Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Looks and middos (and doubt)

1 and 2 are based off R' Pam from his sefer Atarah L'Melech.

1. The most important thing is middos.
I know you've already heard it. I'm sure you would readily agree. But when you go out, and she is really pretty and funny and interesting, are you willing to look past how she talked about one of her "friends?" Or her lack of compassion for the girl who her friends were making fun of? It can be easy to lose sight of what's important when you are on a date Make sure you are honest with yourself and not making excuses for the other person's behavior because of something frivolous that you like. A person's middos are going to effect every day of your life. Just because she's the only girl you ever met who knows who Ron Paul is and loves Led Zepplin, this isn't going to effect your daily life all that much. I'm not saying common interests are irrelevant, but not as much as middos. Additionally R' Pam says that children receive their middos from their mother, in the same way that wine acquires the taste of the barrel it was fermented in. And nobody wants their kids to be a bunch of jerks. 

2. Looks aren't irrelevant either. 
R' Pam asks a question: Why does the Torah emphasize the beauty of various biblical women (Imahos, Esther, Chava, Avigayil...), but then in Eishes Chayil we all know "sheker hachein, v'hevel hayofi"? Is it important or not? He answers that beauty is a bunch of zeros. If you don't have the One in front of it, it's worthless, but if its got the one (which in this case is Yiras Hashem), it adds value. Obviously you have to be attracted to a spouse. How attractive? Now thats tough. I can tell you it's somewhere between supermodel and utterly repulsive. One of my Rabbeim says "she has to be nice to look at." 

As a guy I can tell you that this is definitely something I struggle with. There have been times that the girl would walk out on the first date and my heart would completely drop because I didn't find a girl attractive. More for the struggle with my decision that I know is going to happen. That's honestly the hardest thing for me, and in some ways the worst part of shidduchim. I hear that people's looks can grow on you, but I don't want to go out on more dates than I have to. I also have a hard time giving a fair chance. I haven't really broken anything off because of looks, officially. I usually try and find something less superficial, but sometimes I know if she looked like a supermodel, I could live with my supposed reason for saying no.

When I get to the door and a girl is less than attractive I feel terribly guilty. I know looks have nothing to do with the person. The real person. But it's there. I'm always left wondering if I'm being too picky. You hear the stories about the people who won't settle for anything less than a gorgeous girl, and they end up alone. I'll be honest-I want an attractive wife. When I picture my dream girl, I think of someone who is funny, smart, frum but normal, and attractive. And when a girl is even just okay looking, in the back of my head I'm thinking am I really ready to be married to this girl for the rest of my life? Do I really need to "settle" for anything less than a pretty girl? I wish my mind didn't think that way but focused on middos and hashkafa. 

I think this is the toughest thing for everybody in shidduchim. There is no clear line, no measuring stick, no scale you can use to see if this is your bashert. How do you know when you are settling for something not for you or you're just being picky? Did I just say "no" to my zivug? Or did I say something that I shouldn't have said causing my zivug to break up with me? It would be great after every dating experience Hashem sent you a text "Nope that wasnt the one. Try again!" I wouldn't think shidduchim would be all that bad then. You would know that you're going to get there, you just need to keep on trucking. We just need to have more emunah. A friend once suggested to me to have more kavanah during atah chonein for shidduch decision-making. I try. 

This is our avodah. It's not easy. But we try and do our best. We move on, always looking backwards, wondering if we have made the right decisions. Hopefully we have. And I wish you that you won't have any more doubts or questions. And if you do I hope you'll come out of it stronger for it.

P.S. I do think a big part of the shidduch crisis that isn't addressed as much, is the guys' unrealistic expectations of what a girl should look like. Our generation in America, no matter how frum you are, has been exposed to unrealistic, photo-shopped billboards, movies, and ads. We think we deserve a girl who looks like that. I'm just as guilty of this as anybody else. How do we get past it though? 
 I know a man needs to see the girl before the wedding halachically but not girls because they aren't as shallow.  But I'm curious to hear how much girls struggle with looks.


