The Yetzer’s Playing Field

Most discussions of the so-called Shidduch Crisis focus on the plight of young women. According to the common wisdom, every boy — or at least his mother — has a long list of young women eager to meet him, and the only difficulty confronting mothers of boys is sifting through all the competing “offers.” In truth, however, young men are not necessarily well-served by the knowledge that their mothers need secretarial help just to handle all the calls about them.

Many years ago, a friend of mine went to discuss a shidduch with his Rosh Yeshiva. He had already met the young woman in question a number of times, and he answered positively in response to all the Rosh Yeshiva’s questions about her. Yet when he was done describing how things were going, he added, “Still, maybe I could do better.” The Rosh Yeshiva cut him off. “When you enter the realm of dimyonos (imagination), you are playing on the yetzer hara’s field. Your focus should be on her, and only her.” My friend married the young woman, and lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately, too many young men today are dancing to the yetzer hara’s tune, and the long list of eager applicants for the title Mrs. Ploni that they are always hearing about is part of their problem. One consequence of the feeling that there is an endless supply of girls is that many young men are too quick to write off a shidduch. They fail to let things develop slowly, and if they are not immediately swept off their feet prepare to move on down their “list.” What is forgotten is that a young woman who may have had little experience talking to a male other than her father and brothers is not likely to sparkle in early conversation, especially if this is one of her first shidduchim.

A related problem is that young men may focus on looking for negative points. All the wonderful points learned about the young woman during the investigation stage are treated like givens, qualities assumedly possessed by all those on the “list,” and ignored. After all, it is easy to imagine perfection. So if anything is not exactly up to specifications, it is easy to move on to the next name, who no doubt possesses all the positives and has nothing amiss.

Even the young man’s checklist of what he is looking for is often a product of the imagination – a composite of all the traits he has ever admired in any woman, one trait from this woman and another from that one. The problem, of course, is that no such composite exists, and many of the traits are rarely, if ever, found in common. (Leah Jacobs and Shaindy Marks have an excellent discussion of this issue in their Shidduch Secrets.) One is not likely to find a spouse who is at once deep and happy-go-lucky; thoughtful but always smiling and chirpy; a homebody and baalebusta and someone always involved in neighborhood chessed projects. Most dismaying of all to many young men, it is hard to find a young woman eager to undertake to be the principal breadwinner and child-raiser so her husband can learn without distraction, but who will never inquire what she is getting for her efforts or remonstrate if he wants to spend three hours reading the paper on Friday.

THAT SHIDDUCHIM and marriage have little to do with one another is a given. The qualities that make for an enjoyable date — e.g., good looks, vivacious personality — often have little to do with those that make for a good wife and mother — responsibility, resilience, ability to deal with adversity — or with the respect that is the foundation of a good marriage. Many of the attitudes described above are inimical to a happy marriage (which may be a partial explanation of the spate of young divorces.) Young men for whom the “lists” have become a kind of security blanket may imagine that whomever they deign to marry will be so grateful that they will never hear a word of criticism. That illusion is not likely to survive the week of shevah berachos [the festive meals following a wedding].

The talent for identifying what is not “perfect” developed during shidduchim only makes it harder to build a happy marriage, which depends on the the willingness to overlook minor irritations, like the toothpaste squeezed from the top or the socks on the floor, and the recognition that few things are worth the price of an argument. The illusion that there is some perfect young woman out there who is the answer to all one’s dreams, now and forever, hides the crucial fact that marriage requires constant work, particularly work on oneself. All problems do not end under the chuppah, and new challenges begin for the first time.

The constantly reinforced message that it is a buyers market as far as young men are concerned encourages them to selfishly focus in shidduchim on the question: How does this meet my needs? Yet the most basic requirement of a happy marriage is the desire to give to another. It is as spouses and parents that we most fully become the kind of “givers” that should be one of our most important life goals. The Borei Olam created the world only in order to give to a being outside of Himself. And as those charged with living “in His image,” it is our task to become givers as well.

Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler used to tell young couples under the chuppah that the joy they experienced at that moment came from their great desire to please and give to one another, and if that desire ever waned so would their marital happiness.

Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies for marriage-age bochurim today is that so few of them experience the guidance and advice of our generation’s Rav Desslers during shidduchim and as they prepare for marriage. Nor will they be receptive as long as they and their mothers are busy comparing their “lists” with their friends.

Meanwhile the yetzer hara is smiling every time he draws another young man onto his playing field.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha, Wednesday January 14, 2009.

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14 comments to The Yetzer’s Playing Field

  • Ori

    Are there more Charedi women looking for husbands than men looking for wives, and if so why?

