The following is from an email I recently received from a shadchan: “So, Rivky got back to me and stated that she looked into it and heard she is too modern for you; she wears ___ (type of makeup, details not important), etc. and heard you are more yeshivish.”
In my dating experience, this is an occurrence that gets repeated time and again. Many very yeshivishe girls have granted me a yes, as they’re impressed to find a guy in his thirties who’s working, earning respectably, and still has solid Torahdige values. Apparently, and sadly, this is not as common as it should be. Yet, while I do hold those values, I also want someone who’s somewhat more “with it” in terms of dress, etc.
However, the ones who are more with it see me as someone who wears white shirts exclusively, wears my tzitzis out, and is overall a yeshivishe guy, and therefore are consistently saying no without giving it too many dates, if any at all. I don’t believe that it’s a physical lack of being put together. People who know me see as someone who’s put together, current, polished, educated, open-minded, etc. It appears to be more of a hashkafic association.
Now, stereotypes have a place and can often be used as a barometer to help define people, types, etc., albeit in an unscientific manner. However, while stereotypes are only generalities, the term “yeshivish” or lack thereof is so inherently ambiguous that it sheds little light on helping one identify the true nature of the party at hand. What does yeshivish really mean? If a girl wants someone who’s not yeshivish, does it mean someone who is put together? Someone super cool and suave? Someone intellectual? Someone who’s more lax about halacha, chalilah? Who’d watch a movie or go to the movies, r”l? Someone who doesn’t care about limud haTorah or rabbonim, r”l? Someone who can speak coherent English sentences eloquently? Is self-aware? Appreciates self-expression? Wears pink shirts and tight pants?
The list goes on. The truth is that someone can be yeshivish in one area and not in another. We should only be using labels when they help us classify people. When they only help mislabel people, we should resort to their underlying characteristics, which are objective and quantifiable.
I don’t have a problem if a girl knows her mind, knows what she wants, knows who I am, and therefore says no because I’m not the type she wants. I do take issue, though, if she’s saying no because in her mind I’m not the type she wants, when in fact I am, but she’s simply misidentifying me due to stereotyping and lack of adequate data. Any suggestions from the panelists as to how to prevent this from occurring would be greatly appreciated.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that I’m in my thirties and have been previously married, and as such am often set up with older girls, often who also were once married, many times with children of their own. The nature of their situations just makes my question so much stronger and beckons a legitimate answer: Aren’t you looking to get married? Al pi teva, the odds are against you. Why would you not give it a shot? Not because “you may end up liking someone who’s not your type,” but because maybe he really is your type.
In reviewing this narrative – and after filtering out a number of the unwarrantedly deprecating “yeshivish vs. non-yeshivish” characterizations – there seem to be two prominent objectives expressed.
1. The desire to present a visual appearance conforming to classically “yeshivish” norms.
2. A preference for a spouse with a noteworthy fashion-forward appearance.
While these objectives are not inherently contradictory, they are also not commonly synchronous. When one’s varying objectives seem to be pragmatically functioning as combatants, an assessment may be needed to determine whether any of the objectives need to be discontinued – even those that have no intrinsically negative value – for the sake of accomplishing higher-order objectives.
With that in mind, I would like to offer a contemporary adage which asks a question rather elegant in its simplicity. “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”
To provide an illustration of the concept, let’s imagine a prestigious kollel looking to hire a new rosh kollel. In reviewing the applicants, they come across a yungerman who was a top guy in Brisk and BMG, has a reputation as a baal middos tovos, who is a known boki muflag in Shas and poiskim, and has exemplary leadership capabilities. Sounds promising, so far.
After making a few calls, the hiring committee confirms these qualities, but also learns that this fine young man is clean shaven, drives a late-model Lexus, wears light colored suits and bright ties, and wears a white shirt only on Shabbos. What is the likelihood that this fellow is brought in for a probeh? Approximately the same as zero.
But why? Is he doing anything kineged halacha? Seemingly not. Do any of his externalities fundamentally preclude his ability to be an outstanding rosh kollel? Also, seemingly not.
All the same, I would venture a guess that no one reading this column would have any issue with our fictitious hiring committee’s decision to focus their search on an alternative candidate. Even if it meant hiring someone with a less impressive resume, who was not quite as prodigiously proficient in his limud HaTorah – provided the alternate candidate could get the job done, and more closely fit the rosh kollel bill in his deportments and externalities – I think it’s safe to say that such a ruling would go unchallenged.