  1. I'm not sure this is the norm but looks don't really mean all that much to me. Truth is, when I see an extremely attractive man I'm usually too intimidated and overwhelmed by that to be normal around him anyhow so I actually prefer average looking guys. (Also, I'm an extremely jealous person and I don't like the thought of other girls wanting my guy) Though in my past, even guys who most people would say were "below average" grew on me and I came to find them attractive. For me, and I would venture to say, for a lot of women, attraction is majorly based on emotions (e.g. his personality and middot and how impressed a girl is by them) rather than looks. Kinda rocks for you guys :)

  2. It sounds like you're posing some issues that, while confounding, can actually be overcome. How do you give a girl you don't consider attractive a fair shot? Try to make her laugh on your date. Sometimes all it takes is a true smile to find an attraction. Also, if at the end of the date you found that you clicked on all cylinders except for attraction, definitely go out again. It's rare to find someone to mesh with and everyone has bad-looking days, especially when they're feeling apprehensive in any way.

    As for great looking girls who seem to have bad middos: Call her on it. If she tells a funny story about mistreating someone, say "that's terrible!" or ask "how did the friend like that?" But in a kind, not-trying-to-be judgmental way. It will create an awkward moment, but you'll learn a lot from her response - if she gets upset, you were never going to see her again anyhow, so it's not a big deal. But if she sees your point, this could be someone who inherently has good middos but is young and doesn't always think first - and if she's willing to take your advice or respect your opinion, you're well on your way to being with someone with good middos. If you were both in your 40's it would be a different story, but right out of high school / seminary a lot of people just don't have the experience to see their actions in their true light. The best marriages come when both partners respect the other's opinions and want their respect in return.

    As for the women in the "unrealistic, photo-shopped billboards," the way to get over feeling you "deserve" one is to remember that they literally do not exist. Watch the Dove soap "Evolution" ad to see just how much photoshopping can go into even an ordinary billboard. Having a realistic idea of what a beautiful woman looks like is a good start, and you won't find that in the media. Period.

  3. Sidepoint to your post really, but I always wonder why people refer to guys/girls they go out with as "things," e.g. . "How do you know when you are settling for SOMETHING not for you or you're just being picky?" As a single woman in my upper twenties, I've tried replacing "That's not what I'm looking for," with "He's not what I'm looking for." Surprisingly, I've found, semantics make a big difference. It's harder to throw away a person, a "he," for something stupid, than it is to throw away a "that." And maybe that's part of an answer to your very real and legitimate question that many other singles share-- avoid snap judgments based on looks by focusing on the person as a whole, and not his/her component parts.

  4. In the context in which you're using it, it's "affect", not "effect". Good grammar is another form of middos.

  5. From a girl's perspective-
    I don't feel like I have a universal standard of what is attractive in a guy. I think it's more like a type. He could be classically good-looking or classically, well, not-- but if he has a certain alertness, awareness, sharpness (in the sense of curiosity/intelligence, not criticalness) in his look; if his expression shows awareness and sensitivity to the world around him, plus a good haircut and healthy personal hygiene and if he does a modicum of exercise- I think those traits do more attracting (even on a first impression, sometimes) than all the six-packs and sculpted features and movie-star looks. Best to focus on the aspects of appearance that *do* reflect character, rather than the more genetic side of things. (See The Twits, by Roald Dahl. I always thought he makes a very good argument about nature of the relationship between appearance and character.)

    Of course this is all very well to say- I don't know if it is quite as easy to internalize.

  6. I actually wrote in a post about skinny becoming the new pretty, that my friends and I joke that Jewish guys think they deserve a supermodel. I laughed when I read that you wrote that. It's sadly true...

    I didn't read the comments above so I'm sorry if this redundant.

    Obviously, looks are important. You have to be attracted to your wife and a woman wants to feel that her husband is attracted to her. But, to quote Rabbi Weider, chemistry is very important. Someone can be objectively good looking but if the spark/chemistry is not there, then err. It's not the same. You don't need a supermodel to have chemistry with.

    I appreciated your honesty about being disappointed when a girl comes out and she is less than perfect. I know that the images that we have been exposed to affect our exceptions, even from a girl's point of view (of what we should look like, hence all the self-esteem issues).

