2010, age 22
After my mother finally told the shadchan I wasn’t interested in a third date with “Moshe,” a year went by with no dates. Idly, one day I signed up for eHarmony and filled out a profile. The questions were certainly different than the kinds of things we wrote on shidduch resumes…
Every night, I would see the matches delivered to my inbox, and scroll through the guys’ profiles. It was fun, and a bit of a thrill, to imagine that based on the answers I’d given, these men would be compatible with me! These men, who looked handsome (okay, some of them) and definitely looked nothing like most of the frum boys I’d been considering (or more accurately, that my parents had been considering for me). But it was all in fun. I hadn’t paid the fee that would allow me to actually chat with them or contact them, although I did request that my matches all be Jewish. (Even fantasies can be scary when the envelope is pushed too far, I guess.)
And then one day Emmanuel showed up in my inbox. He was good-looking and cool-looking.
And he requested to chat with me.
I thrilled, and spent a good few hours considering paying the fee to be able to talk with him. I read through his profile obsessively and saw he was Modern Orthodox, and thought “hey, that’s not so bad,” and he sounded fun and smart and snarky and like a guy I would want to talk to, and he wanted to talk to me! I texted a friend from high school excitedly, and she got excited for me, and then I admitted that I was never going to actually go through with this, and I deleted my eHarmony account.
2011, age 23
It had been a year and a half since my first shidduch date. I’d heard of a few boys who my mother had thought might be good for me, but the boys’ mothers invariably turned us down. My mother stopped telling me about any shidduchim before she got an answer from the boy’s side.
In January, during winter break from college, a shidduch went through. Avi (name changed) was smart – he was in law school. His references checked out and everyone said he was a “mensch.” By this point, I had shidduch-appropriate clothes, and the prep for the date wasn’t as anxiety-inducing as my previous shidduch – a year and a half before.
The date followed the same format – my father sat him down at the dining room table and they chatted while I looked on silently, and then Avi drove us to a hotel. We stayed in Brooklyn, and we sat in a lounge across from the Brooklyn courthouses. He talked about his brother, who was a judge – but not in this courthouse. I asked him about his interest in law, and sat up straighter in my chair – I was on a date, and we were acting like adults, and I was enjoying a mature conversation with a man!
And then he launched into his current interest in law, which was laws involving [
abortion], but though he wouldn’t say the word abortion (was he being considerate of my feminine sensibilities? was he being super-ehrlich and not saying “unclean” words?), he did use the word “fetuses” quite a lot. I sipped my water and nodded along as he passionately lectured about legal twists and turns involving these fetuses. I knew virtually nothing about these laws, and I tried to interject at one point with my interest in the topic, which was the feelings and emotions of the various parties involved. He dismissively waved a hand at that and continued lecturing. I sat back and decided to enjoy the lecture, though unless things changed very much in the next couple of hours, I was pretty sure I did not like this guy.
Luckily, the shadchan called to tell my mother he had said no before I even had a chance to talk to my parents, so I was spared the “give him one more chance” spiel this time.
I spoke to my mother about what had bothered me about this date, and she said, “Ah well, it seems when a shadchan hears you want someone smart, they forget you also want a mensch. We list both on your resume, so onward we forge, and make it clearer to shadchanim from now on!”
2012, age 24
The stream of calls from family and friends and amateur shadchanim had dried to a trickle. When there was silence for a while, my mother suggested I go to some of the shadchanim agencies. They have more shadchanim working with larger databases than just your run-of-the-mill amateur shadchan, after all.
At the first agency I went to, Invei Hagefen, I was interviewed by three sheiteled women, all furiously taking notes and speaking in shorthand amongst themselves as I spoke. They had filed me in the “younger” division, but when they discovered my birthday was in three months and I’d be turning 25, they decided that I would be better off starting in the “senior” division so I wouldn’t have to be transferred when I “graduated” so soon.
The second professional shadchante I went to sat me down in her living room and interviewed me on her own. When I told her that my plans for the future included a PhD in English literature, and also that I wanted someone who thought about his Yiddishkeit and didn’t do things by rote, she exclaimed, “interesting combination, I don’t usually see those together! We’ll have to think outside the box for you.” I bristled, but only internally. On the outside, I smiled demurely and agreed that no, I don’t fit most of the molds or boxes this community conceives of.
2013, age 25
I spoke to a seminary friend about how hopeless I thought shidduchim were, how I must be worthless and totally undesirable to go so long with no dates. She said it’s normal for girls to feel that way, and she knows girls who hadn’t been on dates for as long as six or seven months at a time.
“It’s been two years!!” I nearly screamed into her poor ears.
