Dear Esteemed Panelists,
I read this column religiously and appreciate the insightful and rich ideas to which I’m exposed on a weekly basis. I hope that you will be able to provide the same meaningful answer not only to my particular question, but to the broader public, some of whom may be experiencing a similar issue.
I’m a single boy (mid-thirties) and I am fortunate to get many suggestions for shidduchim all the time. The downside though, besides the obvious of still not being married, is that shadchanim always come to me first and insist that I give a yes before the girl.
This poses considerable difficulty for numerous reasons. Firstly, looking into a shidduch takes time and energy. Conversely, giving a blind yes, only to go out on a DOA date is an even greater waste of emotional energy. When I go out, I really want to give it my all.
Secondly, many times, after I give a yes, the girls will drag their feet through the mud and not respond in a timely fashion, if at all. Following the official “rules” of me “waiting” once I give a yes causes unnecessary delay simply because of protocol.
Thirdly, many other times I’ll give a yes, but the girl will give a no. Let’s be honest. It’s hurtful to get back a no. In fact, this is precisely why shadchanim choose not to go the girl first; so as not to hurt her in the event that the boy says no.
Respectfully and humbly, I’m a little put off by the fact that this appears to be very one-sided. Guys have feelings too and I think there should be somewhat more of a balance, depending on the many factors of the situation, and not simply follow blanket rules. I hope that we can have a system which is fair and sensitive to both boys and girls.
But specific to my situation, what I usually do is look at a given prospect briefly, and then give it a yes if I feel it meets basic criteria. But then I choose not to wait at all, or very little. Consequently, I can give out multiple simultaneous yesses, often up to 5 at at time. This usually causes little issue, as roughly nine out of ten times I don’t get back multiple yesses, or if I do, by the time one gave a yes, the other one already fell through, sadly.
But every now and then, I’ll give a yes to A and B, then I’ll get back a yes from A and commit to or start dating A, and then I’ll get back a yes from B, whereupon I tell shadchan for B that I’m busy. Here’s the sticky part: At that point, shadchan for B is annoyed and confused as to how I’m busy if I just gave a yes. I usually then honestly explain how I work, and state that my yes simply means that I would theoretically be interested, should she also come back with a yes and we’re both available. At that point, the shadchan usually only gets further disappointed about how I’m abusing the system and being unfair or unreasonable. Furthermore, they add that had girl B known that I wasn’t giving a “real yes” she would’ve never agreed to even look into me, and so at least I should have explained this upfront. (Obviously, I don’t for that very reason – because then she wouldn’t look into me.)
It’s really important to me that we be sensitive to all parties, even those with needs conflicting with mine, including the other side, as well as the shadchanim. (Without that virtue, I don’t think that it’s even possible to have a sustainable marriage.) However, the system isn’t working for me. And I don’t have the ability to “change City Hall,” so I’m simply using the system to my advantage I don’t see what’s wrong with that and I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on this matter.
Moreover, it seems ironic that I’m required to give a “real yes,” for otherwise she’d never agree to look into me, while I don’t have the ability to ask for any yes from a girl as a prerequisite for me to look into her. To phrase it differently, it seems proper to many to demand a yes upfront from the boy, even though that’s admittedly insensitive, since we’re following a system of insensitivity, whereas it’s deemed improper for a boy to give out multiple yesses even though that is admittedly sensitive since it’s not following the system.
Firstly, thank you for your kind words of gratitude. It is always heartwarming to hear positive feedback, and it is my hope that you find the guidance you are seeking contained within the responses to your inquiry.
With regards to the chronicle shared, though it provides ample talking points which one could rightly to dive into, I would like to limit my reply to what I feel are the two most central themes, once the totality of the narrative is distilled to its essence. Furthermore, so as not to get lost in the weeds of ultimately inconsequential minutiae, rather than engaging in efforts to debate, dispel, or yield to each and every assumption or adjudication made, I would like to speak more generally to each of these two themes.
1. Who should be burdened with the onus of having to say yes first, and then have to anxiously wait for an indeterminate period of time before a response arrives?