  • tzippi

    Rabbi Rosenblum is 100% correct in that the greatest tragedy might be the poor guidance the boys are getting. One doesn’t have to be a Rav Dessler to give good advice, in the best interests of all parties. I realize that we have to rebuild (cf Chemotherapy as a Metaphor) but essential to the rebuilding is instilling in our children that the major goal of marriage is to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. Why has that fallen by the wayside?

  • Bob Miller

    This article is discussing an attitude that works against the shidduch process. How is it, considering who the bochurim are, what families they come from, and where they learn, that such an attitude has become too common? Are parents and teachers obligated to buy into a common but wrong mindset, to ignore it…or to combat it?

  • Jewish Observer

    he added, “Still, maybe I could do better.” The Rosh Yeshiva cut him off. “When you enter the realm of dimyonos (imagination), you are playing on the yetzer hara’s field. Your focus should be on her, and only her.”

    - I think there is a more fundamental problem than dimyonos. The whole notion of “doing better” is selfinsh, wrongheaded and un-Jewish. To think in terms of nabbing a “better” wife is to make it selfinsh, all about me. The only measure of “better” should be chances for success of the marriage. The Rosh Yeshiva was acknowledging that if not for the fear of dimyon it would make sense to try to do “better”. This is a problem.

  • Yehoshua Mandelcorn

    Traditionally the biggest area of giving that comes from the husband is working to support the family. Hence, a major preparation a would be husband does for marriage is learning a trade or profession.
    Those who look down upon such preparation end up weakening marriages.

  • Nathan

    The first paragraph of this article said every boy
    has a long list of young women eager to meet him.

    Boys/men who are: gerim, baalei teshuvah, Sephardim,
    below average height, ADD/learning disabled, or
    suspected of possessing below average wealth potential
    *** DO NOT *** have many women eager to meet them.

    The men in these categories can go for months without
    a date, even if they call many shadchanim.

    Last but not least, those who are also kohanim are
    often beyond help or close to it.

    According to the common wisdom, a male baal teshuvah
    must marry a female baal teshuvah. But this is VERY
    difficult for a kohen, for many reasons, all of which
    are beyond the scope of this discussion.

    According to the common wisdom, a divorced man must
    marry a divorced woman. But a divorced kohen?
    He is FORBIDDEN to marry a divorced woman.

    Older single kohanim are also in big trouble because most
    women in their age category are divorced. Remember that
    divorce is just one of MANY conditions that can forbid
    a woman to a kohen. A complete list of women forbidden
    to kohanim is beyond the scope of this discussion.

    A kohen who is also below average height has a double
    obstacle to overcome.

    No matter how difficult a man’s shidduch search is,
    it is even more difficult when he is also a kohen.

    CONCLUSION: <> is a myth.

  • Steve Brizel

    Great article! R Zvi Sobolofsky, one of the younger RY in RIETS, recently described the whole list phenomenon as right for a cheftza, but inherently wrong for a gavra. Anyone who reads the letters to the editor in the Yated will see that there is a crisis, but that the solution seems to escape the writers. One can suggest that networking beyond shadchanim, shidduch circles and the sociological baggage that is unfortunately part of the proceess is necessary. Your best network are your friends.

  • Observer

    Jewish Observer wrote: “The Rosh Yeshiva was acknowledging that if not for the fear of dimyon it would make sense to try to do “better”.”

    I suspect that what the RY meant, at least in part, is that the ideas that the bochur’s comment was based on is “dimyon”. The idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect” spouse is fantasy, as is the idea that one can look at a potential shiduch in terms of “more” or “better” features, rather than on suitability and compatibility.

  • L.Oberstein

    Once again, you are on the mark. There is a shiduch crisis in the Jewish world, not just the orthodox Jewish world. Men who won’t committ are in great suply ,but men who will actually marry a young woman are harder to find .If you doubt it, just go see what is going on in those areas of Manhatten where the non-yeshivish singles congregate. Outside of orthodoxy , it is even worse. Those who complain often are afraid to do anything about it because they need a shiduch for their child, they don’t want to make waves.Did you ever notice how few people sign their real names in letters to Mishpacha, Yated or hamodia,etc. This is because we are afraid to be out of step and say anything that will cause someone to say we are “not with the program”. Our gedolim are not the cause of this problem, they are only listened to when the masses already agree with them. The myth of daas torah having absolute sway is simply not true. The main motivator is “prevailing community standards”.
    How many young men in Lakewood are going to high schools with no secular studies whatsoever and are bored out of their minds being forced to learn Gemara all day and night. Is it something they want or their parents afraid to not follow the herd? How many girls are forced to sublimate their ambitions and play a role by their parents so as to get one of the above boys to marry them. There are a lot of normal people in the frum world, but their voices are drowned out by those who are extreme. Any godol who would stand in their way would be “ois godol”.

