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Apr 10, 2012

Choices #1: The Many, The Bad

I can't count how many times I have heard that men have an overabundance and women a paucity of choices in shidduchim. And, of course, the implication is that men are better off. While I'm very willing to admit that as a man I realize that I have some important privilege, particularly when it comes to my age and expectations for marriage, I don't think the choices -both the many for men or the few for women -are particularly good for us as daters.

Some research has recently been indicating that having more choices actually leads to worse decisions (see here and here for details). The idea, generally, is that when there are over 10-15 options to choose from, people actually make worse choices or actively push off and avoid making a choice altogether.

Imagine a guy who has 40+ resumes sitting on his desk; it can be downright overwhelming (and I know, some people would say "we should all be so lucky!") but having a constant flow of more choices coming in, and so little time to really explore a given choice makes for a growing number of options, which may actually lead to increasingly worse decisions in dating. In large part precisely because we don't have the time to adequately or fully explore the choice, the option, the suggestion.

I know from personal experience that it can be overwhelming; I dislike having even a handful of suggestions at once, the options and choices begin to weigh on me and I absolutely abhor the idea of having to choose between suggestions. As if people can be compared, or comparing profiles will give me an edge or help me make a better choice. Profiles cannot and do not communicate who a woman is. Comparing them is a very arbitrary way of choosing one over the other. And I hate choosing one over the other. Either I'm interested in dating a woman, or I'm not. Looking at two and comparing them does absolutely no good for me.

I therefore often choose to allow only very few suggestions at a time, opting to set my profile as "busy reviewing matches" and telling my friends and other shadchanim that I would like to hear about the wonderful woman at a later time when I have a clear mind and give her my full attention.

But that's what we start to do when we have so many choices; our brains look for ways to screen them, to filter and reduce the number of choices. I think a lot of that is just to relieve the pressure of having so many options, and the ways we filter can -and may often be -arbitrary. Can some of that be good? I'm sure. Can some of that be bad? I'm sure of that too. So instead of fully exploring each individual suggestion, we just create automatic filters to reduce the number of suggestions to choose from to save time, energy and relieve the pressure.

As a quick example, having pictures of those 40+ profiles; that's a lot to choose from! I could go picking out each one I find attractive or pretty, and that may be 25 or 35 or all 40 of them. Let's say it's 25, for the sake of reducing the numbers. Now there are 25 viable options, and I would still need to choose somewhere between 1-4 of them to go out with (right now). So then I may order the pictures from the ones I find most attractive to the least attractive, and perhaps choose the 3 most attractive to me. Or Perhaps I choose the 7 most attractive to me and then look at their resumes or profiles to differentiate them by some other (often randomly/subconsciously chosen) criteria.

That may be one way of filtering out choices. What does a picture give? A slice of the person. Literally, a two-dimensional image of their three-dimensional self. I may rank one lower because of her smile or facial expression, body language or clothing. Those are all judgments based on a single frame, a flattened version of the person. I often find they aren't representative -most often in a good way -in my experience most women are more than their photographs would imply, both in personality and in attractiveness. (Though I believe there's a difference in taking a picture as a filtering mechanism versus a slice of information.)

So then, having chosen a few to date, most often the others would be forgotten, or set aside for quite some time while these are pursued. Now these arbitrary criteria determine how we limit our choices and reduce them to a few so that we can make a more manageable choice, choosing where to spend our time and who to spend our time further exploring. Reasonable in terms of resource management, but also ridiculous in terms of making a good decision. (As a side note, it may encourage people to take a look at the filtering mechanisms and focus on them rather than character, a la Yitta.)

What's worse is that over time, these screening mechanisms that we use to filter suggestions so that we don't get overwhelmed become a habit so that we screen each and every suggestion by them. Our dating criteria may even develop out of habitual use of arbitrary filters we use to whittle down an overwhelming pile of suggestions (and from experiences on dates, which create positive/negative associations with people who are from a particular city, went to a given school/seminary/yeshiva/college, or are in a particular profession).

I wonder how many gems we disregard, how many wonderful people and fantastic suggestions we neglect and throw aside because of those filters turned into habit made into criteria.

Oh, and by the way, I also don't think this is limited to men. Women also use filters which become habits and turn into criteria; perhaps not always out of an overabundance of choices, but for other reasons and from other pressures.


  1. Hmmm I would still like to have that many to choose from.

  2. I think it's poor planning (if you will) to not be able to "whittle" down choices based on certain criteria. 40 girls is a lot of girls to choose from, but there must be some characteristics or qualities you value more than others. I won't go into looks because I think that one is foolish- as you mentioned, pictures are two dimensional- but what about what's written on the resume? There have to be qualities that you look for, and there must be values and ideals that you give more importance to than others. Then it's a matter of yes, choosing, making a rational decision as to which of the 40 girls you think are most suited for you.

    You point out several times that criteria are "arbitrary." Really? There are no qualities that you want in your wife? No qualities that you don't want in your wife? Presumably (I would hope anyway), that you do have some in mind. Got one? Any one? Awesome. Now you can start your whittling. :)

    Good luck!

    1. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!

      When I see a resume/profile, I see information. What I don't see -and what I'd really like to know -is character. I care more about character than how often someone goes to shul or how many years they went to HASC because neither of those things communicate their relationship with God, with other people or with themselves. They don't give an accurate image of the person's character.

      I don't really think screening based on what's on paper or in a profile is effective, because of the nature in what's on paper (at least in my experience). I have yet to read a resume/profile that gives me a feel for who the person is, how they relate to the world, how they interact with others and how they cope with life.

      Sure, there are things I'm looking for, but those things -in my experience -tend to show up later in the process. Meanwhile, having to decide between a bunch of potentials with just some scraps of information doesn't quite make sense to me.