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Website sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Malkiel Goldberger in honor of their precious children
info@shidduchcenter.org | 443.955.9887

Yated Shidduch Forum 3/23/18: Proper Nomenclature for Single Men & Women in Shidduchim

Question:

I would like to start by thanking you for your very informative advice and guidance. 

There is one thing that does irk me slightly, but it is not exclusive to this forum. Why is it that the young men and women who are making the biggest decisions of their lives are constantly referred to as guys/boys and girls? We are dealing with (hopefully) mature men and women who are deciding on the course of their entire lives. Shouldn’t we have the respect to refer to them as something more dignified than a girl or guy?

Answer:

Kodem kol, thank you for your kind and gracious appraisal of this forum. I am gladdened to know that you appreciate the counsel and direction offered here.

As far as your concern with the nomenclature that is often designated for those in shidduchim, not only do I fully agree with your sentiment, in principle, it is also a distinction that I strive to be consciously mindful of, in practice, when writing and speaking. Moreover, and more importantly, in speaking with those in shidduchim themselves, it has been made explicitly clear to me, by many, that these terminologies are received at best as belittling, and at worst as humiliating and hurtful vituperation.

And though some might roll their eyes – deeming the topic as insignificant and unworthy of discourse or attention, and approximating the slighted spirits of our single men and women as contrived weltschmerz – if we are being expressly told by a collective of people that the patois used to describe them is offensive, that ought to tell us all we need to know. Additionally, even if we could manage to dismiss those feelings, I have yet to be presented with a cogent argument positing that it is objectively a non-issue. Words matter in yiddishkeit; we accept that in all other areas, and this really is no different.

The question then becomes, why has this materialized into the standard way of referring to those in shidduchim?

My initial thought was simple brevity. “Boy”, “guy”, and “girl” are just easier and quicker words to say and write than are “young man” or “young woman”. However, I don’t think the facts bear out the theory of desired succinctness as being the only barrier to effectuating change, and I wonder if, just maybe, there is another factor at play. Namely, an inclination to use vocabulary that discriminates between those who are married and those who are single. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but merely for pragmatic purposes.

For example, while many would refer to a single man or woman in their late 20s or 30s as a single “boy” or “girl”, I think very few would refer to a married male of 21, or a married female of 19, as anything other than a man or woman. Which, incidentally, only exacerbates the pain felt by our single men and women when they are titled “boy” or “girl”, as they are fully and acutely aware of this phenomenon. A reality that was perhaps best demonstrated to me by the doleful musing of a single woman I was once speaking with; “Maybe it’s the putting on of a sheitel that transforms you from a girl to a woman?”

Consequently, as I see no meaningfully purposeful reason to use the words “boy” or “girl” when referencing those in shidduchim, I believe it essential that we discard these terms from within the context of shidduch dialogue.

Furthermore, as we strive to comprehensively fulfil the words of Dovid Hamelech, “lo rugal al leshono, lo usah l’reyeihu raah, v’cherpah lo nussuh al kerovo”, I feel it behooves us all to exert concentrated effort and commensurate vigilance when speaking of, and certainly when speaking to, our single men and women, in order to ensure that we are continually and exclusively using a vernacular that builds them up, and never one which brings them down.

To add one closing note, and not to discount the above in any way, it is also of great importance to remain aware that when these descriptors are utilized conversationally, it is not out of malice or with intent to condescend. Unpleasant as they are, and for whatever reason it is that they are being applied, it is no more than a rote mode of speech that has caught on and developed as normative within our common lexicon. It is always the responsibility of the speaker to choose his or her words wisely, but when that does not happen, the receiver is best served by being dan l’caf zechus, presuming that no harm was meant to be implied.

This is not to say that such comments are easy to digest, nor should it lessen our resolve and determination to change. Rather, it is but something to keep in mind when such terms are thrown in one’s direction, as such an awareness may aid in coping with the affront.

May the Mi SheShmo Shalom see that we are able to emulate His ways, and employ, at all times, a parlance which fosters respect, peace, and harmony.

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