How to Research a Shidduch Prospect

Researching a Prospective Shidduch

An important part of the shidduchim process is researching shidduch prospects.  Professional Shadchanim usually do not know the boy/girl personally.  Even friends and family may not be very familiar with one's child or with the boy/girl they propose.  Generally, the underlying assumption of the middleman is that their job is to provide a plausible name and a resume; it is the parents' job to do the legwork to ascertain that this is a shidduch worth pursuing.

There are differing approaches about the goal of checking out a shidduch prospect.  In one approach, the task is to learn everything possible about the prospect in order to ensure a "perfect" match.  The other school of thought is that the purpose is  to find out whether there are any serious health issues in the family or with the person being suggested. Parents of younger, less exposed singles may feel it safer to learn as much as possible before allowing the couple to go out, whereas older, experienced singles may prefer to rely more on their judgement as they date the prospect.

Questions posed during the research process are meant to ascertain:

  • whether the person is who s/he is represented to be (e.g. is she a Bais Yaakov type girl?, is he in learning?)
  • if there are underlying issues in the prospect that could undermine a marriage (vices, troubled past)
  • if the prospect seems compatible with their child.

For some parents, researching the family is also important, to determine whether the boy/girl was brought up in an atmosphere of domestic harmony and to determine the likelihood of their child integrating well with his/her in-laws.

The Limits of Research

Parents and singles should realize researching the shidduch prospect does not provide a guarantee that s/he is "right" for them.  Families may put up a good front and give even their friends and neighbors a falsely positive view of their situation.  Singles are able to live "double lives" more easily using the internet.  A shadchan may (accidently) mislead.

Another issue that pertains particularly to girls is that friends and Rebbeim of a boy may never have seen him in the context of an intimate relationship, since boys are less prone to develop intense, obsessive relationships during camp and high school than girls.  Unhealthy relationship habits may lie dormant in a boy, to emerge only as he begins dating.

Therefore, the single needs to use of the dating process to find out for him/herself the details that are important: character, personality, hashkafa and plans.

Checkout Dor Yesharim

If genetic compatibility is a crucial issue for either party, they should check the match with Dor Yesharim before dating or very early in the process.  Once both parties are in the Dor Yesharim database, all that is needed is to call the Dor Yesharim hotline, (718) 384 - 6060, to determine if there are genetic problems with the match.

Search Online

"Googling" the shidduch prospect (performing an internet search on the name) may yield information not provided on the shidduch resume.  This is a good way to learn more about the professional life or extracurricular activities of the single.  It is also wise to double check that the prospect's online activity and use of social media is compatible with one's hashkafa.

It may also be useful to perform online searches about the parents of the prospect to get a better feel for his/her background.

Examining the Photo

It is better if the single does not look at the photo that is often included with a shidduch proposal, because this may lead to mistaken preconceptions about the match.  It is a pity to have a match rejected because a single was not photogenic or did not conform to the someone's idea of his/her future spouse's  looks.  Moreover, the physical looks are only one aspect of the "chemistry" between a couple.  In real life, the prospect's charm may totally overshadow his/her appearance.

On the other hand, a photo may yield useful clues about the shidduch prospect, and should be examined by the single's parent or guide.  The clothing, pose, facial expression, or setting may reveal more about the subject than the resume alone.

Finding Useful References

Shidduch proposals usually arrive accompanied by a resume with a list of references: the family Rav, friends of the family, former Rebbeim/Moros of the boy/girl, and friends of the prospect.  References listed by the prospect are likely to be biased in his/her favor.  Nevertheless, it is worth contacting them, because they give a picture of the prospect’s social context: where s/he grew up, what type of shul or school s/he attended and what his/her chevra are like.  Friends on the reference list are especially useful to provide details on the prospect’s personality and preferences.

In order to find less biased information, one needs to network.  The resume may provide starting points: members of the prospect’s shul, classmates, staff or roommates from the Yeshiva’s/camps s/he attended, or co-workers at current or past jobs.  The prospect’s peers are especially useful to provide information about middos.  Ideally, parents should try hard to find people they know and trust from the prospect’s circle, because even “independent” references may be reluctant to divulge negative facts about their friend or neighbor.  One strategy is to enlist a friend with social clout to make inquiries on their behalf.

Parents should be aware that they might find that a neighbor or acquaintance is very negative about the shidduch prospect; perhaps, they had a dispute.  The reports of relatives should probably be treated with caution, since family situations are sometimes intensely positive or negative.  In addition, it is better not to rely on references that have been out of contact with the prospect for many years, since people do change.  However, a composite picture does emerge if one speaks to a number of sources.

Ask the Shadchan

For certain types of questions it may be most useful to ask the shadchan to ask the girl or boy directly, rather than asking a reference.  These include hashkafa markers, such as "Do you watch videos?" or "Are you planning to have a television?".  The shadchan should be asked to state the exact words and tone of the respondent, in order to obtain nuances.  The idea here is that the shidduch prospect would not want to marry someone with incompatible views on these questions, and therefore, the answer would be genuine.  Friends and references may not be as attuned to the girl/boy's positions on these important questions.  Moreover, they might be motivated to fudge replies to these questions in order to get the shidduch to happen.  The efficacy of this approach depends highly on the integrity of the shadchan.

