Deep thoughts, random insights, and musings by Susan Jacobs

Monday, December 26, 2005

One reason for the so-called "shidduch crisis"

(Note: I was inspired to write this post after reading some recent posts by RenegadeRebbetzin. Read her. She's awesome.)

When I decided to go to Stern College for Women, I imagined that, even though I would be at an all-women’s school, there would be plenty of opportunities to interact with the male students of Yeshiva College. I imagined going to school activities -- speakers, parties and social service activities -- and developing a network of friends that included both men and women.

I was sorely disappointed. While I loved my four years at Stern, and made the most of the academic, extra-curricular and social opportunities at the Midtown campus, most of my interaction with men my age consisted of walking past them in the lobby of my dormitory and seeing them take other women on dates. I did manage some social interaction with men -- mostly through volunteering as an NCSY advisor and participating in a handful of other co-ed university and community events -- but throughout my college years, I had very little meaningful interaction with men my age. (For example, I recall attending co-ed lectures where the seating for the event was completely separate, and Stern students were whisked away on a bus after the speech, leaving no opportunity for mingling.)

As someone from a small Jewish community who had not attended day school or any of the popular Orthodox summer camps, I lacked the intricate network of social connections that many of my peers had. I certainly did not choose to go to Stern to meet a husband -- I chose the school because I wanted to obtain a solid Jewish education and, for once in my life, to live in an environment that was unmistakably Jewish. However, I thought that social opportunities -- including the opportunity to meet single Jewish men -- would be part of my college experience.

Part of the blame is certainly on my own shoulders. I listened to the admonitions of certain friends that participating in co-ed activities would not be appropriate. On my own I could have chosen to participate more in these activities. However, I found that even when there were co-ed Shabbtonim at Stern, the prevailing atmosphere did not encourage friendly interaction between men and women. And, as much as any student should take full responsibility for his or her social choices, it is very difficult to attend activities without the support of friends, especially if one perceives that doing so will give the person the reputation of being “desperate.”

While I was at Stern, I felt that there was an unspoken message from my peers that I should not have friends who were male. But at the same time, I was not ready until my junior year to begin thinking about "dating for marriage," and even at that point, I had few connections to "set me up." In essence, I was being told to put my romantic life on hold, but was given little assistance in meeting men once I was considered to be "of age."

I also found it disheartening that when I was set up on dates, the men I met often seemed uncomfortable around me. While a certain amount of awkwardness is to be expected in dating, their nervousness went beyond that. Eventually, I concluded that they had never learned how to behave around women.

If we want to understand the roots of the so-called shidduch crisis, we can find them here. I don't fault Yeshiva University for this problem. In fact, in condoning co-ed activities of any sort, the university is showing the Orthodox world that it is possible to have wholesome, appropriate co-ed activities. However, a handful of student-organized activities is not enough. The university needs to take a stronger stand on the issue of co-ed interaction and to provide appropriate venues for men and women to meet. While some may argue that doing so will only reinforce the notion that women go to Stern to find husbands, I say that fostering healthy relationships and better communication between men and women is more important than any negative perception of the school.

Sadly, this problem has followed me throughout my twenties. Many of the men I have dated -- some of whom are in their thirties -- have never learned how to communicate with women because they have never been encouraged to attend social events where they can learn those skills, and the difficulty in communicating only gets worse as time goes by.

Unfortunately, throughout much of Orthodox life, men and women are only encouraged to socialize with the express purpose of getting married. This places undo pressure on their interactions and almost makes the type of friendships that blossom into romance impossible. There is lots of pressure to measure a person up for their marriage potential, and not to take the time to get to know him or her as a person if certain criteria are not met. That is bad for all of us.

Ironically, by denying young Orthodox people the opportunity to interact in religiously sanctioned environments, our leaders are encouraging singles to develop their own less appropriate social situations or to become estranged from Orthodoxy altogether.

I have the impression that the tide at YU is beginning to change, and that co-ed activities are no longer as taboo as they once were. However, Yeshiva University and Orthodoxy as a whole have a long way to go to repair this terrible situation.


