One of the first questions you will be asked when you tell someone you are looking to get married is, “What are you looking for?” People are often encouraged to make a list of criteria to guide the search process. Without question, this is necessary and important, because how else can someone know who may be suitable for you.
However, this often misses the key point: Do you actually know what you are looking for? If you make a shopping list to help guide your purchases, it is only helpful if you have first checked what items you need. Otherwise, your list may be full of things that aren’t relevant! Same with a shidduch list: your list is only useful if real thought has gone into it. Otherwise, it might just be sending people in the wrong direction, with predictably unsatisfying results.
Before going further, it has to be acknowledged that many people gain greater clarity about what works for them through the dating process. This may be frustrating for them and for those who they date, but it is not always possible to truly figure things out without meeting actual people and seeing how it goes.
Having said that, it is neither ethical nor sensible to go on dates in order to better understand what you are looking for. Very few people indeed would agree to date on that basis. The assumption needs to be that you have given serious thought to what you are doing and believe you have attained the maximum self-understanding possible on this side of dating.
Equally importantly, if a dating experience did not work out, take the time to reflect on whether you should make any modifications to what you are looking for. Perhaps as a result of actually meeting someone your views have changed? Even if you feel it was a negative dating experience, there usually is something of value to learn from it.
Who do you admire?
Part of the problem with trying to work out what you are looking for is that most people involved in shidduch dating have minimal life experience to base their judgments upon. It is not like they can typically call upon a great deal of relationship experience! One way around that is to think of people you know who have qualities you value.
Whether a parent, relative, friend, or acquaintance, there are most likely people whose character traits or approaches to things you particularly appreciate. Make a list of those traits and number them in order of importance to you. The ones at the top of the list should be considered as important as you look for who you will marry.
To a lesser extent, you could also make a list of the qualities of people around you would like to avoid. If you know that certain behaviors stress you out, or particular attitudes offend you, then you now have a better idea of what works for you. That said, as much as possible, focus on the positive. Therefore, define those negatives as best you can, then select the best word to describe the opposite. Now that you have articulated what you do want (instead of what you don’t want) look for those qualities. For example, if loudness stresses you out, don’t say “I don’t want someone loud.” Rather, say “I’d prefer someone on the quieter side.”
Be organized in your mind
When you start thinking about what you are looking for, it is possible that everything gets jumbled in your mind. This makes it easier for important things to get overlooked. It is better to work to a clear list, in which major areas of importance are kept separate from one another. One way of doing this is to use the three columns presented in our article called: How can I be confident that I am marrying the right person? In that article, we categorized the qualities of a potential spouse into three broad headings. 1) character traits 2) life and spiritual values, and 3) personal features.
Why is that important? Because these three areas are independent of each other. If someone is super strong in one of those three areas, it will not compensate for weakness in another. Let’s unpack this, as it is super-important.
If a person you are considering to date has some spiritual values you connect with and others you do not, they can easily balance each other out. For example, you may not agree with his attitude towards saving money, but you appreciate his strong family values. Unless the difference with regards to saving money is enormous, you may consider that overall, your values are compatible. Or, for example, if you find some aspects of his appearance attractive, but not others, you may still conclude that you find him broadly attractive.
By contrast, the qualities in two separate headings will not compensate for one another. For example, if the values aren’t compatible, but the physical attraction is very strong – the attraction won’t compensate for the lack of values. Or if the character traits are a great fit, but you don’t find her to be sufficiently intelligent for your preference, her kind personality is not going to have that much impact on how suitable you feel she is.
In short, take the time to understand the three main categories of compatibility, and identify what you find important in each category.
Be selective in your criteria
As you consider what features you find attractive, it is tempting to want to have everything. The reality is that few people will manage to attain that. The statistical probabilities work heavily against that. Therefore, sensible people know to prioritize. This is how you do it: Make your initial wish-list in each category as long as you want; put everything on there. Then, arrange your list in order of priority. Only focus on the 3-5 that make it to the top of the list in each category.
You may be asking why. The reason is because of mathematics. The more specific you are about higher than average qualities, the harder it will be to find someone who matches those criteria. Bear in mind that the other person has to want to meet you. In order to make your shidduch search less like guessing the winning numbers in a lottery, you should make an effort to focus on those qualities that are really important.
This whole idea is explained in much greater detail in our article, Why Can’t I Find Someone with All the Qualities I am Looking For?
Trust yourself, but never entirely so
You are the one who is going to have to live with your decision as to a spouse, so you have to be the one who makes that decision. There is no use in other people telling you how to feel or what to prefer, as that is highly unlikely to change how you feel or what you prefer.
Having said that, people rely too heavily on their gut reactions. We are sometimes too quick to be sure we know ourselves and understand what’s important in life. The reality is that we are often inexperienced in life, and aren’t clear about what marriage is really about. Moreover, we may not want to admit it, but we don’t always have the most clear-eyed perspective on our own selves. True self-awareness is not easy to come by.
It is therefore highly encouraged to put together your list of dating criteria with the input of another person who knows you well and can help you to think through what is genuinely important for you.
The focus in this article has been on what you are looking for, but as part of that, you need to know yourself. Whatever you are is what you will bring into your marriage. So, take some time to identify your own strengths and limitations. Recognize that in many cases you are better off marrying someone who has the strengths you possess. Equally, there is often no real reason why to look for someone who has the strengths you already have. It is generally more important when it comes to marriage to focus on complementarity over similarity – it is more important that your spouse offers qualities you need, than being highly similar to you.
When you understand your struggles, you can also appreciate someone who is going to be particularly supportive. For example, if you are someone who feels often misunderstood or misjudged, your life (not just marriage) will be much enhanced by being with someone who validates you and accepts you as you are. You may not understand these things without the insight from those who do. So, take as much advice as you can.
If you know yourself well, and have become articulate in expressing your values and personality, you will be able to best communicate with those who could help you find a shidduch, as well as on an actual date. Make sure you have made a list of issues that you feel strongly about, or aspects of yourself that you feel it is important that your spouse knows and accepts about you.
Write It Down, and Refer To It
It is vital that you write clear lists. You need to be able to refer to these during the shidduch process. This is especially true when communicating with those helping to find you a shidduch and when deciding who to meet. It is easy to get distracted. Your list will help remind you of what you have identified as the important factors.
Likewise, when it comes to making your final decision, it is highly common for doubts to creep in. In this situation, your list will be your best friend. If the person matches well to your list, you can put those reservations to one side and not worry so much. These lists will also help you in the early stages of dating, to be sure that you are also using your head and not just getting caught up in the excitement or the emotions.
Of course, it is possible that by actually meeting someone you discover that some things on your list are not as important as you thought, or that other qualities are more important than you thought. But the list will serve to keep you focused and alert.