Matchmaking is the process of introducing a couple as potential partners in marriage. People in diverse cultures, past and present, have sought assistance from matchmakers because they may have a deeper understanding of human character, a wider connection to acquaintances, and greater knowledge and experience to help someone choose a marriage partner. The increase in popularity of "love matches" based on romantic and physical attraction, together with a loosening of the restrictions on behavior and decline in arranged marriages, led to a decline in the use of matchmakers with young people turning to various social situations to find prospective partners. Technological advances, however, have seen the re-emergence of the matchmaking process, as computers and the internet became popular tools in the search for an ideal mate. Ultimately, though, the involvement of more than technology is necessary to guide people to find a partner with whom they can build a harmonious relationship leading to a loving family, based on not only the physical but also the spiritual aspects of their lives.
Historically, in many cultures parents would request the assistance of a matchmaker in finding a suitable spouse for their child. The job of the matchmaker was extremely important because dating and free choice of a marriage partner was not allowed, and the only way for young people marry was by arranged marriage. For many centuries, the matchmaker's job was to check the ethnic identity and compatibility of the proposed couple. They could also act as "middlemen" by introducing potential candidates, especially if the acquaintances of the parents and family were limited.
Matchmakers were generally paid an agreed upon fee or a percentage of the dowry.
The Hebrew word shadkhan (plural shadkhanim) comes from the root word, shidikh (“match”). The Aramaic translation is sheket (“silence”) implying tranquility or peacefulness. In Judaism it is customary for the father to choose a bride for his son but sometimes the father requested the assistance of a shadkhan to find a bride of the highest integrity and virtue.
Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, acted as an early shadkhan when Abraham sent him to his family's homeland in Aram-Naharayim to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24:1-27). When Eliezer and his traveling companions arrived, Eliezer stopped his camels near the well where the daughters of the townspeople came to draw water. He prayed to God, "Let it be that the girl to whom I will say, 'Please tip over your jug so I can drink,' will say, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels,' that is the one You have designated for Your servant, for Isaac…." (Genesis 24:14). Rebekah arrived at the well and drew water for not only for Eliezer, but also for all his camels. The way Rebekah performed these tasks with liveliness and eagerness, proved to Eliezer that he had found a bride worthy of Isaac.
During the Middle Ages, when courtships were frowned upon and many Jewish families lived in isolated communities, shadkhanim were depended on to collect and evaluate information on the qualities and backgrounds of the potential spouses. The shadkhan was usually paid a percentage of the dowry.
In larger Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, the reputation of the shadkhanim was tainted by the matchmakers who cared more about the financial benefit than the sincerity of an honest representation.
A number of famous rabbis in history have involved themselves in the matchmaking process. One of the most prominent ones was Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin (Germany, 1355-1427).
Omiai (Japanese: お見合い) or miai (the o is honorific) is a traditional Japanese custom whereby unattached individuals are introduced to each other to consider the possibility of marriage. Parents may enlist the aid of professional matchmakers, nakōdo (Japanese: 仲人) (intermediary or go-between, literally "middle person") who charge a fee to provide pictures and resumes of potential mates who are rich, cultured, and/or well-educated. The word omiai is used to describe both the entire process as well as the first meeting between the couple, with the matchmaker and the couple's parents present.
The initiative for these introductions often comes from the parents who may feel that their son or daughter is of a marriageable age, but has shown little or no sign of seeking a partner on their own. Other times, the individual may ask friends or acquaintances to introduce potential mates in a similar way. Omiai's are often carried out in expensive tea shops or hotels with all present dressed in formal attire.
Since the mid-twentieth century, traditional omiai marriages became less popular, particularly among the more educated, city-dwelling young people, for whom dating practices, personal preference, and "love matches" based on romantic love became more popular. Even though omiai marriages have continued in rural areas of Japan, professional nakōdo are uncommon, with the parents, other relatives, or village elders, performing the function of the matchmaker.
In traditional Korean society, when a man or woman matured to a marriageable age, the family searched for a prospective spouse by going to a matchmaker, called jung-me. Families visited a matchmaker with the resumes of the young person and ask them to find a compatible person. Status and earning potential were evaluated as well as the families’ lineage, of which Koreans keep precise records and consider highly significant. After discussions with the family about potential candidates, the matchmaker would propose a spouse. For successful matches, the matchmaker received a negotiated fee.
Then, a fortune-teller was contacted to make sure the couple would be a harmonious and successful match. The fortune-teller first examined the saju, the "Four Pillars," which are the year, month, day, and hour of the birth, of the prospective groom and bride which supposedly influence one's fortune. The next process, called kunghap (mutual compatibility), is considered of such importance that even when the four pillars predict good fortune, if the kunghap predicts difficulty the match may not proceed. Since the proposed couple's fortune, depending on spiritual aspects, is of paramount importance, oftentimes-female mudang (shaman) would take over the whole matchmaking process.
Matchmakers continue to be widely used in South Korea, particularly in more rural areas.
