Having been in the parsha for quite a while already, I’ve noticed a few disturbing things and I would like to air them:
Why are we being told by shadchanim to go on extremely long dates? Which bochur has ever had a conversation with a friend of his for 5+ hours? Why are we being told to go to restaurants, when some aspiring bnei Torah don’t feel comfortable about it?
On a similar note, many of us mainstream bochurim who have been in the yeshiva system for close to ten years have been told many a time that certain ”kosher” venues of entertainment are not a place for a ben Torah. Why is it then an accepted practice for shadchanim to tell us to go to some of these places?
Also, if we are indeed mature enough to be dating, why are we being told to make our dates into below age-level Chol Hamoed trips, such as those involving miniature golf and pottery painting?
Though we have been presented with a multitude of seemingly disparate questions to address – and disregarding the rather unsavorily demeaning and misguided comparison of intimate dating colloquy to informal chitchat between friends – it seems to me that there are but two primary and overarching issues positioned at the root of all the qualms outlined herein. Namely, the need for an improved appreciation of the nuanced differences between the particular penchants and principles of different people, and the development of enhanced self-advocacy and assertiveness skills.
As all human beings are unique, so, too, our needs and preferences are equivalently unique; to the inclusion of which modes of dating are most palatable and comfortable for each man and woman.
To whit, whereas some daters are partial to the conversational peregrinations of a lengthy date, and delight in delving into deep and dramatic emotional dialogue, others are more inclined towards a workmanlike approach, pragmatically and expeditiously addressing each relevant topic, and then moving on to the next.
Correspondingly, some daters enjoy talking over a nice restaurant meal, and find such a scene to be perfectly appropriate for a frum yid, while others may feel that such is not the place to be for their sustained growth. And the same is true for any number of forums. For example, though most bachurim would be ill-advised to spend their free time sipping soda in a hotel lobby, it has become the dating-spot-du-jour for many yeshiveleit. And yet, in much of the Chassidishe velt, it is only the living room of one of the dater’s homes that is deemed tzu-gepast.
As most areas of life fall more in the gray than in the black and white, accordingly, a great deal of what we do in life is decidedly relative to the person and the scenario, as far as degrees of appropriateness. Consequently, what might be determined to be a milieu that ought to be eschewed by any one specific diligent and scrupulous yeshiva bachur – during his buchrishe yahren – may be quite fine an establishment for him to frequent when comes to dating. And, similarly, there are many environments which one person may consider entirely aboveboard for their dating needs, while another may feel that the exact same setting should be avoided at all times.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no siman or seif in Shulchan Aruch which touches explicitly on many of these topics, and as such, there is not always a right or a wrong. There is only what meets the needs and hashkafic outlook of each individual or community.
With regards to the sensibility of two dating adults venturing into somewhat vanilla venues, I believe this also to be very much subjective. For some, such activities are found to be light and amusing, and thus generate relaxed exchanges, ultimately leading to the cultivation of a stronger relationship. Not only is this true while dating, but even as married couples, many husbands and wives return to these pastimes to bolster their marital bond, as they strive toward fostering an ever profounder connection with one another.
On the other hand, for others, such activities are held to be fatuous and childlike, and the mere thought of becoming engrossed in these pursuits is cringe-inducing. And if that is the case, being that there is no shortage of alternatives with respect to finding something else to do for the duration of a date, a more fitting option can then be selected.
Concerning shadchanim, if one senses that the shadchan they are communicating with is unduly sequacious, and does not understand, acknowledge, or respect their singular likings, there is absolutely nothing wrong with abstaining from working with that shadchan in the future. Rather, one should obtain the services of other shadchanim, those who more readily grasp the concept that not all people were formed using the same cookie cutter, and who will happily devote themselves towards finding each dater a counterpart who shares in similar interests and needs. And, as it so happens, there is an abundance of such shadchanim out there, both willing, and aptly up to the task.
Lastly, and wholly in conjunction with the aforementioned, there is nothing wrong with expressing one’s personal needs relevant to dating. It is well within each dater’s right to maintain the value of their needs, and to seek out a spouse with parallel needs, as well. No one should feel handtied by the myriad common practices which have developed in many aspects of the dating process. And when one needs something different to fulfill their dating sensitivities, provided there is nothing objectively objectionable or utterly unreasonable with that which is being requested, one must summon the courage to state their needs and see that they are met.
May the Machin Mitzaadei Gaver confer upon us keen intuition, so that we may all identify our individual needs, and may He fortify us with ample strength, so that we may actualize them.