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Op-Ed: Oxytocin’s Effect on the Shidduch Crisis

by Amber Adler

I first learned about oxytocin while working as the Chief of Staff of a global autism center. The famed doctor and researcher, Eric Hollander was working on a study, which would use an intranasal oxytocin spray on people with autism.

The doctor’s team would conduct testing with intranasal oxytocin, which had demonstrated effects on social cognition (i.e. recognizing emotions, enhancing empathy; decreasing social stress). The idea was to stimulate bonding in those people whom are unable to do so naturally such as people on the autism spectrum.

Over the past few years, I have been researching our community’s dating scene. I had heard shidduch crisis complaints from singles, parents, newlyweds and religious authorities from many sects of Jews. One common complaint from singles seeking their bashert is the lack of quick and/or overwhelming feelings of interest. People seem to want a sign as grand as the Macy’s Day Parade to assure them they are sitting in front of their best match.

This whirlwind feeling is something many people hear of in romance novels and mainstream media. Blind romance and feelings of enchantment are not love. Love is a growing process that builds upon itself in time. Today, I love my husband more than when I married him. Why? He has proven himself to be a man of his words by honoring his commitment to me.

My point: Modern thought processes have seeped into our system. And, as we see, many people are very confused. Girls wonder why Dr. Rabbi Prince Charming, Esq., doesn’t sweep them off their feet. Guys dwell in the grey area between “yes” and “no.” Many guys admit that they try to just “go with the flow” until a big flashing sign whaps them on the head and says, “She’s the one”.

Unfortunately, this perpetuated process is ripping apart our community’s matchmaking ability. Why? Many times people are unable to feel the intense and/or magical “connection” that they expect to feel and therefore quickly decide to prematurely move on to their next potential spouse.

So, how do we fix this? First, let’s summarize what is going on in mainstream America. People believe in instant romance and the essence of not physically keeping to oneself prior to marriage. Hence, with even the most basic touch, they are setting off a string of chemical reactions inside themselves. They mistake these for feelings of love. These people are wrong in their assessment but by the time they realize this they have already spread false rumors of what “love” feels like. When, truly what they feel is a scientific but very natural chemical reaction.

What are the chemical reactions occurring in the mainstream world which confuse these people whose culture ultimately becomes our sub-culture? Simple – it’s a stimulation of oxytocin.

Oxytocin is known as the “bonding” chemical. It has various uses. However, when released naturally, it triggers a series of natural reactions that bring people closer together, in an emotional capacity.

Ways to release Oxytocin include: hugging, hand holding, shaking hands, watching romantic films, singing karaoke with other people, dancing, and things that thrill you such as riding a rollercoaster, or seeing a scary movie. Now, you will notice that most of these things should be nixed off our community’s dating techniques.  Hence, dating in a frum manner isn’t going to produce those chemical reactions.  Dating in a frum manner but expecting to feel butterflies, rockets and chemical reactions that occur from the stimulation of oxytocin is like putting milk in a blender and expecting it to turn into a vanilla milkshake. Not happening. You’re missing the ice cream!

Now, how can singles utilize this information? One, many people can stop wondering if the sparks will fly post-chupah. They will. It’s called “Hashem said so” – and if you don’t believe that, science says so too. Two, you can focus on getting to know a person and stop looking for signs that aren’t coming. Now, you will feel something. You will feel comfortable. You will feel that you have found someone you can depend on. You will feel this person would make a good partner in life. Then you will choose that person.

Wait? But, with no fireworks, where is my guidance? Get to reading. Recently, I created a book to fill this very gap. The book, entitled “1,000 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married” is a huge collection of questions that you can ask to get to know your potential match. These questions take you from first date to engagement.

I created the questions in a way that encompasses the needs of the Jewish community.  You can choose the ones that are relevant to you. There are also self-reflection questions, hypothetical situations and many articles of information ranging from portraying yourself correctly to what to know before meeting your potential in-laws.

1,000 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married includes specific questions to ask the Baal Teshuva, FFB, convert, divorced, and divorced with children and more. The 1000+ questions range from first date icebreakers to discovering Emunah levels and even help with asking those tricky financial questions.

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27 Comments

  • 2. anonymous wrote:

    Dear Amber,

    I think your article is really written and my be touching on a very important topic. Unfortunately you are only scraping the tip of the iceberg. I too have been researching the Shidduch crisis in our communities, and have found that it is multi-faceted. There are many only school thoughts that are corrupt, there are many stereotypes and prejudices, there is the “Channeling” and “cubby arranging” (sefard with Sefarad, ashkenaz with ashkenaz, divorcees with divorcees, people with children with other people with children, FFB to FFB etc.)

    I believe that the only way we will fix this shidduch crisis is with answering one simple series of questions… How is it working out for you so far??? What is marriage to you? Do you want to be loved – then what is love?