My older sister, married for two years now, spoke to me on the phone about these boxes I didn’t fit into, about my feeling of desperation that if I don’t fit neatly enough into a box, even if someone exists who doesn’t-fit in the exact same ways I do, shadchanim would never bring us together because we don’t match their algorithms and calculations. She calmed me down, she asked me to answer some typical questions like “what do you want you shabbos table to look like,” she coached me through how to deal with shadchanim in the future. I shuddered at the thought that I would still need these skills in the future to deal with shadchanim.
I decided to start seriously thinking about Modern Orthodox shidduchim. My parents weren’t too happy, but they were okay as long as I made sure the boys were “right-wing YU-type,” nothing too modern. I signed up for YUConnects, an online shadchan system, and spoke to a few of the shadchanim there. I started making trips up to Washington Heights for shabbos to get a feel for Modern Orthodox (right-wing only) life.
And then another shidduch went through. I barely listened when my mother described him to me.
Yitzchak (name changed) showed up at our door, and I knew immediately this date was over already. My parents glanced at me sideways, and I knew they knew it too. He was short, though not that much shorter than me (we had known this beforehand and I was not wearing heels for this very reason). But he held his head high so he was looking down his nose at us, even with his short stature, and he walked with an arrogant swagger. Compensating much?
Regardless, my father sat him down at the dining room table and chatted with him before ushering us out the door. As I left, I turned back to look pleadingly at my parents, and my mother shot a sympathetic look at me. But what was there to do?
Almost from the moment we got in the car, I realized he was also so over this date, but for different reasons. He seemed to have decided (based on what, I couldn’t tell) that I was terribly stupid, and he mocked me throughout the date in subtle, snarky ways that he apparently thought I would be unable to detect. He didn’t take me to a hotel lounge, but to a Starbucks inside the Brooklyn Barnes and Noble store. He bought a coffee, and I grabbed a bottle of water from the display. We sat at a table and his eyes roved around the room, and he pointed out the couple across the room who was obviously on a fourth or fifth date. He watched and commented on them until they got up and left.
And then he told stories that disgusted me – like the way he would never move seats on a flight if someone asked him to, because he reserved the seat he wanted and they should have done the same and since they were too slow to do that why should he suffer and give up his chosen seat, and of course fat people should be required to pay for two tickets. I didn’t bother smiling politely anymore. He already thought I was stupid, and I didn’t want to condone this horrendous opinion, even though I knew I would never be seeing this… person again. So I sat stony-faced.
He got bored or something, and had finished his coffee, so he suggested we walk around the bookstore. It’s a good technique for getting to know your date, I’d been told – you can discuss the books that catch your respective interests.
He scoffed at every book I pointed out, and condescendingly told me just how and why those books were simple and stupid.
By the time he dropped me off at home, I was ready to explode. I went up to my parents’ bedroom and knocked on their door. I opened the door, closed it behind me, and collapsed against it.
I held up my water bottle, still half full. “Well, at least I got this out of it!” I said.
My parents laughed. I scowled. I didn’t find this remotely funny.
“You knew from the second he walked in that I’d hate this date, didn’t you?”
They admitted they had. But what can you do? Once he was here, we couldn’t just turn him away. Why not, I demanded. He’s an arrogant, stuck up, self-important, pompous –
My parents cut me off before I could go any further.
“So it’s a no, I take it?”
“NO! It’s a no! It’s a – errrrrr! It’s a NO!”
I stomped to my room and ripped off my dress, then called my sister and cried to her. “Is this the only kind of guy I’m actually worthy of?” She calmed me down again.
I resigned myself to never knowing what it’s like to actually enjoy a date or have a decent personal conversation with a guy.
A few months later, I went out with another guy. The date was unremarkable and I don’t remember anything other than that it happened.
And then a few moths after that, I realized perhaps the problem didn’t lie with shadchanim not being able to hear what I wanted in a spouse and deliver that to me. Perhaps the problem lay in me trying to present an image and desire for the future that was not actually true.
2014, age 25
I moved out of my parents’ house and told them I needed a break from shidduchim. I deleted my YUConnects account, but still got matches sent to my inbox every so often, along with reminders that if I don’t respond within 24 hours, the matches would disappear.
I sent a nasty email to the administrator saying I don’t need this system, it sucks and I’m better off without any shidduch, and please delete my account for real this time. They responded nicely, to their credit, and deleted my account for real this time.
When my parents found out I wasn’t frum a few months later, they started telling shadchanim that I was “busy.” Why tell them the truth, they reasoned, when in all likelihood I’ll be back soon? If they told anyone the truth of why I wasn’t interested in shidduchim now, it would be a constant stain on my record even after I returned.
This backfired on them because they continued to get calls as the months wore on, and my mother emailed me while I was on a summer trip to England to tell me this. And that led to a whole other kind of escapade…