Is This the Right One?
Once their single starts going out with the shidduch prospect, the parents’ role is to listen, monitor the relationship and help their son/daughter decide whether or not this is the “right one”.
Debriefing after the Date
While parents may be anxious to hear how the date went, it is probably better for parents to wait for a calm moment, rather than questioning their child as soon as s/he returns from a date. Singles appreciate keeping their dating life private. Therefore, debriefing should take place without the siblings present. It is more effective when parents ask questions and try to draw their son/daughter out, rather than giving their own opinions.
If their son is dating from Yeshiva, parents should be aware that their son is bound to the Yeshiva’s schedule and may not be able to speak to them until after first or second seder.
After the First Date
The purpose of the first date is for the single to decide whether s/he feels like going out again with the shidduch prospect. It’s not a question of “Do I want to marry him/her” but “Do I want to see him/her again”. It reduces the pressure on a girl when she doesn’t have to make a big decision over her future after just one date.
The single is not likely to be able to answer detailed questions about their relationship until they have gone out a few times. However, if s/he has concerns about the prospect, s/he should consult his/her Rav/Rebbe/mentor.
Basic Questions As the Relationship Develops
Once the parties have gone out a number of times, a clearer picture should emerge of the boy/girl’s personality and character. Parents may find it helpful to go over the following questions with their single to help determine the prospect’s compatibility and suitability for marriage.
- Is s/he being listened to? Does s/he remember what he/she said?
- Does s/he feel emotionally safe? Can s/he make mistakes in front of him/her?
- Is s/he cynical? Does s/he denigrate things like the chinuch or political system? Cynicism may arise from pessimism, depression, or anger.
- Watch character traits over time; is s/he consistent?
- How does s/he use his spare time? People have time to do what they really want to do. How are vacations, Chol HaMoed, spent?
Speaking to a Mentor
It is useful for boys and girls to have someone aside from their parents to help guide them through the normal intricacies of the dating process. Questions may arise, such as “He/She said this; how am I supposed to react?” or “What did s/he really mean by that?” An outsider who knows the single well, is savvy about the shidduch scene, and is trusted by the parents and the child may be well equipped to deal with such queries. For boys, this may be a Rebbe, Mashgiach, or Rosh Yeshiva; for girls, a mechaneches, a high school Morah, or an adult friend may be right.
Part of the dating process should include checking first-hand basic compatibility in Hashkafa, life plans, etc. Singles should not assume that everything the shadchan told them about the other party is accurate. As a relationship develops, a single may need to have the parents help him/her focus on ascertaining that the boy/girl truly has the characteristics needed for Shalom Bayis. Judgment may be clouded if the prospect is exceptionally attractive, from a wealthy family, or from a high status background. Moreover, boys and girls who have been dating for a few years have sometimes been inclined to overlook important issues in their desire to get married.
On the other hand, older singles may need to be encouraged to overlook the presence or lack of traits that they may have seen as important but may be preventing them from giving a viable shidduch a proper chance.
Using a Questionnaire
Singles may find it helpful to write their impressions in a journal after their dates. We have developed questionnaires, one for boys to help them assess their relationship with girls they are dating and another for the girls’ use.
- Questionnaire for Girls to Use for Assessing the Relationship
- Questionnaire for Boys to Use for Assessing the Relationship
Keeping a “Balance Sheet”
Another technique for helping undecided singles make up their mind about the shidduch is to encourage them to create a list of the positive and negative attributes they observe in the boy/girl they are dating. Writing down one’s impressions can make them more concrete. As the relationship continues, more traits may be added to the positive or negative side of the “ledger” until clarity is reached about whether to get engaged or to terminate the relationship.
Monitoring the Relationship
As the couple continues going out, parents should see a relationship of trust and friendship developing. Their son/daughter should feel safe and happy with the person s/he is dating. Eventually, s/he will be comfortable saying that this is the right one for him/her. While for some couples, the relationship may form immediately, for many, the realization emerges slowly.