Clergy played a key role as matchmakers in most Western cultures, as they continue to do in modern ones, especially where they are the most trusted mediators in the society. Matchmaking was one of the peripheral functions of the village priest in Medieval Catholic society, as well as a Talmudic duty of rabbis in traditional Jewish communities.
Social dances in North America, especially line dances and square dances, have been utilized for matchmaking, albeit informally. When farming families were widely separated and kept all children on the farm working, marriage-age children could often only meet in church or in such mandated social events. Matchmakers, acting as formal chaperones or as self-employed "busybodies" serving less clear social purposes, would attend such events and advise families of any burgeoning romances.
Matchmaking was one of the oldest traditions of Ireland, especially related to the fact that the country had two classes: the rich landowners and the poor peasants. The rich had their sons and daughters matched with other people who were well-to-do. The Spa Town of Lisdoonvarna, in the Burren Mountains of County Clare was picked because people went there in the thousands to drink the healthy Spa waters and bathe in the three different mineral waters. The month of September was chosen since it was when the hay and crops were saved and the livestock did not need extra feeding until later in the autumn. Matchmakers of old were the dealers who attended street fairs, as it was they who knew which farmers who had eligible sons and daughters around the country. They collected generous dowries when matches were made successfully. The Matchmaking Festival still takes place every year during September and October in Lisdoonvarna.
Matchmaking and Technology
As societies "modernized" in the twentieth century, matchmakers and arranged marriages came to be regarded as "old-fashioned." Young people took the idea of romantic love as more important than the values of their parents and matchmakers, and began to look for their partners in a variety of places. With technological advances such as the internet allowing people to communicate worldwide, the search for marriage partners has extended to this medium.
Since the emergence of the mythology of romantic love in the Christian world in medieval times, the pursuit of happiness via such romantic love has often been viewed as something akin to a human right. Matchmakers trade on this belief, and the modern net dating service is just one of many examples of a dating system where technology is invoked as a magic charm with the capacity to bring happiness.
U.S. residents spent $469.5 million on online dating and personals in 2004, the largest segment of “paid content” on the web, according to a study conducted by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and comScore Networks.
By the end of November 2004, there were 844 lifestyle and dating sites, a 38 percent increase since the start of the year, according to Hitwise Inc. However, market share was increasingly being dominated by several large services, including Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, American Singles, and eHarmony.
A "dating system" is any systemic means of improving matchmaking via rules or technology. It is a specialized meeting system either live in person, on the phone, or in "chat rooms" online. The acceptance of dating systems has created something of a resurgence in the role of the traditional professional matchmaker.
Net dating services, also known as online dating or internet dating, provide unmediated matchmaking through the use of personal computers, the internet, or even cell phones. Such services generally allow people to provide personal information, and then search for other individuals using criteria such as age range, gender, and location. Most sites allow members to upload photographs of themselves and browse the photos of others. Sites may offer additional services, such as webcasts, online chat, and message boards.
In Singapore, the Singapore Social Development Unit (SDU), run by the city-state's government, offers a combination of professional counsel and dating system technology, like many commercial dating services. Thus, the role of the matchmaker has become institutionalized, as a bureaucrat, and every citizen in Singapore has access to some subset of the matchmaking services that were once reserved for royalty or upper classes.
The main problem with most online dating services is that many profiles contain inaccurate representations, and many are not even real persons. Many services contain quantitative profile options that actually engender misrepresentations. There have been numerous studies on customer satisfaction with online dating sites and the lack of trust with other members is the most overwhelming concern.
Speed dating is a formalized matchmaking process whose purpose is to encourage people to meet a large number of new people. Its origins are credited to Rabbi Yaacov Deyo of Aish HaTorah, as a way to ensure that more Jewish singles meet each other in large cities where Jewish singles are a minority.
According to the original idea of speed dating, men and women rotate around the room, meeting each other for only eight minutes. At the end of each eight minutes, the couples are forced to move to the next round no matter how much they are enjoying the interaction (or dread the next one). At the end of the event, each participant submits a name list of persons they would like to meet with later. Contact information cannot be traded during the initial meeting in order to reduce the pressure associated with accepting or rejecting a suitor to their face. If there is a match, contact information is forwarded to both parties.
Matchmakers in the Twenty-first Century
Despite the trend to invoke technological innovations in the matchmaking process among young people who had previously rejected the traditional pattern of arranged marriages and matchmakers, many have found that personal involvement by one with talent and/or training in matchmaking does have something to offer. As noted above, internet dating services are susceptible to false profiles misrepresenting the candidates. Dissatisfaction with dating and online methods, coupled with the large numbers of failed choices leading to divorce, has brought things almost full circle. Religious matchmakers are finding that their services offer hope to young people tired of too many unsatisfactory choices and too little, or too impersonal, guidance in finding a good marriage partner.
Some examples of matchmakers active at the beginning of the twenty-first century include a Jewish Rabbi, the director of a center for Hindus and Muslims seeking marriage partners, and the founder of the Unification Church.