    You see – in today’s society, we live in a intimate deprived world. In the non-jewish / secular world – it’s all about sexual compatibility, if the woman or man is not sexually experienced enough, then it won’t work. But in our religious circles – we put people in tiers, then we assume different compatibility scenarios. All are all but assumptions. We lost the “risk-taking” the resistance against challenges. The moment it doesn’t sound appealing enough, we just shut our eyes and ears. No is the first answer.

    My opinion – and my advice. Is close your eyes, go out a couple of times – if there is nothing going on by the third date – call it quits and move on… This is an advice for those who are serious only. Those who really want to get married this year. If you are serious about marriage – you will talk to your date about serious matters that you are looking for in the marriage. No one will be able to give you clearer answers than your potential match. Not the shadchan, not the parents and not the siblings. The person who will be potentially living with you for life – will be the one who needs to be confronted with questions like “will you be the type to wake up in the middle of the night to take care of a colloquy baby?” or “will you be the type to be ok with me travelling quite a bit for business” – if you don’t know to ask these types of questions or if your date doesn’t know how to answer these questions – think twice about the readiness of marriage! True love is understanding, and the ability to compromise and communicate effectively. True love is when you can understand and respect each other. That is when love is developed – the more you work together the more you understand each other, the more you will grow to love one another and do everything in the world for one another.

    So the next time someone proposes you to go out with them – say yes faster than you say no, because there is a person who is considering of giving you their love right now and right this moment. Forget about all the other prejudices and pre-judgements. After you went out a couple of times – start considering if this is for you or not – do your research and ask the person directly questions that matter to you… you would be surprised what you might find! (and trust me – lots less aggravation will come out… after all you will be ok with yourself because you gave it a shot!)

  • 3. finally! wrote:

    hope this is taken seriously and acted upon. I also think this article should be brought to the attention of all Torah-true groups. It’s time to recognize oad find ways to solve this terrible problem

  • 4. Dating Nasal Spray? wrote:

    Using an intranasal oxytocin spray or playing 20/1000 questions? Which one will help find a bashert?
    On a more serious note, are the oxytocinial fireworks a positive and constructive way, or can it be deceiving?
    Is playing 20 questions just an inferior stop-gap for the superior oxytocinial fireworks, or is it more reliable?

  • 7. DaasTorah wrote:

    Part of the problem might be the women who are continually rejecting a nice guy because he isn’t “Dr. Rabbi, etc etc”. Whatever happened to compatibility?

    • 8. Andrea Schonberger wrote:

      It works both ways you know. A lot of guys turn down perfectly nice girls because they don’t look like Miss America; be realistic guys: Miss America is not going to look that attractive after being up with a sick baby all night. While there usually is a mutual attraction at first sight, in the end compatibility is what is going to see you through a long and happy marriage.

  • 9. no one special wrote:

    Very simplistic and self-serving. I wonder what author’s educational experience has been.

  • 10. FRIEND OF CROWN HEIGHTS wrote:

    GREAT IDEA , ANY NEW THING THAT WILL TAKE TO MOVE ALL THESE SINGLES, WITH COUNSELING, MEETING, SHABBOS TABLE, ETC… STILL A LONG LIST

  • 11. Speed Dating wrote:

    It appears dating more than four times is taboo.bochurim and young women are pressured to commit ASAP. If they feel they need more time, their mashpiam tell them to cut it off. Obviously if they want to continue post four times there must be some feelings!Like you say relationships grow. People living insular lives can’t ecpect to have “fireworks”! I think many mashpiam need an education.

  • 12. Forgetting one point. wrote:

    The article is very good and necessary, however you are forgetting to point out one thing that the Rebbe often emphasized ” There needs to be a meshichas halev” an attraction between the two people.

    One way of judging this is to see if you are happy to see the other person. Do you look forward to seeing the person. Those are feeling that one can judge to determine what the feelings will be in the future after marriage.

    Bells and whistles won’t necessarily go off and as you poiunt out in the frum world it will very rarely happen but you should like the person you are dating, look forward to seeing them and feel that with time and connection that feeling will grow.

  • 13. isn't this the author? wrote:

    This is the author of the book 1000 questions etc and from what i read she is quite educated.Do research before you make assumptions. I think she is merely trying to point out that many seek fireworks and a high when they meet “the one”. Looking for that rush does not make for a future always.However, let me say the guys are also looking for miss perfect so it’s not just the girls.If you can even get that far.Most of the times the parents just toss prospects because they don’t care for a name or anything not like clones of themselves.So you never even get to a first date.This is a fact.

  • 14. ye! wrote:

    There needs to be more yesses then no as answers.. People say no for the smallest reasons.. no wonder why so many aren’t married, poeple aren’t focused on what’s important and therefor can push off a potential shidduch..

  • 15. dont get it wrote:

    what your saying is that touching etc.. are what cause 2 people to feel emotionally connected/attracted /bonded.

    and because we do not do those things we are at a disadvantage and will not feel that connection when dating.

    and yet we are supposed to work on feeling connected anyway…through questions instead?
    how is that supposed to make us feel connected if you just said it- its the oxytocin, that bonds two people?