While I agree that there is good reason behind the norm of initially approaching the single man for a decision, each situation is different, and I do not believe it should be presumed that this practice must be adhered to in all instances. Indeed, I have heard from a number of single women that they would prefer to be asked first – the sentiment being that it is usually easier to give a no to that which is nothing more than a proposed idea, than it is to give a no when it means outright rejecting another human being who has expressed interest and has already tendered a yes. Additionally, this prevents their being saddled with any unwanted or undue pressure – be it explicit or implicit – to reciprocate with a yes of their own after they have been “so fortunate” as to have received an opportunity to go out on a date at all.
As such, although it is true that whoever is approached first often must deal with apprehension while waiting, there can be equal discomfort in being approached second. Namely, feelings of being uncomfortably compelled to give a yes to a suggestion that is not really all that appealing, solely because one is already in receipt of a yes, and is therefore expected to provide one in return. In short, there are significant pros and cons in either direction, and as each potential shidduch comes with its own set of particulars, a substantial amount of sechel hayashor must go into determining who should be contacted first.
More often than not, standard operating procedure will prevail. But it should only prevail when it is the appropriate course of action, not merely because it is the norm and, thus, must not be deviated from no matter what. Parenthetically, I would posit that frum society may quite likely benefit greatly if we were to apply this seemingly novel concept of refraining from treating recently adopted social norms as if they were incontrovertible sine qua non to all aspects of Jewish communal life.
2. Is it at all or ever justifiable to give multiple yeses to multiple suggestions?
To be frank, it would be difficult for me to overstate how deeply this concerns me, and my answer would be a resounding no. As I see it, all the emotional excuses, intellectual insights, and perceived prejudices in the world fail to condone deliberately gaming the system, especially when it comes at the expense of hurting other people.
Is our shidduch system flawed in a number of ways? Yes. Are many of the conventions we have embraced, in fact, counterproductive? Also yes. Nonetheless, there is a marked difference between creatively navigating processes in order to protect oneself from harm or ensure optimal results, and taking advantage of a technique that is inherently damaging to others who are attempting to maneuver in good faith within what is assumed to be a mutually agreed upon framework.
Accordingly, the question now becomes; what to do? On the one hand, it isn’t fair for a single man or woman to always be left waiting, and especially when doing so comes at the cost of other opportunities which become lost in the interim. And yet, on the other hand, it is reprehensible to abuse extant structures in manners which are detrimental to others.
As such, in order to reach a happy medium, I believe the most favorable route would be that of clear communication and transparency.
For example, let us imagine that one is deliberating over two suggestions, and of those two, one appears to be considerably more suitable, while the other maintains a relative degree of promise. At that point, one can respond with a yes to the suggestion deemed best, making it clear that if no return response is given within a set period of time, there will no longer be any guarantee of that yes remaining a firm commitment. At the same time, one can respond to the other suggestion thought to be sensible by saying that there is definite interest, but a yes has already been given to someone else. However, one may also note that their yes to someone else has been limited to “X” period of time for that person to respond with a definitive answer, and if there is no response, or if a no is delivered, they would be glad to be in touch again and reexamine this admittedly secondary suggestion.
This approach allows for one to clearly limit the amount of waiting time to a duration which is manageable for them, and offers others the knowledge that although there is a level of interest, one is currently preoccupied. Granted, those who are informed that they are not the number one option may then choose to move on, thus diminishing one’s potential options, but that is the very definition of evenhandedness. If one is not offering genuine assurance to another person, why should that person not be afforded the same latitude for noncommittal in return?
It is simply unreasonable for one to think they have the right to play puppet master, holding all the cards, and in a manner that is undeniably deceiving of others. Rather, while understandably attending to one’s own needs, one should be forthright with respect to their intentions, and trust that having integrity will bring dividends far in excess of that which is hoped to be gained via otherwise mendacious methodologies.
May the Adon Olam see that we are fully truthful in our endeavors, and may our collective sincerity bring about yeshuous and nechamos for all of Klal Yisroel.