shidduch (plural shidduchim) = match / arranged date
shadchan (plural shadchanim) = matchmaker
shadchante (plural shadchantes) = female matchmaker (though often she’s referred to simply as a shadchan)
2007, age 19:
I returned from seminary. My parents started getting calls from friends and neighbors with shidduch suggestions. But we “weren’t listening” for me because my older sister was still single. I was okay with this. I didn’t feel ready to start a marriage and a family, and I was already fighting the niggling thought that I didn’t even want children.
2008, age 20:
Sara, the youngest of my group of friends, got engaged over Pesach, and married in June. She seemed somehow more mature now, although we did one last sleepover in her parents’ basement the shabbos before her wedding, and acted just as silly and foolish as we always did. I tried to hug her when we said goodbye after shabbos, but she stepped back, scandalized, and said “not in the street.” I felt chastised and certain that I was obviously not ready for the seriousness of marriage.
2009, age 21:
I wanted to start dating. It wasn’t so much that I felt ready for marriage. I still didn’t. But I trusted people who said no one ever feels ready, and I wanted to experience dating sooner rather than later. Although I could not imagine that shidduch dating could possibly be fun, I wanted to meet guys and this was the only way open to me. My mother spoke to my older sister, now an “older single” at age 25, and she agreed that I could start dating.
It took some time before people realized that my parents would now listen if they called with suggestions, but soon enough I got my own pages in my mother’s black marble shidduch notebook. We worked on my shidduch resume, which listed my school and summer history, my parents’ work and shul affiliations, each of my siblings and their ages and which schools or yeshivas they went to.
At first, shadchanim and friends called with suggestions of “learning boys,” which my sister was looking for. But as little as I knew about what kind of husband I wanted, I knew I didn’t want a learning boy.
Eventually, a shidduch came up that seemed “nogei’ah” (fitting / applicable). My mother did some research, called his references, and deemed it a go. She told me about him, and I listened and approved it – mostly because I could find no reason to say no before even meeting him. Plus, he played violin, and that was something I had wanted to do for a long time and had given up hope of ever having the chance to learn, so it excited me that he did play.
We told the shadchan to go ahead with setting up the date, and after a little back and forth between my mother and the boy’s mother, she set the date for two nights later. Moshe (name changed) would pick me up at 7pm.
On the day of the date, I got home from teaching at 4:30, as usual. My mother asked me what I planned to wear. I showed her the brown pleated skirt and light pink sweater I planned to wear. I loved the combination of colors, and I loved how the pink looked next to my skin. She shook her head and almost cried. My sister looked over and chimed in.
“You can’t go on a date looking like a seminary girl.”
I didn’t have any appropriate date clothes, as it turned out. My sister lent me her shabbos suit for this time, with promises from my mother that we would go shopping for date clothes the next day.
I ate supper, I showered, I meticulously put on makeup, I dressed in my sister’s suit. It was 7pm. I came downstairs to wait in the living room with my mother. My date arrived at 7:15. My father opened the door for him, and I stood up from the couch and smiled at him as he followed my father to the dining room table. My father sat at the head of the table, Moshe sat to his right, and my mother and I sat to his left. Moshe and my father chatted (my father knew someone at the yeshiva Moshe had gone to, so they reminisced a bit), and I looked back and forth from my father to my date as the conversation went on.
And then we were off. My parents walked us to the door, Moshe opened the car door for me, I settled in, and he drove us into Manhattan for our date.
He attempted to start conversation a few times in the car. His opening lines were so obviously prepared, so obviously what people say are “good conversation starters on dates,” that I didn’t feel very bad when I answered his questions and let conversation die – and also let him concentrate on driving, because he was so desperately trying to be polite and talk but very obviously needed full concentration and kept interrupting me to mutter about the GPS and then apologizing to me…
After a bit of heart-stopping confusion with the GPS (it doesn’t update that fast on Manhattan streets, apparently, and he got lost and then almost hit a pedestrian while he was trying to look at the GPS and keep moving with the flow of traffic at the same time), we got to the hotel he had chosen. (No, we weren’t checking in.)
The lounge, where shidduch dates usually take place so the couple can sit and chat while sipping water or soda, was full. Moshe went to the bar and asked the bartender if we could sit there for a bit even though we weren’t buying. No, the bartender said. But there’s another lounge a few floors up, you could try that.
We went up to the other lounge, and found it just as full, this time with people in glittering evening dresses and fancy suits. He suggested that we stroll around the lounge for a bit and look at the displays and artwork while we waited for a spot to open up. We walked, and I tried not to pay too much attention to my heels.
We talked about his violin-playing (he got coy and said he didn’t want to talk about it because he had just started learning the viola, and that’s all I could get from him), and then we mostly talked about Harry Potter and Eragon.
Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting YA. But when it was someone I was considering as a marriage partner, the discussion felt … childish. Throughout our date, he seemed childish. Cute, but far too immature for me. I didn’t hold it against him. After all, he was 21, the same age as me, but according to ultra-Orthodox lore (where boys start dating later than girls) boys are always far less mature than girls of the same age.
He dropped me off at home at 11pm, walked me to my door and said he’d had a great time. I politely said the same. I went inside and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door.
“Not for me,” I said. “He’s pretty much still a baby. He’s nice enough, and sweet and gentle and kind. But not for me.”
“Okay,” my mother said. “I’ll call the shadchan in the morning.”
And that was that. My first shidduch was over.
Except it wasn’t.
I was still teaching eighth-grade English at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, but I had started college in the Spring 2009 semester. In order to do both, I had to wake up at 6 and make the 6:30 train. I would head off to my 8am class, have a fifteen-minute break between classes, finish at 10:45, hop back on the train, drop off my college bag at home and grab my teaching bag, and run off to start teaching at 1pm.
(As I write this now, I realize this means I had already stopped davening shacharis and mincha by this point. I know I didn’t daven on the train…)
So the morning after my first-ever shidduch date, I woke up before anyone else in the house was up and left without talking to anyone. It was a normal day for me. The date hadn’t been especially exciting, it was behind me now, and I had no real feelings about it to process.
I had almost forgotten about it when I began my speed-walk to the train at 10:45, when I saw a missed call from my mother and a text asking me to call her as soon as I was out of class.
“Would you consider giving him a second chance?”
“A second chance at what,” I asked. “It’s not like I think he’s a bad person and has to redeem himself, it’s not like he was boring or nervous or whatever (he was nervous, but that was endearing, not off-putting). He was fine to talk to, I didn’t hate the date, but I cannot imagine marrying him or taking him seriously.”
“The shadchan says he really likes you. Just give him one more date, and if you still think it’s a no, we’ll tell the shadchan then.”
“So you didn’t tell the shadchan I already said no?!”
“I told her you weren’t very excited, but she said that he really likes you. Just give him one more chance.”
“I really don’t want to. I mean, you know I can fangirl about Harry Potter forever, but I’m convinced he has nothing more intelligent to say about it than what he’s already said to me, which is childish – and again, nothing wrong with being childish, but I need someone with at least the capability of turning off the childishness sometimes.”
“Well, maybe you could start a conversation about something else. If you think ‘fangirling’ over Harry Potter is childish, you could change the conversation. And he really likes you! You could just give him another chance.”
I was quiet for a moment. I had reached the train station and stood above-ground so I wouldn’t lose service.
“Fine. Make another date. But I really don’t expect it to be any different.”
Delighted, my mother hung up and I rode the train home lost in thought.
On the way home from teaching, I stopped at the Brooklyn Public Library and picked up a copy of Eragon.
A few days later, Moshe picked me up again at 7:30. This time my father just shook his hand at the door – no need for the sit-down chat like they had the first time. He drove us to another hotel, this time with a lounge up on the tenth floor with big windows overlooking the crowded Manhattan streets.
I followed my mother’s advice and tried to turn the conversation to things other than Harry Potter. It didn’t work.
He asked if I had had a chance to read Eragon. It felt terrible to look at his eager, puppy-dog eyes and tell him I had given it a chance but couldn’t get past the first ten pages because I found the writing terrible.
His face fell. I launched into an analysis of why the writing of Harry Potter is so much better than Eragon. His response consisted of protestations about the magic, and the joy – and while I’m never opposed to enjoying books for that, I couldn’t quite respect someone who wouldn’t be willing to take a step back from that for a moment and at least acknowledge that someone else (ie, me) needs good writing in addition to magic.
And after all, wasn’t the point of dating to find someone to marry, someone to be the father of my children, someone whose decisions I would respect and who I could see as an equal, if not as superior to me?
He started gushing about this new Harry Potter cookbook that was going to be released soon, and I tuned him out. I spent most of the rest of the date smiling and nodding politely while I kept one eye on the big digital clock on the building across from us right outside the window.
I was upset when I got home.
“I told you I didn’t want to go out with him again,” I told my parents. “Of course he likes me! I’m not a horrible person, if he wants to keep gushing about Harry Potter and magic, I’ll let him, I’ll be nice, but he’s not someone I want to spend time with, let alone my whole life! This was a pointless night.”
My mother laughed. “Oy, mamaleh, if you only knew the amount of pointless dates I went on…”
“But this one was avoidable. I already knew before you set it up that it would be pointless.”
“Sometimes, shefelah, it takes more than one date to realize you might like someone. Obviously it wasn’t the case here. But it’s worth a second date to see if your first impression might change.”
I didn’t agree, but I let the point rest and went to bed, wondering if tomorrow I’d be asked to give him “one more chance” again because he liked me so much. Was it that I owed it to him because he liked me? Was it that I should jump at anyone who liked me because they’re few and far between? Who knew.
But that was the end of this shidduch, thank goodness.