Helping Girls Prepare for Shidduchim
Preparing for Shidduchim: discussion and orientation specific to girls
How Does She Feel About Embarking on Shidduchim?
Girls in Yeshivish communities often start dating as soon as they return from seminary. It is a good idea, however, for parents to discuss dating and marriage with their daughter before launching into the Shidduchim parsha. The prospect of dating and getting married may cause intense anxiety in some girls as they worry about such issues as whether or not they will attract shidduch prospects, how they will interact with boys, and whether they will make a good marriage decision. In addition, some girls feel overwhelmed as they begin an often intensive academic program for their career (e.g. physical or occupational therapy) and feel unable to cope with shidduchim right away.
It is best for parents to take the time to listen to their daughter and patiently allay her concerns, rather than trying to rush her into Shidduchim. It may be helpful to have her speak with older friends or mentors about the subject. Parents should consider postponing dating until their daughter feels more comfortable with the idea; alternatively, beginning the dating process may help their daughter acclimate herself to shidduchim.
On the other hand, many girls are anxious to begin dating as soon as they return from seminary. Parents may feel uncomfortable about their daughter getting married so young. Moreover, the parents may wish to have their daughter work out her career plans before embarking on the dating process. They may find it helpful to discuss this with a Rav, Morah or principal who knows their daughter. Is she ready to get married? Is there any reason that she should start Shidduchim later than her peers?
In any case, it is helpful if parents present Shidduchim as a transition into adulthood. They may explain to their daughter that girls have different experiences with shidduchim: some are married by age twenty; others get married later. The Shidduchim parsha itself is a growth opportunity as the girl meets different boys, learns more about herself, and handles the nearly inevitable bumps on the way. Meanwhile, parents and daughter may enjoy being together and building a more mature relationship until she is sent the right person to marry. Bitachon is an essential component to help keep everyone on an even keel.
Financial problems are a major obstacle to shalom bayis. Young couples usually struggle financially, since they often are in school, in kollel, or at the bottom of the career ladder. A girl who is willing to find ways to economize and manage on less is better equipped to handle this stage of life. Parents may do their daughter a favor in the long run by putting her on a budget if she is not earning an income or recommending that she save some of her earnings if she is working. If their daughter is receptive, parents may discuss their own strategies for balancing their budget, or encourage her to talk to young couples about how they make ends meet.
If parents see that their daughter has trouble restricting her spending, they might try to steer her away from dating boys who have long-term learning plans followed by careers in chinuch.
Kollel and Finances
Girls who wish to marry boys who are learning now and likely to continue learning for a few years need to think about how the family will manage financially. Before proposing a shidduch with a boy in learning, Shadchanim often ask the girl’s parents how much they are willing to contribute to support the couple. There are different options when parents cannot support their children in kollel. A girl who is working may save her earnings; the more she saves, the longer her future husband may be able to stay in kollel. It may also be worthwhile for the girl to invest in getting educated for a higher paying job. Another option may be to look for a boy wiling to live in an out-of-town community which will offer a larger stipend.
In any case, unless the parents are exceptionally well-off financially, it may be healthy for the parents to be open with their daughter about the extent to which they are able to support her kollel plans.
Making Educated Decisions
As she begins shidduchim, a girl needs to think about where she would like her future family to fit in the learning/parnassa spectrum. Should she date boys who are working, studying for a degree, learning with plans for a career, or planning to stay “in learning” for the foreseeable future? These decisions often involve tradeoffs. The daughter is more likely to make choices that fit her needs if she speaks with recently married women who have taken different paths. Sharing a Shabbos meal once or twice with young couples may also be useful. This self-education helps the parents to fine tune their search for shidduch prospects and enables the daughter to ask her date focused questions about the life he plans to lead. Once she is married, a girl who has done her research is better prepared to handle the challenges of the life she chooses.
For example, a reality of married life is that the husband is often not available to the wife in the evening. A working man may go off to learn with a chavrusa, a student may need to go to class, and a kollel yungerman has night seder after the first year of marriage. While a husband in school or work does not have time to help before Yom Tov, he may be available on Sundays. For men in chinuch or kollel, the situation is reversed—their free time coincides with the Yom Tov schedule, but they are teaching or learning on Sundays.
However, girls also need to be aware that much of the experience of married life depends on expectations set by the family style of the couple’s parents and also on their husband and wife’s temperaments. For example, some husbands help more than others, some are home more than others, some like to relax, while others are more focused on learning. Some of this background information may be explored during the dating process but it is hard to “cover all the bases” in advance.
