While on some level, my mom probably still has the idea in the back of her head that I am going about my daily business with an inner monologue singing for someone slender and pale and waiting for a telephone call from The Matchmaker with “The One”, she acknowledges that she doesn’t _actually_ think that’s _actually_ how things work… Anymore.
As it turns out, Baruch HaShem, shidduchim was one of the first topics that I explained to my mom that she thought was a good idea. Goal-oriented dating with marriage in mind was something she approved of. It sounded like a good approach. She didn’t seem to be caught up in an idea that it was outdated, and she understood it for its practical relevance.
So, thank G-d, my mom is supportive of my approach in dating. And she’s interested in being helpful. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about the characteristics that I need in a husband. What do you think?” is a beginning of a conversation with her. She is also thoughtful and insightful in her responses to questions on some of my best characteristics. I’m grateful for the relationship that we have.
While this is good, I don’t think that it is enough to get me, as a BT, through the phase of shidduchim.
As a BT ‘in the parsha’, I find that my experience is vastly different from the experiences of others in the parsha in my community. Of the families who I am reasonably close with who have been blessed to be involved in recent wedding celebrations, it seems that the majority of matches have been made through family members, chevrusas, or other friends of the family. In other words, it’s a small enough Jewish world that the natural Jewish networking (likely combined with a fair dose of parental advocacy—‘Do you know anyone for my Rivkele?’) is sufficient, baruch HaShem, to create many happily married couples.
This network is also something extremely helpful for checking references. A parent checking out a potential match for a child may already know the potential match’s rebbi or the staff at the camp where the potential match was a counselor. With a personal connection established, maybe directly, maybe through a close intermediary, more information can flow more freely about the appropriateness of the suggested match.
As a BT, I have not had a lifetime full of connections in the frum world, and my network seems to be relatively small.
Practically speaking, when it comes to shidduchim, I need to outsource a few different things that would otherwise be done ‘in house’—in the family.
I have to actively think about how to expand my network or access the networks of others, and I need to solicit and make myself available to shidduch suggestions.
I need mentorship in the shidduch process in general and in investigating individual matches.
I need someone who will check references of the men suggested to me.
I need a personal advocate who will be on my side throughout the trials of the process.
Some of these roles can be played by friends and mentors that I have in the community. And the last one can be played in part by my family (frum or not) and select friends. But in some senses, the all-too-easy default option, is to take on myself, as many of these roles as possible.
While that may be convenient for a while and have the advantage of minimizing my obligation to others, I worry that it is not a sustainable model. When I put my energies into shidduchim and fill these various roles, I sometimes feel like I am working four jobs. Personally, professionally, physically, socially, and spiritually, I sustain myself and try to grow. I serve as my own network advocate. I call references, ask questions, and get more phone numbers in order to track down the connection through which the information will best flow. And I encourage and advocate for myself, saying, ‘You’re one phone call closer! Aren’t you excited to find out all the great things about this guy?!’
I’m not sure that it’s possible to do things this way, and if it is, I don’t think that it’s the best idea. I think that many other BTs are facing similar challenges. These BTs would benefit from a lot of different types of assistance in navigating shidduchim. If you want to help someone you know, there is more than one way to do it. If you think you know someone who is appropriate, you could certainly make a suggestion, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be helpful. Serve as an entry point into ‘The Jewish Network’. Maybe you know someone who knows someone who is an appropriate match. Offer to call references. Suggest that if there are any references from your yeshivah or seminary, you would be happy to make the connection. Be a mentor for the shidduch process in general. Be a more general source of support, or suggest someone who could play that role.
Jewish marriages involving BTs happen between people who are living in distant states and between people who may have grown up in different countries from where they were when they developed into who they are today. As such, it takes more than just one matchmaker/person to bring together the zivugim that HaShem calls out. You can choose any of several ways to partner with HaShem to help bring these matches together.
Matchmaking: Not just for Yenta anymore.