This past bein hazmanim has been the first time we were actively involved in shidduchim for our oldest daughter who has just returned from seminary and it sounds terrible to say but I am relieved that she did not get engaged. It was a nightmare. Although my wife and I have a different way of looking at things, for the most part, until this parshah of shidduchim, we have managed to work things out. But I don't know how we will navigate this new stage of our lives, so I am turning to you for some ideas. In short, my wife, who has always been materialistic and concerned with appearances, is taking this to a whole new level by the kind of shidduch she wants to make with our daughter. She only wants a certain type of home, a certain amount of money, and even a certain look that both the parents and the potential boy needs to have. She calls it balabatish, I call it superficial. I feel she is only thinking about herself, not my daughter, when considering shidduchim. How do I handle this?
The art of shidduchim. Fascinating, no?
The first time a shadchan called me for a suggestion for my eighteen year old son, I thought I was being spoofed, that someone was playing a joke on me and pretending to be a shadchan. I had no idea that there were actually real matchmakers. I thought just anyone redt a shidduch and just anyone could make it happen. Which is true. Because it’s really all bashert, you know. Anyone who has been involved in a shidduch knows that it looks like a lot of hard work, but ultimately, when it’s done, everyone agrees that it was simply bashert, predestined.
But you are just starting out, and although you may suscribe to bashert, some type of hishtadlus seems be in order, and you absolutely do not like the direction of your wife’s hishtadlus. And you direct your question to a therapist, of all people. Which is not a bad idea, considering that the psychological underpinnings of any match has always seemed to me another word for bashert. That when two people meet and marry, dating or shidduch, there is a subconscious force making it happen.
“Please Mindy,” my clients tell me, “I met my spouse for an hour before I was engaged. It was expected that I say yes to my parents' choice. I didn't even know I could say no. What subconscious choice did I make at that time?”
These questions are all valid, but I will say that b'showing is no different than someone who actually dates, meeting a potential match for 4, 5 or 8 times. The psychological aspects of finding a mate, I believe, manifests in both types of dating in the same way. But more of that later. Instead, let me focus now on your question in which you are concerned that your wife is both superficial in her method of finding a proper husband for your daughter, and that she is more concerned about herself than your daughter in the type of husband she wants to choose for her.
There has been psychological research on how we choose mates, which is relevant to your question, regardless of the dating method used. According to the research, there are a few ways to understand these matchings.
One is the social role theory. This theory opines that we look for mates based on what is socially attractive in our society. And as norms change, what is attractive changes as well. Applying this to your situation, what is attractive to your wife is the social norm of her society in which being balabatish, having money, owning a certain type of home and such externals are important. This would also be why a father seeks a boy who is sitting and learning for his daughter versus college educated, or wears a shtreimel versus an up hat/down hat. Thirty years ago, the social norm in my circles was obtaining a girl who was teaching (high school preferably); today, the social norm in those same circles has changed to tout a girl who is doing one of those quickie-college degrees. None of these norms are indicative of of depth of character or religiosity; yet, they play a crucial role in matchmaking.
Social homogeny is another way of understanding how we seek mates. We not only want to make marriages based on the social attractiveness, but that we seek mates who are socially compatible to us. Which is why your wife seeks a boy from a specific type of home or dresses a specific way. If that is how she raised your daughters, these are standards that are familiar to her and so it make sense to her to pair up your daughter with someone socially similar.
A third school of thought is the complementary theory. It is when we seek a match to complement our psychological needs. That may mean if your wife is insecure with her financial or social status, she may want to choose someone to complement that status by upgrading to balabatish. It is why, according to this theory, paradoxically, a person will marry a spouse who, for example, has a bad temper, because they have grown up with a parent with anger management and that is what feels familiar and needed. Although this article is not specifically why we marry one of our parents, complete with those very traits we swore to avoid in our spouses, I would like to elaborate on one aspect of psychological need that draws one to choose a spouse with precisely those negative traits that was hated in the parent. When someone grows up with a parent who is not a good-enough parent, that child forever seeks to repair that relationship, and so, psychologically, chooses a spouse similar to their parent in order to psychologically repair that parent-child bond.
There are many other schools of thought on how marriages are formed from a psychological perspective but these three are adequate for our purposes.
Now back to your wife and your daughter's shidduchim.
A child is the product of his/her home. S/he has imbibed the values and norms of her parents, of the society is which s/he lives, of the greater culture s/he inhabits. And so, when a parents listens to shidduchim for a child, what draws the parent to a shidduch is what the child would be unconsciously drawn to as well. Which is why when a parent seeks money in a shidduch, I wonder if that is what the child needed as well, compromising looks, middos, or religion to obtain it. I would venture to say that in a home where there is marital harmony and good relationships between parent and child, chances are, whatever the parent finds appealing in a potential match, so does the child on the same unconscious level.
In your case, you feel you are at odds with your wife's standards of choosing a match. If, as you stated in your question, your wife has always been materialistic, and shidduchim is simply taking it to a new level, I would tell you that your child grew up with a materialistic mother and what feels right to your wife, feels right to your child. If you would have wanted something—or someone different—for your daughter, the right time to have made changes is approximately 18 years ago....
And of course, if there are good relationships all around, nothing would be better than sitting down with your wife and simply discussing your concerns; sitting down with your daughter and discussing these issues with her in a way respectful to your wife.
One last thing. It's all bashert anyway...so relax.
NOTE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH MAGAZINE'S BIMONTHLY COLUMN "QUESTIONS YOU WERE AFRAID TO ASK, BUT DID ANYWAY"
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