Tactics for Preparing References & Fielding Shidduch Calls
In Part I of this series, we primarily discussed how crucial it is to be sure that when one is presented with a shidduch idea for feedback one’s response is substantive and thoughtful, and never purely reactionary. We concluded by noting that the most proper way to make decisions about a shidduch is via meaningful information that comes as a result of appropriate shidduch research.
Fair Warning and Keeping Current
Now that we have reached the topic of shidduch research, there are a number of items I would like to share as to how to successfully go about it. The first items pertain to the single young men and women themselves and their parents. From there, we will move into a number of matters concerning those receiving calls about a shidduch and how to present information properly. This series will continue in the upcoming issue of the Where What When, where we will conclude with a discussion relating to those making the shidduch research calls, and how to do so most productively.
When putting together a shidduch profile, one of the most important pieces of information to be listed are the references. One should never assume that the people listed will know just what to say and be ready to say it. Before putting anyone on the reference list, it is vital to call them and ask if they are comfortable being a reference. This also gives the reference the courtesy of preparing what they might say about the single person when the calls come in. Additionally, there may be people on one’s list who have the most wonderful things to say, but are just not good at fielding shidduch calls. If one senses that to be case, when speaking with the potential reference, it would be best not to include them in the reference list. It is nothing personal, it is purely a matter of making sure that the references listed are those who are more adroit at the undertaking.
While the above may seem obvious, there is a strong tendency when putting together a profile to think of five to ten people who seem like a good fit, quickly list their names and numbers, and just hope for the best or assume it will be all right. There is no question that friends, teachers, and rabbanim all want to help, and want to vouch for the singles they know with all of their heart. However, that does not mean that each of them is the right person for this job; and even if they are, it is most advantageous to give the references advance notice so that they may mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for the conversation.
Even though doing so requires a little bit of extra time, a commodity most people are short on these days, it will be well worth the hour or so spent truly thinking about who is most suitable to be listed as a reference and then checking in with them to make sure they are comfortable, capable, and equipped for the task at hand.
Finally, one should always make sure to list references with whom one is still in touch and can speak intelligently about the single and the family with up-to-date information. Every so often, one should look over their profile and replace references as needed when there is someone better to list, or if there is a reference on the profile with whom one hasn’t been in contact for months. And, of course, the new references should be contacted and informed that they have been placed on the profile.
As a small, and most likely obvious aside, it is best to list references from the most recent point in one’s life. Unless there is a very real reason to do so, listing middle school teachers, and even high school rebbeim for young men who have been out of high school for four or five years, can make people look askance at the profile.
In short, the references listed on the shidduch profile will likely be providing the first impression on one’s behalf, and one must be sure they are the right people for the job, and are ready and able to do it.
Receiving the Call: Positivity and Specificity
On the receiving end of a shidduch call, if one has been listed as a reference, hopefully one has also been made aware of that fact. This allows for a mental preparation of what one will say and the ability to respond clearly and intelligently, so one does not sound like one is just making things up as one goes along.
Even if one has not been afforded the opportunity of advance notice, however, it is of great significance to make sure that the very first thing one says is something positive. The first impression given is what will lead the call and build trust. If the questioner senses hesitation from the outset, it can be detrimental to the call. Being that these conversations are generally not very long, and often not followed up with a second call, there isn’t much time to correct a poor first impression.
While this next point can be difficult if one is not expecting the call, it is best to avoid generic words of praise whenever possible. Although it sounds nice to state that a young man or woman is amazing, outstanding, fantastic, etc., it can also give the impression that one does not know the person well enough to say anything specific – which also begs the question in the mind of the caller, “Why was this person listed as a reference?” Or worse, the caller might assume that this interviewee doesn’t really see any quantifiable maalos in the single person being asked about.
If one is able to offer more specific praise, such as saying that the young man or woman is kind, concerned about others, tzanua, emotionally intelligent, always makes good use of their time, is dedicated to learning, very strong in their Yiddishkeit, is great with children, is a mevater and doesn’t insist on always getting their way, etc., it makes a much stronger impact and gives a much better impression.
Furthermore, it is generally after generic praise that the questioner begins to ask pointed questions that are both hard to answer and most times irrelevant to what will make for a good shidduch. It becomes a fishing expedition. Being able to share specific maalos and give examples of them can keep the conversation from floating off into the ethereal, immaterial, and hypothetical.
Keeping Your Poise
But what happens when one was not prepared to receive the call and cannot think of anything specific to say at the moment? The worst thing to do is to stumble. When a questioner senses uncertainty or hesitation, the first thought is frequently that the person on the other end is either avoiding sharing negative information or is hiding something. It is of the utmost importance to never sound unsure of oneself or reticent during a shidduch call.
The best thing to do in such a scenario is to politely tell the person calling, “Yes, I know the young man/woman, they are wonderful, and I am happy to have this conversation. But now is not a good time for me to speak. When can we reschedule the conversation?”
