I was wondering what the panelists feel about what I think to be a worthless and time-consuming practice of calling the friends of singles in shidduchim.
Don’t people understand that every boy you call about is going to be “a huge masmid, who still has a lot of friends.” Of course, “he has tons of personality, but isn’t the loud type. He is a huge baal middos, but not your next mashgiach.” And so on, with the similar adjectives of a good, solid, all-around learning-boy. And, of course, he doesn’t smoke or drink.
Does it really change your opinion of the boy if you hear his friend say it, when you can just imagine it for the same price?
You might call it misplaced loyalty to their friends when they don’t say the truth, but that’s the way it is, and it won’t change, because it’s uncomfortable for someone to speak negatively about his friend, even in this circumstance, with so much on the line.
[Also, I must add, asking the “callee” not to mention the call to his friend does absolutely nothing, and although it is not right, and it is foolish and detrimental to the process, it will happen anyway.]
I expounded on the example of a boy, but all of the above is true regarding girls too.
Why waste your time and why burden the friends when there’s nothing to gain from making this call?
While you raise an excellent point, and one which I feel addresses a challenge that many struggle with, I believe that the answer to your question is rather straightforward, and lies in understanding the basic and fundamental differences between calling listed and non-listed references regarding a prospective shidduch.
While there can be much to gain from calling friends and listed references, as we will discuss momentarily, such calls rarely succeed in the sharing of potentially concerning information which must be addressed. As such, it is almost always necessary to make calls specifically to non-listed references – i.e., reaching out to one’s own personal connections who may know about the young man or woman in question.
The primary goal of these calls is to ascertain whether or not there are any major concerns which listed references would not have shared or perhaps were not aware of, and to determine if any concerns one may have heard about are spurious or valid.
The purpose of the initial calls made to listed references, however, is entirely different. Such calls are made in order to gain a precursory understanding of the personality and better qualities of the single person in question, and to then gauge whether or not it sounds like a shidduch which is shayach. Because the listed references are generally those who know the single person best, they are usually most capable of providing an accurate, general description of the toichen of that young man or woman.
Wanting to be involved in kiruv in a small town is a great and admirable quality, but it likely will not match up with a single who wants to live in a larger and more bustling Jewish community. Being thoughtful, calculated, and deliberate are wonderful maalos, but often are not simpatico with someone who must live life moving at a faster pace.
That is what calling listed references is all about. Trying to estimate, to the best of one’s ability, if the two people being redd to one another would appear to be a good match – based on their personalities and what they are looking for in a spouse and in life.
Conversely, if the references one finds on their own do not know the young man or woman as well as the listed references do, even if they are “more” honest and forthcoming, they may also be misinformed or have outdated information regarding the description and nature of the single being researched. Wrong or misleading information is just as bad, if not far worse, than exaggerated information.
Consequently, if one deliberately refrains from calling any of the close friends, rebbeim and teachers listed as references, it quite often leads to a pernicious gathering of information which is less than stellar as far as precision of description goes.
As far as the concern that friends and listed references will always speak in a manner which is exaggeratedly l’tov, and will ascribe positive attributes regardless of whether or not they are actually reflective of the person under discussion, there are strategies to employ which can alleviate such concerns.
Although there is not space enough in this response to share a comprehensive strategy for shidduch research, the basic premise is a two-step tactic I heard from a superb workshop given by Rabbi Tzodek Katz at a recent Aguda Convention.
1. Ask opened-ended questions. Rather than asking pointed questions, such as, “Is she a baales chessed?” or “Does he have good middos?”, which will 99.9% of the time lead to a hearty “YES!” in response, instead, ask questions such as, “Can you tell me about this person?” or “What qualities about this person stand out most in your mind?”.
2. Once specific qualities or traits are shared, that is the time to lead the conversation towards the particulars of that quality or trait. As more points are freely mentioned by the person being interviewed, the questioner can then go through them one at a time to get elucidation and elaboration on each point.
As an added benefit, if one speaks with two or three people, and more than one of them shares an identical quality without prompting of that point, there is a greater likelihood that what is being said is indeed reflective and descriptive of the single person being inquired about.
Subsequently, one can go back and contemplate whether the qualities that were shared are those which they deemed important in assessing if this particular shidduch sounds shayach to them.
If, indeed, such qualities were voluntarily shared, that says a great deal. If they were not, it is possible that the single one is asking about does not match up with the qualities one is looking for. Or, it may mean that now is the time for more pointed questions – not check-list style pointed questions, but pointed questions for a very real and substantive reason.
Given such a strategy, and with a richer understanding of the framework and purpose of calling both listed and non-listed references, I believe one can see the value in calling the friends of the young man or woman for descriptive information.
Finally, I must add, regarding one prat, you are 100% correct. It is utterly inappropriate for friends to share these conversations with one another, and especially with the friend about whom the call was placed. Such conversations are not merely “foolish and detrimental to the process”, but they have directly led to the demise of many a fine shidduch – a rather heavy burden for one to carry.
Stating that it happens anyway, as a catch-all-excuse, is no excuse whatsoever. The fact that many people may engage in a davar ha’assur is no hetter to continue doing so. Perhaps more important than everything else discussed herein, it would behoove all young men and women to do what is right, and keep these conversations to themselves, as has been explicitly stated time and time again by many rabbonim and poiskim.
B’ezras Hashem, we should all be matzliach in handling ourselves properly at both ends of the shidduch research call, and may it lead to shalom, shalva, and successful shidduchim.