The View from the Driver’s Seat
January 25, 2024
The Other Side of the Shidduch Crisis
I’m going to have to do this again.
Shlomo pulls up outside the house and exchanges a polite goodbye with the girl in the passenger seat. He dutifully waits as she heads inside, but he already knows what her answer is going to be.
During the long drive back to his dorm, he talks to his mother and his rebbi, trying to decide what to do, wondering, waiting. Is there an end in sight?
“She said no,” his mother tells him the next morning when he slips out of seder to make a phone call. “But you weren’t so excited about it either, right?”
He hadn’t been, wasn’t really interested in continuing, but still. “Don’t worry,” his mother says cheerfully. “I just got another call about you today, and I have a whole stack of resumes. We’ll find you the right one soon.”
Shlomo has heard this before, and after 15 girls, it doesn’t really comfort him anymore.
He heads back inside and sits down next to his chavrusa whose chosson watch glints from under his sleeve. “I need to leave early to look at apartments,” his chavrusa informs him.
Shlomo nods. His chavrusa came to BMG a full year after him. He glances around the room, taking a mental tally. The guy in front of him came back the same time as he did, and he just had his first child. The boy sitting next to him beat the freezer and is getting married in a week. His second seder chavrusa has been married for three months. And night seder? He’s on his seventh chavrusa in the year and half he’s been back because they keep getting engaged on him.
Shlomo slumps down in his chair. He’s gone out with fifteen girls. Sometimes he said no; sometimes she said no. Twice it even looked close. Since he left the freezer, it’s been nonstop rounds of waiting for the yes from a girl, getting dressed up, renting a car, planning a date, driving to pick her up, dating, and then waiting to hear back from the shadchan.
He’s grateful to have so many resumes, so many opportunities. His sister keeps telling him how lucky he is, but he doesn’t know how much longer he can do this.
Driving through the wilderness
Many boys, maybe even most, follow a fairly predictable pattern. They come home from Eretz Yisrael, enter the freezer, and start shidduchim. Usually within three to six months, they’re proud chassanim, busy with wedding planning, apartment hunting, and car purchasing.
But what about those boys whose route isn’t so straightforward?
The world likes to compare shidduchim for a boy to being lost in a forest while shidduchim for a girl is like being lost in the desert.
The desert is more desperate and more dangerous, but the forest is no picnic either. It has few resources for the boys who don’t get out right away.
“When I was in BMG, the shelf life for bachurim was about two years,” says Yosef, a Lakewood yungerman. “Today, ten years later, I would put it at about six months.”
Girls often spend longer in the parshah, but unfortunately, they’re usually in good company. They also generally have comparatively much more time before they start feeling out of place.
“By the time I was back for a year, 14 out of the 16 guys in my zman who came to BMG together were engaged,” Chaim, who spent over three years in shidduchim, shares. “By a year and half, I was the only one left.”
On the other side of the highway
“Bachurim spend their whole life in yeshivah. Particularly in BMG, the whole current of the place moves people toward a kollel lifestyle,” Rabbi Yosef Semah, a rosh chaburah in BMG who works with bachurim in shidduchim, gives insight to some of the common struggles boys go through. “You spend your days in very close proximity to friends who become chassanim and then fathers. For many boys, yeshivah can feel like a waiting station to get married. It’s like standing at a bus stop and watching everyone else get on while you just stand there. Your success is being measured, and you can’t live up.”
It doesn’t help that the failure is so obvious. “You look around and realize you’re the only boy in your chaburah without a chassan watch,” Chaim says. “There’s something very public about it; everyone knows you’re not engaged or married.”
The social scene makes it even more challenging, particularly in BMG. BMG is so large that every group has its niche, and it’s not easy to create a new group. Boys come in with their friends, join the same chaburah as their friends, and won’t usually learn with someone they don’t know well. That culture leads to sticking with a previous chevrah, and it isn’t simple to create a new one. This means that bachurim can find themselves sitting at the lunch table where the conversation revolves around babysitters and pediatricians, and they aren’t able to create a new group of friends whom they feel comfortable eating lunch with.
“What may be the hardest is the lack of available outlets,” Moishy states. He’s been in BMG for close to two years. “It’s very hard to learn the entire day with nothing else going on in your life. A yungerman can do it because he has a family, but the only other focus a bachur has in his life is shidduchim. And when that isn’t going well, it’s a difficult place to be in.” As people, we were put into this world to create and to give. It’s our essence, our core, and being unable to express that is the strongest cause of low self-esteem.
“Girls usually have many more opportunities to be meitiv, to feel fulfilled,” Rabbi Semah explains. “They can teach; they can work with struggling students; they can do chessed. But a bachur who’s not married has very few substitutes available for marriage. It’s hard to keep learning the way you did when you were 15 or 16 without feeling like you have a purpose or a place to express your talents.”
