[shidduch (plural shidduchim) = match / arranged date;
shadchan (plural shadchanim) = matchmaker;
shadchante (plural shadchantes) = female matchmaker (though often she’s referred to simply as a shadchan)]
2007, age 19:
I returned from seminary. My parents started getting calls from friends and neighbors with shidduch suggestions. But we “weren’t listening” for me because my older sister was still single. I was okay with this. I didn’t feel ready to start a marriage and a family, and I was already fighting the niggling thought that I didn’t even want children.
2008, age 20:
Sara, the youngest of my group of friends, got engaged over Pesach, and married in June. She seemed somehow more mature now, although we did one last sleepover in her parents’ basement the shabbos before her wedding, and acted just as silly and foolish as we always did. I tried to hug her when we said goodbye after shabbos, but she stepped back, scandalized, and said “not in the street.” I felt chastised and certain that I was obviously not ready for the seriousness of marriage.
2009, age 21:
I wanted to start dating. It wasn’t so much that I felt ready for marriage. I still didn’t. But I trusted people who said no one ever feels ready, and I wanted to experience dating sooner rather than later. Although I could not imagine that shidduch dating could possibly be fun, I wanted to meet guys and this was the only way open to me. My mother spoke to my older sister, now an “older single” at age 25, and she agreed that I could start dating.
It took some time before people realized that my parents would now listen if they called with suggestions, but soon enough I got my own pages in my mother’s black marble shidduch notebook. We worked on my shidduch resume, which listed my school and summer history, my parents’ work and shul affiliations, each of my siblings and their ages and which schools or yeshivas they went to.
At first, shadchanim and friends called with suggestions of “learning boys,” which my sister was looking for. But as little as I knew about what kind of husband I wanted, I knew I didn’t want a learning boy.
Eventually, a shidduch came up that seemed “nogei’ah” (fitting / applicable). My mother did some research, called his references, and deemed it a go. She told me about him, and I listened and approved it – mostly because I could find no reason to say no before even meeting him. Plus, he played violin, and that was something I had wanted to do for a long time and had given up hope of ever having the chance to learn, so it excited me that he did play.
We told the shadchan to go ahead with setting up the date, and after a little back and forth between my mother and the boy’s mother, she set the date for two nights later. Moshe (name changed) would pick me up at 7pm.
On the day of the date, I got home from teaching at 4:30, as usual. My mother asked me what I planned to wear. I showed her the brown pleated skirt and light pink sweater I planned to wear. I loved the combination of colors, and I loved how the pink looked next to my skin. She shook her head and almost cried. My sister looked over and chimed in.
“You can’t go on a date looking like a seminary girl.”
I didn’t have any appropriate date clothes, as it turned out. My sister lent me her shabbos suit for this time, with promises from my mother that we would go shopping for date clothes the next day.
I ate supper, I showered, I meticulously put on makeup, I dressed in my sister’s suit. It was 7pm. I came downstairs to wait in the living room with my mother. My date arrived at 7:15. My father opened the door for him, and I stood up from the couch and smiled at him as he followed my father to the dining room table. My father sat at the head of the table, Moshe sat to his right, and my mother and I sat to his left. Moshe and my father chatted (my father knew someone at the yeshiva Moshe had gone to, so they reminisced a bit), and I looked back and forth from my father to my date as the conversation went on.
And then we were off. My parents walked us to the door, Moshe opened the car door for me, I settled in, and he drove us into Manhattan for our date.
He attempted to start conversation a few times in the car. His opening lines were so obviously prepared, so obviously what people say are “good conversation starters on dates,” that I didn’t feel very bad when I answered his questions and let conversation die – and also let him concentrate on driving, because he was so desperately trying to be polite and talk but very obviously needed full concentration and kept interrupting me to mutter about the GPS and then apologizing to me…
After a bit of heart-stopping confusion with the GPS (it doesn’t update that fast on Manhattan streets, apparently, and he got lost and then almost hit a pedestrian while he was trying to look at the GPS and keep moving with the flow of traffic at the same time), we got to the hotel he had chosen. (No, we weren’t checking in.)
The lounge, where shidduch dates usually take place so the couple can sit and chat while sipping water or soda, was full. Moshe went to the bar and asked the bartender if we could sit there for a bit even though we weren’t buying. No, the bartender said. But there’s another lounge a few floors up, you could try that.
We went up to the other lounge, and found it just as full, this time with people in glittering evening dresses and fancy suits. He suggested that we stroll around the lounge for a bit and look at the displays and artwork while we waited for a spot to open up. We walked, and I tried not to pay too much attention to my heels.
We talked about his violin-playing (he got coy and said he didn’t want to talk about it because he had just started learning the viola, and that’s all I could get from him), and then we mostly talked about Harry Potter and Eragon.
Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting YA. But when it was someone I was considering as a marriage partner, the discussion felt … childish. Throughout our date, he seemed childish. Cute, but far too immature for me. I didn’t hold it against him. After all, he was 21, the same age as me, but according to ultra-Orthodox lore (where boys start dating later than girls) boys are always far less mature than girls of the same age.
He dropped me off at home at 11pm, walked me to my door and said he’d had a great time. I politely said the same. I went inside and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door.
“Not for me,” I said. “He’s pretty much still a baby. He’s nice enough, and sweet and gentle and kind. But not for me.”
“Okay,” my mother said. “I’ll call the shadchan in the morning.”
And that was that. My first shidduch was over.
Except it wasn’t.
to be continued…