In my first semester at Yeshiva University (goodness, that feels like ages ago), I read an email sent out by Rabbi Blau (the head S'gan Mashgiach at YU) that had a D'var Torah relating to dating. I remember reading the heading and clicking on the email, I remember that it was a Friday morning and I'd just brought breakfast back to my room. All those little details have been seared onto the tablet of my mind because of the incredible impact it had on me.
He wrote about the Avot and the way that the Torah mentions their acquiring a spouse. For Avraham, there is no note, no story, no indication of how he ended up with Sarah. For Yitzchak, Eliezer was the quintessential Shadchan, and as for Ya'akov, well, he met his wife at the local watering hole, impressed her by lifting a giant stone and proceeded to get an invitation to stay at her parents house, where he boarded for no less than fourteen years and married not only the woman he had eyes for, but her sister as well. The man practically lived with his future wives and their entire family. The entire point of his email and juxtaposing the stories of how the Avot met their wives (and the lack thereof, in the case of Avraham) was to illuminate that there is no single prescribed method of finding one's spouse. There's no "right" or "wrong" in terms of how you meet the person.
(Which is to say, also, that no matter what method is used, there is an appropriate and inappropriate way to comport oneself. Tzniyut is not a matter of method, it's a matter of an individual's composure. By extension, perhaps, Tzniyut may be a matter of personal composure rather than cultural or social norming. But that's a completely different topic for a later time.)
While I used to vehemently disagree and have serious issues with the Shidduch systerm (and I've still got my squabbles), I've opened myself to being more flexible. After all, it's not just about picking a particular method and wanting different results (or one result in particular, but only the Almighty knows how I'll get there). It's about being open to whatever method or means will get me there, and so flexibility in trying any different approaches is paramount. Sounds simple enough, right?
Sadly, it's not so simple. I've increasingly found myself restricted by procedural norms and expectations, by social taboos and no-no's. I'm finding that while the Torah shows flexibility, the community does not embrace it. Which, perhaps, is why that email had such a profound impact on me; and maybe why it was necessary for Rabbi Blau to write and send out. Out there, in the Frum dating universe, all manner of expectations and guidelines get in the way of people meeting and marrying one another. But, of course, the onus is placed on singles, adding pressure with some version of a "crisis" that feeds anxiety to the singles who may have no idea or care for the system's rigidity, but are placed in a pressure cooker all the same.
When the Jews were in Egypt, the men enslaved and working brutally long days for over hundreds of years, did they have time and money to pay dowry, or to pick up a woman in a car and drive her down the Boulevard? Was everyone freaking out about the lack of male availability, since they were being whipped and driven to near-death (and do you really think there were more men available for dating then as compared to now)? Did Ya'akov and Mosheh put up a Mechitzah so that they wouldn't interact with women when they went to the local watering-hole? Did they avert their eyes from women, from opportunity, from interacting, from potential to find a spouse?
So, I'm choosing to internalize Rabbi Blau's message. I can date however I like. Anyone with an objection to my brazen flouting of convention -whether that be occasional or regularly -may, courteously (or not, as they so wish), bugger off. (Which is not to say I'll go out drinking and partying in the name of finding a spouse. In my eyes, that is inappropriate behavior. Tzniut, as mentioned above, is a matter of personal composure rather than ascribing to convention.) While I'll be significantly more gentle and empathetic with a woman I'm dating, she if it bothers her so much, she may not be for me.