In helping young men and young ladies navigate the parsha of shidduchim, I often see that while they have a pretty good idea of where they’re heading in life, they really have no idea what they’re looking for in a shidduch. Instead of talking and thinking “up-in-the-air,” I advise that they get into the shidduch scene, meet shadchanim, and just begin dating. Dating experience, I believe, gives them a better idea of what they want in a shidduch and even a clearer (or more realistic) picture of where they themselves are heading.
Should they get engaged, good. However, the main mindset, in my opinion, should be to go out and “test the waters.”
Is this a yashrusdike approach? Is that not right to the other side? Might they resent it, feeling used like a lab-mouse?
Is there perhaps a wiser approach?
As a precursor to answering your question, there is a point which I feel is of the utmost importance to address. While the uncertainty you have referenced certainly exists, and granted there are those who do have an exceptionally clear picture of what they are looking for in shidduchim, no young man or woman should feel that there is anything wrong with them if they have little to no idea what it is they are looking for in a shidduch. That is perfectly normal.
It can be challenging enough, as one commences adulthood, to truly ascertain who one is, what one’s strengths are, and where one see’s themselves in the future, let alone determine what one needs and wants in a spouse to complement and complete who they are and what they hope to accomplish. As such, if a single person is speaking with a parent, teacher, rebbi, or mentor, and it comes to light that they are essentially unable to express what they are looking for, as they start shidduchim, it is vital to reassure that single person that this is no cause for concern.
Rather, it simply means they must now work on developing and conceptualizing what it is they are looking for, from the ground up. It should also be made clear that it may take some time for that picture to convert from hazy to illuminated, and that throughout the process, it is common to feel both dubious about what one is searching for, and to vacillate on certain matters before arriving at lucidity.
Returning, then, to your question, it is almost indisputable that part of this process involves actually dating, and it is through dating that one generally learns a great deal about what they are looking for in a shidduch.
Some may find corroboration of their abstract idea, and now it is a matter of finding the right person who has those qualities and traits that are being sought after. Others, however, may discover that what one thought they needed or wanted does not match up in practice, and recalibrations are required. Again, not only is that perfectly normal, I believe that the majority of single people come to the realization, as they are dating, that not everything they thought they were looking for holds true in actuality.
That said, for the sake of the single person who is trying to figure out what they need, every bit as much as for the sake of the other side, I would urge great caution in recommending that single men and women go out and “test the waters,” without making some very clear qualifications.
Firstly, even for those who date in a leichter fashion, going on dates is an emotional expenditure, and one that should be spent wisely. Opening up to the degree that is required for dating, by nature, leaves both people exposed. Simply opening up to another person can be daunting enough in its own right, let alone the exposure to potential rejection and the challenges that accompany such an experience.
Now, exposure and rejection are often a part of dating, and are, for the most part, unavoidable to some extent. That is ok, it happens, and there is a value in going through those experiences. However, to refrain from attempting to limit those experiences as much as possible is borderline irresponsible and unnecessarily incommodious.
Secondly, dating purely for the sake of figuring out what one is looking for, with the hope that just going on dates will lead to enlightenment, carries a high probability of burning out a single person, hard and fast.
Going on date after date, and either getting dropped or doing the dropping, can lead towards feelings of disillusionment, frustration, and despondency. When a quondam enthusiastic dater transforms into a tired and itinerant dater, it can make one begin to question whether or not they are getting anywhere at all, and whether or not they are going to find the right match – feelings that we hope can be avoided entirely.
There is a profound and prodigious difference between having shidduchim with five different people in a row not pan out, but feeling that at least there was something gained through those dates, and having that same experience, but feeling that nothing was gained at all. Dating just for the purpose of going on dates leaves one with a far greater likelihood of falling in the latter category, feeling that all those dates were for naught.
Consequently, what I believe is the proper approach, is to infuse the exploratory aspect of dating with a measure of purpose. One must strike a fine balance between prudence and astuteness, along with open-mindedness and a willingness to give ideas a fair shake.
This approach begins with reflection on what one believes they are looking for, and continues with going on dates. Specifically, agreeing to shidduchim that sound reasonably well-paired with what one has decided they are looking for, even if not an exact match.
Such an approach would be the reverse of the vaguer method that calls for dating almost anyone that sounds like a decent enough person, with minimal prior reflection about what one believes they need, and regardless of whether or not the shidduch appears to be harmonious with those reflections, all with the goal of retroactively figuring out what one is seeking – a method which, I believe, has risks far outweighing its potential rewards.
Using a more purposeful approach, and one which includes preceding forethought, with each date that one goes on, one must contemplate whether the experience confirms or contradicts their suppositions about what they are looking for, in conjunction with distinguishing whether or not this person they are dating has the qualities which one has now determined they need.
If one can be mindful of this purpose as one agrees to shidduchim, and subsequently goes on dates, it can lend to adding far greater value to the dates, even those that do not work out, and can prevent unnecessary exposure and undesirable feelings towards dating.
May The Yoideiah Machshavos give you the wisdom and energy to continue as a shutaf in the avoidas hakoidesh of being moishav yechidim biysah, and may you always implement the thoughtfulness evidenced by your question as you assist our young men and women in navigating shidduchim.