Thank you for your wonderful newspaper. The Shidduch Forum has become my favorite column.
About a year and a half ago, I dated a girl very seriously. We were very close to getting engaged, and my parents and I were very excited about the shidduch. At that point, someone shared information about the girl’s sister and family. Basically, they painted a very dysfunctional picture, including them living in a tiny apartment and the sister having a strained relationship with the parents.
After doing a bit more research, my parents decided to stop the shidduch. With them being against the shidduch, I lost confidence in it and agreed to end it.
Let me note at this point that the girl was wonderful, put together and solid, and she was very honest and open about who she is and where she comes from. In addition, I had met her parents, who seemed like very warm, Torahdike people. She has siblings married to very fine people, as well.
I decided to call the girl and tell her that the shidduch was off. My parents advised me not to give an explanation. When I told her, she took it in stride, but asked for an explanation. I wiggled out of it and that was the end.
To this day, I don’t know if the information we got was accurate or if the issues could have been worked out. Were my parents right for making a decision based on her family and some things they heard from a source who knew of the family through the sister? Was I wrong for not standing up to it and giving the girl a decent explanation and a chance to clarify a few things?
On a side note, my mother nixes every shidduch where she feels that there’s something wrong with the family. There are times when I feel foolish for letting her do that.
Please help me.
Firstly, thank you for your kind words of appreciation regarding the Shidduch Forum. It is very gratifying to hear that you enjoy the column, and I hope that the panel’s responses to your question are every bit as meaningful as you anticipate them to be.
Passing on a shidduch due to concerns about the other family can be a categorically correct determination, or an entirely erroneous one; and the same goes for abstaining from informing the person one has been redd to of the exact reason why one has chosen to say no to them. It all really depends a great deal on the specifics leading to these decisions, and how substantial the reasons behind those decisions are.
With respect to the scenario in your narrative, though my overall feeling is one of some pause and disquiet, using only the material provided, and not knowing the severity of the dysfunction related, its relevance to the shidduch, or the level of veracity of the assertion, I do not feel adequately enough informed to posit with any great degree of conviction whether setting aside this specific shidduch was a wise decision or a poor one, or whether it was right or wrong to refrain from offering the young woman the opportunity to hear why the decision to say no was made, along with a chance to restate her case. Additionally, in a certain sense, it is somewhat immaterial, as there is nothing more to be done about it at this juncture.
What does matter a great deal, however, is how things are handled going forward.
No matter the prestige of a shidduch, be it one to the family of a prominent Rosh Yeshiva, esteemed askan, or renowned gevir, there is always a reason to say no. Always. Utilizing penetratingly expansive research, and a methodically thorough critique, there will be no person, and no family, that can escape some form of reproach. Mi zeh yitztadok?
The art is not so much in finding out if there is an issue, because there will always be at least one, but in assessing whether or not any unearthed issues render the shidduch a nonstarter.
While parents surely have the best interests of their child in mind when making these assessments, mistakes are not infrequently made. It could be due to the anxiety of separation from one’s child; fear of being held responsible if the shidduch ends badly; an inability to discern between the important and the trivial; being overly concerned with their own self-image; a relentless pursuit of the elusive “dream” shidduch (which, in all likelihood, doesn’t really exist); or a subconscious attempt at making up for what a parent might feel is missing in their own marriage.
Whatever the underlying cause may be, these decisions are hard to make, and often even harder is deciphering why one is truly making those very decisions. Seeing the forest for the trees is especially challenging when there are oh so many trees.
Of course, no one is infallible, and as such, no one can be expected to make the right decision, every time, and all of the time. Parents in shidduchim included. Nevertheless, there is quite the differentiation between making normative amounts of mistakes, and being habitually prone to mistakes.
Furthermore, and to borrow a phrase from a long-time shadchan I was speaking with some time ago, “If you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to decide who you will date”.
This is not to say that daters should be left wholly untrammeled, abjuring their parent’s right of involvement, but rather, it means that parents should not be taking an overly didactic or domineering approach to the decision process. What needs to be developed is an appropriately balanced method wherein one’s parents can share from their experience and research, have a group discussion, and then trust their child – the dater – to make an informed decision based on what appeals to their needs and interests, and what they feel is best for them.
Conversely, when one’s parent or parents are found to routinely make mistakes, or regularly exclude their child – the person who is actually dating – from having meaningful input in the decision process, means must be instituted to reclaim equilibrium and establish an esprit-de-corps, in order to engender inclusive, erudite, and prudent decision-making. Should that goal prove unachievable, one must then find a way to sidestep that parent when it comes to making shidduch decisions. Such a procedure may be painful and difficult, but it will ultimately be far less painful for everyone than would be one’s remaining single for an unnecessarily and unreasonably sustained period of time.
With that in mind, what strikes me as most telling about this narrative is actually the side note. If things have devolved to the point that one is regularly left feeling foolish as a result of their parent’s actions, something has probably gone awry. Traversing the sea of shidduchim can be exhausting and perplexing enough as it is, even coming from a confident and positive standpoint. Having to then feel foolish with each decision made is no way to have to go through shidduchim, and is likely to only compound any struggles one may be experiencing.
Consequently, more pertinent and pressing than rehashing any past decisions, is getting to a place where future decisions can be made harmoniously, and without acrimony. And to do that, I believe outside help must be employed.
This would mean reaching out to someone whose opinion will be taken seriously by all involved, and who can be firm about what needs to take place going forward, without imparting any lasting damage on the family dynamic or relationships. It could be a respected rov, a trusted rebbi, or a close family friend. And once that individual has been identified, they should be given a clear explanation of the scope of the issue, and engaged to aid and intervene so that steps can be set into motion that will lead to a pathway of improvement and resolution, b’ezras Hashem.
May the Mivarech es Ammo bashalom bring concord to all families who are piloting their way through shidduchim, and may that unity bring along with it the founding of myriad batim neemanim b’Yisroel.