Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Not My Type

Let's dispel a myth here that is pervasive in Klal: physical attributes don't matter when you are looking for a spouse. Scratch most of Klal's advisers and they will give you the public party line: it's what is inside that we should all be looking for, not what is on the outside. This type of thinking may well be behind the extremes of tsnius that are gone to, particularly as applied to women. Put everyone into the same exact black outfit, make sure that outfit shows nothing of the body, wear the same shoes, wear the same hair style, even wear the same (or don't wear) hair ornaments. Put the boys into the same black suit, wearing the same black hat, sporting the identically styled beard. The message that is being trumpeted is quite clear: looks don't matter. Yeah, right.

Last time I checked, members of the frum community are still what is considered as human beings. Human beings have eyes. Eyes can see. And the evidence seen with those eyes still has effect in the process of choosing a mate, no matter how much "they" would wish it wasn't so.

Let me try this a different way. So far no rabbanim have banned food decorating or presentation. Why? I can hand someone an opened can of undrained tuna or I can dump a can of tuna on a plate and serve it or I can mix it up into a tuna salad and serve it or I can arrange that tuna salad on a plate, add a few shavings of carrot, a slice of tomato and a rosette or two made from radishes and serve it. I can serve that tuna on a flimsy white paper plate or on a clear plastic plate or on a vintage Rosenthal china plate. I can put those plates on the plain kitchen counter, or serve them at a table covered in an orange plastic tablecloth or serve them on an embroidered Belgian lace tablecloth. I can add a plastic bucket holding a few daisies to the table, or a glass holding a few chrysanthemums or a crystal vase holding an array of roses. No matter what I do in presenting a meal it doesn't obviate the fact that tuna fish is being served. And no one is going to be able to claim that the meal doesn't consist of tuna fish no matter how many and what type of accouterments are used. However, I believe that most people are going to be affected by the presentation of that tuna fish. Some may prefer a simpler, uncluttered presentation. Some may prefer a presentation with a bit of embellishment. Some may prefer an elaborate presentation. We eat first with our eyes, and if something doesn't appeal to us visually we aren't going to touch it.

And then there is this: for some people it won't matter how you dress up the plate or table because they are not going to eat tuna fish, full stop. You can tout the health benefits of that tuna until your voice is hoarse. You can rhapsodize about Omega 3 fish oil all you want. No matter how you try to intellectualize your approach the end result will be the same: no tuna eaten.

As long as vision is part of being a human being you are going to have personal preferences as to what is seen. One person's handsome is going to be another person's bleccchh. Height, weight, hair color (or absence or presence), eye color, clothing choice all effect the choices we make about the people we date and the people we eventually marry. We all have our own personal definitions of what constitutes handsome or beautiful or pretty, come to based on a lot of things unique to ourselves. My family is mostly light haired, light eyed and tall. I grew up loving my family. I thought that they were all gorgeous, or at least that's where I developed my definition of what gorgeous is. No, I didn't tell my friends while I was dating that I was looking only for a tall, light-haired, light-eyed boy. But yes, my "ideal" did look that way. And quite strangely enough (or not so strangely), my hubby is ultra tall, blond and blue eyed.

No, a marriage should NOT be based only on looks, nor will "good" looks keep a marriage going strong all on their own. But anyone who thinks that looks don't play a role in getting to the point of marriage is being naive. You are NOT going to be able to legislate out looks as part of the dating process. You might, just might, be able to expand someone's preferences in that area, but you are never going to be able to remove the physical altogether, at least not as long as humans have eyes. And I don't see that changing any time soon.


Nosson Gestetner said...

Of course aesthetics matter, it is ludicrous to suggest otherwise. But if you specify anything AT ALL to a shadchan you're suddenly "too picky"...

Anonymous said...

I'm way over six feet tall and I tell any shadchan I'm working with that I'd prefer a tall girl, and I mean tall. And every one of them has told me that height really has nothing to do with dating and marriage. According to them maybe but shouldn't what I want come first? They don't have to spend a date bent over like a pretzel so I can hear what the girl is saying. It's not like I'm telling them I want 5'9.45892 in height. But 5'2 even with high heels on is not what I'm looking for and not what I like and not what I can get comfortable with. Just what's so wrong with that?!

JS said...

Anonymous, it means your shallow and not frum. Sorry.

Or at least that's what the shadchanim would have you believe.

There is a fine balance between caring about what a person looks like and being obsessive about looks. As you pointed out, "tall" is fine, but exactly 5'6" not so much. It really depends on how important that characteristic is to you and whether you're being reasonable. I think a shadchan should help explore these physical issues with the person instead of denying they exist.

Anonymous said...

I can maybe understand height since that is a life long characterestic, although most people shrink a bit when older due to osteoporosis and spinal compression, but you could be in a for a rude suprise if hair color or weight is very important. People turn gray and bald and people gain weight. In some, these changes can happen in your 30's and 40's, not just in your 50's and 60s.

SubWife said...

It's funny, but I have always heard that looks are important and no rav in my experience ever suggested otherwise. If anything, they always stressed that people must be physically attracted to each other to make the shidduch work. However, being overly specific about looks would be a red flag for me if I were a shadchan. I know many people who married someone very different from their ideal; a person is a total package. Sometimes personality makes up for things we normally prefer were different in partner's looks.

ProfK said...

I agree SubWife that getting too specific on a questionnaire can be problematic. But there are plenty of those redtinig shidduchim who pooh pooh the whole idea of looks in any way either being important to or effecting the outcome of a shidduch or marriage. Truth is I had no idea what my hubby looked like before he walked in the house for the first time; in fact, I had only three pieces of information about him at all, and two were wrong. But yes, he appealed to what I liked best visually and that allowed us to get to know each other better and discover what we had in common and how we fit together.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

ProfK, you're right; but you complicated the whole thing. You are trying to convince the 'frum' community that looks really do matter, no matter how we finesse it. Why not simply point out that the halacha recognizes this?

The mishna notes people who are allowed to wash their faces, even on Yom Kippur. One is a new bride. Why? In order that she not lose favor in her new husband's eyes. Clearly the sages, and the halacha, recognize that appearance/physical attraction plays a role; and especially so before the more significant and deeper bonds develop. Why should we pretend not to care about the very things that our sages observed as important to the people around them?

What's more, even though we find jewelry and cosmetics discouraged or forbidden for men; we see they are allowed for women. A man is even expected to buy pretty things for his wife. So why would we pretend that a woman doesn't need to feel pretty; or that she doesn't need to be pretty for her husband?

And there are discussions in the halacha as to what is considered an adornment for a man, and therefore allowable to wear or carry outside on Shabbat, for instance. Why don't we just say, 'such things are of no consequence' and end the discussion. Because, clearly, the halacha does recognize such things as having a legitimate role.

It is very sad when frumkeit trumps and invalidates the values actually stated in the halacha.