Shidduchim During Covid-19
January 21, 2021
COVID-19 and the Future of Shidduchim
He pulls up at the house at the agreed upon time, 7:30 sharp. He adjusts his tie and leans back to grab the hat lying on the backseat. Walking up the stone pathway that leads to the front door, he mentally reviews the short vort he’s prepared in case the girl’s father expects him to share a thought. After politely turning down a glass of seltzer, making small talk with the parents, and stuttering through a retrospectively too-complex dvar Torah, the girl finally makes her appearance and the couple leaves the house.
As they drive down the highway making light chitchat, music plays softly in the background. When they reach the tastefully decorated hotel lobby, he orders a Coke and she opts for water. They choose two armchairs that are placed at angles with each other, and settle in for the date. Two and a half hours to go.
For anyone who’s dated, ever, this scene is probably very familiar.
For today’s singles, however, the dates are almost unrecognizable. Among the many significant changes COVID-19 has introduced, a central difference is the workings of shidduchim. How has dating changed in the past 11 months? How are young adults adjusting to these shifts? And what does the future of shidduchim, with COVID restrictions and even beyond the pandemic, look like?
The parshah, pandemic style
The road to the chuppah can be a challenging one, laden with stresses and pressures. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and what do you get?
I asked some singles and shadchanim. Surprisingly, the answers varied widely.
For some, coronavirus restrictions posed an added difficulty in the already anxiety-inducing journey. For others, it was eye-opening. Some singles felt that with the limited location options, the dating experience became clearer and more tachlis-focused.
Leah Rottenberg dated during the pandemic. “Dates became beshows,” she shared. “It was impossible to find places to go, so we were stuck inside with very few things to do. The new circumstances definitely added to the stiffness and discomfort I felt while going out.”
Rochel Esther disagrees. “It was kind of nice to be restricted to very specific dating spots. I felt like it cut down on the distractions. There were no more forty-minute drives with the boy focused on the road. No new spots and novel activities. I’ve had guys take me to museums and parks, and later on, bowling and restaurants. Dating local felt more low key and connecting.”
For boys, the new normal alleviated a lot of the planning and prep involved in going out. Zalmy appreciated the change but noted that he did feel hard-pressed to keep things novel and interesting while visiting the same familiar spots over and over again.
Indeed, many people in the parshah appreciate the recent simplification of the dating process. One Lakewood shadchan feels that daters have been doing really well with the new system. A shidduch she arranged culminated in an engagement after the couple dated in the chuppah room of an empty wedding hall! People have been adapting well to the curveball they were thrown, and the world of shidduchim continues to thrive.
Rabbi Shlomo Lewinstein is a popular shadchan who has made myriads of shidduchim to date.
He witnessed an interesting phenomenon during the early stages of the outbreak. Many couples were getting engaged after four or five dates, as opposed to the usual number that ranges closer to eight or nine on average.
Rabbi Lewinstein noticed that with fewer activities to do and places to go, couples were speeding up the dating process. “The process became more tachlis-focused and serious. People weren’t just going on date after date after date.”
Besides for going on fewer dates before tying the knot, the couples also kept their dates shorter. The average first date is commonly a three-hour affair. During the height of the pandemic, the time frame was reduced to two hours, or even an hour and a half. Dates being shorter in length and fewer in number is, arguably, a very positive change. Shadchanim note, however, that this adjustment is unlikely to last once the pandemic is over.
Another big corona-caused change, Rabbi Lewinstein mentioned, is in the operation of the colloquial “freezer.” Usually, the freezer opens (meaning, boys are allowed to begin dating) on Tu B’Shevat. This year, based on a number of coronavirus-related factors, the decision was made to open the freezer Sukkos time. What does this mean for shidduchim? More boys going out, more couples getting engaged. Rabbi Lewinstein speculates that this, too, is a switch that is unlikely to last long term.
Where to go
Luckily for those in the parshah, many generous individuals invested hours of their time and loads of effort into creating and publicizing location options for dates. I spoke to some of the incredible people who are making COVID-era dating possible.
