Fair warning, this is long (though I hope it is entertaining and informative).
My previous experience with shadchaniyot notwithstanding, I decided to enter the shidduch world. It's another roadblock I've had to overcome in recognizing that, since I feel ready for marriage, all avenues are valuable and should be pursued.
In the beginning...
I got onto SawYouAtSinai, and made a profile. I spent five and a half hours(!) filling out surveys and pondering my own little quips such as "why are there many types of Ashkenazim but only Sefardi and not Eidut Hamizrach???" I carefully crafted answers for the open questions that reflect a genuine presentation of who I am, found pictures I liked on Facebook and hounded old friends for higher quality versions and cropped them appropriately while silently thanking God for shomer space, as it made cropping so much easier (especially since I've got pictures from weddings with my thousands of cousins). I was careful to employ literary tactics such as showing-not-telling who I am in the "about me" section, having an opening and closing sentence that stand alone as the introduction and conclusion with four succinct two-sentence paragraphs as a body that address different values of my life in ways that add depth and enrich the character of my profile. I use embroidered language that creates rich descriptions and avoid "I am... I do... I like... I want..." like the plague because, frankly, that's boring and less trustworthy. Hey, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right.
While filling out the longest questionnaire I've ever encountered, the only thought that kept me going is that answering fully and honestly puts me in a pool of "peers," more or less. The idea of matching is, essentially, to get those who think, act and feel alike together. But that's all it is, a group of people who have commonalities or similarities. None of that really indicates much about a relationship, per se. That, I thought to myself, is where the "human element" comes in, and what a shadchanit does. The way I thought about it is... that's the skill. Not just putting together similarities. It's not just about throwing as many atoms as possible at each other and hoping some will bond. That's the difference between experimental work and science.
But successful dating that lead to lasting, healthy, happy relationships is more than science, it's an art too. Is this reasonable to expect that there be a reason other than "you two are similar" that prompts a suggestion? Perhaps they ask only that the similarities are given a chance, that those who are suggested take that chance, that opportunity. Assuming a person can take every opportunity, this would work. But that depends on a whole lot of factors, including available time and resources, level of similarity and initial interest. Some have more time than others, and some get more suggestions than others. These things are important to consider, and my experiences thus far are recounted below. On the flip-side of that coin is giving reasons for declining a potential match. We will get to this in a moment.
Something I should note is that I've grown up with an attitude that flexibility is important, being open to different people, different backgrounds. Qualities I am looking for do not just fit in religious categories (though dedication to Halachah is tremendously important to me) or music tastes. So I began with a broader and more open idea of what I'd consider in looking for a spouse. More flexibility means more options, which means more opportunity.
It has been less than a week, and I already get the feeling I'm a commodity, that I'm being handled and perhaps that I am not being treated as a person. It has been a tad overwhelming. Here's the summation my initial of experience:
Here are some descriptives:
11 Shadchaniyot contacted me through SawYouAtSinai
12 Matches have been suggested or proposed in some form
10 Sefardi women were suggested (2 Ashkenazi)
2 Same religious/hashkafic area (8 further right, 2 further left)
9 My age or a year younger (1 three years younger, 2 a year older)
10 Stated no reason for the match (1 had a single sentence written by the shadchanit).
0 Had more than a couple sentences in the "About me" section.
7 Matches currently suggested or pending approval (I'm "full" and can't take another suggestion)
First off, that's a lot for less then a week, and my first exposure. I have more time in the summer, but still cannot consider and go out with all of them at once. I am partially tempted to just leave it be so that I don't continue to get more suggestions. It's an onslaught, and I understand where the impression comes from that men are having women thrown at them. At the same time, it puts me in the place of feeling like "fresh meat."
Based on this, the conclusion I draw is that I am being introduced to a population (otherwise known as targeted networking). There are more of a certain type "suggested" to me than others. Now, if this is the case (and I gather that in part from the lack of stated reasons for a suggestion or contact required coupled with the lack of expressive or informitive "about me" sections and the multiple-sneak-attack suggestions), then why would not giving a reason for declining be a big deal? I admit I am new and my past experience with a shadchanit wasn't particularly positive so I may have a tinted lens, but am I missing something here?
Onto the stories...
