THE SHIDDUCH CRISIS: Causes and Cures
Weight: 1.50 kilograms
THE SHIDDUCH CRISIS: Causes and Cures
by Dr. Michael J. Salamon
Hardcover, 141 pages
Urim Publications, 2008
The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures takes a hard, honest look at the real difficulties faced by the dating public in today's Orthodox world. With the rates of divorce and eating disorders rising, complaints regarding the shortage of men and the move away from socializing activities to the extensive use of third-party matchmakers, a true crisis exists and may be worsening. In this book, the author explores these issues, particularly those related to how matches are made. He finds that most are made based on availability, not compatibility, and on superficial criteria that have no relevance to what truly makes a marriage successful. Citing relevant data from the fields of psychology, sociology, and neurology, along with a host of anecdotes from a wide range of people, Dr. Salamon, a well-known psychologist, author, and lecturer, provides guidelines to help alleviate this crisis.
Dr. Salamon looks at the lists of criteria, the questions that people ask and the expectations for a mate that have developed over the last several years within the shidduch (matchmaking for marriage) process, and shows how they are counter-intuitive for forming healthy marriages. He also shows how much of what passes for background checking, in fact, may be lashon ha-ra (tale bearing). But most importantly, Dr. Salamon provides real suggestions for going beyond the physical, superficial standards that have contributed to a developing shidduch crisis. He advocates an approach where a measure of personal maturity is returned to those who are dating and makes the case for alleviating the external pressures on the dating couple.
About the Author:
Michael J. Salamon, PH.D., FPPR, has worked with the Jewish communities of the Greater New York area for more than two decades. He has been at the forefront of influencing the Jewish community to acknowledge and deal with the challenges it faces, including dating and relationship issues, substance and alcohol abuse, eating and other disorders relating to body image issues, and physical abuse. Dr. Salamon is a sought after speaker by synagogues, yeshivas, and Jewish communal institutions throughout the United States. He is the author of many assessment tools including the Life Satisfaction Scale and the Addiction Dependency Scale, as well as the book Home or Nursing Home: Making the Right Choice. He has presented more than 100 papers at national and international conferences.
Dr. Salamon is the founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center, Inc., a comprehensive psychological consulting practice in Hewlett, NY. He empowers individuals and families to cope with the various psychological challenges that arise throughout the life span. Among his areas of specialization are substance abuse and alcoholism counseling, crisis management, child, family, and marital counseling, therapeutic interventions, and gerontology.
Dr. Michael Salamon received his doctorate in psychology from Hofstra University. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America's Behavioral and Social Sciences Section and a board certified Diplomate- Fellow Prescribing Psychologist Register.
Praise for The Shidduch Crisis:
"Dr. Michael Salamon has written a book which touches on very important issues relating to the Jewish family. These subjects must be addressed by the community, schools, the Rabbinate, and the family. Dr. Salamon's work makes an important contribution to the discussion which must take place. I congratulate him for his insight and hope that his book will be a catalyst for more thoughtprovoking contributions on raising our children in a very challenging world."
- Rabbi Hershel Billet, Rabbi, Young Israel of Woodmere
"In every generation we, the Jewish people, are faced with new challenges. In this generation, the challenge of singles and appropriate guidelines regarding shadchanut and matchmaking seem to be one of ours. On the one hand, there are many older singles, and we as a community must find opportunities to help those who wish to find their ezer ke-negdo. However, due to this phenomenon parents pressure their children to marry before they reach an age in which it may be perceived that they are "too old" for marriage. The pressure placed upon them by our community can be so damaging that it occasionally causes our children to make wrong decisions that affect their entire lives. Shadchanut often has a materialistic expectation that is prohibitive to many families. The search done in this process can be extremely exhaustive and often focuses on the wrong values. I am reminded of a case where one family checked out another family in such a forensic way that they located a relative thought to have been killed in the Holocaust.
Your competency as a mental health professional, as well as your capacity to look at the world through the prism of Torah, has allowed you to write an important work that helps create clarity for this challenge. Your insights, Torah-based guidance, and clear perspective empower the reader. Parents, teachers, rabbanim, and especially those of marriageable age should read this book."
- Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Dean, Center for the Jewish Future, Yeshiva University
"This book offers a clear insight into the many intricacies of the issues involved, and delivers -- with common sense, logic, and a dash of humor -- effective, solution-oriented answers to some of the most intractable problems. I highly recommend this book."