Orienting Girls about Yeshiva Boys
Since boys and girls are different, their chinuch in Yeshiva differs. Bais Yaakov girls usually are taught in a uniform system, with all the girls learning the same material at the same pace and they are more likely to conform to a single ideal model of the “good” girl. Girls who do not have older brothers may be surprised to learn that the bochrim’s world is different. Boys have a much wider choice of chinuch institutions, more options on what to learn and how intensely to learn it, and a more tolerant, lighter supervision. Therefore, there is a wider spectrum of “good” Yeshiva boys for girls to date and marry.
The Mainstream Bochur
Many boys find it difficult to adhere to a challenging Yeshiva schedule day in, day out; they need to take off time and “chill”. They may occasionally sleep through shacharis, don tan pants to play basketball, and spend extensive time schmoozing with friends. Most boys do not want to marry a girl who will be their “Mashgiach”, supervising them and trying to make them live up to their ideals. This sometimes leads to a phenomenon in which boys confess all their shortcomings to a girl on their first date. The message seems to be, “I want you to know the truth about me. I don’t want the pressure of living up to the good things you may have heard about me”. This may come as a shock to girls and their parents if they are not knowledgeable about bochrim and their ways.
It is a good idea for parents to research the Yeshivas that have been recommended to them as sources of shidduch prospects for their daughter to find out what is considered “normal” for boys from those institutions. It may also be helpful for girls who have no experience with Yeshiva bochrim to spend time with married friends to see what “real Yeshiva boys” are about and observe their more human side. This way, parents and daughter have a context for evaluating what they hear on a date.
The Serious Learner
Some bochrim are well adapted to the Yeshiva life of intensive learning. While girls may feel good about dating a serious learner, parents should be sure to check out other attributes essential in a husband: middos, yiras Shamayim and mitzvah observance.
Serious learners are often intellectually oriented, introverted, quiet, and refined. They may lag behind the “mainstream bochur” in their social skills and their presentation (e.g. how to dress). Moreover, having less experience of the world, they may not be as entertaining on dates. On the other hand, such bochrim are often conscientious, reliable, and dependable.
The Ambitious Boy
Some boys are goal driven already in their twenties, aspiring to become community leaders: Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva, successful professionals or prominent businessmen. Girls notice the difference when they date these boys: they get excited when they speak about their goals and they are proud of their accomplishments. A possible drawback to marrying such a boy may be that he will not be available to his family, neither during the years that he is working to attain the position he seeks, nor once he has reached his ambition.
Which Type is Right for Her?
It may take a few dates with different types of boys to help the daughter decide what kind of person would fit her best. For many girls, the mainstream bochur is more fun and easier to date than the real learner. On the other hand, the real learner, perhaps a Yeshivish version of the nerd, may turn out to be a very satisfactory husband. Idealistic girls may prefer the satisfaction of marrying a talmid chacham. Some girls may feel that they can only respect a man with high aspirations. Regardless of which kind of boy suits the girl, it is crucial that the girl feels that she can respect the boy she is dating, since a woman has a need to look up to the man she marries.
Cultivating Realistic Expectations
It is natural for girls to want to marry a choshuve boy, the best learner or someone likely to achieve in his career. However, a girl with high aspirations may profit by taking a hard look at what she has to offer. Does she have the stamina and the commitment to run a household and raise children practically singlehandedly? Is she seen by her mechanchim as a serious and committed girl?
A girl needs to have something substantial to offer in order to be seen as a plausible prospect for a choshuve boy. This may be a good job, financially supportive parents, or a family with a wonderful reputation in the community. That said, a talented and enterprising girl may create her own “name” in the community by involving herself in chessed organizations and the like.
Most shidduchim bring together boys and girls from families similar in hashkafa and status. A girl who wishes to marry a boy from a different background is likely to find it difficult, because shadchanim, amateur and professional, tend to match “like to like”. The most plausible scenario for a girl marrying into a different circle is where the girl has spent so much time with families in that circle that she has absorbed their values and blends in nicely. In such a case, the girl is likely to find mentors and advocates who will try to find her the boy who seems right for her.
A dilemma arises if the girl wants a goal-driven, high-achiever husband but feels that she isn’t willing to make the required commitment. In this situation, it may be helpful for parents to help their daughter see the good in “regular” people so that she can learn to look up to a more mainstream boy. In general, girls need to understand that they cannot “custom order” a husband to their specifications, and that they will probably have to let go of some feature(s) they had desired in their future husband.
If their daughter’s aspiration seems unrealistic, parents may need to “wait it out” rather than arguing with the girl and possibly stiffening opposition. If shadchanim are not presenting the girl with the kind of shidduch prospects that she aspires to marry, parents might try asking a third party to persuade their daughter to try dating someone more within her reach.