WeMeet is a dating solution that has been vital to couples during the pandemic. They provide pleasant and convenient dating spaces right here in Lakewood, using offices in Cedarcom’s local buildings. Although it was created as a substitute dating lounge during lockdown, WeMeet may very well be the future of dating. Instead of driving out to Long Branch or Manhattan, couples can meet locally, cutting down on unnecessary time, expenses, and stress.
“The idea began when all hotels and public venues were closed during the state lockdown,” the WeMeet team explains. “People needed a place to meet during Pesach bein hazmanim at the height of the COVID outbreak, and there was nowhere to go.
“The reason Cedarcom’s building was the place to do it is because one of the tenants is Gem Ambulance, which operates 24/7. As such, there are always many employees present and there are no halachah questions regarding yichud.
“Cedarcom provides conference rooms and offices, which were outfitted with comfortable couches and other amenities to accommodate these dates. Drinks, snacks and board games are also provided for each meeting.
“WeMeet can coordinate over 20 dating requests some evenings, and we have hosted close to 2,000 dates here so far. We recently added a second location at one of Cedarcom’s other buildings on Airport Road with two arcade-style game rooms for use at a later phase in the dating process.
“As the requests for meeting space kept growing and more spaces were needed, we asked our tenants in the building to please join us and give out their office space as well, and they graciously did so. Gem, Valmar, and MFS Supply have all joined our program. We have also recently added a number of other WeMeet locations beyond Cedarcom’s buildings.”
Another incredible new resource is The Shidduch Shuk, a website that lists hundreds of dating spots. As its tagline, “Everything but the driving,” suggests, the site is a truly comprehensive guide. It provides information from locations and activities to halfway meeting points, COVID updates, and shidduch alerts. They even provide short vorts on the parshah for the boys!
Classified by city, The Shidduch Shuk lists meeting places and includes descriptions, photos, the address, hours, and parking details.
Lehmann’s List was created by Mrs. Chani Lehmann. In March, when she realized that lounges would be closed and people wouldn’t have where to date, she began making calls and arranging alternate meeting locations. At that time, singles were not starting to date new people. However, those who were already in the middle of going out with someone needed a place to meet. The spots are all listed, described, and color coded on a spreadsheet.
Some of the spots are actually furniture and housewares stores, which provide lots of space and comfy seating.
One of the hostesses Mrs. Lehmann contacted was Mrs. Toby Tabak. The Tabaks have a basement with a separate entrance, in addition to a beautiful and private backyard. Mrs. Tabak set up some couches, drinks, and games, and, of course, lots of Lysol. The Tabaks asked that the guests follow the safety guidelines while using their space.
At that point, the boy and girl would each arrive in a separate car, as being together in a vehicle was in violation of the social-distancing laws.
This makeshift lounge saw tens of couples, sometimes hosting multiple dates in a day. Going above and beyond, Mrs. Tabak even set up two proposals in her home!
Even chassidim, who normally date in their homes, made use of Toby’s basement. During the lockdown, these families had all their children home with nowhere to send them. They, too, needed a spot where their daters could meet.
Mrs. Tabak says of her hosting experience, “I was so impressed with the resilience and creativity I saw in so many of the young couples. It can be awkward to be stuck in a room with not much to do while on a date. Some boys brought games, and one arrived with a painting set. They found ways to turn a challenging situation into a memorable night.
“Many of the families were so thankful for the service. I’ve gotten beautiful texts, calls, and letters of appreciation. There were bachurim who gave me a bottle of wine before the date to thank me for hosting.”
Toby notes that many boys actually prefer these alternate arrangements. “So many bachurim don’t have experience with highway driving or don’t know their way around Manhattan,” she explains. “There’s less stress in this system. They are calm, nice, short dates, with a lot less pressure.”
The hosts on Lehmann’s List are just an example of the many individuals who have been stepping up to help. In these tumultuous times, lots of giving and innovative people are doing what they can to make dating possible.