On the other hand, it’s difficult for a bachur to find that outlet without being branded as too different or leaving his learning schedule, which certainly won’t help his shidduch prospects.
Getting on the road
What makes some boys get engaged right away while others wait?
“We don’t really know,” says Rabbi Meir Gruenbaum. “Sometimes it’s just that their zivug wasn’t ready yet.”
However, proper hishtadlus needs to be done. If a boy is constantly getting negative feedback from the shadchan or if he’s always getting nos, then he should talk to his rebbi.
“Talking it over with someone knowledgeable can often help him contribute better to the dating process,” Rabbi Gruenbaum advises.
A large part of the problem for some of the bachurim may be the current dating expectations.
“You take a bachur who’s been in yeshivah his whole life; he’s been working on his middos, and you put him on a date. He’s not necessarily going to be ready to ‘take the wheel,’ so to speak,” Rabbi Semah explains. “Definitely not on the first date. Once he gets into the driver’s seat, he’ll be able to execute, but girls need to give him a chance. It can take until the fifth or sixth date for the real middos of the bachur to come out.”
BMG shadchan Rabbi Tzodek Katz points out an interesting phenomenon. “I find that the longer a boy is in shidduchim, the longer it takes for him to get married. That’s just the way it is. After you see so many girls, it’s hard to close the door and settle on something.”
Lately, there has been a push for bachurim to go to Eretz Yisrael earlier so they can start dating earlier, and Rabbi Tzodek Katz is fan of the idea. “When bachurim are younger, they’re more moldable; they’re not so set in their ways, and this gives them an advantage in both shidduchim and marriage. Boys also learn better when they’re married, giving them another reason to marry young.”
Are boys ready for marriage at a younger age? Yossi Shafer, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of Empower Health Center, feels that for the most part, they are.
“The number-one predictor for any change is pain,” he explains. “When a boy concludes that it’s time for him to start shidduchim, and by doing so he will avoid the pain of being left out while his friends start getting married, he will make the necessary changes to enable him to start. Chassidish boys know that they have to be ready by age 18 or 19, so they ‘shape up’ accordingly.”
Will starting shidduchim younger make it easier for bachurim to get married? The evidence shows that it might.
Too many cars in the shop
“They get a hundred résumé!” This aspect of the shidduch system often seems the most skewed. Boys are supposedly receiving hundreds of resumes while girls can get less than one yes a year.
But is that a such a blessing?
“First of all, it isn’t necessarily true that all boys are receiving so many resumes,” Rabbi Semah points out. “There are many boys who have something small that’s different about them, like they didn’t go to the right yeshivah or something like that, and they’re also waiting for the phone to ring.”
“Sure, they might have a lot of resumes, but none of them are right for them,” Rabbi Tzodek Katz offers a slightly different perspective. “I find there’s a lot of misalignment. I could have a hundred resumes, and not one is right for this boy.”
Rabbi Meir Levi, BMG shadchan and founder of NewlyReds, agrees. “I’ll call up a mother, and she’ll say, oh I have hundreds of resumes. But then if I offer to call back a few days later, she’ll immediately backtrack and ask me who I’m suggesting. They might have a million resumes, but many of them are not on target.”
And even when many of the resumes seem to be on target, they’re still difficult to sift through.
“I felt this constant pressure to always be looking into something, to always be making phone calls,” Chani, whose son was in shidduchim for six months, shares. “I married off a daughter before my son, and while it wasn’t fun to have no prospects, we just waited until we got a yes, and then I looked into it. With my son, I was constantly busy with it, especially because he himself was feeling the pressure so much more.”
By the time the girl gets a yes from a boy, there’s a good chance of the shidduch happening because the research has already been done on one side.
“With my son, though,” Chani continues, “I had so many résumés, and I received so much conflicting advice. Some people told me not to look into a girl unless I knew someone on the resume, and I heard the logic in that. On the other hand, I wasn’t against the idea of my son marrying someone I had no connection to, it just made the research harder.”
Quantity is nice, but without quality, without that resume that you really need, the quantity just adds to the confusion and frustration.
Paying the toll
Constant dates can sound great on paper, but the reality of dating girl after girl can lead to a major frustration or burnout.
“The actual dating process takes time, planning the dates, driving there,” says Rabbi Semah. “And that affects their learning and in turn their dating performance. When a boy is constantly dating and missing weeks of learning, they don’t feel good about themselves and come to their dates ill-equipped.”
When a boy is going out, particularly if it’s out of Lakewood, a lot of time is devoted to the dating process. They’re not wasting time, but if the date failed because of outside factors, they can feel like they did.
