As shadchanim, you surely know that most ideas that are suggested don’t result in an engagement or even a date. When I redd shidduchim, I understand that parents know what their children need and I accept their negative response. Sometimes, though, I wonder if the shadchan should get more involved when a shidduch is nixed for petty reasons.
I have had too many occasions when a mother of a boy or a girl said no because of age, height, or city of residence. As far as age and height go, I’m referring to a difference of a year or two, or an inch or two. Extremes are never a good thing. And as for city of residence, does climate or distance traveled really affect a person’s character?
So what is my role? I am not a professional shadchan, just an individual trying to help people in Klal Yisroel. Can you change somebody’s mind (seeing as I can’t make Toronto any warmer or Chicago any closer to New York)?
The short answer is, though it is nearly impossible to precipitate a change of mind by simply telling someone they need to do so, the potential remains to facilitate departures from insalubrious convictions using any number of strategies and techniques; and it will always and ultimately be at the discretion of the recipient to either internalize and incorporate the proposition, or suppress and reject it.
Keeping the above in mind, I would like to offer a four-step strategy which I believe may prove effective, at least in some instances, when it comes to assisting those in shidduchim to land upon decisions which are neither self-defeating nor counterproductive.
Step 1. One must be aware that all thought processes and behaviors have meaning. This is not to say that these meanings are never trifling, illogical, misguided, or even dysfunctional, but, nonetheless, there is meaning there. And without addressing the real meaning behind the outlook which led to the decision, any attempt to alter that decision will almost surely be an exercise in futility.
Thus, there must a recognition that no work can be started on changing anyone’s mind without appreciating that their determinations are not emerging out of thin air, and subsequently attempting to understand what one is hoping to gain or accomplish by their resolution. Once the actual fear or principle is exposed, it can be intelligently considered and reevaluated.
As a corollary to this point, I think it only fair to say that we are far past the point where we can earnestly believe that all anyone is concerned about in shidduchim is strength of character and degree of spousal compatibility, or that it is even the primary driver of the decision-making process for the vast majority of those in shidduchim. Preternatural avidity towards prestige, money, yichus, convenience, minhagim, and family fit – along with a seemingly unending inventory of image-conscious yearnings – all assail the attention of so many in shidduchim, effectively forming a cosmic chasm which profoundly distances us from focusing on what truly matters.
Consequently, it really ought not be any great revelation when trivialities are given preeminence, leaving the substantive to be met with ennui. And being that we are collectively culpable for creating this monster, it is only right that we collectively shoulder the burden of working around it, or, better yet, defeating it.
Step 2. Present the perceived-as-problematic resolution in a genteel, tentative fashion, and as a subjective evaluation rather than objective description. When the presence of destructive behavior is presented amidst a fulminous reproach, and as an undeniable reality, it creates a high probability for pushback and defensive responses. However, when such statements are proffered courteously and speculatively, they become less judgmental in nature, and allow for the receiver to earnestly reflect upon the meaning and potential truth of the message.
Step 3. After proposing that there may be an issue with the decision that has been made, ask the person what their perception of the situation is, and provide them with the opportunity to acknowledge, of their own accord, the possibility that their decision was an erroneous one. When an individual is wholly included in the dialogue and assessment, it opens up the door for the anticipated conclusion to be reached mutually, and without contention. Particularly so when that person, and their behaviors, are the very subject of the conversation. It is much easier to stomach and acquiesce to one’s personal shortcomings or mistakes when one is being asked, than it is when one is being told.
Step 4. Rather than demanding or expecting that a decision be made immediately and on-the-spot, suggest that the individual take some time to think the matter over, ruminate on the newly presented vantage point, and request that, perchance, it would be worthwhile for them to talk the topic through with a trusted and experienced rov or mentor, in order to glean where they stand on the matter.
Doing so further promotes the individual’s self-determination in that they are playing an equal and active part in the exploration of the matter; paves the path for them to hear a clear affirmation that the decision was, indeed, unwise; and, perhaps most importantly, allows for them to receive this affirmation from a source that is regarded as unbiased.
This is not to say that such a strategy is sacrosanct or unimpeachable, but it most certainly carries a greater likelihood for success than does informing someone that they are acting foolishly and need to change their flawed and fallacious ways if they hope to achieve their desired goals.
Parenthetically, and only because it was touched upon in the question, I would not go so far as to say that extremes are never a good thing. While it is surely easier to comprehend why someone may choose to pass on a shidduch when there are considerable differences in age, height, or the like, such differences do not inherently preclude a wonderful marriage from resulting, and significant thought must be given to ascertain whether or not these divergences are merely surface-level impediments, or unconquerable barriers.
May the Vasik V’oiseh Chesed safeguard all who are oisek in the kindness of assisting in being moishav yechidim biysah, and may He grant them the capacity to provide efficient and sound guidance to those in pursuit of their zivug.