People have rented hotel conference rooms and outfitted them to serve as dating spots. One man set up a clear, heated bubble on his property. Inside, he arranged couches and stemware. The bubble is a little haven of privacy that offers views of beautiful backyard foliage.
One host set up a MasterChef competition for a date. Another cooked dinner for a couple so they could feel like they were at a restaurant.
Mi k’amcha Yisrael!
COVID and shalom bayis
We’ve all heard talk about COVID affecting the shalom bayis of newlyweds, and, for that matter, of weds at any stage. A therapist and two young wives share their experiences and advice.
Perel’s wedding took place in February of 2020, mere weeks before the coronavirus shadowed the planet. Suddenly, she was distance working only three hours a day while her husband learned from home.
Perel and her husband, Boruch, knew it would be unhealthy for their marriage if they spent all day, every day together, without any distractions and breaks. The couple set schedules and did most of their tasks in separate rooms. Boruch learned while Perel spent the time working, cooking, organizing, studying, and speaking to friends on the phone.
“It was the perfect arrangement,” says Perel. “We weren’t passing endless days staring into each other’s eyeballs, because we mostly kept to our schedules and weren’t working in the same room. On the other hand, we definitely got to spend a lot more time together than usual. Suddenly, we weren’t going away for Shabbos or running errands or leaving for work.
“After we got married, things were just so hectic and busy. Boruch was in yeshivah all day, and I was working full time. I’m also enrolled in an online college, so my nights were busy too. Although we were so sad about the suffering and pain others were experiencing, the time we got to spend together was a gift.
“We made Pesach together, faced challenges together, navigated this new and crazy world together. Being independent of our families during shanah rishonah was a great opportunity; it gave us the chance to navigate things together.”
On the other hand, Toby Price was newly engaged when the lockdown laws were introduced.
“We immediately asked our rav what to do. He felt strongly what we should not push off the wedding date. Originally, I was very upset. I wanted to wait out the pandemic and have a normal wedding. I was later grateful for the psak. Although there were many unknowns throughout the engagement, the fact that I was always certain about my wedding date was very reassuring. The where of the event, however, was up in the air until the last minute. We secured a hall the week of my wedding. My invitation is so indicative of the era, it can go in a time capsule. The invites didn’t include a location. We had a hotline for the guests to call, and we updated it as soon as we booked a wedding hall.
“My chasunah was in a Brooklyn hall. Guests came in through a side door and couldn’t arrive in wedding clothes. My wedding had way fewer attendees than the one I’d dreamed of, but in the end, the people who really mattered were there.
“One bonus was that our sheva brachos were so beautiful. They were all outdoors, in the gorgeous mid-June weather. Knowing that my wedding was so small and unusual, the hosts all went above and beyond, with stunning tablescapes and decor.
“Being engaged during the quarantine was extremely difficult. With no work and few distractions, my upcoming marriage was the only thing I could think about. Having so much extra time on my hands, I began overthinking every date, every conversation, every interaction I had with my chassan. There were many times I felt like breaking my engagement. I had kallah jitters to the nth degree and my feet were colder than an Eskimo’s.
“The advice I’d give a COVID kallah is to keep as busy as possible. Fill your days as much as you can. Don’t let yourself obsess about your upcoming marriage; it’s not healthy, and it will put a big strain on your relationship with your chassan.”
Mrs. Gitty Levy is a popular therapist and kallah teacher. She coaches women of all ages in her home in Yerushalayim and across the globe, including many Lakewood residents.
She shares her experience with newlyweds during the coronavirus.
“One kallah I taught had serious social anxiety and introversion to a very great extent. She was generally very worried about marriage and living so closely with a husband. She got married during a lull in corona. They were part of a chassidus that was very makpid on the laws and guidelines from the health department. After sheva brachos there was lockdown for some time. She literally went into severe anxiety about how she’d be able to stay home with her new husband around the clock. She had nothing to talk about. She felt immense pressure from thinking she “should” be keeping him company. She wanted to be at her mother’s house more. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving him home alone. This couple is still struggling. Every few days he comes home with new quarantine requirements because of exposure to some individual in his kollel. She’s having a very hard time with this. Her mother called me the other day saying maybe they should move into his parents for some time—just to alleviate some of her tension over being the only one to socialize with him. This is a couple who would probably have a hard time in any case, even without corona. But COVID is definitely exacerbating the problem.