- David J. Lieberman, Ph.D., noted psychotherapist and best-selling author
"Dr. Salamon has written a carefully researched and fact-filled book about the shidduch crisis in the Orthodox community. This book addresses a vacuum in this area by providing objective and common-sense information regarding this anxiety filled process. Dr. Salamon convincingly debunks many of the dangerous misconceptions that often guide the thinking of parents and young men and women in determining whom they will date and how they will decide whom to marry. Using a combination of common sense and solid psychological research, Dr. Salamon's recommendations regarding what is really predictive of success in marriage are enlightening and invaluable to all who are involved in making what is most likely one of life's most important decisions. I recommend this book highly to those getting ready to date, their parents and those involved in making shidduchim."
- David Pelcovitz, Ph.D., Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Education, Yeshiva University
"A plea for "common sense". Psychologist Michael J. Salamon begins his wise and rueful book about how Orthodox Jewish singles meet (or don't meet) with the transcript of a telephone call that cries out to be reprinted:
Caller: Dr. Salamon, I am calling because I have to find out some important information regarding a shidduch.
Dr. S.: Of course, you know that I am not at liberty to discuss any private information. Not only is it illegal; it is unethical.
Caller: This situation is different.
Dr. S.: I am afraid that there is no situation that is different unless the people involved give explicit permission.
Caller: Well, they don't know that I am calling, but they have spoken highly of you and I was asked to get this information so that we can decide to proceed with the shidduch or not.
Dr. S.: I still cannot give you such information.
Caller: Well, let me ask the question anyway and you will see how important it is for the decision-making process. So the question is: At what age was this young man toilet-trained?
Salamon, who is himself Orthodox and has worked with Jewish communities in the greater New York area, notes that he "simply hung up at that point." Nevertheless, the supremely inappropriate question "got me to thinking -- about what has gone wrong in the shidduch scene."
That question sparked another question: "Have we lost our common sense?"
He answers that most Jewishly, by citing yet another question: "Shadchan to mother of a young woman: "Does she wear a seat belt in the car?"
The answer is, as the law dictates, "Of course." But, Salamon continues, "It seems that the young man's family felt that if the young woman wore a seatbelt, the chest strap would heighten her physical attraction, causing the young man to lose control of himself. Of course," he saturninely observes, "it would not be the young man's fault but rather the fault of the young woman, who was behaving immodestly by wearing a seat belt."
In Salamon's view, such misapplied questioning -- which may verge on lashon hara, gossip or even slander -- misses the point about what makes a good marriage. It also makes it particularly hard for Orthodox singles to find their mates. He cites cases in which prospective mates are declared unsuitable for reasons that might be called, in any other community, frivolous (such as wearing a feather in one's hat), while more serious concerns, such as abusive behavior, may go unmentioned. And, he maintains, "several crises in our community are related in one way or another to the current shidduch approach. These range from a shortage of men to increasing rates of divorce, domestic violence, eating disorders, greater use of medication, and, ultimately, leaving the fold entirely." (By the way, he cites a 2006 Jewish Standard article, "It's hard to be a body: Eating disorders in the Jewish Community," by Lois Goldrich, the newspaper's associate editor.)
Salamon writes that "[t]he concepts described in Eshet Chayil [the biblical poem "A Woman of Valor"], where physical beauty is secondary to middot [good character traits] and proper spirituality, are overlooked or completely forgotten in the quest for the perfect shidduch. After all," he notes, "most of these young women [with eating disorders] truly believe that if their dress size goes above two, they will not get the best of the wedding prospects for themselves."
They may be right. "These young men," he writes, "often talk about a girl's 'fat potential'"." In one case, "[t]he shadchan wanted a picture of the girl's grandmother. It seems that knowing the dress sizes of both the girl and her mother was not enough to assure a potential choson [groom] that the girl would not later become heavy because perhaps her mother lost weight for the sake of her daughter's shidduch."
As for young men, "Who decided," he asks, "that a young man who wears a kippah seruga [which is crocheted] is less valuable on the dating market than one who wears a black hat?"
Salamon says that these and similar distinctions, dividing Orthodoxy and driving many further into the Orthodox right wing, "[set] up roadblocks to the development of relationships."
"How many young Orthodox people are leaving the fold," he asks, "either gradually or completely? How many are doing so because of the pressures of the dating scene, physical appearance, and compulsive behaviors that are not at all relevant to a Jewish lifestyle?"
