What should one look for in a prospective marriage partner?
There are generalities that apply both to a chosson and a kallah and there are specific points that a kallah must seek and the chosson must seek.
In general; first of all, health. It is important to ascertain as much as possible any information whether the other party ever had any organic difficulties. Now sometimes the inquirer himself has something to conceal and therefore he cannot be too choosy. But hypothetically if he has the option between two or more prospects, he certainly should be interested in knowing the health history; physical health and mental health.
And when it comes to mental health, it is worth investigating the family. One young man said that his kallah’s mother once had a nervous breakdown and so did his kallah’s mother’s sister; but he said that was due to a special circumstance. Well, it could be but when you have in one family two sisters with the same problem, I think it’s worth considering it seriously.
There was a young man who was pushed into a match by his well-meaning brothers and sisters and he discovered afterwards that the young lady was an epileptic. Now that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be a fit wife for him and it’s probable that in many cases such a wife is better than no wife at all, but in this case, it turned out to be a misfortune because sometimes this type of illness is associated with eccentricities too. And therefore, it certainly pays to investigate physical health and mental health.
Then you must ascertain Hilchos De’os. Does the other party have the same attitude toward life, toward Torah, toward yiras Shamayim? Or is it someone who is fully willing to learn the right attitudes? Now that is a risk if hitherto the other party hadn’t lived a full Torah life but promised to change, because after the marriage when the glamor of romance has departed, who knows to what patterns that person will revert? It’s difficult to break off with mental attitudes in which one grew up; family attitudes, street or school attitudes. Certainly there are many girls who come from fine homes, frum homes who don’t have frum attitudes and there are many girls who come from no homes at all who are big idealists, but that is important to ascertain.
How to discover these things, that’s your job. The best way is to find persons who were familiar with that party for some years and then to let that party talk a lot. When you meet them, let them talk. Don’t monopolize the conversation because then you won’t hear anything. When the other party talks and you listen carefully, you may discover important information.
Then character. Ah, character! Is the party polite? Is the party wild? Is the party gentle or is the party coarse? Is he or she angry? Is he or she lazy? Is he or she overdramatic? Is he or she extreme?
Is he a penny pincher? That’s an especially important question that the kallah has to ask. There’s a great deal of suffering caused by husbands who clamp down on the money, even when they have it. And they use it to tyrannize their wives. If he is an extreme penny pincher, then it could mean a life of misery despite all other qualities.
Now listening to this, you can get cold feet. But the truth is any marriage is better than no marriage. Marriage has so many compensations that it pays to take the risk. And even though after marriage people gripe and they complain and many seek divorce, but they are all wrong because despite all the hardships of life, it is better to be alive. And marriage is a form of living and divorce is a form of the opposite of living. Something dies when there’s a divorce.
And so, it pays to seek the happiness of life and not to look for cause for complaint. If you look, you’ll find. Look for causes to be satisfied. In every marriage, there is some reason to be satisfied. However, that doesn’t justify going into it recklessly. You’ll be more satisfied if you’ll get somebody that’s suited to you.
Don’t merely look for a big lamdan if you’re a Bais Yaakov girl. A big lamdan is wonderful, a tremendous zchus. But you must look for character. If you’ll have character and yiras Shamayim and lamdus, yes. And yiras Shamayim doesn’t mean the superficial kind of dikduk b’mitzvos. It means something that’s more genuine inward, an inner attitude of wanting to do what’s right b’eini Hashem. And that’s rare.
Now it’s hard to expect a girl to know what real yiras Shamayim is and that’s why in the olden days the task of choosing a mate was not left up to the girl. The old folks who weren’t blinded by romance and who had experience behind them were the better judges. Nowadays, however, even the parents are not capable of choosing. And many times parents push children into marriages merely because they want to have it off their chest. They want it settled. Then their children discover that the parents were poor judges. However, even today it’s good to take their advice into account. Parents and the interested parties themselves should seek counsel of each other.
In addition to health, mental and physical, in addition to outlook on life, on Torah idealism, in addition to yiras Shamayim and ideology, in addition to character, there is also the life plan. People can be entirely eligible but they have different ideas for their plans for married life. For instance, where to settle? Do you wish to settle in Williamsburg, in Crown Heights, or do you insist on Flatbush or Boro Park. Or is it Eretz Yisroel? Bnei Brak or Yerushalayim? Is it Shomrei Emunah or Kiryas Mattersdorf? All kinds of lifestyles, all of them are frum, but there’s a big difference.
Now if a girl belongs to a certain Chassidic group and she has a loyalty to a certain rebbe, it could mean that she’s going to insist that her husband does the same. It may be a clash. Or if she is willing to come over to her husband’s side, if he is a Litvishe yeshiva man or he is a certain type of chossid that’s different from hers, that’s part of the settlement. That has to be arranged beforehand.
The question is also how to live. Do you want to live in the more simple brackets or do you want to live in style? There are plenty of Orthodox people with yiras Shamayim who live luxuriously; but it makes a big difference, a difference how much effort you have to expend on maintaining such a lifestyle.
And so, a lot of things have to be spoken about.
Also children. There are plenty of Orthodox people who have ideas of limiting the number of children. And therefore if the chosson is a man who wants to go the limit, he wants to accomplish all that he can in this world and bring up a big family, it’s important to clarify this beforehand.
Sometimes it’s not possible. Sometimes there is a chance of losing a good girl or losing a good chosson by talking too many things over beforehand. Then you have to weigh the risk, but ideally it’s worth clarifying these issues beforehand.
If you’re Modern Orthodox, it pays to make up your mind beforehand whether you want a television in your home – of course, you shouldn’t have it, but if one of the two parties is television minded, then you should know beforehand where you stand. If you can get the young lady to agree beforehand to do away with television, you’re going to save yourself a great many arguments later.
In general, the promises made before marriage usually are kept. You can always hark back to what you said before marriage, “You remember what you promised me?” And that’s a commitment. And if you can get clear-cut commitments on a number of things like not too expensive things, no vacations, no Florida, no mountains – it depends on your financial abilities and it depends on the way you chose to live but if you can get commitments on children, commitments on where to send the children – that’s also many times a stumbling block, what type of yeshiva. And so as much as possible, if you can get commitments that’s best.
Now if the girl is the type that has full confidence in her husband, she looks up to him and she will follow him implicitly and he understands that, then he can spare himself a good deal of talk. But in many cases, this is only a romantic attitude that doesn’t persist after marriage. And therefore, once a person is committed beforehand then there is a good chance it’ll be fulfilled.
The question of in-laws also comes up. Who are the in-laws? Now nowadays you can’t always be choosy, but it certainly is uncomfortable to have a brother-in-law who is married to a shikseh or even to a giyoress who only was nisgayer because she wanted to marry. Or it’s uncomfortable to have a father-in-law who is a Conservative rabbi. It’s uncomfortable to have a Greenwich Village habitué as a brother-in-law. Now sometimes the girl is such a metziah, that it pays to overlook everything, but if you have two metziahs, then it pays to take the one who has a good family.
Now there’s much more to say on the subject, but we have to give the other people a chance to ask their questions.
TAPE # 56 (August 1974)