My question might not have a true answer, but I’d like the panelists’ input nonetheless. As a shadchan, I have found it difficult to deal with I perceive to be skewed priorities among so many people I deal with, though to differing degrees. In my experience, I have come across many individuals who would have had “undesirable” résumés – including families that have dysfunction, illness or disability – who emerge to become the most amazing, kind, sensitive, thoughtful, loyal and special spouses and parents. I have also discovered many individuals with “perfect” résumés – from the “perfect” families and with the perfect pedigrees, appearance, education and interests – who turn out to be cruel, selfish, and simply horrible spouses and parents. How do I convey this message to singles and their parents?
Your question touches on what I believe are two of the greatest difficulties in todays shidduch system, and as you noted in your question, I cannot say that I have a true solution to the problem. I would, however, like to offer some thoughts that may prove helpful to you in some way. The first difficulty you touch on is that of skewed priorities. In a beautiful Klal Perspectives article, entitled, Six Conversations About Marriage: A Guide, which I highly recommend that every parent in the shidduch parsha reads, Rabbi Moshe Hauer writes the following: “Our community too often focuses on form over substance, leading to simplistic and externally-driven decision making,..” and furthermore, “Sometimes, young people may move ahead with a marriage simply because everything seems right on paper – they have dated the expected number of times and nothing has gone wrong, they are impressed by the resume and the trappings around the shidduch and/or they feel some kind of unspoken (if not spoken) pressure to close the deal. However, they may not be sufficiently in touch with themselves to be able to tell whether they really are interested in the person and not just in the shidduch.” I don’t feel I could possibly say it better than Rabbi Hauer has above, and I think he has very succinctly summed up one of the major issues with the shidduch system.
The second difficulty you touch on is that unless someone is fortunate enough to be redt a shidduch by a relative or family friend who knows both singles personally and well, the starting point for a parent or single is often nothing more than a piece of paper that has been sent their way. At that point they then begin to do their best to ascertain if the living breathing person that is being reflected on a sheet of computer paper may in fact be their future spouse. Every Jewish man and woman has a special techunas hanefesh, and each person has their unique mailos and chesroinos. These are things that cannot possibly be conveyed on paper. Even in conversation with those who know the single personally, it can be practically impossible to grasp a full understanding when all you have is maybe an hour, and much of that time is taken getting the basic necessary information, “the vitals,” as it were. What then can a shadchan who is dong their utmost to be circumspect and redt an appropriate shidduch do, when facing these challenges? How then can a family looking into a shidduch that is being presented make proper decisions? To some degree, much of this is truly out of the shadchan’s hands. If a shadcan feels that a young man and woman might be just right for each other, and each of the singles are wonderful and growing people, the shadchan should do their very best to strongly convey that, and redt the shidduch. If one of the families then gets hung up on some of the trappings, or they find out something they don’t like, but that may in fact be entirely immaterial as it relates to the young man or woman being the right match for their child, you must state your case and makethat point if that is what you believe. However, as long as the person you are speaking with is not willing to look at the bigger, and more important picture, there will only be so much you can do. You can, and should, in an as nicely but equally as firmly a manner, convey this message, and hope that the person you are speaking with will hear it. Enlisting a trusted rov, teacher or mentor who is close with the family, that could convey the message, might also successfully persuade the family to reconsider when appropriate. Often times, the perspective of a family rov or mentor will be more successful in helping the family make the right decision, and a shadchan should be sure to reach out to them when such advice needs to be relayed.This is not to say that there are never outside factors that turn an otherwise great sounding shidduch into an idea that is not realistic or shayach, but we must all be completely honest with ourselves and make a decision. Is this a factor which is material to the shidduch, or, as Rabbi Hauer said, are we focusing on form over substance for insubstantial or misguided reasons? It is incumbent on us all to face this question with true clarity, honesty and integrity. I hope that you will have the strength and ability to help those in the shidduch parsha make intelligent, informed, wise decisions, based on substance, and not on form or outside trappings. May Hashem help you to continue with unbridled hatzlacha in your avoidas hakoidesh.