Salamon's examples may seem entertaining to some and baffling and even infuriating to others, but the book is much more than a collection of anecdotes. He writes, using sociological and psychological findings, about the anxiety and depression that can result from the search for a mate who fits a prescribed profile. He writes about the search to find a partner whose psychological profile fits one's own. And throughout, he shows a deep knowledge of and reverence for Jewish texts and an intimate knowledge of the Orthodox community.
In certain Orthodox circles, Salamon's suggestions would be spurned. But that would be a loss to the young (and sometimes not so young) men and women who are seeking their basherts in this confusing world."
-Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, New Jersey Jewish Standard
"I have just read an amazing book on this subject entitled The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures (Urim 2008) by Dr Michael J. Salamon, Ph D. I would highly recommend this very important book to rabbbanim, mchanchim, parents and those of our children "in the Parsha." This books analzyes where we have collectively erred in this process as a community, educators and parents. IMO, conferences on this subject will solve no aspect of the problem unless we carefully analyze the system and its multiple deficiencies and realize with the help of everything that our Gdolim have said that the shidduch system simply ignores midos and places a premium on being able to answer a series of stereotypical questions in the positive."
-Steve Brizel, Beyond BT blog
A poor girl without a dowry can't be particular.
If you want hair, marry a monkey.
Even a poor girl has to look at her husband sometimes.
A husband is not to look at, a husband is to get.
Yente the Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof
So, how does one "get" a husband, or a wife, for that matter? According to Dr. Michael J. Salamon, founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center, Inc., a comprehensive psychological consulting practice in Hewlett, New York, and author of the recently published The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures, it is no longer so easy and seems to be getting more difficult with each passing day.
In fact, he and others contend, the whole situation has reached a kind of crisis.
Getting a spouse, a la Yente, is not the same as finding a spouse. The latter implies an informal process whereby unmarried individuals initially meet and interact in some neutral social setting, such as at school or the workplace, and on their own terms and at their own pace develop a romantic relationship that leads to marriage. In contrast, the term shidduch, when not referring to a prearranged, done-deal marriage, is used in Orthodox Jewish circles to refer to a careful matching of an eligible female and male whose generally short dating experience is for the specific purpose of matrimony.
Once upon a time, even among the most traditional families, a matched couple would meet once, twice, thrice on the average, by which time they would decide whether or not they were compatible. Perhaps, though the feeling was never openly expressed, they even felt physically attracted to each other. But the decision whether to meet next under the huppa, or alternatively just call it quits, was based on some sense of whether they could successfully, perhaps even happily, remain together the rest of their lives in the course of raising a family.
As befits his biography, Salamon writes from an American Jewish, rather than Israeli perspective. And not just any American Jewish perspective, but one that is associated with the "yeshivish" or "working haredi" communities of the greater New York area. Consequently, some of the scenarios he describes may seem strange to Israeli readers. They may even sound foreign to American Jews who live outside this community and are not familiar with its traditions. A glossary of relevant Hebrew, as well as some Yiddish, terms is provided at the back of the book as an aid to readers unfamiliar with this semi-segregated culture. As a member of these circles, Salamon has no hesitation in injecting such phrases as "frum community" and "kippa seruga." But Salamon the psychologist also speaks fluently of anxiety, compulsivity and destructive standards, and devotes an entire chapter to the psychological principles related to "first impression" decision-making and the role of cognitive dissonance, thus demonstrating his corresponding academic credentials.
What will undoubtedly fascinate readers are the many real-life anecdotes the author provides, some from his own experiences as a family counselor. One of these has been making the rounds via e-mail lists, as well as by word of mouth, and is by now a relative classic. It concerns what Salamon refers to as the "foolish and superficial" question regarding the color of the Shabbat tablecloth (it better not be anything other than white) used by the prospective spouse's mother.
In general, what he decries are the myriad personal, even intimate, queries common to today's Orthodox matchmaking process that he considers not only irrelevant, but "often merely destructive and represent lashon hara [gossip]." The system, in a nutshell, has been reduced to running down a list of largely facile and immaterial criteria, and it isn't working like it used to.
How does Salamon know this, and why does he call the situation a crisis? Among the social consequences he cites are "a shortage of men... increasing rates of divorce, domestic violence, eating disorders, greater use of medication and ultimately, leaving the fold entirely" (which, from his perspective, could mean leaving Orthodox Judaism for another stream of Judaism, embracing a completely secular lifestyle or conversion to another religion). To this we add the deferment of marriage to a later age with the concomitant decrease in fecundity.
