As a shadchan for close to three decades, I would like to say that I’ve done a comparative study (it took about a second) and concluded that my having made 7 shidduchim before résumés with photos and one shidduch in the last 15 years is a clear sign that it is way harder to get a date off the ground these days. I still specialize in phone call/email momentum, still match people thoughtfully, and still feel optimistic each and every time. Only difference? Getting a boy to agree to go out with an average-looking girl or, even more often, with girls whose parents don’t want their photos all over town. Some boys just won’t take my word for it and won’t call/ask the references. No photo? Nothin’ doin’.
May I suggest, then, a new concept called retro-dating? Date like it’s 1995 or even 2002. Call the references. Ask around. Don’t say no to a girl because of a photo unless the rest of her information is not suitable as well. Not everyone is photogenic, yet they may sparkle in real life. And many fine-looking girls whose photos are not on their résumés for tznius reasons are being passed up for lack of photo alone. Retro-dating is my humble solution.
Though I cannot speak to the precision or scientific validity of the aforementioned comparative study, I most certainly agree to the resulting sentiment as it pertains to the particular problem presented. Accordingly, I would like to share a number of distinct points on the topic.
1. It is unquestionably not okay that young women are relentlessly and unabashedly implored to share not merely a picture, but oftentimes many pictures, as an antecedent to receiving a yes for a date, as if it were nothing more than a trifling entreaty. And this is without even mentioning the gross and glaring irony at hand, given our societal ban on pictures of women being disseminated in general. Furthermore, over the course of many conversations on this topic, I have yet to hear even one Rav or Rosh Yeshiva endorse this novelty which has so surreptitiously surfaced, and subsequently ensconced itself in Klal Yisroel. Hence, I cannot conceive of any rationale whatsoever that would validate it as morally appropriate, or approbate it as in keeping with Torahdike theory or praxis.
2. On a practical level, I remain thoroughly unconvinced as to the overall effectiveness of the practice. Simply put, we marry people, not things. To elaborate, the use of pictures as a litmus test for attraction typically serves only to reinforce whatever notions someone has about attraction, and those suppositions are often highly inaccurate. Indeed, thousands of years of dating and marriage plainly prove that a static image is not required for the perpetuity of our nation. Daters often find themselves disinterested in those whom they previously found visually appealing, after the considerations of emotional connection and interpersonal chemistry come into play. And visa versa, many daters have found themselves drawn in by people they never would have imagined being attracted to, once they have been captivated by their inner charm and character.
To be sure, attraction is a necessity for a happy and healthy marriage. However, attraction is so much more expansive than the physical attributes which can be captured in a headshot. And so, for all the arguments about not wanting to needlessly travel or waste time, resources, and energy dating someone who one “knows” will not be a match, in reality, I would posit that a picture does not aid in the success of the task. On the contrary, it only restricts one’s ability to reach the chupah. If one has serious boundaries about appearance, that can almost always be ascertained via research and questioning references. However, making full-stop decisions with respect to whom one will agree to date, based solely on something as limited and constricted as a picture, is a mostly self-defeating, narrow, misleading, and futile tactic. To put it quite bluntly, rather than being rooted in reasonable utilitarianism, sound planning, or even as a sensible qualifier, the whole procedure predominantly smacks to me of selfishness, depravity, and taavah.
3. Insofar as this demand seems to have become so routine and familiar that many do not even expend a second thought prior to asking a single woman for her picture, if there is any practical merit to the exercise at all – which, again, I sorely doubt – I see no reason, then, why single men should not always be reciprocating, quid-pro-quo, as a matter of policy. In point of fact, if a picture is what a man so desperately needs in order to discern whether or not a woman appears to adequately satisfy “the look” he so desires, would a single woman not need the same? To the best of my knowledge, the importance of physical attraction is a two-way street, and if being bestowed with a visual before even consenting to a date is so paramount as to be ordained a necessity, then everyone should be in receipt of one. Why must there be so much inequity built into the system, and why must the it regularly be the self-respect of the women that is one-sidedly threatened?
4. All that said, and not to detract in any way from the indecorousness that is profile pictures being passed about like aufruf candy to children, we remain faced with another dilemma, and one that is perhaps even more exigent. Namely, when one is asked to remit a picture, for the purposes of procuring or securing a date, should they comply, or should they not? And if we are to fully attend to the issue, we must take into account the pragmatic implications of non-participation in commonplace conventions.
As such, being that tendering a picture has emerged as virtually standard – despite its being so very uncouth – the reality we are then confronted with is that those who adamantly abstain from acquiescing to the petition may be conspicuously jeopardizing their dating opportunities. It is a fine line between judiciously holding fast to one’s ideologies in a responsible fashion, and being hoist on one’s own petard as a result of brash, righteous indignation. Consequently, one must endeavor to honestly measure and weigh the potential repercussions of standing on principle, against that which is being positively achieved. And to that end, I believe there are two primary questions which one must ask themselves, before deciding on a course of action.
First, does one feel so strongly about the matter that they firmly believe if a young man solicits a picture, it is inherently indicative of that fellow having hashkafos which are divaricated from, and incongruous with, one’s own value-sets? And if so, does that essentially render the candidate unsuitable?
Second, even if the request, in and of itself, does not equate to the shidduch being a nonstarter, does one feel that they are being supplied with sufficient suggestions, without having to offer a picture, to the degree that they can afford to dispense with and forgo those prospects which will be lost without providing one? Thus, notwithstanding the unfairness of this consideration, I believe one must honestly assess whether or not a potentially auspicious opportunity might be squandered, owing to one’s refusal to supply a picture, and whether that is a risk worth taking, for the sake of maintaining and preserving one’s dignity and self-worth. Each person and each case is different, and each opportunity must be evaluated based on its own merits, and the promise it seems to hold.
Once one has given due deliberation to these factors, and any others which are deemed apropos, they should be able make a final determination that is rooted not solely in an impassioned – though thoroughly justified – cri-de-coeur, but in well grounded and rational reflection of all germane gains and relevant ramifications.
May the Darcho Emunah see that we are able to truly be misdabek b’drachav, and fully employ the middah of hatzneia leches in all areas of our lives.