“Over bein hazmanim, my son was dating in the mountains. There was nothing to do there,” Chani says. “He spent a lot of time planning each date and figuring things out, but he couldn’t think of everything. Once he went to a hotel, and there was an event going on and they could barely hear each other. Another time the girl saw someone she knew and was uncomfortable the whole time. These are things you can’t plan, but they leave the boy feeling awful when the date flops because of it.”
It’s incidents like these as well as the pressure to make the date successful that can lead to mental burnout. Boys start wondering what’s wrong with them. They feel like they just can’t do it.
When this attitude comes up, Rabbi Semah encourages an attitude of bitachon. “Hashem will facilitate the right shidduch in the right time. Boys need to remember that it’s not in their hands.”
Part of the problem is the public forum.
“Everybody sees that you’ve been missing night seder, second seder, and then abruptly you’re back in yeshivah.” Chaim recalls. “Even if you didn’t share that you were dating, everyone knows, and you can’t lick your wounds in private.”
“We try to encourage the bachurim not to share much. It’s very damaging,” Rabbi Semah says ruefully. “But when boys aren’t living at home and they’re close to their friends, they end up sharing too much.”
On the flip side, if a boy isn’t getting dates, there’s the embarrassment of everyone knowing that they aren’t wanted.
“When the freezer opened and my son was in yeshivah that night and the next and the next, it was really hard for him,” Chani says. “Everybody knew he wasn’t dating.”
Finally, it causes a stress to their ruchniyus. “Boys can sometimes use dating as a crutch. ‘I’m in shidduchim, what do you want from me?’ And it affects their learning,” Rabbi Semah adds.
This approach backfires because it leads to low self-esteem, but it can be hard to avoid falling into that trap.
For years, boys paid the toll literally by picking up the tab on dates and running up a bill of thousands of dollars. With costs of a rental car, travel, and the date itself, a bachur who spends a few years in shidduchim ends up shelling out an enormous sum of money, which many of them can’t afford.
In the last few years, a bachur in BMG changed this reality by creating a fund for boys in shidduchim. It started off as a dating gemach providing GPS, games, and straws (since plastic straws are illegal in New York) but has morphed into a fund as well. After doing the math, he realized that a date in New York costs $166. It’s a lot of money, but it leads to something so much greater. Many chassanim contribute to the fund, channeling their own joy and gratitude into a chance to create that for someone else.
Maintenance and tune-ups
You can’t necessarily speed up the wait, but with the right mindset, the time can be used productively.
“The most important thing is to have a rebbi,” Rabbi Semah insists. “A boy’s rebbi will guide him toward the steps he needs to take to stay happy and healthy.”
Rabbi Gruenbaum offers some vital advice. “A bachur needs to remember that he’s not a boy waiting to get married. He’s not a young man in the parshah. He’s a ben Torah, and every single day he can be accomplishing and growing.”
Every stage of life is a time for growth even if it seems like a waiting period. This time can even be beneficial, giving bachurim more time to build themselves.
“Sometimes we’ll encourage bachurim to become dorm counselors, to do SEED in the summer, to work with a shvache bachur,” Rabbi Semah points out. “Things that will allow them to feel accomplished. Set goals in Torah and yiras Shamayim, realistic goals, and work on meeting them. Shidduchim is a hard time for a boy’s learning, but it doesn’t have to derail him. He needs to keep moving and growing because that’s what makes him an adam hashalem. Hashem is stretching him, and this is an opportunity to become the best that he can be.”
An Eye on the Goal
Dr. Yossi Shafer
Waiting can be hard, especially if all of your friends are getting married and starting homes of their own.
Mindset makes all the difference. In fact, I’ve found that it’s more about the mindset than the circumstances. There are boys who get anxious and depressed just two months after the freezer opens and they aren’t yet engaged, and then there are those who wait for five years and don’t struggle. Our thinking patterns affect all of our experiences, so those who tend to ruminate about what that person meant when he said xyz will also have a hard time when they get a “no.” The same goes for black-and-white thinkers and those who have a poor self-image, who may assume that they are the problem.
On the other hand, a boy with a healthy self-esteem and overall healthy thinking patterns is likely to respond to a “no” with “Okay, I guess she isn’t the right one for me.” He is also less likely to fall into depression or feel especially anxious when things don’t pan out the way he expected.
Bitachon is a big factor as well and can spell the difference between misery and calm. Using this time to work on your bitachon will not only prepare you for a better marriage and overall future, but will make the wait easier as well.
Most importantly, keep an eye on the goal. Why do you want to get married to begin with? Is it about keeping up with a social norm, or are you looking to build something valuable together with your future spouse? At the end of the day, what a wife wants from her husband is not really gifts or experiences; what she is really looking for is the “you”—she wants your authentic self. Use this time to develop yourself, to become a more authentic you who focuses on what’s truly important, not on externalgoals or what everyone else is doing or thinking. In this way, you will be building a solid foundation for when you do meet your zivug.