There is a view that girls should give the boy only their home line number, not their cell phone number, until they are engaged. Once they talk on the cell phone, the couple’s relationship is invisible to the parents. When parents can see their child’s face before, during, and after phone calls, they can get a better picture of how the relationship is progressing.
It may be best to seek professional guidance such as a dating coach or a counselor when doubts arise about the shidduch. There may be a specific issue that worries the child or parents. Or, perhaps, the relationship is not progressing, and the child needs to decide whether to continue “trying”. As an outsider, the coach may be more objective than the parents when a child is involved in a doubtful or complicated situation. The professional might notice the piece everyone else is missing, and be able to produce clarity for the parent or for the single who is having concerns. Furthermore, sometimes it’s very hard to terminate the relationship. It may be time to move on to another prospect, but it’s difficult for the parents to take the responsibility for that decision on their own. Shadchanim, mentors, or friends should be able to refer parents or singles to effective dating coaches.
It is worth seeking guidance even for “trivial” issues that seem unimportant. The guidance will help clarify the importance of the trivial issue and help the single avoid an “unimportant” reason becoming significant after marriage.
Grounds for Caution
Is there anything the single wants the other party to change? If s/he promises to improve a trait or behavior, it may be wise to stop the relationship, telling the other party to call back once the change has been accomplished. It is important to realize that marriage amplifies annoyances or problems that are noticed during the dating process.
Singles should be encouraged to work through all of their concerns during the dating process until they are resolved in a way that feels comfortable. If the single seems to be thinking some of these lines below, it's a sign that something may be amiss:
- We’ll work that out when we’re married
- I’ll change him/her
- I don’t want to think about that
- Everyone is rushing me,
- S/He said something that upset me, but he must have not meant it the way I took it
In addition, singles, or their parents, should be willing to trust their “gut instinct” if they feel uneasy about the dating partner/fiancee, rather than rationalizing certain behaviors away. This may not mean breaking off the shidduch, but it is essential to check out the situation more carefully and perhaps bring in outside help. It may be helpful in such cases to check out our Red Flags Page.
When Parents & Child See Things Differently
It sometimes happens that parents and children view the shidduch differently. The single may have his/her doubts while the parents are eager to move forward or the single wants to get engaged but the parents have concerns. When there is disagreement, it may be useful to research the shidduch further. Parents and single should discuss the matter thoroughly, with each side committed to hearing the other side out. This may also be a good time to seek outside guidance. It is generally recommended that parents avoid pushing their daughter/son one way or other.
If either suspects that there is potential for abuse (verbal or physical) in the relationship, they should study the Red Flags Page to learn more about unhealthy relationship habits.
Sometimes, the relationship is ended by the other party. It is best to view this as a particular pairing that is being rejected, rather than one's child who is being rejected. However, it is likely to hurt and there is no simple answer to dispel anxiety or bad feelings. It is especially difficult when a single sees peers getting married while s/he is left behind. Parents should give their child a few days to get over it. For some singles, sharing their feelings with parents or a friend may help; others may prefer to cope in silence.
Parents may try to soften the blow by explaining that “It wasn’t the right one; Hashem chose one or the other party to relay this”, or that rejection is good for development. If the single relates to analogies, parents might explain that potters slap the clay when shaping it. It may be beneficial to remind a child that Hashem loves us and that Hashem knows what we need.
It is useful to get feedback from the shadchan. If parents hear the same message a few times, they should take it very seriously. A mentor might be needed to help process the feedback and to advise what steps to take. It is crucial to make sure s/he gets the help she needs, whether it’s mentoring, and/or a dating coach.
It may be constructive for the son/daughter to try going over list of past dates s/he rejected. The single may realize that s/he had been overly quick to terminate a relationship; this may be the time to reconsider and possibly try that prospect again.
Brachos from Tzaddikim are very useful.