just couldn’t think of anything else to share with him. She started staring at her drink and fiddling with her napkin to avoid looking into his face when she had nothing to say.

Racheli did not want to mention any of this to her mother because she knew exactly what her mother would say, “Just be yourself. Tatty and I love you. Your friends and family love you. Don’t worry so much about making conversation. It will just come.” Those were the words Racheli’s mother consistently tried to use to cheer up her daughter after a failed shidduch. So far, though, Racheli was not benefiting from her mother’s kind words and was becoming increasingly more anxious each time she was set up.



How can Racheli prepare for a shidduch?

I have worked with several young men and women like Racheli who are charming and intelligent in regular circumstance, but who cannot seem to get past a first date when set up. There are several ways to combat the anxiety associated with meeting a new person for the first time. Many people think that the ability to make conversation is something people are born with. In reality, though it is not always easy, you can learn how to be more comfortable when meeting new people. Dr. Donna Sollie and Dr. Jean Pearson Scott of Texas Tech University, in an article entitled, “Teaching Communication Skills” explain that it is possible to coach people to better connect with others.


Verbal Communication

The key to knowing where to start is to understand the four levels of communication. First, there is small talk. Small talk it the safest place to start when you meet someone for the first time. You can talk about surface issues such as current events, weather, and your surrounding. The purpose of small talk is to determine the “comfort zone” between you and the other person.

The next level is fact disclosure. Fact disclosure is like small talk, except that you are revealing small details about yourself. Refrain from sharing overly emotional details at this point, such as problems at home, work, or school.

Once you reveal facts to one another, if you feel that you have things in common, the next step of communication is sharing viewpoints and opinions. This stage allows you to build a rapport through becoming slightly vulnerable when talking to the person about more intimate topics. Such topics might include politics or religion. Make sure you do not use this as an opportunity to be negative about other people because that will simply paint you in a damaging light.

The last level of communication is sharing personal feelings. After building trust, finding commonalities, and sharing viewpoints, you may feel comfortable sharing your genuine feelings. At this point, you are forming an emotional bond with the other person by creating an environment of empathy and compassion.

Like Racheli, a lot of people have trouble getting past small talk and fact disclosure. This is natural and should not be alarming. However, before heading out for a date, Racheli should consider what viewpoints and opinions she might be willing to share if they come up. Then, discussing them will not be as stressful or intimidating if those topics arise on her date. Of course, sharing personal feelings might not be comfortable when meeting someone for the first time. In that case, save those personal feelings for future dates.


Non-verbal Communication

“Be a Good Listener.” This rule is true for both boys and girls when meeting. How can you train yourself to be a good listener? There is a test, “the next time someone talks to you, are you really listening with your entire brain, or are you preparing what you want to say next while they are speaking?” Listening attentively to another person requires eye contact that lets the person know that you are interested in what they are saying.

Aside from eye contact, there are many subtle messages that people send through non-verbal communication:

  • Avoid restlessness: Restlessness can be tapping your foot incessantly, moving around silverware, or checking your watch multiple times. Restlessness indicates that you are not interested in what the person in front of you is saying. Therefore, when Racheli fiddled with her napkin, the young man with her might have thought that he was boring her and consequently might have stopped talking.
  • Steer clear of closed-in body posture: Crossing your arms, turning your body on an angle away from the person you are speaking to, or leaning away from the table are all signals that you are not comfortable in the situation. Instead, face the other person directly and keep your posture relaxed and at ease.
  • Don’t people-watch: Instead of watching everybody else in the lobby of the hotel, stay focused on the person you are there with. Aside from leading to lashon hara, people-watching is distracting and again indicates a lack of interest in your date.
  • Smile: While smiling seems like a no-brainer when trying to communicate in a positive way, many people forget to smile when they are nervous and in new situations. Ironically, research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that smiling can actually make you less anxious. When you use the muscles in your face to smile, those muscles trigger hormones in your brain that make you more relaxed and happy.


How can parents help?

Shidduchim can be very stressful for both parents and young men and women, therefore it is best to be as prepared as possible. While Racheli’s mother had the best intentions in mind, she was not truly addressing Racheli’s anxiety upon meeting new people. With minimal social skills training, Racheli could be on her way to a happy and successful marriage. She simply needs to learn the essential tools for communication.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].