In most Orthodox Jewish communities, boys and girls are taught separately. Sometimes they are in the same building but separate classes, but usually, there are different schools for boys and girls. (There are educational advantages to this, just as there are disadvantages.) Friendships are usually same-gender only. In fact, the only really acceptable way to speak to someone of the other gender who is not related to you, is to date.
However, you can probably guess that by the time a person gets to the stage where they’re looking to get married, they don’t have too many friends of the opposite gender. So, someone sets them up (or, increasingly, they find each other on a religious dating website, with or without a site matchmaker).
Here’s how it goes:
1) Someone suggests them/they see a profile that might be a good match.
2) They ask for references for the other person.
3) Someone they know and trust (but sometimes they themselves) calls these people up to ask different questions about the prospective date’s personality, background, etc. What we are checking here is that if they like each other, the marriage can work. Sometimes you can like someone with totally different goals than you, who wants to live on a different continent. That’s called heartbreak for nothing – you can’t build a home simultaneously on two different continents.
4) If all sounds good, they meet. There may or may not be a direct phone conversation between them if they were set up, though usually, there is.
Sometimes individuals who use dating sites skip the reference-checking stage. Usually when that happens, they end up complaining that they have no idea why they were set up with this person or why they wasted their time and energy. It’s not the best idea to skip it; the step is there for a reason. A very good reason.
This whole system is called “shidduch dating”. Some people find their own spouse, through casual meetings. It’s not the norm and is usually considered to be more of a risk. But it does happen.
Marriages that are set up with this system are may be low on passion, but they are usually very high on commitment. “Young love,” is left to develop after the commitment has already been made. There are, of course, some people for whom it never develops. There are also some bad marriages that come out of this system.
But hey, if America has a 50% divorce rate, and there are couples who aren’t happy everywhere, it’s not too bad, right? Everything has its pluses and minuses. . .
Anyways, yesterday, Yitzchak and I were talking, and I told him, “You know, I wonder what it would be like to date. It kind of sounds interesting.” He said, “I wonder, too.”
We’re married. How come we don’t know what it’s like to date?
I had one date, with one guy, before I met Yitzchak. I truly don’t know why we were set up, especially since we did the reference step (I didn’t do the calling). He wanted to join his family business in South Africa. I had just immigrated to Israel and was stuck here for at least another five years. Nice guy, but really no point in a second date.
The second person I dated was Yitzchak. I was his first. And we didn’t go through the “shidduch system,” exactly. We did the reference step, but we met on a forum. I guess we were something between the DIY and the dating sites. It wasn’t a dating site, although we weren’t the first couple to meet there. There were risks, obviously, because online you have no idea who the other person is. That’s why the reference step was super-important to both of us, and we didn’t meet or talk on the phone before it was finished and we knew that the other wasn’t a wanted criminal or some kind of abusive monster.
Even after we met, because of technical issues, we didn’t date the “regular” way, with two-hour dates twice a week or something. Yitzchak insists that our dates were normal and most of his friends 3 or 4 had 8-hour dates, too. I don’t know. But it sure wasn’t what everyone does . . . and I’m curious to know how it works for everyone else. Sure, I’ve heard stories, but it’s not the same.
And on the other hand . . . I know so many people who would gladly switch places with me, and we really do count ourselves lucky to have found each other so easily. So even though we’re curious, I think it’s just better that we stay that way. Everything has its pluses and minuses, right?
This is one big plus, with the only minus being curiosity – and the fact that I really don’t know what to answer my friends sometimes when they ask me for dating advice.
Truthfully, I don’t recommend trying to follow in our footsteps. It was risky and it took a toll. Yes, I did it. But I didn’t plan it. You kind of take what G-d gives you, you know? But it’s not a good idea to go looking for risks or trouble, just for the sake of it.
The following is a diagram of how shidduch dating usually looks. It’s a slight parody, but might make it easier to follow, in case I wasn’t clear.