Rabbi Barry Marcus: Jewish matchmaker
Rabbi Barry Marcus, based at the Orthodox Jewish Central Synagogue in Central London, explained, "There's an old rabbinical saying: 'Matchmaking is more difficult than parting the Red Sea.’"
Rabbi Marcus has guided young people regarding the serious issue of finding a spouse, and even more importantly, the preparation and investment required to make a marriage successful. He believes that romantic love and sexual attraction are not key to lasting love, and therefore, the role of parents and other matchmakers in finding a suitable spouse is invaluable.
Parag Bhargava: Hindu and Muslim matchmaker
Parag Bhargava, director at the Suman Marriage Bureau, (claiming to be "the largest Asian marriage bureau in the world"), arranges and facilitates marital matches for Hindus and Muslims all over the globe.
According to Parag Bhargava, the most important predictor of marital harmony is compatible family backgrounds.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon: Matchmaking and restoration
Since 1961 Reverend and Mrs. Moon have married successively larger numbers of couples, most of whom were matched by Reverend Moon either in person or by picture. Often this "Marriage Blessing" has been given through large group wedding ceremonies: In 1982, 2,075 couples matched by Rev. and Mrs. Moon were wed at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In 1995, 360,000 couples were wed (or had their vows renewed) at a Blessing with the main venue at Seoul Olympic Stadium and satellite feeds to sites around the world. People of all faiths have participated in these events, although it has been mainly members of his church who submitted themselves to be matched. The shared experience is intended to foster not only loving and committed individual families but also a global community promoting the ideals of love and peace. During the ceremony each couple is asked to affirm that:
- The family is meant to be the dwelling place of God's true love;
- Faith in God and spiritual practices are enormously valuable resources in any marriage; and
- The intact, healthy family of parents and children is absolutely necessary to the well being of our nation and our world.
As with all religiously based matchings, the foundation of shared faith, common values, and a commitment to God, marriage to a previously unknown partner becomes possible, workable, and often successful.
Reverend Moon's comments about matchmaking and marriage reveal his philosophy, based on traditional Korean matchmaking methods but elevated by his intuitive spiritual sense:
There is a Korean philosophy about matchmaking, a very consistent philosophy or system of study that has existed for a very long time. There are many matchmakers in Korea who have studied this art and have made many matches in their lifetime. Many times, members (matched by Rev. Moon) have gone to them and have shown them their match and they were very shocked by how good it was. These matchmakers admitted they could not have done any better. There is a way in which you were born and I can understand about that. My matchmaking abilities didn't come late in life, but from very early on, people recognized my abilities. When I was very young I would see a couple and tell right away if it was a good couple or not. Soon, people started to come to me and show me pictures and ask me if it was a good match or not. For years and years I studied and practiced in this area of life.
You don't have to say anything to me. When I see you I understand immediately how you feel towards your match. I can accurately foretell the spiritual outcome of a couple. When I match you, I don't match you on the same level that you are. Instead, my mind is looking down upon you from the very highest viewpoint.
Moon does not simply match by the criteria of compatibility. He sometimes puts seemingly mismatched people together, telling them that they will produce excellent children. Sometimes he joins partners of different races, nationalities or class backgrounds, people who would ordinarily never meet or consider marriage. In this he propounds the idea that a committed marriage can be an act of "restoration," to overcome barriers and knit together the unity of humankind.
Matchmakers were used throughout history in many different cultures, for good reason. Finding a good marriage partner by oneself or for one's children is no simple task. In the past, young people had little chance of meeting others beyond their immediate neighborhood and circle of family acquaintances; hence matchmakers served the important function of bringing together people who would not otherwise have met.
In the last century, with the freedom and opportunity for young people to meet one another, coupled with the culture of "romantic love," the traditional matchmaker seemed obsolete. However, technological advances in the area of computing again revived the process, helping young people sift through the overabundance of potential candidates they meet, in hopes of finding the perfect mate. Finally, it appears that people have begun to recognize that they need guidance in this process. With the increases in family breakdown, parents can no longer function as successful role models. Therefore, there has been a revival of interest in matchmakers.
Since marriage most deeply involves the spiritual aspects of human nature, it would seem that religious matchmakers have the most to offer, as they have the gift to be able to see prospective couples from a divine and transcendent perspective.
- Lisdoonvarna’s Matchmaking Festival. Matchmaker Ireland.com. Retrieved August 27, 2008.
- Jemima Khan, The marriage business New Statesman, March 15, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
- Reverend Sun Myung Moon, "Unity Through the Matching and Blessing" in The Founding of Ocean Church. October 1st, 1980..Retrieved August 27, 2008.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Kendall, Laurel. Getting Married in Korea. University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0520202009
- Salamon, Michael J. The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures. Urim Publications, 2008. ISBN 978-9655240061
- Seth, Reva. First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages. Touchstone, 2008. ISBN 978-1416561729
All links retrieved November 7, 2022.
- Love on the web - BBC Money Programme.
- Ron Gluckman Make me a match
- Matchmaking and the Shadchan chabad.org
- The Shidduch Site, provides extensive shiddduch-related information and resources for shidduch-dating singles
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