Thursday, June 13, 2013

Matchmaker Manipulations

A client of mine who works within the health system of the Ultra-Orthodox community told me a sad and alarming statistic, that the number of Ultra-Orthodox children born with physical or mental disabilities has grown exponentially in the last ten years. 

She then explained the phenomenon to me:  the shame of having an unmarried child only doubles the shame of having given birth to a child with a physical or mental disability in the first place.  Thus, the matchmaking process rarely involves the future husband and wife meeting each other in person, until a day or two before the wedding, and then only briefly;  the parents and the matchmaker smooth out the issues of dowry etc, paying little attention to actual compatibility.  Once the two young people are stuck with each other, they must (by tradition and halacha) consummate the marriage and start making babies as soon as possible.  By the time that one of the partners in this union realize that the other may be suffering from a physical or mental disorder, it is too late to get divorced (because that would bring more shame upon the family) and at least one child has already been brought into the world.

And the cycle continues, as each generation ignores common sense, refuses to do genetic testing during pregnancy to determine if there will be serious developmental issues, and continues to grapple with the sticky wicket of getting these children married off before anyone notices a problem.

Flash forward to this week, when a matchmaker called me to suggest a blind date.  She kept her details simple, "He is a really sweet guy, very tall and a good friend of the family."  Something niggled at the back of my head and I insisted that the matchmaker employ full disclosure.  She stammered and paused, and after several sighs, said, "OK, here's the story.  He is in his mid-40's and has never been in a serious relationship, not even a girlfriend.  There is something off about him, he does not make eye contact when he speaks to other adults, though he always seems to have a lot to say. He is good looking but makes a terrible first impression because he does not know how to dress himself and present himself properly.  He has a college degree in engineering but cannot hold onto any steady job, and mostly works in part-time under the table gigs. I am thinking that he suffers from some version of undiagnosed autism, but I am not a medical professional."

Me:  And what part of what you just told me disturbs you the most? (Still trying to process...)
Matchmaker:  Well, it always bothered me that he couldn't get a decent job.
Me:  You know I am a single mother with a toddler right?  What makes you think that this person is ready for marriage with an adult, never mind becoming an instant father with all the responsibilities that parenthood entails?
MM:  He is my kids favorite Shabbat meal guest!
Me:  Don't you think there is a difference between someone who entertains children for a few hours, and a man who must step up, become an equal partner within a relationship, and take care of the emotional, physical and financial needs of a family?  A baby sitter can be great with their charge for a few hours, a father falls into a completely different category.
MM:  Well, you seem to know what you want.
Me:  Yes, I don't want to get married so I can care for two children instead of one.  Qualifying that, I don't blame him for being autistic, and I wish him the best, but don't you think that maybe more thought ought to be put into your decisions, and not just the fact that he is a man and I am a woman and we are both unmarried and in our 40's?
MM:  Hmmm, you might have something there.  Perhaps this wasn't the best idea.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Thank you for saying what you said to that matchmaker. If more people would be "straight" like that, then fewer other women would have to deal with the same kind of phone call.

Honestly, isn't the goal to be in a GOOD marriage, not in ANY OLD marriage? Wow. Just wow.