Is that fair to the potential rosh kollel with a flair? Not really. But if one wants to be a rosh kollel, he must look the part, and no amount of raging against the machine will change that reality.
So, our aspiring rosh kollel has a decision to make.
One option is for him to choose to be “right”, insisting that his idiosyncrasies not hinder his career goals, and accept that he will most likely get virtually nowhere in his job search. The other option is to decide whether it is being a rosh kollel, or his ability to express his individuality, that will make him happiest, and subsequently either discard his most glaringly colorful outward bearings, or pursue alternative professions in the pursuit of contentment.
In none of these scenarios does he have to sacrifice his level of frumkeit or any of his hashkafos in Yahadus. However, to attain what he wants most, he will most likely have to make a change, letting go of one objective to make room for another.
Returning to shidduchim, we can begin to draw a number of parallels. The reality is that “yeshivish” is but one of a superfluity of often harmful labels that have been infused into the world of shidduchim. And while I would like nothing more than to see the eradication of these labels, the odds of that happening are no less severely miniscule than a doing away of the expectation that roishe kollelim should all adopt the standard black-and-white mode of dress and overall customary external appearance.
Will these types of descriptors be 100% accurate and capture the essence of the person? Certainly not. Will they, at times, leave daters being poorly described and misunderstood? Certainly yes. Nevertheless, looking back, we can generally identify the root cause of why any descriptor was employed. And justified or not, as long as one maintains what most would consider a “very yeshivish appearance”, it will lend to any number of presumptions in the minds of onlookers – attracting some, while leaving others uninterested.
Incommodious as it may be, we are all essentially forced to maneuver, at least to some degree, within the standards that society has created, and there are times when that necessitates letting go of something meaningful to attain something else deemed more valuable and essential. For those who have developed multiple and broad personal aspirations that are all completely kosher, but effectively compete with one another, owing exclusively to unbending procrustean social mores, this challenge can prove especially daunting.
Furthermore, it is conceivable that many “with-it” looking women would like to be dating a “with-it” looking guy, and do not quite consider the black-pants-white-shirt-tzitzis-out ensemble to be an especially “with-it” kind of look, irrespective of how dapperly the look is executed. Is it really reasonable to expect that the importance of the “current-and-with-it-look” only go one way?
Consequently, once again, I believe a decision needs to be made.
Option 1. A decision to be “right”, persisting in adherence to standard “yeshivish” comportment, while expecting to come off as winning to all crowds. Such a resolve also means accepting that this will most plausibly leave one having to continually deflect the more classically composed yeshivish women who will likely be the ones continuing to say yes, whilst waiting for what might be quite some time for a more “with-it” woman to realize that although this is not what she had envisaged, such a person is, in fact, her type.
Option 2. A decision regarding whether it is a “with-it” spouse, or conforming to “yeshivish” modes of presentation, that will bring the most happiness. This resolution must then be accompanied either by external changes that should conceivably lead to more yeses from the desired target audience, or a reconsidering of how truly necessary a “with-it” spouse is to achieve satisfaction.
As noted earlier, none of these options call for forfeiting measures of internal frumkeit, faithfulness to halacha, or hashkafos in Yahadus. However, to attain what is decided upon as most vital to happiness, it is distinctly possible that change will be required in one direction or another.
To close with one parenthetical, I have noticed a leitmotif of sorts in the questions of late, accusing single women of not really wanting to get married, or of being unfairly selective, simply due to one’s own experience of successive refusals from single women.
Aside from the denunciation being erroneous, informing someone that the scales are stacked against them is rarely going to garner positive outcomes – regardless of the veracity of the claim – and no dater, man or woman, should be made to feel that being behind the eight-ball demands they date someone who doesn’t appeal to them.
It must be made abundantly clear that just because we live in a time where many single women are lacking in bounteous opportunity, that does not obligate them to date every single man who has been so kind as to bestow a yes upon a woman.
As such, if one finds themselves in a position where dates and yeses are lagging and lackluster, despite a firm belief that their circumstance calls for dates and yeses to be plentifully forthcoming, throwing shade on all the women one has been rejected by is probably not the solution. Rather, I believe such a person would be wise to spend some time in contemplation; reconsider their diagnosis of the problem’s directionality; and squarely confront the very real possibility that the problem is housed from within, not from without.
May the Yoitzer Ohr irradiate the pathways to happiness and hopefulness for all those who are experiencing cloudiness in shidduchim.