  • At December 27, 2005 at 7:15 AM, Blogger Esther Kustanowitz said…

    This is a wonderful post. I mean, not in the sense that it offers the solutions we've all been looking for (and I mean the collective, single we of Jewish women), but reflects your personal experience with an operational and ideological mode that doesn't work as well as the mode-makers think it does. And I think that's valuable, and that not enough people do speak out.

    Could I use this in my new Carnival?

  • At January 4, 2006 at 10:21 AM, Blogger Another Nice Jewish Guy said…

    ...followed the link from Esther's Carnival...

    As a YU alumn, I agree with most of what you said - until "Ironically....become estranged from Orthodoxy altogether." Huh? How does this follow?

    And I would have to say it's not just YU - it's also the separate high schools where any socializing is equally frowned upon.

    Just my $.02

  • At January 5, 2006 at 6:30 PM, Blogger Shayne said…

    It's funny, when I was in YU (a hundred and fifty years ago), there were quite a few official "inter-mingling" events.

    I wonder when that changed?

  • At January 7, 2006 at 5:37 PM, Blogger Susan said…

    Nice Jewish Guy,
    I guess I didn't make my logic clear enough. The point I was trying to make was that if Orthodox singles feel that conforming with an Orthodox lifestyle is making it next to impossible for them to date and marry, then it is easy to become disillusioned with Orthodoxy as a whole. When we are taught about being shomer negiah and dating for marriage, there is an implication that if you follow the rules, you will be rewarded with a happy marriage, but in practice, it doesn't always work that way. If a person is feeling stifled by the rules of dating, unable to meet appropriate prospects and out of place around married friends, then it can be tempting to give up on Orthodoxy altogether.

  • At January 13, 2006 at 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Funny - in "yeshivishe" circles, the YU/MO crowd is seen as being overeager to facilitate/participate in coed events and mingling. In fact, just the other night my chavrusa was telling me about the dances organized by YU students in the sixties!

    Is it possible that, because you do have a certain amount of religious idealism, you hung out with the "frummer" crowd at Stern? Or are my perceptions misconceptions?

    - Cousin in SW OH ;-)

  • At January 15, 2006 at 10:08 AM, Blogger Susan said…

    To my cousin,
    YU is not the same institution it was in the 1960s. Neither, for that matter, is Young Israel. I've heard tales of Young Israel coed dances back in the day as well.
    When I was in Stern there was certainly a wide range of types of people, and I chose a group of friends who were probably on average more serious than others. But within the school itself there was a bare minimum of coed interaction. On the other hand, while I was hanging out at the girls-only chagiga on Purim, I'm sure there were quite a few other Stern students checking out the scene at other college campuses in the city, where there were opportunities for more coed interaction, and probably alcohol drinking as well.

  • At February 6, 2006 at 6:59 PM, Blogger stinkstank said…

    I came upon your post while searching randomly through blogs. You sound like a really cool person and somewhat like myself, except for the Jewish part. I understand that's a huge part of your identity, but I am also a journalist and single looking for love like the rest of us, lol! Great blog, keep up the good work!

  • At February 6, 2006 at 7:01 PM, Blogger stinkstank said…

    I also wanted to comment on this particular entry. I went to a secular state university, and there was PLENTY of time to interact with the opposite sex of course. However, a lot of the "scene" was the usual "hooking up," drinking, and doing drugs. It wasn't a good way to meet anyone special, and I didn't. Just like lots of us, I met men through work and outside activities. It's hard, but Mr. Right is out there. I'm dating someone serious now and hoping for the best. I met him at work one random day.

  • At February 7, 2006 at 9:06 AM, Blogger JMNOR55 said…

    Well it is my opinion that if the Modern Orthodox Machmir and Yeshivish Modern circles are too afraid or concerned about men and women mingling, then those who are uncomfortable with that should explore other options. For example, I live in Chicago in West Rogers Park. There aren't a lot of single or unmarried women over 24 and the ones that are in WRP are too frum or awkward with men. So I choose to go to Lakeview, a modern Orthodox community near Wrigley Field (be better if they were near U S Cellular Field, but that's another story). Instead of complaining, try something else. I don't believe in the Cindy Sheehan approach to life.

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