As a boy, I’m really irked that people make such a big deal about the clothing that I wear on a pegisha (date). They say that it’s integral that I mamish “wow” the meduberes on first sight.
Charles Tyrwhitt shirt? Check!
Dry cleaned suit? Check!
Hat lookin’ spic n’ span? Check!
You get the gist.
So my question is this: Does it make sense that I’d be pegisha-ing my bashert and Hashem will say, “Cut! Cut! Cut! This boy didn’t do his hishtadlus because his shirt is not a Tyrwhitt and the suit is not dry-cleaned. I will now give the meduberes the urge to press the eject button on this medaber”? Or would the distinguished panel posit that
my job is to act like myself, being a person and not a manikin, and if the meduberes gets turned off by my non-“magazine-style” look, then obviously it wasn’t bashert.
And if you say that clothes are different than personality, is there ever a reason to hide it since Hashem runs the world and He wouldn’t block a marriage just because you revealed your true self?
In a certain sense, when any couple goes out together, they are not presenting as “themselves.” There is an oft-heightened degree of self-awareness that emerges while one is on a date, and, consequently, one will generally endeavor to look nicer than usual, talk in a fashion that is more refined than one typically would, and act with a gallantry that exceeds the manner in which they carry themselves in their diurnal environs. Or at least that is what one should be doing.
Such is the concept of courtship. It is not an otiose charade, nor is it deception or duplicity. It is solely going above and beyond, pushing ourselves a bit harder than we perhaps otherwise would, so that we may offer the very best version of who we are in the here and now, along with a touch of who it is that we aspire to be. That version of ourselves that we envision as optimal, but which is not so simply sustained at all times.
Now, when on a date, both parties are likely quite cognizant of the fact that this is not what every day will be like when it comes to a future marriage. The stressors of daily life fast stretch our patience thin, making it mightily difficult to maintain that peak level of gentility, and with unparalleled familiarity comes nearly inexorable complacency. It is one thing to be at the top of our game for a few hours, a couple times a week. It another thing entirely to preserve that level of excellence, all day, every day.
Why, then, do we do it? What are we trying to prove or accomplish? The answer, or at least a portion of it, I believe, is as follows.
First and foremost, to put one’s best foot forward is to express proper respect and care for the person one is dating, and demonstrates a distinct deference for the seriousness of the circumstance, its import, and its impending implications.
When we go the extra mile to virtuously apply ourselves in ways that are notably more impressive than are our prevailing routines, it honors and compliments the person whose company we are in. This idea is not lost on us when it comes to how we present ourselves to HaKadosh Boruch Hu on Shabbos and Yom Tov – as we are halachically obligated – and, accordingly, it should not be lost on us with regards to dating. After all, dating is the precursor to creating a new space in Klal Yisroel where the Shechina can be shoreh.
So as to not be misunderstood, there is never an excuse for charlatanism. We are not talking about an allowance for masquerading, hiding those of our middos which are in need of significant repair from ever coming to light whilst dating. Rather, on the spectrum of who it is that we earnestly are, we must toil to bring the more distinguished version of ourselves to the forefront, instead of leaving our more complacent self to be that which is most prominent.
In which case, it is not a matter of Hashem’s denying someone their bashert because they did not put in the hishtadlus to clean their clothing correctly. It is a matter of doing what is right and courteous, for the sake of the person sitting across the table.
Secondly, the “take me as I am, because this is who I am” ideology is both iniquitous and indolent. We all can be better, and we all should be better. That is our life’s work, and when we primp and preen in preparation for a date, we are displaying that very capacity to grow into our greater self, even when it is implicit that we aren’t there just yet. And when we do that, when we can deliver an exemplar which provides a glimpse into our potential, while remaining authentic to who we are now, that can be remarkably appealing to another person – despite their recognition that these latent accomplishments have yet to be materialized as tangible and recurrent.
On the other hand, to give off the impression that one has already reached their zenith, and has neither reason nor intention to engage in self-improvement, is exceedingly unappealing and affronting.
To be clear, this is not to say that everyone must uniformly adhere to the same preordained, rigid aesthetic. And, if we are going to be completely fair, and honestly acknowledge our current societal norms, there is no shortage of undue and unwarranted pressure to conform thrust upon us – in myriad aspects of life – and, routinely, to the extent and degree that many feel they have no choice but to present themselves as someone other than who they actually are. No one should be made to suppose that the only route to the chupah is via adopting a fabricated manifestation of self.
What it does mean, though, is that each of us must exert the effort requisite to tender a genuine reflection of who we really are, when at our legitimate finest. And whatever that comportment is, it will demand a drive to go past our normal operating procedure.
The opportunity to sincerely be one’s true self lies in laboring to conceive what exactly their ideal persona is, and striving towards becoming that – an image that may take a lifetime to attain, and that may be varied and tailored to fit each individual, as presenting at one’s best is not a one-size-fits-all ensemble. Where that opportunity is certainly not going to be found, however, is in not even bothering to try.
Lastly – and though it is certainly possible I am reading too deeply into the narrative, or maybe it was only meant tongue-in-cheek – the vernacular employed here to describe the dating process is unpalatably passive and objectifying. One who has the ability to speak (a medaber) does not have a happenstance meeting (a pegisha b’alma), or do a meeting onto (pegisha-ing) another faceless entity that is also capable of speech (a meduberes). Rather, with intent and purpose, a person goes on a date with another human being, and exercising deliberate forethought and consideration, those people speak to, and interact with, one another.
And I have to wonder if this verbiage underscores a lack of appreciation for the humanity and reverence that dating mandates, thus leading to the notion that there is minimal need, if any at all, to spruce up before heading out the door and greeting a person who may conceivably be one’s future spouse. One of the first steps in concretizing how we define things, and hence, how we treat them, is how we talk about them. And if through our turns-of-phrase we manage to remove the human aspect from any given item, the need to approach it with veneration is easily, and often summarily, cast aside.
There is nothing more human and intimate than the relationship of a husband and a wife. Such should be understood from the moment one enters the process which aims to achieve that end. And the sooner that appreciation can be developed, the sooner one may fully grasp the value and necessity of expending extra time and energy in order to portray that preeminent version of themselves whenever they are out on a date.
May the Oter Yisroel Bisifarah grant us all the aptitude to both discern and actualize who it is that we are, at the pinnacle of our faculties.