I am a 22-year-old bochur and I just came home from Eretz Yisroel. I want to bike around and my mother absolutely refuses. She says that I won’t get a shidduch if I ride my bike.
Who is right?
As it appears to me, this is not so much a matter of right or wrong as it is a matter of shalom bayis, and balancing the potential outcomes of individuality and personal expression against conformity.
On the shalom bayis front, regardless of whether or not riding a bicycle will have ill-effects on your shidduch prospects, it is clearly going to put your mother on high-alert, and leave her in a constant state of anxiety while you are dating.
The shidduch parsha can be stress-inducing enough without any additional points of contention between a dater and their parents. As such, you must consider how this tug-of-war might possibly get in the way of you and your parents going through the process of shidduchim in a calm and collected manner.
If your mother will continually be on edge as a result of your extracurricular interests, and fear that any time you receive a “no” for a potential shidduch it was a consequence of your bicycle riding, you might end up experiencing unnecessary quarrelling throughout the duration of your time in shidduchim.
As far as balancing individuality against conformity, the reality is, in the frum world, and particularly in the yeshivish world, conformity rules the day in a great many ways. There is a tacit, if not explicit, expectation for bachurim to dress, talk and allot their time within very specific and narrow guidelines, and any deviations from the norm will generally come with commensurate judgements.
For one reason or another, certain leisure activities, which have zero inherent non-kosher value, have been deemed “nisht normahl”, and one who participates in such activities is often looked upon with a measure of skepticism regarding their level of normalcy.
Furthermore, when prospective shidduchim are evaluated, it is very common for external factors to weigh heavily on the decision-making process; even those which likely have no relevance to the potential of the shidduch, or the quality of the individual.
As an aside, what I personally find most disheartening about this reality, is that the collective buy-in to these rather arbitrary resolutions and adjudications has lent them a measure of virtue and verisimilitude.
All the same, rightly or wrongly, in this regard, there is some validity to what your mother is telling you. If you ride your bicycle around publicly, people will notice, and the judgements and assumptions that will follow could quite plausibly affect you in the realm of shidduchim.
Now, the standard rejoinder to this reality is, “There is nothing wrong with doing X, and if someone won’t date me because of that, then such a person isn’t for me anyway, and I have saved us both the trouble of dating each other.”
However, in truth, such a response is often short-sighted and inaccurate. When someone in shidduchim is deliberating between a few ideas that have been presented, all of which sound pretty good, a line has to be drawn somewhere in order to decide where to start. Consequently, someone may say, “This idea sounds fine, but I do wonder about the fact that he/she does X. Let’s start somewhere else and get back to that idea if others do not work out.”
Moreover, after getting to know someone, and finding a strong connection, one may suddenly find that the guy who rides a bike, or the gal who takes up archery, is just right for them. Whereas, had they known of those things beforehand, they might have passed on the idea.
On the flip side, if riding your bike is not simply an activity which you enjoy, but one that is important to you, and is a form of self-expression, that is also an important reality, and one which must be considered. If not being able to ride your bike will cause you to be an unhappy person, or, worse yet, an unhappy dater, that can have equally negative impacts on your shidduchim.
Consequently, what you must ask yourself is, how important is it for you to ride your bike? The answer to which, in turn, must then be weighed against the friction it may engender between you and your mother, along with the potential assumptions that may be made about you by those who see you riding. Once that hashara is made, you must decide what you feel is right and true for you.
Incidentally, while the following closing point may not be helpful to those who enjoy activities other than bicycling, but, nonetheless, leave them with the same dilemma you are facing, it may be a very suitable solution for you.
There are some very prominent rabbonim and rebbeim who ride a bike, either for leisure or menuchas hanefesh. Not publicly, but they drive to an out-of-the way park, and ride there. If you can find a secluded place to ride, doing so may satisfy your needs, attenuate and assuage your mother’s anxiety, and effectively prevent unfair judgements being made about you as a result of your cycling.
Whatever decision you make, may The Melech Tov U’maitiv bring you bracha v’hatzlacha, and see that you find your zivug faster than you can ride with the wind at your back.