Shidduchim During Covid-19
The pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, including shidduchim. Can or should singles meet, develop relationships, get engaged and marry amid social distancing? Although many families have stopped their shidduchim during the crisis, Rabbanim we consulted encourage singles to pursue shidduchim.
While many parts of the country are re-opening, the Covid-19 virus is not disappearing quickly. The new normal of social distancing is likely to persist since pockets or waves of re-infection are likely to re-emerge. It may take many months until a safe and effective vaccine is discovered and deployed to a sizable portion of the population. This post lays out dating strategies suitable for the times, recommended by shadchanim and others involved with singles.
Remote (Video) Dating
Video dating started before the pandemic to help out-of-town singles meet. Now it is becoming mainstream, because it’s the healthiest way to meet, aside from phone-dating. We have a section in our Other Approaches post about video dating.
Using the Telephone
Many women tend to be more comfortable dating on the phone than men. Some of the advantages of phone dating is that the parties do not feel self-conscious about their appearance. The pandemic has made it harder for women to present their best appearance since they cannot have their hair done professionally and it’s much harder to swap outfits with friends to vary their look. Men are also experiencing difficulties looking their best given their lack of access to barbers and clothes shopping.
In addition, using the phone allows the single to relax and walk around, rather than feeling obliged to sit and stare at a screen through the entire date.
On the other hand, when a meeting is in person, one can read the other person's facial expressions, etc. One can see if the person has stopped talking or is in the middle of a thought and has paused. This can be difficult on a phone and lead to misunderstanding at the outset of the relationship until the dating couple becomes accustomed to each other’s style.
Dating in Person
More traditional social circles are inclined towards dating in person, even if the parties need to stay six feet apart. Parents and singles need to consult with their daas Torah and physicians to discuss risk factors in each household.
Some remote dating venues:
When seeking a safe and appropriate backyard dating venue, singles should ascertain whether a potential backyard conforms to the guidelines formulated by Agudas Yisroel for this purpose. The alternative may result in the dating couple catching or spreading the virus, especially when the parties come from different communities and are dating in a third. Bathroom facilities need to be considered in advance, to make sure that there are separate facilities for both parties without endangering the host’s family.
Agudas Yisroel has compiled a list of safe places to date: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call to arrange the use of one of these locations or to obtain a set of Agudas Yisroel’s guidelines for dating during the pandemic.
Dates may be arranged in the girl’s backyard if there is a bathroom available for the boy that can be sanitized after he leaves. With chairs placed six feet apart, the couple may converse and a table may be set up to permit some joint activities, such as painting or board game playing, provided that the singles are able to maintain the distancing requirement.
When meeting in a backyard, it is recommended that the girl dress as she would have done in an indoor venue, weather permitting, of course.
Meeting at a Park
The singles drive in separate cars to meet in the parking lot. They may start by parking near each other and speaking over the phone, each one from the driver’s seat. If the park has benches six feet apart, they may converse, with each one on a different bench. Alternately, they can bring their own chairs and space them correctly. Where feasible, they may be able to walk and converse while maintaining the correct distance.
It is understood that the girl may wear flats and dress less formally for this kind of date.
Note that parks need to be checked out in advance to make sure that they are open. Moreover, many parking lots fill up early on a Sunday morning.
Back to Basics
Dating under these circumstances has to be conversation-based rather than activity-based. This may promote more solid relationships since it’s about building connection rather than “having fun” together. Given the current challenges in finding venues and activities, the boy and girl are more likely to need to work out solutions together over the phone.
Singles who are willing to date despite the inconveniences demonstrate flexibility and resilience, evidence of solid character. Singles are also aware that getting engaged and married during the pandemic means missing out on a public vort and aufruf. The wedding may be in a backyard or drastically scaled down in a hall. They are serious about starting a household together.
Exceptions to Social Distancing
There are circumstances in which couples may be allowed to date without social distancing after each party has consulted with his/her personal physician.
How Singles are Dating
A general view is that remote dating is fine for maintaining a relationship that began in person, perhaps before social distancing started. It may also be effective for beginning a relationship, depending on the personalities of the singles. More cerebral couples may find it easier to connect remotely, although most couples find it challenging to form emotional bonds without meeting in person.
It is understood that dating with social distancing is harder and therefore, requires more dates. For example, while a norm in Yeshivish circles may be to get engaged after 5 or 6 dates, this is changing to going out for 10 or 11 dates. Given the constraints, including lack of bathroom facilities, dates are shorter.
Other options are to meet remotely or use social distancing to get an idea as to whether this is the right person. After that, the couple would try to prolong the relationship until normal dating returns, whenever that happens. However, one prominent dating coach believes that it is a mistake to begin dating someone unless it is possible for the couple to meet in person after two or three dates. This coach has found that the video experience may be so different from the in-person experience that when they actually meet, one or both parties may have a sense of “this is not what I pictured”.
Experienced singles find it easier to date within the new system because they know how dating works and what they are trying to accomplish with each date. This allows them to pick up cues and find what they are looking for from their dating partners despite the changes to the system.
Dating without an established “playbook” is harder for new singles. Younger singles or their shadchanim sometimes try to postpone a promising shidduch prospect in order to avoid possibly sabotaging it through the downsides of video or distance dating.
Preparing for Dating
Given the new conditions in dating, parents must have a serious talk with their son/daughter, their Rav, and their child’s mentor(s) before embarking on shidduchim. It is a good idea to ascertain that their son/daughter is truly ready and motivated to date with technology and/or social distancing rather than trying to force them into it.
Moreover, there is more need under the new conditions to involve dating coaches or mentors to address concerns about how the relationship is progressing.
The Effect of the Pandemic on Shidduchim
On the Positive Side
Remote dating has reduced barriers to meeting new people. Men are more likely to try out new ideas when they don’t need to travel. A shadchan who sets up round-robin Zoom dating reports: “I've heard women say that they have met more quality people in one night than in the last year.”
Singles are more open and understanding about the stresses that everyone is experiencing. This may be leading to better communication and increased tolerance, as it has become more accepted, for example, to say, “I’ve had a really tough day”, and have the other person understand.
Reasons for Caution
The crisis atmosphere and the isolation caused by the pandemic may temporarily distort the single’s judgement, leading him/her to relationships and engagements that may be regretted later. For example, a younger single may be determined to get away from the parental home where s/he is confined or an older single may be desperate to escape the loneliness of an empty apartment.
Moreover, a shared sense of vulnerability may foster bonding and an artificial sense of closeness. Singles are advised to make sure that their conversation is broad-based, to make sure that there truly are enduring foundations to their relationship.
Singles may be best off consulting a dating coach or mentor to help them work out whether they are dating from a wholesome perspective or whether they should wait until life returns to something more normal.
Advice from a Dating Mentor
We contacted Rabbi Yechiel Rhine, director of Compass Shidduch Network a division of Agudas Yisroel and an experienced dating mentor, and requested that he send us a statement regarding virtual dating. He sent us the following:
“Virtual dating by phone or video conferencing is unnatural and challenging. Many couples find that they cannot move the relationship forward under these circumstances. That said, there are those who have gotten engaged, married, and have so far built healthy relationships.
For the majority of the couples I have encountered during the pandemic, virtual dating is at best a bridge to maintain the relationship until they can date under better circumstances. I highly recommend that couples dating virtually or under social distancing have a third party who stays in touch with both daters to ensure that the relationship is progressing in a healthy manner”
Rabbi Rhine can be reached at email@example.com. This article is not officially endorsed by him.