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May 24, 2011

Foray into the Fray: I Just Started Online Shidduch Dating

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.


  1. Using YUConnects/SYAS can be a complicated process, but I do know people who have gotten engaged and married by using this resource. I've been writing a series of posts about how not to use the system (Y U Don't Connect OR How Not To Be Seen At Sinai), based on our experience as matchmakers.

    Overall, you sound like you're one of the very decent guys actually using the site - most don't, and the many guys that do are often crazily picky, etc. We never think that choosing looks as a reason to decline is inherently wrong, but every decline SHOULD come with some several sentence elaboration. The worst is to receive a decline under the heading of "other" without elaboration.

    You do make a valid point about shadchanim needing to write a message of some sort when they make a suggestion, and we've tried to do that more and more.

    If you are in the market for a 2nd connector, send me an email and we'd love to work with you.

  2. B'hatzlacha!
    May you have much clarity and make the right decisions.
    If your zivug is on there, I hope you find her.

  3. I actually also have a beef with the "need a photo to check for attraction" thing.

    Attraction is not based on a photo. It based on actually being in the presence of another human being.

    Additionally, it doesn't do much for a girl's self-esteem when a guy insists on a photo first and no date materializes. That sort of hurt to another human being should be avoided at all costs.

    Of course, online dating is another animal, but photos are not as illuminating as they seem. People really are different in person.

    Needless to say, I tried SYAS for a week after getting an email that someone has a match for me. I don't like it that hundreds of faceless shadchanim are sifting through my info. I felt exposed. They keep asking me to come back.

    It's not you, SYAS, it's me.

  4. Princess Lea - if I recall correctly, there's an option on SYAS that blocks all shadchanim from seeing you, except the one or two that you personally choose.
    (I might be wrong, though).

    I agree about the picture thing. It's pretty ridiculous that certain guys are now DEMANDING pictures.

  5. @ Princess Lea:

    I'm a Man. I relate to the world physically. That's just how I am, whether or not anyone chooses to accept or berate that part of my being and experiencing the world. Attraction isn't strictly physical looks (it also includes how a woman carries herself, her body language and movements, the way she looks at me and the way she experiences the world through her senses -none of which are truly captured in a photograph), but her physique is a hook-point for the very reason I stated above, and why pictures are often requested or demanded. I have found very few women who are savvy about all those things that attract a man to her.

    See, I'm not talking "right" or "wrong" or "hurting," I'm just stating the way most men relate to the world. I do think there's a positive and negative way to approach whatever need or want exists (ex. regarding pictures, positive = polite request & negative = demanding entitlement).

    Individuals should take responsibility for their own emotions. As a mature adult I cannot point my finger at another and say "you made me cry" or "you made me mad" because I have to CARE and ALLOW it to affect me, placing responsibility squarely on my own shoulders. Someone who I don't care about may call me all the names in the world, they can yell at me until they are blue in the face, but none of that reflects who I really am. I have every right to feel mad or sad or hurt when I do, but those are borne of my own thoughts, assumptions and expectations. I have the right to feel and communicate my feelings, to be assertive by saying "I feel angry" or "I feel hurt," but blaming others only victimizes myself. Placing blame on others puts all the power in their hands to affect me, and make me feel a certain way. I know firsthand that taking responsibility for my emotions and personal empowerment come hand-in-hand.

    When someone tries to point the finger at me and make me responsible for their emotions, I can acknowledge how they feel, but I don't need to take responsibility for their emotions. If I have wronged them or done something -if I made a mistake, as I do often -then I must apologize, take responsibility for my actions and make amends. But I do not take responsibility for another person's emotions. Only my own actions.

    However, empathy is a characteristic individuals should strive for. Not that one is responsible for the emotions of others, but that they understand and recognize and perhaps even feel what the other person is experiencing. To see it through their eyes, to walk in their proverbial shoes. That is a point of connection with others.

    Being responsible for others' emotions can become a tremendous burden and a prison, and it invites emotional blackmail and abuse.