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Aug 4, 2011

Shidduch Criteria

I've made reference to this recently, but I usually don't give straight answers to Shadchanim/Shadchaniyot or for Shidduch resume/profile questions.

Most often, questions tend to be closed-ended, requiring "Yes" or "No" answers. It tends to remind me of a lawyer cross-examining a witness, who asks questions in a particular series, trying to hammer down bits of information. This information, of course, supposedly leads to a story, telling the truth about the person. Or some version of the truth.

But we are neither in a court of law, nor do I believe we should try to "hammer down" a person's essence with bits of information that piece together like a patchy paper-mache version of who they are. I just don't think some two-dimensional card-board cut-out can replace the real deal.

The whole idea seems -to me -more than a bit choppy. In fact, I generally have a strong distaste for it.

So here's something out of left field I'm going to use as a logical basis to reverse-engineer what I believe Shidduch questions should really get down to:

Dr. Gottman (and his wife, also a Dr. Gottman), runs the Gottman Institute -a specialized research and therapy clinic in Seattle -and has been doing research on couples who make it and who don't, particularly the differences and reasons why, for years. Of the many things he's found, one is that nearly 60% of arguments in relationships simply don't get resolved. Here's the kicker, though, it's how the individuals and the couple together engage these issues (and what they do afterwards) that determines whether they are successful and happy or miserable and failing. 

While I'm not the biggest fan of matching everything 100% -heaven knows I'm not your average "in the box" definable character and I doubt it's even possible to make that kind of exact match -what I care most about very much boils down to two things: (a) the one or two values I hold most dear and (b) pretty much how they deal with their partner when faced with differences and stress. 

So when I get questions like "Would you rather a woman who wants to work or stay at home?" or "Do you want someone who is willing to move or not?" I will tend to push beyond them, because those bits of information are generally less important to me than what her values are and how she would handle said issue in a relationship.

What happens if I don't make enough money to support a family? What happens if circumstances or opportunities favor or require the family to move? Life doesn't just work out the way we want it to, it doesn't conform to our ideals. But we can engage the issue together, listen to each others' concerns, fears, anxieties, consider each others' values and do our best to weigh it out and forge our path together.

Instead of seeing closed-ended questions that require "Yes" or "No" answers or picking from a list of options and preferences, I'd like to see open ended questions, I want to know what a husband's learning means to her and how she would engage the ideal of her husband's learning. Would she encourage him, take some more responsibility to free up time for him to learn? Does she expect it to be a silent and implicit agreement, something that's just "understood"? Would she demand he learns and expect he will do just as much as she does around the house in addition to working? I want to know what Israel means to her, not just whether or not she's decided to live there the rest of her life (and if she's expecting someone else who also decided to live their for the rest of his life). If she wants to move, I'd like to understand what about Israel -being there, living there, raising a family there -is important, how it adds meaning, what values play into her desire to live there. If not, I still want to know her values regarding Israel (or her values regarding __[Fill in Here]__).

Now, if a woman dreams of things I clearly cannot give her, and her dreams are so passionate and key to her values that she decides she needs someone who shares them, then seeing that discrepancy makes the decision very clear and easy.

In fact, I had this recently happen with a woman I went on a date with; we talked afterwards, explored some of the differences we noticed, and I asked questions about her passions, dreams and values. Turns out she and I have certain differences regarding our values, and we parted ways with a lot of respect, care and appreciation for each others' values. The decision practically made itself.

I have to say, though, that had she been more open to the differences, I was sufficiently impressed with the way we communicated I'd have very likely continued dating her. As it was, for this particular difference, she was not open to living with and engaging the issue, our differences, the lifestyles we would juxtapose, merge or share. It was the same with the previous woman I dated. (Personally, I partially chalk that up to young idealism.)

Clearly, each person has things they choose not to compromise, expecting their spouse to embody or embrace the mindset or value they have. I have one or two of them myself, of course, and I hold onto them because they are supremely dear to me.

I do think that open-ended questions (often beginning with "what" or "how")  get to the heart of those values, and I'd rather find out what those values are and how she handles differences. We've all got them, and we'll all end up with them in our relationships. If it's not about Israel or Hashkafah, it's about where to put the Pesach dishes, how to load the dishwasher, the toilet seat or shoe shopping. I'll bet, in most cases, how these issues are dealt with and whether or not a person is willing to be flexible on the issue will determine the result (Disclaimer: I assume there is chemistry/attraction, because a lack tends to result in a non-starter anyways).

I have been warned, though, that not everybody is so artful and articulate in communicating their most treasured values, or how they handle differences. So, while I'd like to see more of it involved in the process of being set up, that's a huge part of what I consider in dating.

