Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shidduchim, Truth-Telling, and Negiah

A guest post by JS:

There is a tremendous pressure in the shidduch world to make oneself and one's family appear to be perfect. The slightest flaw may torpedo a potential shidduch before the guy and girl have even learned each other's names. The degree of subterfuge one the one hand and espionage on the other that is found in the shidduch system would make for a good Hollywood spy movie.

But, of course, no one is perfect and this fact is compounded when you consider the many relatives in one's family that a person "marries" as well.

However, the largest problem with the shidduch system isn't the vetting that goes on, per se, it's when that vetting occurs. Imagine if, upon meeting a person, someone were to list all of his/her problems and all of his/her family's problems. That other person would likely be insane to agree to a date, let alone marriage.

For example, imagine if a person produced a list that said: "I get angry at times for seemingly no reason, I'm very grumpy in the morning, I don't like to socialize over Shabbat; I prefer to sleep, my father has high cholesterol, my mother's mother had a bout with breast cancer, my brother is still "finding himself," money is tight in my family, I go to minyan but often space out, and I saw a psychiatrist in the past when I felt depressed during college."

That list is daunting! But, the problem isn't the list. The problem isn't even the vetting that would lead to learning of such a list. The problem is that the list is weighed against nothing - that the person behind the list is anonymous and faceless. However, when the list is sized up against this wonderful person you know and love, it becomes just a fact of life - an issue to be dealt with like all other issues in life. If you knew the person really well and deeply cared for that person, not only would the list not be off-putting, you would come to see the list as things that make the person unique - things that make the person who they are. After all, as mentioned above, everyone's got "issues" and loving a person involves loving that person, issues and all.

Of course, the rationale given for vetting before meeting is that it is important to get this background stuff out of the way up front to ensure that the dating process is short. Let others handle whether there are "issues" and let the potential couple focus (quickly) on whether they like each other enough to marry. And the rationale (or at least one of them) for why dating must be so short is the fear of a lapse of the laws negiah (i.e. dating couples will "fool around").

Tesyaa recently wrote:
I would prefer my children violate negia out of a lack of self-control rather than marry someone they shouldn't because they were rushed in their dating. And anyway, even the couples who get engaged and married quickly are often violating negia.
I agree 100%. Overall, I think the greater moral wrong lies with marrying off incompatible people than two people violating negiah. There is always teshuva for violating negiah. But, what is the repentance for two incompatible people who marry? Divorce? The stigma that follows divorce? Potentially remaining single due to the stigma? Or if they don't separate, a lifetime of regret and sadness? Children with parents who don't love each other? I don't see how you can weigh that against two people who fool around for a few days/weeks before marrying or moving on.

As for Tesyaa's latter point, I know this isn't dispositive of anything, but I know way too many stories of seemingly very frum couples who I would never dream would violate negiah, violating it in ways a person like me didn't even think were possible.

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