As the opening of the freezer approaches, we sat down our son during his recent Shabbos at home for a little shmooze to determine what exactly he is looking for. As we sat in his bedroom, it was clear that he wished to be anywhere but sitting there with my husband and me. He even told us that he was dreading this conversation.
“What do you mean, ‘What am I looking for’?” he told us gently. “You know who I am.”
We sense that he is uncomfortable telling us exactly what he is looking for. How do we get this information? As he is our oldest, this is our first experience with this particular question.
By the way, should you tell me, “You’re out of touch. You should know your son better,” let me inform you that I have been told by a dozen of my friends at different times that they all encountered this very same challenge with their own sons. Apparently, there is a disconnect of some sort between boys and their parents, or the range of girls whom our sons can marry is so wide that it is hard to identify exactly what we should be zoned in on. How do we proceed?
Being that I am unfamiliar with you, your son, and your particular family history – outside of what you have shared here – any attempt at proffering a definitive answer to your question would be armchair psychology at best. However, I strongly believe that you are correct in assessing that you are far from the only parent facing this challenge. As such, any attempt to explain it away by asserting that you are out of touch with your son is a cop-out and an unfair dismissal of what is more likely a larger and more fundamental issue.
What I would like to offer you then, are four factors which may be contributing to his disinclination to answer your question, and a possible strategy of how to approach it.
Factor #1: In a day and age where from ages 14 – 20+ most of our sons attend yeshiva for the vast majority of the year – and often follow that up with a summer activity away from their families – it is not at all uncommon for young men to retract from discussing major life topics with their parents. Rabbeim and friends can slowly supplant parents and family, and most meaningful conversations about life end up taking place in a Rebbi’s office or in the dormitory. Add that to the general recalcitrance of teenagers, and you have the perfect recipe for detachment.
Perhaps your son’s laconic response is due to his having had this conversation many times before, and he is not interested in chazaring it again? He may be simply hoping that you know everything there is to know, just like everyone else close to him, and now you can start with finding him a shidduch post-haste.
Factor #2: Because frum yiddishkeit calls for a complete separation of genders, many young men and women do not know how to articulate what it is they are looking for in their counterpart. They simply lack the descriptors because they lack the exposure. If a young man has no real concept of femininity, other than his relationship with female family members, he may not be sure how to express what characteristics in a young woman he wants or needs.
Perhaps your son would very much like to tell you what he is looking for but does not have the framework to describe it and is hoping that you, as a married person, will fill in the blanks for him?
Factor #3. While yeshivas teach our sons a great deal, and their value to the perpetuation of yahadus cannot be overstated, they often do little when it comes to assisting their attendees in understanding themselves in the context of dating and marriage. Whether or not that is a yeshiva’s function is outside the scope of this forum. Until one understands themselves, they cannot possibly begin to know what they are looking for. If you are a hot dog, you are likely on a quest for catsup and mustard, if you are ice cream, you are probably looking for chocolate syrup and caramel. But until one figures that out, they will be at a loss. How is one to know what will complete and complement themselves before they have arrived at clarity in what it is that needs completion and complementing?
Perhaps your son is still figuring himself out and looking for lucidity as to his own self-definition? Until he does so, he really won’t be able to share with anyone what he needs or wants in a spouse.
Factor #4. Young men and women in frum society have tremendous pressure when it comes to what is expected of them, be it explicit pressure or tacit. Furthermore, when it comes to shidduchim, many believe that unless they state certain things about themselves and what they are looking for, they will never find a shidduch. This can often lead to one’s painfully disguising what they truly want for themselves in the future; out of fear or embarrassment that if they reveal the truth they will be looked at askance, or worse, condescended upon and told that they are not “normahl”. Sometimes, they are right, and speaking their mind will lead to a lengthy mussar schmooze; other times they might, surprisingly, be wholly accepted. Either way, young men and women are often afraid of being frank when it comes to shidduchim, and justifiably so in a culture that habitually demands a great deal of monotony and conformity.
Perhaps your son is concerned that if he shares what he really wants, he will be admonished or told he is looking for the wrong thing? As such, any meaningful elaboration on the topic is – quite understandably – anathema to him.
It is also entirely possible that none of the above is apropos of your personal situation, and there is something else at the root of your son’s hesitation in broaching this topic in greater detail with you. Furthermore, it is crucial not to discount the possibility that he may not want to enter shidduchim yet. Granted, he is out of the freezer, and he may be hearing that he should be ready, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he feels that he is yet.
Whatever the case may be, once again, as you stated in your question, I find it doubtful that the answer here is, “you should know your son better.”
Consequently, regarding how you may want to proceed, I believe the goal here is not one of simple information extraction. Rather, the more valuable goal is to successfully and caringly lead your son into feeling comfortable with sharing with you either what it is that he is looking for or why it is that he is having difficulty expressing it. Given this goal, the strategy I would recommend is that of a series of straightforward and nurturing conversations.
If your son is not willing or able to respond to the close-ended question of, “what are you looking for?”, you may need to broaden the conversation and employ more open-ended questions. Hopefully, doing so will lead to him expounding on what he is looking for, so you may find the answers you are looking for.
It would be prudent to let your son know that even though you know him well, you do not want to make any assumptions about what he is looking for in a shidduch and that you want to be absolutely sure that you are all on the same page. And that if he not ready to start dating, that is perfectly fine.
Assure him that there are no wrong answers or feelings, and that it is completely normal for a single person entering shidduchim to find it difficult to define what they are looking for in the person they hope to spend the rest of their life with. Help him to understand that this is a process; and that he is not expected to simply take care of it with two generic sentences stating a handful of stereotypes used to describe the type of young woman he would like to marry.
In short, the more you talk about it, and the more you talk in general in an open and loving way, the more likely he is to open up and discuss the matter with you in depth and honesty. May Hashem Yisborach give you the chochma, binah, and daas to guide your son through the parsha of shidduchim, and may you and he find the experience to be one of mutual growth and greater connection.