To the Shadchan:
I am listed as a reference on the resumes of a few of my friends, and I get called fairly often to describe a girl to a prospective mother-in-law. I know how important it is to be positive, but I also want to tell the truth. Recently, a mother called me and asked a question that I didn’t know how to answer. Actually, I was speechless.
This was a boy who was considered a prize, and lots of girls wanted to get a date with him. The mother asked me many questions to determine whether my friend – let’s call her Shoshi – would be suitable for her son. The last question was, “How would your friend react if she found out she was infertile? What if she had triplets after just a year of marriage? What would be her attitude?” I didn’t know what to answer. Should I say what I thought the mother wanted to hear? I wasn’t sure what that was. Should I make up something? I couldn’t do that. The question was unanswerable, anyway. After all, how could I possibly know how anyone would react in such made-up situations? How can I know how I myself would feel?
I must have given the wrong answer, because Shoshi never got the date. I felt very bad that maybe I had ruined her chances to get this “great” guy. But when I told Shoshi’s mother what happened, she was outraged, and said she would not have wanted Shoshi to go out with a boy who came from a home with such warped values. So I was relieved. We later found out from a third party that the answer the mother wanted was that her son’s future wife would be “b’simcha” – which could be translated, I guess, as somewhere between tranquil and thrilled – upon learning that she was infertile or was expecting triplets!
I want to know how to deal with such ridiculous questions. Should I say I don’t know? Should I try to make a politically correct answer? Or should I give some smart-aleck reply and hang up the phone? The one I thought of later, which I should have said, was, “Well, about the triplets, I think Shoshi’s reaction would depend on whether her mother-in-law was coming to help!”
Any advice is appreciated.
The Shadchan Answers:
I am appalled by the dilemma presented this month. In all my years of making shidduchim, this is the worst question I have ever heard. What do mothers do, just sit and think up hypothetical questions that are impossible to answer and thus silly and offensive? Then we wonder why there is a “shidduch” crisis! As I’ve said before, this crisis is manmade, and, I dare say, mothers can take much of the blame.
First of all, I must commend you for trying to help your friends. I’m sorry you were put in such a situation, and even more sorry that you did not end the conversation with your mother-in-law comeback.
Before I deal with your specific questions, let me say, in general, that I have never heard as many unnecessary and inappropriate questions as I do today. A mother once called me to ask about a certain girl. I described the girl, and then the mother asked, “Is she ‘put together’?” I said, “Of course she is put together.” But the mother came back with, “Well, I don’t know if this girl is really for my son, but I have two daughters I am looking for also.”
I said, “Tell me about them.” When she finished describing them, my reaction was – you guessed it! – “Are they put together?” Well, the mother went berserk: “What do you mean, ‘Are they put together?’ Of course they are put together!” And I replied, “You asked me that about the girl you called about, so why wouldn’t I ask you about your daughters?” She hung up the phone, and I never heard from her again.
The most common inappropriate question, of course, is “What does she look like?” When people ask me that, I answer, “Beauty is very subjective. What is beautiful to me may not be beautiful to your son, so I will not answer that.” How does a mother know what her son wants, anyway? Is she truly looking for someone who will appeal to her son, or does she want to make sure she will not be embarrassed to be seen in public with a girl she feels is not pretty enough?
Any boy who needs his mother to decide whether the girl is pretty or good enough for him is not ready to get married and has no business going out. Middos (character qualities) in a girl are what is most important and what will make a man happy in the long run. Is she pleasant and caring, honest and sincere? Will she be a good wife, a good mother to his children? Unfortunately, we live in a society where externals are supreme, and the notion that the girl has to be beautiful – in the same way that movie stars are beautiful – seeps into the heads of the young men. It’s no wonder, then, that looks are a major priority on their lists.
Other trivialities that people have actually asked me, and which I consider inappropriate, are the girl’s dress size, the type of tablecloths the family uses, how they remove the dirty dishes from their Shabbos table, and extremely personal questions, like the one asked you.
In the future, when you get calls, I would suggest that you preface your answer with something like this: “I will answer to the best of my ability, but if you ask me anything beyond what I think is appropriate, I reserve the right to not answer you. I have my own boundaries and will not subject myself to questions that are not important to the success of a shidduch.”
Your letter triggered another thought: I am astounded at the foolishness of this mother. To me, her question is an example of al tiftach peh lesatan (don’t give an “opening” to misfortune). Moreover, she is giving herself a bad reputation. If word gets out about how “controlling” she is, this boy will have difficulty getting a shidduch. He may be the greatest catch in the world, but who would want a mother-in-law like her? Shoshi’s mother is a hundred percent right saying she would not want a boy who has a mother as shallow as she is.
The mother’s question is foolish on another level. Who are we to evaluate what the Ribono Shel Olam (G-d) has in store for us years down the line – or even tomorrow? If you want to know if a girl is b’simcha (happy), ask how she relates to the people around her and how she reacts to life’s difficulties right now. If her son and his wife should face a serious challenge down the road, it must in any case be solved by the couple themselves. Parents cannot interfere or solve every problem of their married children.
So, again, from now on, when you get calls, lay down your ground rules before you begin to discuss the shidduch in question. If they persist in asking, hang up! I laud you for helping your friends find their zivug. You should not have to be made uncomfortable in the process.