Some reflections on the shidduch system

By Asher Lovy
December 11, 2015

The shidduch system is literally the root of all evil in the frum world. I'm not being hyperbolic. I've seen the damage. I was abused for my entire life by my mother. In more ways than you could imagine. And when it came time to report, my grandmother convinced me not to because the neighbours would talk, and it would ruin my chances for a shidduch. And when I decided I didn't care about shidduchim anymore, she convinced me to write about it under a pseudonym when I got an article about it published in Ami out of consideration for my cousins' shidduch chances.

I've spoken to so many people who have been coerced into keeping silent about what was done to them to protect someone or other's shidduchim. Because your reputation is your currency. Your position in the caste system determines who you will marry, and who you marry determines your future value, and your future value determines who your children will marry, and on it goes. And everyone lives in fear of being devalued on the shidduchim market, because being unmarried, even temporarily, in the frum world makes you pitiful.

So now we have a system for marriage based on supply and demand, not love, where everyone is vying for the most prestigious options within their caste, and much like any system of supply and demands, your value as a person is reduced to what you have that someone else doesn't, except whereas in the real world dating typically involves evaluation of your character, your personality, your attractiveness, compatibility, and chemistry, shidduch dating involves primarily evaluating your value based on extraneous factors, like who your family knows, its yichus, how much money it has, your attraction as it relates to you being a trophy the other side can hold up to increase its value, which schools you went to, your value in the beis medrash as it relates to being another trophy the other side can hold up to brag about its acquisition...and then, sort of as an afterthought, consideration is given to the actual person.

So people do what people always do on resumes. They lie. Because honesty isn't really a virtue in shidduchim. Honesty isn't evaluated. If you come right out and say that you have a brother who is an off the derech recovering drug addict who is working on getting his life together thanks to the help of his loving and caring non-Jewish girlfriend, your value just went down, not up. So of course you lie about that. You cover it up. Your brother lives in another city anyway, and the family doesn't talk about him, so it's possible you can get away with your lie. You're asked for references to attest to your and your family's worth, but everyone knows that references are worthless,because they're picked by the applicant.

So an investigation starts. The lashon hara daisy chain begins. The mother calls her cousin, who knows the prospective shidduch's uncle, who can put you in touch with his third grade rebbi who has taught in the same yeshiva for 30 years and remembers every student who ever passed through its doors. He remembers the off the derech recovering drug addict brother when he was still an innocent young boy, but "oy, nebach, what happened, rachmana litzlan." And the secret that you worked so hard to cover up is out. And now, not only are you devalued for having that association, you're devalued even further for having been dishonest.

But what choice did you have really? If you came right out and admitted it up front, you'd never have gotten your foot in the door. Sure, the shadchan would have found you someone, but it would be the three time BT from the deep south who walks with a limp and has a half-melted face from that time her meth cooking father blew up the family lab. And even though she may be a wonderful person, and you may really like her, you wouldn't consider her, not in a million years, because when it comes times for your kids to get married, they'll have to bear the stigma of her. Which is why you lied in the first place. You lied because you had to.

And that's why the shidduch system is the root of all evil in the frum world. Because under that incredibly intricate and complexly woven rug is swept the reality of what really happens in the frum world. Swept under to maintain the illusion that the pattern is beautiful. In a word, shidduchim can be boiled down to fear. Fear that someone will find out the truth. Fear that you won't be good enough. Fear that your children will be excluded. Fear that your community will value you less because of who you married. And to this false idol we've created, is sacrificed a horrifying number of people. And it bears witness to the atrocities we've committed in its name.