“Another young woman whom I’ve spoken to during corona said she was having a hard time respecting her husband after being at home with him day after day. She thought he’d be learning more and instead he seemed bored. She was deeply disappointed. It is hard to keep to a schedule when there is none. It is very important for young husbands—or older ones—to keep busy with meaningful things, like chavrusas on the phone, daf yomi, looking into a sefer, reading and writing, etc. This would definitely help his wife maintain her respect for him, and also give him a sense of purpose and accomplishment in his day.
“There’s always a process of acclimation after marriage. It takes time for a couple to settle into life and slowly understand their own needs and learn more about their spouse. But under normal circumstances there’s more distraction in our day. This is Hashem’s chessed; it makes this shift in our life more pleasant, a gentle process. Sheva brachos are there mainly for the purpose of bringing the chassan and kallah out and being mesame’ach them. After that, they find other types of outings and get-aways that allow them to connect in a way that’s not overbearing yet fun and connecting. Corona has definitely made this more complicated for couples who might otherwise find this special time in their life smoother and even more exciting.”
In summary, by sticking to a productive schedule and spending some quality time together, we can hopefully make it through the pandemic—as individuals and as couples—closer and stronger than ever.
These Lakewood dating locations were excerpted from Lehmann’s List.
- Jackson, NJ, backyard: very pretty backyard, chairs, table with umbrella. D Benarroch 732-207-4638
- Lakewood, NJ, indoor sunrooms: chairs, bistro table. Chana Rose 917-841-6433
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard. Patio with large couch, backyard with chairs, basement sitting area. Toby Tabak. Text: 732-330-8813
- Lakewood, NJ, large back porch: umbrella, table, chairs, swing bench, forest in back. Adina Nebenzahl 732-278-1468
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: table, chairs, snacks, drinks, Matchsticks (the game). Edinger 718-915-6612
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: large, private, table, chairs, swing set, drinks, snacks. Ruchama Gass 347-405-2297
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: private backyard/porch, poolside seating, chairs on porch, waterfall pond, indoor area. Shayne Freund. Text: 732-288-6708
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: private backyard, seating, drinks, snacks. Kraise Benedict 732-672-3068
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: enclosed backyard with large deck, bench, patio set, and regular chairs. Chana Goldberg 732-678-7044
- Lakewood, NJ, sitting room/backyard: sitting room with private entrance, backyard with walking path and benches. Rifky Rothenberg. Text only: 732-857-6163
- Lakewood, NJ, basement: open family room, large sectional couch, recliners, fridge with drinks. Moti Bengio 908-770-3083
- Lakewood, NJ, backyard: private poolside with table, lounge chairs, lights, drinks. Gitty Fischer 848-525-1287
- Lakewood, NJ, basement simcha hall: drinks, snacks, games. Kaila Niasoff. Text:732-814-5891
- Lakewood, NJ, therapy office: couches, lot of interesting knick-knacks, fridge with drinks, Keurig. Gitty Chase. 908-910-1295
- Lakewood, NJ, TH Interiors: beautiful showroom, drinks in fridge. Mr. Lowy firstname.lastname@example.org
- Toms River, NJ, basement: sitting area, board games, air hockey, pool table, basketball, ping pong, drinks. Dassy Levine 718-757-4171
- Toms River, NJ, backyard: couches, chairs, lighting, tables, patio, and awning. Yaakov Piotrkovski 732-503-6517
- Toms River, NJ, backyard: fireplace, pool, sitting area. Etty Spitzer 347-387-1633
- Toms River, NJ, basement: private entrance, bathroom, couches, board games, snacks, drinks. Yocheved Cohen. Text/Whatsapp: 917-301-1575