This month will mark my eighth year of marriage, and as most of my friends are married with families of their own, it is easy to forget about the difficulties, frustrations, and questions relating to dating. I was curious to hear if things have changed in frum dating and matchmaking since I’ve left that chapter of my life. This past Monday, the Young Israel of West Hempstead and YU Connects hosted three panelists who spoke about dating and matchmaking, with questions submitted by parents, singles, and individuals seeking to help, but not knowing how to do it.
“It is a partnership, and everyone has a role to play,” said Rabbi Josh Goller, the rav of YIWH. “This is just the beginning of the discussion for our community.”
“When we’re pushing someone towards a match, but he or she says no, and we insist, we’re not trusting of them as an adult,” said Rachel Hercman, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist who specializes in relationship counseling.
Well-meaning family members and friends often do this, matching two singles together despite the absence of compatibility, feelings, and shared goals. When young men do not feel comfortable confiding to their parents, their rebbe serves as a go-to voice of advice on dating. Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz is the director of the semichah program at the Yeshiva University seminary and a pulpit rabbi in North Woodmere, with hundreds of students who rely on his guidance in halachic and personal matters.
“I speak from the perspective of a rebbe of young men. A mentor is someone who gives chizuk,” he said. He noted that parents also play a critical role, but they are emotionally invested in the child, while the rebbe is not a family member. Following up on Hercman’s remark, Rabbi Lebowitz said that when someone ends up in a bad marriage as a result of pressure, the fault is on those who pushed the couple to marry. When his students approach him with shidduch-related questions, he sends them to a dating coach who is more experienced in this topic.
Mindy Eisenman is a facilitator at YU Connects, a site established in 2008 for Yeshiva University students that has since counted more than 500 engagements. She responded to the question about a shy parent who wishes to help but doesn’t know how to do it. “We’ve been so focused on running their lives, but we need to give them autonomy,” she said. A parent should only be helpful when being asked to help. “Take cues from your children. Encourage them to be proactive in their own lives.”
Rabbi Goller then asked about the crisis in confidence that results from a series of disappointing matches and how to regain the sense of self-worth.
“It’s like looking for parking in Manhattan. Driving around the block, any spot you see, you assume that any open spot is a fire hydrant. It’s too good to be true; someone would have taken it by now,” Hercman said. “They’ve been around the block so many times, it’s hard for them to believe that something good is happening to them.” She advised the audience to answer the need of the moment for the single individual, but without pushing.
Rabbi Goller asked Rabbi Lebowitz when it is appropriate to reveal personal details to a prospective partner. “Things from the past might include minor high school indiscretions, experiences with a boyfriend or girlfriend, past relationships. A kid who grew up Modern Orthodox and is now yeshivish, he does not have to tell his wife the details and specifics. I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said. “I don’t think it’s healthy.”
He contrasted this with questions relating to health, which must be revealed. “When it comes to illness and other types of manners that may impact future life, it is something that is known or must be known. I often find that an ally can reveal it in a positive way that is balanced, rather than hearing it from a person on the street. Frame it with nuance and with the proper perspective.”
Eisenman said that revealing things that could impact the relationship should be done when it starts to progress. Failure to disclose would become an issue of trust.
Concerning fees for shadchanim, Eisenman said that most matchmakers do their work out of goodness, but payment is not a matter of salary as it is an expression of hakaras ha’tov. “At YU Connects, we have a recommended fee.”
Rabbi Lebowitz noted that there is “significant halachic literature” in favor of paying matchmakers for their hard work. He recognized the cost of weddings and said that of all the related expenses that could be eliminated, the matchmaker should not be one of these.
Concerning etiquette in dating, Hercman said that certain matters should be discussed vocally rather than by text. She urged singles to get to know each other in “real time” rather than emojis. “Texting is awesome for certain things, and certain things are better said in person.”
Concerning the argument that boys have an advantage in dating based on numbers, Rabbi Lebowitz noted that they also struggle. When there is too much confidence, he reminds them that “You’re not that great; it’s a numbers problem.” He recognized that young women can feel dejected when there are not enough good men available. That’s when the sense of emunah should kick in, that Hashem runs the world, even as we make the effort.
One of the final topics discussed was premarital counseling, which used to have as much stigma as marital counseling. The panelists noted that it is picking up, and there is more acceptance of this practice. “It can help a lot. It really does take a village,” Hercman said. “Therapy from a privacy standpoint, it’s someone they can be open with.”
Rabbi Lebowitz said that unfortunately there are not enough frum therapists in the profession, as they are uniquely qualified to understand the intricacies of Orthodox life as it concerns relationships. “There is less and less stigma around therapy and that’s a good thing.”
By Sergey Kadinsky