Latest update: April 29th, 2012
A recent article in The Jewish Press (Purim And The Tyranny of Beauty, Family Issues, March 16, 2012) written by writer and author Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum generated, and continues to generate, quite a buzz.
Many people agreed with her observations and conclusions – others were indignant, even furious.
Yitta wrote about a rather unique social gathering that she was invited to – as a mother of an “eligible” boy. A gathering whose concept I personally found rather disconcerting. I would best describe it as being a meet/”meat” market, where mothers could shop around for a spouse for their son.
Yitta accepted the invitation that had been extended by a woman whom she respects and admires, and, like any journalist worth her salt, reported on what she saw.
While she greatly admired what she viewed – the courage of these would-be future wives of Israel putting themselves in what she felt was a potentially uncomfortable situation (I know this event was launched with the best of intentions, but I cannot help but see it as a marketplace where hapless “older” singles were to be appraised like merchandise by potential “buyers”‘ – at least on a date it’s a two way street) – Yitta nonetheless opined that many of these young women came to the event dressed and coiffed in a way that did not enhance their looks. Many she observed seemed to be wearing no makeup at all.
Yitta expressed her shocked dismay that quite a few of the young women seemingly did not attempt to do what they could to look their best that evening – or any evening for that matter, as they were overweight, had unflattering hairstyles, etc.
Yitta suggested what to many people were extreme measures to turn an ugly duckling into a swan – including cosmetic and plastic surgery.
While some in the community agreed with her assessment, many others skewered her; aghast that she felt erliche bochrim and their pious, righteous mothers would focus on the superficial. They were upset that Yitta was suggesting that mothers of learning boys would be so shallow as to not see past these bnot Yisrael‘s crooked teeth, size 14 waists, etc. and be dazzled by their inner beauty.
But Yitta was just being the messenger – she was telling it like it is – and the fact is looks do matter and this reality cannot be made to go away despite vehement protests to the contrary.
Time to take the head out of the chulent pot! It’s not a secret that many middle aged women, mothers of shidduch age daughters, fanatically exercise and diet themselves into size 4′s, knowing full well that as they open the door to the bochur taking their daughter out, his eyes will be looking her up and down as he tries to get a glimpse of what his potential wife might look like 25 years into the future.
How this would be mother-in-law looks could influence the length of that first date. The bigger the double chin, the shorter the date – even if the girl herself is rail thin.
Yitta, motivated by genuine ahavas Yisrael, bravely “walked the walk” on an unpopular highway, and offered valuable, but difficult to hear, advice. She did not create this situation – and having herself “been there and done that” she honestly shared her informed opinion on a possibly remedy.
But Yitta’s “tough love” approach is not what motivated me to write about her article.
Her “unorthodox” (pun intended) but meritous suggestions should not have generated controversy – rather the meeting itself should have.
Has getting a shidduch in our community really come to this bizarre state of affairs, what can only be described as speed dating between mothers-in-law and potential daughters-in-law or a matrimonial job fair where you interview for the position of wife, with the CEO (his mother) reviewing your shidduch resume and personally assessing your qualifications?
Whatever happened to young men meeting young women and spending a few hours together and then each of them making a somewhat informed decision as to where to go from there?
It seems with every passing decade, our sons are being infantilized. There was a time not so long ago when men would seek out a wife, marry, and support her and the children they would have. The husband would be the “man of the house,” the household’s primary breadwinner – or at the very least co-breadwinner, if the wife was employed.
In recent years, however, it has become fashionable for young married men to not be required to work – for years.
Instead, their fathers/fathers-in-law are doing the financial supporting, just as they do for their single children still at home.
Sure it’s wonderful to immerse yourself in Torah, but doing that for years means the men doing the supporting cannot retire or cut down on their working hours – thus they have to minimize or postpone their own learning. How fair is that?
So not only do these young “men” have minimal fiscal responsibility – if any – they are also no are longer required to make any decisions on whom to date, Mommy will do it for them.
How are they supposed to mature if their main responsibility is to show up for shuir and show up for dinner?
Do we have such little confidence in our 20-something bochrim that their mothers have to help them pick out a wife like they used to help choose their shirts and shoes? They may have long lists to get through – so what? It takes 7 years to complete daf yomi – that doesn’t stop anyone from tackling it a day at a time.
Chances are that a young woman on the list got there because she was already pre-screened and deemed a potential mate, so why does his mother have to “TSA” her before she’s allowed to “come aboard?”
And then the question begs to be asked: Will a young bride who was hand-picked by her mother-in-law feel so indebted to her that she will feel obligated to subjugate her own opinions and preferences to accommodate the woman who chose her?
If the mother-in-law insists that gold carpeting would compliment the furniture THEY bought the young couple, and the bride prefers hardwood floors and rugs, do his mother’s wishes take priority?
And then there is the issue of inaccurate first impressions. We all know happily married couples whose first date was a disaster. Both were persuaded to have a second date and their impression of each other took a complete U-turn.
When a mother of the boy meets a girl, she could walk away with a false impression of the individual and reject what could have been a wonderful mate for her son. Likewise, the girl, having met the bochur’s mom, might refuse a date, thinking she might be a horrific mother-in-law, when the opposite might be the truth.
We often encourage a dating couple to go out a second or third time – to give a potential relationship a chance. That can’t happen when the “couple” meeting for the first time is the mother/daughter-in -law.
This get-together might have been launched with the purest of motives, to facilitate the dating process for girls who are on a “waiting list” – but wouldn’t the face-to-face meetings have been more effective and efficient if the young men initially met their potential spouse – instead of their mother?
After all, back in the day, on T’u B’Av (15th of Av), when the maidens of Israel gathered in the streets with the goal of being paired off, they danced in front of the young men – not their mothers. This gathering of young people was sanctioned by our biblical ancestors – perhaps it was their wise way of preventing a shidduch crisis.
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