    True I may feel it after the marriage but that doesnt help me for before.

    coming from “that world” where I am used to forming closeness based on touch, I am having a very hard time committing to marriage with a person I just dont feel connected to.

    Can anyone shed some light?

    • 16. Yosef wrote:

      Hi,
      I wasn’t sure on whether to comment, but this Oxytocin idea is something the author appears to misunderstand.
      ALL feelings and emotions one feels throughout life are the result of neurotransmitters and hormones–signalling chemicals produced by the body. So these feelings the article mentions are not “false rumors,” but the real deal; the mechanism of love.
      Oxytocin is the main hormone responsible for women bonding with/loving their children, family and friends; Vasopressin does the same for men–though both men and women have both of these.
      The touches needed to release these hormones are longer than a handshake–what’s needed is more like a hug of 20 seconds duration.
      There is no proven way to release these chemicals without touch, and thus no way to create true bonding.
      Tangentially, the only way to prevent such feelings arising with a stranger or someone deemed socially inferior is too resist touching that person, and the body has mechanisms to prevent this, like by finding them smelly or repulsive.
      However, this article seems to suggest substituting lots of talking for genuine bonding in an effort to make sure the relationship is platonically stable before marriage (and the touch factor) begins. I’ve heard worse ideas.

    • 17. Mindy K. wrote:

      i looked up other things on oxytocin after reading this and by just googling you can see a ton of studies calling oxytocin the LOVE DRUG and saying it comes from physical touch. my understanding is that the author is talking about that and is on point. stuff that isn’t mentioned about this drug in this article is that now the nasal spray is being used for people trying to decrease their stress levels. makes sense that stress would lower if you bond with someone. about this article though, i agree with other person who said it should be looked at seriously and taught to people having a rough time connecting with people

    • 18. dont get it wrote:

      ok, but supposedly the lots of talking can only come about once you feel even somewhat bonded. I’m not exactly going to be having deep conversations with someone I dont feel remotely connected with or trust.
      Once I can somewhat connect with someone my conversations can get deeper but how do you jump over that hurdle without any bonding at all?
      essentially, how do you get past the superficial stage of dating (first 2 dates) into something deeper if you dont remotely know or trust that person?

  • 19. best advice wrote:

    Best advice I ever got was from a shlucha: have a short list and a long list. The short list is the top 5 or so things you will say ‘no’ to. the long list is for the nice to haves.

    for example, it was important for me to have a wife who likes to daaven. It was nice that she’d like to live outside of Brooklyn.

  • 20. Mindy K. wrote:

    you know what i would like to see on Ch.info? a question and answer kind of thing with the writer. can i suggest this? I would send a question and i am sure others would too

  • 21. still... wrote:

    If a young person told me that he or she found a person with all the qualifications they were looking for, but there was no connection or feeling whatsoever, I’d have a hard time telling them to just go ahead and feelings will come. Wouldn’t you?

  • 22. To all you naysayers wrote:

    I thought this was an excellently written article that made a clear and valid point. There are many other valid points to make regarding the “shidduch crisis” but that does not take away from the importance of this point.
    Well said.

  • 23. Secular Correction wrote:

    “You see – in today’s society, we live in a intimate deprived world. In the non-jewish / secular world – it’s all about sexual compatibility, if the woman or man is not sexually experienced enough, then it won’t work.”

    You would know this HOW? From media or have you ever tried secular dating?

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Secular/non-Jews also want to have strong relationships, marriages, children, etc.

    Sexual compatibility is only part of the natural process and that doesn’t mean “experienced enough” (Experience doesn’t count for much when every person is unique. What is inexperienced to one person is experienced to another.). If you read about DNA and compatibility, you’d find it’s a very complex, necessary biological process for reproduction and it starts with the basic senses, not the bedroom.

    You can try to paint a perfect picture of Jewish marriages but as a non-Jew with plenty of married and non-married or divorced friends, you’re not that different.

    I agree with you about true love (who wouldn’t?) but please don’t try to paint non-Jews as all about sex. Despite what some Hasidic texts say, we are in fact, human. Frum communities have their indiscretions, too.

  • 25. Anon wrote:

    The fact is, 8 to 10 years later, the person you married can be different from when you first meet them. Whatever questions you ask today, they’ll be answering them differently down the road after they’ve had more life experience.

    You also have people who will say what they think is the right answer.

    Part of the problem is this propaganda of perfect anything by following a set of steps and asking particular questions. You have people marrying someone they hardly know, who they’re supposed to communicate with the rest of their life. What if one of them shuts down under stress and doesn’t communicate? How is the other prepared for that?

    Young people need to be taught how to communicate, how to respect, cooperate, empower their spouse, diffuse stress and anger.

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