  • Barry

    As a Reform Jew, clearly not a part of the hareidi community, I read the post and assumed it was a parody of some sort that I just did not understand. But the comments seem to indicate that it wasn’t a joke or parody at all.

    So I must ask: is this REALLY the way you folks live?
    The advice to the young men seems good enough, but there is something wrong in the culture, if this is the attitude that “young men” have, and must be strongly (and correctly) counseled against. The Rosh Yeshiva surely gave good advice. But how in the world are the rest of you, who have not achieved the learning and status of a Rosh Yeshiva raising your kids?

    I am certain that the author didn’t intend it this way, but he presents and amazing indictment of your culture, and something that is very sad.

  • Leah

    I read an article years ago in a frum magazine re: shidduchim. There was an interesting comment from a rabbi whom mentioned when he counsels young adults looking for shidduchim he usually asks them, “What are you looking for in a mate?” They, in turn, provide a list of qualificaations that they are looking for. Rather, it should be, said the rabbi, that the young adults should respond with a list of their own qualifications that they hope to be able to provide for their potential spouse as well as their sincere desire for that potential spouse to accept him or her for who he or she is.
    This is a totally different perspective from what “appears” to be the mainstream thought process of what can the other do for me. I am not saying that someone should marry someone who is abusive or the like in an effort to be selfless. I have on the other hand seen many a person turn down another because -and I am not kidding, “he was not wearing the clothing that the other one preferred.”
    It seems that we have lessened on much of what we value as a society in terms of the spiritual and replaced it with material or perfection in many areas of life like finances and the like. Other problematic areas include looking at the faults of others verses building our own spiritual account of problems addressed and worked on til we refine our own characters. Just some thoughts……..

  • Leah

    Comment for Barry:
    I hear you. Looking from the “outside” as you imply would make someone say, “Huh?” to our shidduch crisis and the characteristics of our dating scene and the like. Each Jew has his/her struggle in finding a mate-period. Thankfully not all JEWS fall into this category.
    Yes, the indictment is very sad because it infers that we as a people perhaps have gone off of the derech of our ancestors better ways and understanding to the importance of our own culture with regards to what it finds important in a mate and all that this relates to in marriage.
    I do think and feel that I also must mention another aspect to this crisis. This is not meant as an attack, yet when you mentioned that you are in the reform movement. I could not help but to think, “Ok, and how many jewish men or women have even married another Jew?” It’s not meant to be a snide remark or some sort of cut down in response to your thoughts, yet it is a reality. The entire Jewish Nation needs help in this most vital area because THIS area,marriage, is the most holy, I believe, of all the areas in Jewish life. It is the continuation of Jewish life into the subsequent generations. It also influences the quality and the way in which the generation will lead. Neither side can afford to take matters lightly, selfishly(marrying souly for looks, $ or whatever else), or without regards to jewish law and it’s ramifications. Yes, Barry it appears WE need major help. Once again, not meant as an attack, yet this must be mentioned.

  • Robert Lebovits

    The problems with the shidduch process begin even before a match is offered, and they are not just an outgrowth of poor guidance. They start with the very basic concept of “The BEST..”, as in “The BEST bochur” or “The BEST girl”. When looking for a shidduch young men & women are given to believe that they ought to accept nothing less than “the best”, and that there are some objective measures by which to make such a determination about a given prospect. In fact,if we truly subscribe to the construct of Eyzer K’Negdo, what is RIGHT for someone is completely dependent on that individual’s own unique strengths and weaknesses as well as their goals, values, etc. Some pre-formed list of ideal attributes is less than worthless – it is a distraction.
    Of course, to ascertain who is the “right” life partner requires a significant degree of self-knowledge and honest appraisal. I would suggest this is where bochurim are least well-served by their mashgichim and roshei yeshiva. For any number of reasons, bochurim are not given regular and accurate feedback about their personal qualities and development, the information most critical in the search for a shidduch. Instead, they are told what they OUGHT to be and what sort of girl they OUGHT to find. Consequently, the potential for misdirection and erroneous judgements is huge – often with very destructive consequences.
    If we want to really make an impact on the future direction of our children, let’s start by asking our educational institutions to lok after the entire student, not just his intellect or her tzidkus.

  • tzippi

    Barry (#10), you are right, to a degree. All I can say in defense is to read Gila Manolsohn’s and Wendy Shalit’s books. With all the inadequacies, the observant community is still doing a lot to give our kids more than a chance at healthy, fulfilling marriages, and protecting their dignity along the way.