Chapter 1 is entitled "Have We Lost Our Common Sense?" In other words, how have we come to this? Insofar as what has brought this situation about, Salamon says that extremism is at fault. "We have allowed ourselves to be led - even misled - by a small group of individuals who, by employing their own anxiety and compulsivity now have the power to dictate what have become destructive standards." This is the analysis of Salamon the psychologist. Salamon the Orthodox Jew asks what Jewish authority is responsible for allowing such self-defeating, destructive standards to define the shidduch process.
His answer is "the drive for more of a 'right wing' approach to life" in an effort to "make us more spiritual and religious" and to adopt a more correct hashkafa (religious life perspective). This hashkafa is reflected in a simplistic list of questions whose contents have no bearing upon finding one's life partner. It is an example of misdirected piety.
Ironically, Internet technology has only strengthened the "piety checklist" approach to matchmaking. On-line dating has become a multimillion dollar enterprise, even within the Orthodox Jewish community. Salamon provides a list of Internet dating sites that cater specifically to Jewish singles, including those intended for only Orthodox patrons. But "even in those sites that try to focus on personality, there is perhaps only one that employs a valid scientific method in order to assess the respondent's personality."
The book's final two chapters offer readers a more sophisticated and presumably healthier approach to dating and matrimony. "One of the most important things that daters can do for themselves is to throw away their shidduch list." The only list Salamon recommends is a list of who you are yourself. He recommends making this list short on superficial traits and long on personality.
His book is a call for serious reassessment and reform. "There is clearly," says Salamon, "a vested interest in continuing these varied forms of shidduch dating despite their difficulties." Still, his case would have been more complete, and more interesting, had he offered his own analysis of this vested interest, but this might have gotten him in trouble in some precincts. Is there just money behind it, or is it primarily ideological, or both?
The difficulties attending a good shidduch are an ancient subject. The story is told in the Mishna that a wealthy Roman woman once asked Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta: "How has your God been occupying his time since He finished the creation of the world?" "He has been busy pairing couples," answered Rabbi Yosi. The woman was amazed. "Is that His trade? Even I can do that job. As many manservants and maidservants as I have, I am able to match." "Perhaps it is a simple matter in your eyes," replied Rabbi Yosi. "For God, it is as intricate as the splitting of the Reed Sea."
-Ardie Geldman, Jerusalem Post
"Dr. Salamon's important, pragmatic book should be of special interest to the orthodox Jewish community -- a community he knows intimately, and one in which he practices. This is highly recommended reading for parents and their adult children before they set out for a shidduch (an arranged date) and that they will heed his professional suggestions culled from his research and practice and thorough understanding of the matchmaking process.
Salamon provides the reader with a rich tapestry of anecdotal material revealing the many emotionally unhealthy ways with which young single and sometimes older adults must cope in the quest of a mate. He questions the superficial criterion used by shadchanim (matchmakers) in the matchmaking process and the cover-up of certain problems such as gambling, or an inability to handle money, or the leading cause of divorce in this group -- a propensity for violence. Some of the questions have comedic overtones, but are real. For example, "Does her skirts have slits?"
This question is designed to select women with very rigid standards of dress. Is this really important in mate selection? While long skirts are required attire, without slits, walking is difficult.
This is a highly insulated group who tends on the one hand to infantilize their grown children, and on the other hand, to send them out to marry a near stranger at a time when they may be woefully unprepared to deal with adult responsibility. It reminds this reviewer of two youngsters playing house -- their financial needs provided for by their parents. Many of the young orthodox are thrust out into the dating world without a clue about what it takes to have a good relationship. They learn a bit about superficial etiquette between the sexes, but little else.
With more women than men available in the dating scene, competition is high and this causes problems. Young women may develop an eating disorder to become thin in order to attract a man. Many young women become anxious and depressed in their quest. Some mothers may consult doctors and pretend to be depressed in order to obtain medication to give to their daughters. Such pretense is patently dishonest and would seem to be a violation of the ethics of any religious group.
The shadchan's questions are not designed to find out what really matters in a relationship, i.e., whether the marital seeker is emotionally ready for adulthood and whether the couple is compatible in terms of their individual personality, their personal interests and their values. Some questions are pertinent, others ridiculous.
Salamon offers excellent suggestions to combat the shidduch crisis and to take the pressure off seeking a mate. He suggests using the Internet to find appropriate discussion sites, and web forums, which for the uninitiated becomes an information clearinghouse. There are trusted matchmaking sites that utilize personality tests based on research. One of Salamon's suggestions is to meet people at group functions. Events for singles could be scheduled at a shul.
