Very few issues have generated as much spilled "electronic ink" in recent years as the shidduch crisis. Many people have offered suggestions as to the cause of the crisis and how to best address it.
One Bais Ya'akov woman in her mid-twenties sent a letter to Matzav.com offering a suggestion on how to alleviate the problem. She notes that at any wedding, there are invariably single women and single men who might be right for each other and that can be introduced to each other by married friends. Perhaps, she suggests, it would be a good idea to have married friends make some introductions, since both parties are already present at the wedding and only separated by a mechitza. Perhaps, she says, if the meeting is arranged by someone who is trusted and known, then some of the checking that goes on can be eliminated.
Sadly, what the Bais Ya'akov writer does not understand is that we are a people with a proud tradition. Our traditions and customs go back thousands of years without change. Tinkering with any part of our tradition is recipe for disaster and mass assimilation. She wants a young man and a young woman to possibly meet without the parents asking the requisite questions about Shabbos tablecloths, loafers vs. laced shoes, who the father's chavrusa was, what size dress the mother wears and which yeshiva the kids will go and whether the women of the house wear robes or dresses to the Shabbos or any of the other myriad of questions that our traditions demand that we ask. And then, she wants the young couple to actually meet face to face without the stamp of approval of both sets of parents, their family rabbonim, the Roshei Yeshiva and heads of seminary and the local gossipers?
Her ideas are very dangerous. Why, breaking with such important tradtions can only lead to such dangerous things as the young couple sharing a thought alone without the shadchan intermediating before the fourth date and, of course, mixed dancing. What next? Bowing down to idols?
OK, I've had my fun with sarcasm. But all sarcasm aside, it seems to me that we've spent the last few decades building a system where dating occurs in a very ritualized manner. Each step in this production is planned and plotted in a choreographed ballet. Each person in this complicated dance -- the boy, the girl, the shadchan, his parents, her parents, the references, the family friends and the extended family -- each one has their role to play. And no one may make a misstep for fear of ruining the mating ritual: the boy and girl have to wait X number of dates before they can ask for each other's phone number so they can speak directly without the shadchan. By the third date, they have to pass one milestone, by the fifth date, another. In no event should they go past eight or nine dates without announcing the engagement already.
Any devitation from the prescribed ritual is fraught with potential danger. If the boy chooses the wrong sort of venue for a "first date" or a "third date;" if he dares tell her directly that he's interested in a second date (instead of delivering the message through the shadchan); if she wears something that is slightly too flashy or too demure; if he doesn't hit the correct topics of conversation on the date... any of these (or potentially thousands of other) missteps in the complicated dance spells the end of the show. And an ever-increasing part of this dance is the pre-date inquisition.
I seem to remember a time when it was assumed that if you were mature enough to get married, you were also mature enough to question your date on the areas of halacha/hashkafah (or anything else) that was important to you and form a opinion from there as to whether or not to continue dating. If it's important to you that your father in law learn in a certain type of yeshiva, then that was a topic that was to be brought up on a first date. If it was important that your future wife be interested in making aliyah, or settling in Monsey or whatever, then that was a topic that was brought up on a date. But nowadays, it seems, we don't trust young men and women (whom we judge to be mature enough for marriage) to find out this information. Nowadays, all this stuff has to be found out beforehand by the investigational committee that each side assembles. And this, too, has become an essential part of the dating ritual which is to be discarded only at the extreme peril of being branded a "rebel" and "undatable."
So, while the Bais Ya'akov letter writer should be commended for her common-sense appraoch, she sadly does not realize the reality that she is up against. I suppose it's a good thing that her letter is anonymous... having common sense and an original thought can also be dangerous errors in the shidduch dance.