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I’m not a doctor, nor a biological scientist, but I do know that people under stress produce a hormone called cortisol, which helps the body deal with a stressful event by increasing energy and immunity and even lowering sensitivity to pain. That might explain, for example, how someone with a broken leg can still walk to get help for those more seriously injured.
However, a long-term presence of cortisol in the body can be detrimental, possibly decreasing bone density, hampering thyroid functioning, raising blood pressure and – the one upsetting to most people – increasing abdominal fat and causing a big belly. Fat deposited in that area, as opposed to others (like your hips), has been linked with serious health problems, such as stroke and heart attacks. (I am giving a simplified view of cortisol; for in-depth information, speak to a medical professional.)
Unfortunately our lives tend to be stressful on a daily basis, especially for heimishe women who may have to juggle jobs and raise a household full of kids – with every “free” minute utilized for some errand or activity. Thus chances are they may be chronically stressed, with a possible increase of cortisol floating around inside them, and the potential for the aforementioned side affects – and others as well, such as a reduction in muscle mass and a less efficient immune system.
But as I mentioned, the one effect that most people would find disconcerting (especially women) is the depositing of fat around the stomach. Even on a good day, it is easy to find something to worry about. Just listening to news about the economy, bad weather and wars is stress inducing.
That being the case, if prolonged stress is potentially fattening, mothers involved in marrying off their children in today’s shidduch climate should be warned that they might not be able to wrap the seatbelt around their middles by the time the last one is married off. Just the stress involved in getting a first date for a child (boy or girl) is off the chart. Unless you are extremely rich, in terms of money or yichus, or are blessed with an incredible mazel and your kids marry the first or second one they go out with, chances are your time in the shidduch parshah will be extremely stress inducing – and possibly fattening.
The questions, or rather the interrogations, people and their references are subjected to by the potential date’s parents/shadchan are becoming more ridiculous and over the top, and might induce major exasperation.
Recently I tried to calm a friend agitated by her daughter’s latest shidduch experience. The boy’s mother had called one of the references, her daughter’s best friend, who is married. After confirming that, yes, her friend was pretty, she was asked, “How pretty?”
“Is there a universal measuring stick for prettiness?” my friend asked. “How do you accurately explain pretty?”
The next question almost caused her to tear out her hair. The married friend was asked where the grandparents lived. “What does that have to do with what kind of wife or mother my daughter will be? How does the grandparent’s geographic location affect her middos or the kind of person she is?”
I had a hunch that if the grandparents had a condo in Florida, or a villa in Israel, that would improve the girl’s suitability as a wife tremendously – but I didn’t want to upset my already stressed-out friend, as I sensed the crème de la crème question was coming. When the mother was told that the four grandparents were already niftar, she asked the reference why they were no longer living. Since she was a child when her friend’s grandparents passed away, and did not have immediate access to their death certificates, she truthfully said she didn’t know. My guess is that it was old age– but I wasn’t the one being asked.
In terms of getting a date, I wonder what is next. DNA samples, in addition to the shidduch resumes that young people must prepare? Detective reports, to be paid for by the other side for the right to go out? Medical histories going back five generations? Or maybe deeds of property and bank statements?
In the end, the shadchan said that the boy’s family was looking for someone more “suitable.” My friend barely touched her lunch that day, but as she got up to go, I could swear her skirt looked tighter.
(I am inviting my readers to send me nonsensical shidduch questions that they have been asked, and I will put them in a future column. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)