One Shadchanit asked me to email her (apparently doing so through the website would be "too complicated"), and proceeded to send me a resume with little information and no picture. Upon asking what her inspiration was, she replied emphatically: "Because you would want to date her!" I'm not sure how she figured that, since all I got was a list of siblings, references and schools. Perhaps she'd scoured my profile and decided so on her own, though leaving me out of the loop as to why doesn't give me much motivation or a reason to do anything about it. I still have little/no idea what this particular woman looks like, what her personality is or what her life values and goals are. I don't even know where she is religiously. Sure, I could call a bunch of strangers who would give me a list of positive qualities (or have someone else do so on my behalf). But would it be so unrealistic to ask what went on in her mind (i.e. why) that she put two and two together?
Another shadchanit (not through SawYouAtSinai) cornered me in person and gushed, "I found your wife! Only problem might be... she's not shomer." I sat her down (yes, I sat her down) and had a talk with her, telling her about my life story, my values, my ambitions, my flexibility, my home growing up and what I am looking for. B"H she actually listened. Her convictions swayed as she learned more about me. Finally she "backed off" by telling me it's a "vacation" like "getting to know the other side," gave me the woman's contact information and told me the woman expects to be contacted. Thanks, I'm looking forward (okay, I actually do like to get to know people, I learned to be flexible and have hope for religious growth from my parents... but, seriously!?). I will, of course contact her. But my expectations are not overly-inflated.
I declined three others, since I recognized from the pictures and profiles that I wouldn't be attracted to them. Of course the shadchaniyot always ask "why" I decline, and so I have to give a reason. I found out, though, that saying I don't find the woman attractive is a taboo. Apparently, shadchaniyot complain and tend to be peeved by that. This is where I'm wondering what's going on. The suggestion comes without a reason, the profiles I have come across often have missing information, only a single picture or very little in the open-ended question about the individual. So I should make a snap judgment for dating potential, and then give a reason why not for all the times I have to make the snap judgment "no"? Or perhaps I'm expected to give them all a chance? Prioritize and put the rest on hold? Reject and ask for a callback in three weeks?
Lest it be said that my criteria is to broad (though I am very open to that possibility and may tweak my settings for that), the majority have easily been well within what I'd consider.
Currently, I'm working through the rest. Heaven help me, I'm trying to give each one some real attention, my full focus... but I expect I'll have to put a bunch "on hold" because it's just too much. Additionally, the more I have piled onto the potentials, the more comparisons begin to creep in. I don't want them to slap me in the face, I don't want to miss out on wonderful people by creating a prioritized proverbial "line" in order to limit how overwhelmed I get. However, if the trend continues, more shadchaniyot will go around the system to suggest from those outside the network or above and beyond the set limit of seven suggestions.
What does it all mean to me?
Back to the descriptives, no less than eleven shadchaniyot have contacted me, but only a single one took the time to relate to me as a human (the one not from SawYouAtSinai), and I had to sit her down to get that far. None of the others have made any other type of contact beyond a suggestion, commented on my character, religiosity, or taken a moment to relate to me as a human being. That sort of treatment, as "efficient" as it may be, gives me the impression I am being trafficked. It can feel, in some ways, degrading. From the moment I got on the website, I had no idea what to do, how anything works, what the system or protocol is, or what happens if I accept. It's a good thing I can climb steep learning curves quickly, especially with the right help.
Maybe it's too much, but perhaps I'd like to take just a few moments of a shadchanit's time when she decides I'm a good match for a particular woman. It's not that I expect to be spoon-fed, I'd just like to be treated as a person with dignity and respect. To have my humanity affirmed. Seeing the quotation flashed on the homepage: "We bring the human touch to online dating" conjured up the idea that I'd get some sort of human contact (though not necessarily in-person) with matchmakers, which I have yet to experience on this particular website. Or maybe I should just open a spreadsheet, embrace comparisons, input their stats and manage the whole thing like a business project. Not that it's my first choice, but that may simplify things (at the cost of turning wonderful women into data points).
Don't get me wrong, I the whole thing has been a fantastic adventure and a wonderful learning experience. The challenge itself has been very enjoyable as it presents many opportunities to work on myself, learn and grow. I'm excited and looking forward to seeing this through. To that end, though, I credit my own personality. Wherever I am going, I shall not drag my feet on the way.