This gives one the opportunity to gather one’s thoughts, put together decisive qualities to share, and share them confidently and succinctly, especially if one is a little out of touch with the single or their family. Rather than saying, “Oh, I don’t really know them that well anymore,” which looks bad for everyone, when one instead asks to reschedule for a more convenient time, it leaves a fine impression all around and grants a reprieve to prepare for a conversation that will be helpful and tachlisdik.
Similarly, if one receives a shidduch call when they are doing dishes, putting the kids to bed, out shopping, or otherwise stressed and occupied, it is best to employ the same tactic. We live in a day and age where everyone’s time and attention are taxed to the max, and no one will think twice about a response of “I am really sorry, but it’s very hectic here right now, and I really want to give this conversation the proper attention. Can we try and talk a little later?”
Granted, there can be a feeling of pressure to have the conversation immediately because one may fear that one will let the single down by pushing off the call; but much more damage can be done as a result of a poor conversation that sounds as if one is unenthusiastic, disinterested, or has nothing good to say than can be done by making the very reasonable request to postpone a phone call that was not prearranged. It’s the most understandable of requests and indicates a sincerity and devotion to taking the call seriously.
The next point is one which really cannot be stressed enough, and that is knowing how to couch certain points as well as how to state certain facts and how not to state them.
As an example, most people are of average intelligence, not brilliant. That is normal. Yet if one is asked on a call if a young man or woman did well academically, and the reply is not an overwhelming yes, the shidduch is probably going to be over and done with before it gets a fair chance. Even if the young man or woman on the other side is of equally average intelligence, and does not really care one way or the other about having a spouse who attained straight A’s, if one states that the single in question was academically “just okay,” it will always sound poor and can be the end of the idea.
As long as the single in question is not objectively unintelligent, and didn’t flunk out of school, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Yes, he/she did well in school.” It really is inconsequential if the single was an A, B, or even C student. School is over, they passed, and saying that they did well is fine.
As it is, most people are not looking for a valedictorian, and a simple answer confirming that the single did well in school is perfectly acceptable and the conversation will usually end there. However, if one waffles on the question, and the questioner starts to get more specific, it can easily become a conversation that is difficult and detrimental to the shidduch.
If the questioner wants specifics about a certain trait because they feel it’s important for the specific single on their end, they will ask about it and continue to inquire. However, when the questioner is simply going through a checklist to make sure that the single is a regular, normal person, and when the matter at hand is really not relevant to the shidduch and has little to no bearing on how good a life partner or parent the single will be, and as long as what one is saying is not objectively a lie, it is best to simply affirm a generally positive statement.
Similarly, if one is asked about a single in a way that might de facto put the single in a negative light, it is best to reframe the answer. For example, if one is asked if a young man or woman is “quiet,” and the response is yes, that is generally not something people want to hear, even if the single on the questioner’s end needs a quiet spouse.
However, if one replies by saying, “No, I think dignified or tzanua would be a better way to describe him/her,” one has given the same information but now reframed it in a way that is much less likely to turn off the person one is talking to. Choosing non-negative descriptors for middos which may otherwise be viewed negatively is a skill that must be acquired when it comes to fielding shidduch calls.
Furthermore, in both of the above examples, these are not objective qualities. The questioner may feel that a B- is considered having done well in school, but the person answering the question may have A- in their mind as the cutoff for doing well in school. Quiet is also relative. Quiet compared to what and to whom? The questioner and the questioned may have very different criteria for what constitutes quiet. As a result, saying, “They did just okay in school” or “Yes, they are a bit quiet,” might not be true given the criteria of the person on the asking end.
The point being, when the questioner is going through a broad and general checklist to verify that the single they are looking into is a nice and regular young man or woman, there is no need to go into specifics. Simple affirmations of positive qualities and the framing of subjective qualities in a positive light are the appropriate path to travel. If the questioner wants to know more, they will ask more; otherwise, it is best left alone.
When one is able to lead the conversation with measurable qualities of the single being asked about and provide specific examples of those qualities, it can often prevent the questioner from asking empty, checklist-type questions to begin with. Such lists are usually pulled out only when the conversation stalls or when the interviewee is not providing information that captures the attention of the questioner.
A Mighty Responsibility
As a closing point to the topic of receiving calls as a shidduch reference – and again, this is much easier accomplished when one knows in advance that one has been listed as a reference on a single person’s profile – one must acknowledge the accompanying responsibility of being a reference.
To succeed as an effective reference requires hard work; it demands thoughtfulness, taking the time to have the conversations, doing so in a relaxed manner, and resisting the urge to respond flippantly to the inevitable distasteful or dumbfounding question – a common pitfall that disservices all involved – and most importantly, truly knowing the single person one is speaking about.
No one wants to say no when asked if they can serve as a reference on a shidduch profile, as it is a great zechus to facilitate in shidduchim as a reference. Therefore, if accepting the role, one must fully accept the responsibility of acting as a reference and be willing to devote oneself to developing the skills required.
May Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Hachoinein le’adam da’as, give all of us the requisite wisdom and fortitude to respond to the shidduch calls we receive with grace and sechel, and may our preparedness help assist in the bringing of many young men and women to the chuppa.