I am the mother of a boy in shidduchim. We are looking into a shidduch and we asked the shadchan to find out what the other side’s plan is regarding support. Their reply was, “Our daughter is not being sold,” and they will only discuss money matters once the shidduch is really serious. What do the panelists feel about this? How are we to react?
As a preface, I believe that both your point-of-view and that of the young woman’s parents are justifiable and understandable; and before answering your question, I would like to first take a look at what may be behind the scenes of this challenge you have been given.
Metzad echad, the provision of support by the family of the young woman is by no means a new concept. Although we rarely use the term dowry in this day and age, depending on how you look at it, monthly support is essentially either a long-term-pledge version of a dowry, or a debt-financed version in a society already overburdened with debt. Whatever framework one might use to operationalize the definition, bride-family supplied support is news which is millennia old, and the expectation that it be provided is neither uncouth nor inappropriate.
Metzad sheini, although I am not a historian, it does appear that we have moved from dowries being offered by the bride’s side – which are either accepted or turned down – to support often being demanded by the groom’s side as a sticker price for bachurim, with access to those deemed to be “top bachurim” reserved only for the most exclusive consumers. It is actually the young men who are being sold and the young women and their families who are doing the purchasing – and frequently feeling very forced when doing so.
The fact that we have bachurim being told that, based on their somewhat arbitrarily placed hierarchical position in yeshiva, they must take no less than “X” or “Y” amount of monthly support to even look at a shidduch, is a standard which I believe could quite fairly be excoriated. Such a construct enfeebles both the young men, who are now turning away opportunities which they probably ought not to, and the young women, whose already marginalized opportunities are now made even slimmer.
Given the above undercurrent flowing through the way we approach financial support in shidduchim, it can hardly be surprising that it touches a sore spot for many families and leads to powerful and emotional reactions such as the one you received.
If we can appreciate the above as the potential background which, indeed, lead to the reply you received, and not view the young woman’s parents as being unnecessarily parsimonious, I feel we can now better delve into what might be a reasonable response from your side.
Assuming this is a shidduch which you feel is meritorious – once the matter of support is removed – I see no reason to turn away now. However, there are a bevy of questions which need to be addressed before deciding what the next step of action should be. For example:
Does your son need support because you are not in a position to support him fully while he is not earning any parnassah, or do you, on principle, believe that the support must come entirely, or primarily, from the young woman’s side?
Have you figured out how much money your son and his future wife will likely require in monthly support for the first number of years after they are married, and is your expectation of support based on that number, or is the expectation based on what someone has decided your son is “worth” in the “shidduch market”?
Is this young woman already working, is she in school with plans to be working soon, or does she not plan on working at all, and has that been factored into what you are looking for in support from her side?
When the dust settles, what is left?
Granted, though there may be countless different situations in which you might find yourself after answering the above questions – along with any other relevant and important questions which may need addressing – I would like to focus here on three possible outcomes. It is my hope that, b’ezras Hashem, you will be able to extrapolate from these examples and navigate through the personal scenario in which you have been left.
Outcome #1. If you are in a position to support your son, but feel that obligation should fall on the side of the young woman, to the point that you will not entertain moving forward until you are told what they can offer in support, unfortunately, you may have arrived at an impasse.
It sounds unlikely that they will give you a number just because they are being told to, especially if they are of the belief that you can, and should, be the ones to support. And if you are not interested in moving forward without a number from them, it will have become a stalemate. Perhaps you could appoint a go-between who could delicately unearth the path to progression, but it appears that would be a mighty task.
Outcome #2. If you are able to support fully, or at least half, once your son’s expenses and potential family income have been calculated, but would like for that support to be shared, it becomes an entirely different scenario. It does not sound like this young woman’s parents can not, or will not, share in the support of their daughter. Rather, it seems they believe that discussion is best left until such time as the shidduch looks promising, long-term.
Considering that the topic of money can be a challenging one, it is understandable why someone would prefer to wait and see if it is actually necessary to have it at all. If it turns out that your son and this young woman are not for one another, and the shidduch ends after just a few dates, you will have been spared a potentially uncomfortable negotiation which would have been for naught. And if it turns out to be a shidduch with promise, it would seem likely, in this case, that you will be able to reach a fair agreement regarding support – given your ability to support and what seems like their likely ability to provide support as well.
Outcome #3. If you are unable to provide much support, if any at all, and your son and this young woman will not be able to generate enough income to cover their expenses for the first number of post-marriage years, it would be downright irresponsible to wait until the two of them are nearly ready to get engaged before figuring out if there is enough support and income for them to live.
In such a case, this must be politely and straightforwardly explained to the parents of this young woman so that together you can figure out if this shidduch is shayach on the grounds of parnassah. I am sure that neither of you want your children in a situation where they very much want to get married but simply have no way to make ends meet.
As mentioned previously, these are but three of an infinite number of outcomes, and it is my hope that discussing them will prove beneficial to you. May Hashem help you to successfully find your way through your personal scenario, and may He bring your son his eizer k’negdo with mazal and glick.