It may also be efficient to submit a short list of questions about the tastes or habits of the shidduch prospect to the shadchan to ask directly rather than relying on references.  Note that compatibility in these areas may well not be important for the success of the shidduch.  However, it is sometimes helpful for maintaining conversation, especially during the first dates, to know which conversation topics to pursue.

Preparing for the Phone Call

Before calling references and other contacts, parents should think about the knowledge that they already have, what needs to be confirmed, and what they need to find out.  Questions should be appropriate for each individual reference.  For example, peers (friends of the prospect) on the prospect's reference list should not be asked about the sholom bayis between their friend's parents.

Questions should be categorized so that they may be addressed to the appropriate type of contact.  Conversations with references are more effective when the parent uses a notepad with sections for different areas of inquiry.  This way, parents may record information that is provided as topics change over the course of a conversation.

Phone Call Preliminaries

At the beginning of the phone call, the parent should introduce him/herself, stating that s/he is calling about a possible shidduch for so-and-so (the boy or girl being checked out).  Before continuing the phone call, it is courteous to ask if this is a convenient time to speak.   The contact number is often a cell phone number, which reaches the recipient at any time or place.  Offering the contact to try again at a better time improves the chance of having a productive conversation.  In addition, one should try to speak to the reference when s/he has privacy.  Otherwise, word may spread about who is inquiring about whom.

Once it is established that this is the right time to call, it is a good idea to specify the connection ("I got your name from ____") in order to gain the reference’s trust.  If the reference seems to have time but is a little nervous, it may be worth shmoozing a little to establish a bond so that s/he will be more willing to speak freely.   Sharing information about one's own background may also help the reference feel more comfortable.  However, if the reference is a busy person, especially someone who heads a chinuch institution, it is best to be efficient and expect the phone call to last about 5 minutes.  It often is not practical to ask the same questions of every reference.

It is crucial to establish the identity of the shidduch prospect at the outset.  It is easy for a reference, especially someone who has been in chinuch for a few years, to confuse names, siblings, or cousins.  Spelling out the name and providing details such as graduation year and home address of the prospect should prevent this problem.

One should try to determine towards the beginning of the interview, the extent of the relationship between the reference and the prospect and/or the family.  How do they know each other? How long? How recent?  How well?

Asking Questions

It is good to initially leave room for open ended responses, defining afterwards what kind of boy/girl one is looking for. Many times, knowing a little about the son/daughter will give the reference the ability to guide the parent and help him/her decide if the shidduch is right.  However, one should avoid talking non-stop about one's child.

Sometimes it takes a reference time to warm up to the questioner.   Lack of enthusiasm from one reference does not necessarily reflect badly on a prospect, since this may simply be a reflection of that reference's low-key personality.

Starting with a few questions that have several good options prevents the reference from trying to "sell the boy/girl" by telling the parent what they think s/he wants to hear.   Some questions need to be specific.  “Does he smoke?” rather than “Is he a smoker?”  In each case, one should try to get the raw data rather than the reference’s interpretation of the data (how many cigarettes a day/week/month makes a smoker?).  The reference should be asked to clarify what s/he means by learner, easy-going, etc.

Questions about the parents' living standards are best addressed to people whose own living standard is known.  The same family may be described differently, i.e. “high living” or living poorly, depending on the reference's perspective.

Any issue that would make or break the shidduch should be asked before accepting the first date.  One such issue may be where the couple would live.  Some young people are committed to Aliya; others greatly prefer to live near the family.  Much pain and aggravation may be avoided this way.   Finances, when appropriate, are discussed first with the shadchan and later, when the parents meet.

Parents should be aware that the people whom they question about a prospect may inform the prospect about the inquiries.  If the reference feels that a question is inappropriate, the reference may tell the family of the prospect that “someone was checking into you, and you should know that they asked absurd questions.”  This could break off a match.  It complicates matters that different circles have different norms for the inquiry process.  Therefore, it is a good idea to listen for cues from the reference that they are not happy with the questions.  Parents may make a request along the lines of “Please keep this phone call confidential, I don’t want the girl/boy to be hurt if it doesn’t work out”—but they have no way to enforce it.

We have a list of sample questions parents are asking references.

Red Flags

Generally, people try to speak enthusiastically about the prospect in order to help a shidduch along.  If more than one reference seems tepid about the boy/girl, this may be a warning sign. If one finds that one reference after another seems unable or unwilling to speak about the prospect, this may mean that they do not want to take the responsibility of sharing negative information that could break the shidduch.

Blank years in the prospect’s history might indicate a problem. They may mean that the prospect had to take time off for physical or mental health reasons. Disclaimer: we are not stating that those with a physical or mental health health issues should not be considered for a shidduch.

Ending the Call

It is appropriate to thank the reference for their time at the end of the call.  Depending on how the conversation went, the parent may ask if s/he may be called again in the future for additional information.

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