Still, I think that if more of this were integrated into the process of setting people up, there would be a higher quality within matches, resulting in fewer ridiculous and hilarious Shidduch stories.


  1. when you chalk up being rejected to "young idealsim", that quick comment made me question a lot of what you wrote. (maybe it is because i am young and idealistic, coincidence?) could you elaborate on that? did you mean to write inexperienced? how can you say that when you write about your own ideals and high expectations for your spouse in this post? please correct me if i misunderstood.

    on another point, your whole post just makes me feel like we have entered a new stage of putting people into boxes. we all know that people are more then a shidduch profile. of course you can expect to communicate with your date about your values and you know, important stuff. and in the defense of shadchanim, how much are you really going to blame the shadchan for that? its your job to figure out if you and potential spouse can make it work. the shadchan can do her best to make sure the logistics can work out practically speaking, but she is just trying to cover as many bases as she can. the easiest way to try to figure ppl out is to basically judge them, what we see on the surface is what we understand, not that its justified, but its the best that some can do. se la vie

  2. I mean that in my experience, younger people often hold onto (by which I mean, expect their significant other to think, believe and act exactly the same as they do) certain values or ideals that they become more flexible about later on in life.

    I can give an example -one woman wouldn't date me because I don't have a problem with evolution. Not because I'm an avid evolutionist and believe my parents are one generation closer to monkeys, but simply for not believing it's outside the realm of possibility.

    I was the same when I was twenty -holding onto and expecting a significant other to think just as I do in some very peculiar ways. And to be fair, each of these women were fantastic woman that I enjoyed dating and found very flexible in many ways that I really appreciate(d).

    When we parted ways and I had an understanding of why, I ran it by several people, some wiser and more experienced than I as well as a few of my peers, and got a unanimous consensus.

    If a shadchan is a logistics coordinator, than why does s/he have the title of "match-maker"? In such a case, am I being suggested a match, or being introduced to members of a specific population, a pool of people who are similar to myself? (These are not questions I have an answer to, because it is not my place to tell a Shadchan/Shadchanit what his/her job is and how to do it, though I have my own attitudes and personal approach.)

    I am also careful not to point a finger or blame a Shadchan(it), because I have nothing but respect, appreciation and gratitude for every bit of time, effort and work they put in -and I know they put in A LOT -when thinking about me, making a suggestion or setting up a match.

    I've found Shadchanim/Shadchaniyot to be wonderful, despite my early experience and bad impressions. I overcame that resistance, but I do answer their questions the way I'd like to portray myself and based on my own values. And I would like to see more of that in the process of setting me up.

  3. I understand where you’re coming from; sometime Shadchanim can ask some very pointed questions. What you must understand is that those questions are a way for them to limit their suggestions to a smaller pool of potentials. There is no way there’re going to be able to know everything about you as well as what values you hold near and dear. Perhaps they should I ask better question, but why not rectify the situation yourself. Make their questions open-minded. My suggestion in this case is not to be the innocent victim being cross-examined, but a lawyer on rebuttal. When asked a yes or no type question take the intuitive to state your ideals: An example would be like “in an ideal world I would like a stay at home wife, since I value a mother who devotes her life to her children, however, being that I am a smart, capable, and intuitive individual I know that in the scheme of things that isn’t a necessity or even a reality. Besides, the main character trait that I value in a potential spouse is…”

    Lastly, there is no way for a shadchan to determine who will “settle” on what, no matter what the shadchan tells you. Essentially, you’re going to have to go out and really get to know the person and their values. At that point you can decide if your wants are really your needs. Interestingly, I’ve seen people compromise on things they’ve said they’d never comprise on. I suspect it’s not that they lost their ideals per se, but they realized what a great person they’ve found and they’re willing to give up on something else for it.

  4. @SiBaW:

    Thanks for your wisdom. Often, my not giving a "straight answer" takes the form of me communicating to a shadchan(it) the underlying values I have and the ones I am looking for. Because -as I noted above -that's what I believe the questions should get down to.

    I have had VERY positive responses and wonderful experiences communicating this way with Shadchanim/Shadchaniyot and it's not about expectations, but how I approach (them, the process, etc) and what I request from them (aka let them know I'm looking for).

    So while I'd like to see a bit more of that (in my ideal world), I don't have ridiculous expectations nor do I hold others responsible for my own approach or goals in dating. I simply go about my own way.

  5. Your post is indeed similar to mine

    Sorry for the delay in reading, I couldn't agree better and i admire you ability to focus on the meaning of differences versus the actual difference (aka young idealism)