Remember Yente, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof? She was in charge of pairing prospective brides and grooms in her community based on their family finances and backgrounds. In one of the famous scenes from that musical, several young girls sing:
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch.
Look through your book,
And make me a perfect match!
And even though Yente was rarely able to provide “a perfect match,” no one doubted the fact that she played a crucial role in her community, making sure that the correct young women ended up with the correct young men.
These days, most of us go about looking for the “perfect match” a bit differently. Matchmaking is still a thriving business all around the world, but it’s changed quite a bit.
Whether we’re talking about a village matron, an Ashkenazi Jewish shadchan, a Hindu astrologer, or some sort of shaman shuffling tarot cards, matchmakers have long been seen as essential advisors when it comes to creating this most important of unions. And of course, when family history and finances—not to mention the stars—dictate that two people are right for each other, it can make it pretty tough for anyone, including the young couple, to object.
It may be hard to believe now, but the role of the matchmaker was (and in some cultures still is) taken very seriously. Not long ago in Lithuania, matchmakers were honored at the weddings of their unions, and often received more attention than the bride and groom. However, they were also held responsible for the success of the couple.
Other, less formal types of matchmaking took place around certain social events and dances. For example, in frontier North America, the line dance and square dance were traditions that often played a big role in determining future partners (which, of course, put a fair amount of pressure on the dancers’ abilities to do-si-do). In farm communities, religious and other social gatherings served as early venues for matchmakers, who would attend such events and advise families regarding which potential marriage-age children were available and compatible with their own. Clergy would often serve this role in one way or another—think, for example, of the village priest in medieval Catholic society or the rabbi in traditional Jewish communities—since they were usually some of the most trusted authorities in those societies.
In traditional Russian societies, matchmakers were often some of the most highly respected people in the community. Whether they performed their duties out of goodwill for the families or hired themselves out professionally, matchmakers became indispensible players in the important task of mate selection. One of their chief duties, after suggesting a possible match, was to set up a meeting called a smotrini (from the Russian word for “looking”). The potential groom and his family visited the prospective bride’s home, where it was determined whether or not the couple would become engaged.
Obviously, most of us today go about finding our potential mates quite differently. But matchmaking is still an attractive option for people in all different cultures. Let’s look at some more recent alternatives.
In almost all ancient cultures there were traditional matchmakers. In fact, until the mythology of romantic love began to flourish in the Christian world during medieval times, nearly all marriages were arranged in one way or another. There was no assumption that “true love” was a universal human right, and young people didn’t have a free choice to select their mates. They were completely dependent on their parents and the professional help of matchmakers when it came to selecting their future spouses.
And while that practice is much less common these days, traditional matchmakers still abound in modern society. Think, for example, of the arranged marriages that are still very common in many cultures. Even in postmodern Western society, there are plenty of traditional matchmakers still plying their trade and matching people up, one by one. If you don’t believe it, just Google the phrase “millionaire club” and you’ll find dozens of sites offering, as one company puts it, to help “successful men meet their beautiful and intelligent wives or girlfriends.”
This, of course, is only a small step away from the type of matchmaking that links men with women from other countries. The phrase “mail-order bride” came into the common vernacular decades ago, and while today’s pictures are in color on a computer screen rather than a grainy black-and-white photo in an envelope, the updated version of this antiquated practice is still alive and well.
So if you’re looking for a bit of help as you search for the right someone who can offer everything you want in a relationship, choose your help wisely. There’s an old Russian proverb: “Choose a matchmaker, not a bride.” We’re not sure we endorse the wisdom in this saying wholeheartedly. But if you want some help in finding just the right person for you, then get that help from someone who can get a sense of who you really are and can introduce you to the person who is a great fit for you and who can make you as happy as possible for a lifetime.