It is recommended that every orthodox family read this critical book. For others, it is informative, opens up a crack to view the lifestyle of the orthodox. For the non-Hebrew reader, a glossary of Hebrew terms is provided."
- Sandra Levy Ceren, Ph.D., Metapsychology
"Some Jewish singles in Memphis turn to online 'Shadchans' for help. Stacy Wagerman says the lack of available Jewish men in Memphis has kept her single and sent many of her girlfriends looking elsewhere for their soul mates.
Returning to her hometown after graduating from the University of Missouri, Wagerman, 24, has found the dearth of potential mates disconcerting. "It's not easy to meet people here," she said. "Basically, everyone knows each other."
A rough estimate from the Memphis Jewish Federation puts the greater Memphis area's Jewish population just below 10,000, with especially slim pickings for the approximately 4,000-member Orthodox Jewish community. Although there are varying degrees of orthodoxy, many who practice the more observant form of Judaism limit dating to the search for a marriage partner within the Orthodox faith.
"That has made fresh faces to the local Jewish scene hot commodities, said Lawson Arney. "When there's new people in town, everyone's running toward them," said the 26-year-old Memphis native.
To make up for the city's nonexistent Jewish singles scene, two years ago, the Downtown financial adviser helped start Jews Around Memphis, a group of reformed and Orthodox Jews in their 20s and 30s who meet monthly. But the club has yet to cultivate any romances. "The Jewish community in Memphis is so small, you grow up knowing everyone," Arney said.
The use of Shadchans, or matchmakers, has long been part of Jewish tradition. But unlike the busybody Yenta from "Fiddler on the Roof," nowadays local Orthodox rabbis are directing singles to virtual Shadchans.
Rabbi Joel Finkelstein says the limited pool of Jewish singles in Memphis encouraged him to start recommending matchmaking sites such as Frumster.com, JDate.com and SawYouAtSinai.com.
"You need a lot of people to make a match," said the rabbi of Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth Congregation, a 300-member suburban synagogue.
Like other singles Web sites, Jewish matchmaking sites -- of which there are many -- use questionnaires to gauge clients' likes and dislikes. Unlike their secular counterparts, however, these include information on how often candidates attend synagogue or whether they keep kosher.
"I tell them to use it with caution," said Finkelstein, who typically keeps a hand in the process after he sends someone to the Web.
Even though these sites have a religious bent, they may still attract predators and people who exaggerate, he said. For those who want to double-check on their cyber mate's references, the rabbi will call their rabbi to make sure the details match. From what he has seen in recent years, Finkelstein says it seems people are finding what they're looking for, as he has officiated at several Web-initiated marriages.
Although some singles are turning to online matchmaking, many others are leaving Memphis to search for their mate.
New York, specifically the upper west side of Manhattan, is considered the hub for Jewish Orthodoxy. Even Orthodox singles who live in Chicago, which is significantly larger than Memphis, go to New York, Finkelstein said.
Yirmiya Milevsky, the rabbi of Young Israel of Memphis, an East Memphis synagogue of 65 families, said many of the singles he knows are buying tickets to bigger cities on the chance of meeting their "Bashert," or soul mate. "They're searching for someone who has their philosophy and their views," Milevsky said.
In Judaism, pressure to marry stems from the importance of having children. Procreation, Milevsky says is "the most important of all commandments." That pressure, combined with the loss of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, has put a heavy burden on people of childbearing age who want to begin raising families. "There's a pressure within the community and it's not always easy," said the rabbi.
The challenge to find a match, here and across the country, has been named the "Shidduch crisis" by the Orthodox community.
Dr. Michael J. Salamon, author of the recently published book The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures, says there are several factors playing into the situation. Founder of a comprehensive psychological consulting practice in Hewlett, N.Y., he says the matchmaking process has strayed from its original purpose and has become big business.
In Judaism, making a match is a blessing, and those who do it are considered to be doing the work of God. But Salamon suggests it's no longer about making a good match, but about making money.
Another problem, he believes, is the incredibly high standards young people have set for potential mates. Salamon tells the story of an attractive woman he met at a dinner party who had been turned down by several men because her mother was overweight. The suitors admitted they feared her "fat potential," he said. Too many singles, he says, want their partner to have everything from looks to education to the "right" family background. "Within the Orthodox community, there's this push to find this perfect mate," said Salamon, but adds it has no religious backing and doesn't help them to find a compatible spouse.
What troubles him most about the Shidduch crisis is the recent jump in Orthodox Jewish divorce, he said.