    Though I'm sure you are aware, looks fade. Even the prettiest of girls get pregnant, become fat, get wrinkled, and eventually, get old. (I suggest, if anything, look for a girl that is always put together, that is motivated to look her best. Those are the kind of girls that will make the effort to always be attractive to their husbands). And though looks and being attracted to your spouse ARE important, you want to build something beyond that. If you are not attracted whatsoever, then nu, can't do much, but if you are somewhat attracted, give that girl a chance. See if it can go anywhere. I'm telling you from experience that sometimes people you didn't even glance at before, become beautiful to you...they just change (and the same happens the other way, btw lol).

  7. @FF- I thought as much. Though whether or not guys are lucky would depend on his looks and personality. ha

    @michal- good advice. I do most of that, but it always lingers. Truth is, I don't think the problem with me at least is not so much the photoshopping, it's the desire for the proverbial "10" when I should really be happy with a "7" or "8." Sorry that that might sound crude, but I think it demonstrates the point.

    @anon1- Very interesting. That really has got me thinking, and I would like to try to have that mindset, because I think you're %100 right.

    @hyman- You're right, thanks. I'm usually writing in a rush and don't have time to proofread. In fact, I'm writing this comment in the middle of a class. Not sure I agree that it relates to middos though. :)

    @anon2- Not very easy at all. Guys try more than they're given credit for.

    @ZP- I've heard all the conventional wisdom on looks and dating. But like almost all things in life, see anon2's comment about things being easier said than done.

  8. You know what they say...practice makes perfect lol Force yourself to go out with a girl who you don't find "absolutely gorgeous" and try to see past that. If you really can't, I don't know what to tell you because there will always be a smarter, prettier, funnier etc person...

    You've honestly never been attracted or had chemistry with a girl that was to a "lower standard" than a supermodel?

    I really think this expectation comes from the conscious or unconscious thought that this is it. This is the only woman that iy"H you'll be with. But its a little bit ludicrous because there is more to a relationship than just the physical aspect and there is more to the physical aspect than just looks.

    BTW to address your last question: some girls are shallow. Obviously, we also want to be attracted to our future spouse. I just think that girls are willing to continue giving it a shot even if the guy is not drop dead gorgeous. But I think we each have our "shtick"; physical things that we "can't" compromise with (i.e. for me height is a biggie). But I think things like chemistry and attraction play a bigger role than looks. I've gone out with very good looking guys who I was not attracted to at all. But then there are some guys, who I might not have even glanced at previously and after I met them and saw all the traits that I find attractive, its like I saw them in a new light...for me personally, when they have the attributes that I value, they just appear different, you see them differently...

  9. I think much of what we find attractive is socially imbibed. It used to be that health was shown through size/weight (thus the use of the term "ba'ree" for fat in tanach). At that time, a larger woman was considered more attractive -the idea "child-bearing hips" comes to mind.

    We live in an age that a person can be overweight and malnourished, and the signs of health that are espoused by society include thinness (to an extreme).

    As to the OP, I agree that it's tough. I've worked very hard on cultivating a different mindset. One that has a "check" if I find her at all physically attractive, and gives me the "green light" to see her character. Ultimately, her character will keep me around, not her looks.

    I've also been cultivating more appreciation for women who aren't super-thin. In fact, I tend to like a woman who isn't a twig. Just because physicality is important to me, doesn't mean that her bust size or waist size are the only indicators of that.

    Women who walk with confidence, who move with rhythm and grace, who have great body language and know how to move... they can be highly attractive. None of those things have a number attached to them -pounds, inches, waist/hips/bust size -in order to be "attractive."

    I'm unlearning what society has taught me. It's a slow process. Physique and physicality are important to me, but by focusing and cultivating appreciation for other aspects of a woman -in terms of physicality -I don't rely solely on a couple of socially determined indicators.

    Of course, I must add that I agree 100% that a woman's character is what really gets me thinking about marriage potential.

  10. I agree with you 100%. While I know that a girl's real personality has nothing to do with her looks, a big part of chemistry for me is how she looks and it makes a big difference.

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