He sees it in part as the outcome of bad matchmaking, but also of a younger generation whose members really don't know what they need in a partner.
"Get rid of the list of what you're looking for," Salamon advises. "Once you start understanding yourself, the quicker you'll find someone."
- Lindsay Melvin, Commercial Appeal, Memphis Online
"Single Jewish Female Seeks Stress Relief:
People often compare dating to interviewing for a job. In the Orthodox Jewish world, this notion is taken almost literally.
Upon returning from post-high-school studies in Israel, young Orthodox women (such as myself) meet with recruiters, commonly known as shadchanim (matchmakers). After determining whether the young woman wishes to marry a "learner" (a man studying full time in yeshiva), an "earner" (a professional) or a combination of the two, the shadchan collects the prospective bride's "shidduch resume," detailing everything from education and career plans to dress size, height, parents' occupations and synagogue memberships. The shadchan then approaches a suitable single man or, most likely, his parents -- who add the woman to their son's typically lengthy "list."
Before agreeing to a noncommittal first date, the man's parents begin a thorough background check that puts government security clearance to shame. Phoning references isn't enough -- of course they'll say good things -- so they cold-call other acquaintances of the potential bride, from camp counselors to college roommates. The questions they ask often border on the superficial: "Does she own a Netflix account?"; "Does she wear open-toed shoes?" (The correct response may vary depending on how Orthodox a woman the man is looking for.)
Just as the economy is headed to recession, the shidduch system is in crisis mode. Or so the rabbis moan, noting the surplus of women eager to marry and the corresponding shortfall in the quality and quantity of available Jewish men. It's not that there are more Orthodox women than men out there; experts instead attribute the shortage to the broader sociological trend of postponing marriage, which works to the disadvantage of women looking for spouses their own age or just a few years older. Men who are 30 will date women as young as 18 and may turn their noses up at dating any woman past the age of 25. The 20% or 30% of women who don't get hitched right away begin to worry they'll be left out in the cold for good.
Sensing this shift of power, mothers of sons who remain in the matchmaking system increase their demands: Any prospective daughter-in-law must be a size two, or a "learner" son must be supported indefinitely by the girl's parents. For men, "it's a buyer's market," says Michael Salamon, a psychologist and author of The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures (2008). "And the pressures of dating are creating all kinds of social problems, such as eating disorders and anxiety disorders. It's frightening."
I used to shrug off this talk. Genocide in Darfur is a crisis; being single at 23 is not. But the communal pressure is hard to ignore. Orthodox Judaism, like most traditional faiths, is geared to families; singles lack a definitive role.
Then there's what social worker Shaya Ostrov calls the "popcorn effect." During the first two to three years following high-school graduation, 70% to 80% of Orthodox women get married; weddings then peter off. "The system works for a very limited period of time," says Mr. Ostrov, the author of The Inner Circle: Seven Gates to Marriage. Friends of mine compare dating to musical chairs; nobody wants to end up an "old maid," and so they get engaged, hoping doubts will prove unfounded. "Young women," notes Sylvia Barack Fishman, professor of contemporary Jewish life at Brandeis University, "are often made to feel that they are damaged goods if they have not married -- and married well -- by their early 20s."
Part of the problem is the increased number of "serial daters" who, as Ms. Fishman says, are "shopping for perfection." When Mr. Ostrov runs workshops, he asks male participants in their early 30s how many girls they have dated. "One hundred seventy-five is not an unusual number," he says. "Dating" in these cases usually ends after just one or two meetings with each girl.
Many men admit that their refusal to commit themselves to a woman stems from fear of making a mistake. The only thing worse than being an "older single" male, it seems, is being a 25-year-old divorcee with two children. It is women, though, who are usually more stigmatized by a split. Indeed, one big problem in the Orthodox community is the "Post-Shidduch Crisis."
"We're seeing more and more recently married, young Orthodox Jews getting divorced," says Mr. Salamon, who estimates that the divorce rate among the Orthodox has risen to an alarming 30% in the past five to 10 years. (Hard data are difficult to come by, Mr. Salamon says, because the Orthodox shun research studies for fear of harming their own or their children's shidduchim.)
The core of the problem is that young marrieds don't know how to accommodate each other, says Mr. Salamon. And singles need to start asking the right questions. "Family history has nothing to do with whether you'll make a good husband or wife," he says. The rigid, interview-style questioning is only wreaking havoc: "They're looking for some sort of guarantee. But who can guarantee happiness?"
-Tamar Snyder, The Wall Street Journal