This week, “The Single” puts the following question to our dating advice panelists:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but people have different views on whether you should see a photo of a potential match before being set up with them. What do you advocate and why?
The frighteningly influential power of language and impression is showcased quite strikingly in George Orwell’s well known book 1984, where he explains that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Assuming the premise to be true that a picture is truly worth a thousand words, we are only left to consider what those words are, and what effect they will have on their recipient. Not only may the words we choose affect our interpersonal relationships, but the specific types of words we use can even affect our long-term mood, and by extension even the physical structures of our brains.
Under the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (also generically known as linguistic relativity), it is posited that language shapes cognition; that is, that the specific words we use, along with their connotations, actively, albeit subconsciously, create and mold our moods. Harsher language will set us on edge regardless of external stimuli, while softer, more muted speech will leave us calmer and happier. The science basically says that improper use of language can have unconscious yet devastating effects on one’s ability to communicate, skew one’s emotions, and ultimately alter brain structure and function.
So, that’s the ivory tower, head-in-the-clouds theory behind my feelings on this issue. The down-to-earth response to this question is, as it always is with me: it depends. I feel strongly against the evolutionary approach to dating where some will date based largely upon attractiveness of the other party (think peeking around the mechitza [barrier] at a wedding). In every situation, whether one should view a picture should be the very last consideration taken into account before going on a date, and whether one does so or not will most likely be based on practical considerations; for example, not wanting to invest time, money, and emotional currency on someone you’re clearly not drawn to.
My weighing in on the “to look or not to look” question seems less urgent to me than what underlies the question: what has happened to our priorities in dating? We scurry like the rats of Hamelin, chasing an ideal that seems so sweet to our senses, but may also blind, confuse, and mislead us. Our greatest concern and first line of inquiry should relate to the qualities this person possesses, is this person someone you can respect and relate to, and if indeed they sound like someone you could ascend-to rather than fall-in love with, then the question of viewing a picture will enter into a new light, becoming a search for inner beauty as well as outer. If this fixation on aesthetics reaches the prime spot in our inquiries, won’t that shape the language of our thoughts on dating, relationships, marriage, and love itself?
Orwell sums up that “until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” Let us all do our best to indeed rebel against our baser instincts and regain that consciousness and sensitivity towards what really elevates, unites, and connects us all, that divine spark which helps us see the good in ourselves, in others, and draws us closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
The Dating Expert (Rachel Burnham)
For many this topic is controversial. I don’t write for popularity, but to provide what I believe can be useful and purposeful to the dating community, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt. With that fine-print out of the way, here goes.
Unfortunately, a woman’s self-consciousness about her photo or beliefs about whether photo sharing is tznius (modest) is largely irrelevant. Not to downplay tznius in any way, but in our world, anybody with more than a few days of internet experience can search online and find a photo of whomever they want. Long before Google made things that easy, men found other ways to get pictures. I remember high school friends who would pass school yearbooks to their brothers in shidduchim (the matchmaking process), effectively sending profile pictures of the entire high school into Yeshiva-wide circulation.
It is the reality ladies. Yes, even with “very good boys.” That being the case, wouldn’t you rather volunteer a good photo of yourself before you’d have a dating prospect or his mother grab a cell phone mug shot off Facebook?!
In addition, since so many resumes today are shared with a professional photo at the top of the first page, singles are doing themselves a disservice by leaving one out. They’re asking to go to the bottom of the pile. When all other resumes have one and yours doesn’t, it’s glaringly absent and almost guarantees the resume won’t receive attention.
Photos can be very helpful in other ways as well. If a single uses a quick selfie with poor lighting sitting at their computer, that says something about them and how invested they are in dating. In my coaching practice, I’ve encouraged many singles to have professional photos taken. In several cases, there was an immediate increase in the number of shidduch (match) suggestions that came their way. Professional photos send the message that a single is making the ultimate effort to find their marriage partner. In addition to a professional photo shoot producing more flattering images, it shows confidence, investment, and maturity.
This topic is generally more sensitive and controversial among women for obvious reasons. My message to you ladies: remember, you want a man! Physical attractiveness is quite important to the male half of the race, and this is a good thing. You wouldn’t want a man to marry you just because you’re a “great catch” and then be unattracted to you, his wife.
To the menfolk out there: please realize that attraction is important to women as well. Many men think women don’t care about looks as long as a man is “good to her.” While men might rank physicalattractiveness higher than other qualities when looking for a mate, there are few woman to whom looks are not afactor.
There’s another male/female imbalance in this issue of photo sharing that I believe needs to be called out. A man who can’t find the time to take a decent photo of himself and draw up a clear and concise resume has no right to expect his dating prospects to do any more than he has. I’ve seen this happen often and it is unfair, both to girls and to shadchanim (matchmakers).
I’d like to leave you with a closing thought. If we were to follow the premise that “photos are wrong and nobody should ask for them,” what would first dates look like?
Some would work about, although that wouldn’t be the case consistently. Not infrequently, within five seconds a guy or girl would made up their mind that they’re completely uninterested in what they see. For many, if not most, this would effectively be the end of the date. They’ve checked out and just want to go home. Fair or not, ideal or not, it’s the reality. I ask you, would that be a good investment of your time?
I’d sooner have singles say no based on a picture and save both sides the time, money, and energy of a pointless date. If someone doesn’t want to date you because of your photo, say “NEXT” and move on. You would never want to marry someone who isn’t attracted to you. You ARE attractive, to your proper zivug (match). Let’s not get hung up on those who aren’t your zivug so that we can dedicate our energies to finding the one who is!
The Shadchan Next Door
This time-honored question has been debated in yeshivas, seminaries, and matchmaking forums since the invention of the Polaroid camera. To see both sides of the coin is easy. It’s human nature to want to see what your potential date looks like, but we also don’t want to feel like a piece of meat at the market. While some rabbis have come out against providing profile pictures, the general consensus among shadchanim seems to be in favor. Personally, as a shadchan, I receive piles of resumes that can often sound the same; pictures definitely make individuals stand out. And let’s be honest- anyone can “stalk” you online and find your picture, whether you like it or not. Why not provide one of your choice?
We try so hard to put our best foot forward in the dating world. With a garden of beautiful, flawless-looking people surrounding our internet and shopping experiences, how can we not select the most amazing picture of ourselves for our shidduch profile? The competition is steep, and if you only have one shot for a glance from Mr. or Mrs. Right, well, it’s got to catch their eye, show your personality, and make you stand out in a crowd. The question then becomes, who exactly are we presenting, the real self or the fantasy self? A picture is worth a thousand words, but you can choose the picture and you can choose everything that goes into the image in that picture. Is your profile pic a stunning, overly made up bombshell that would put glamor shots to shame? Or is it a quick selfie taken with poor lighting? Are either of these conveying your true self? And to the men out there, is your shirt clean and your hair combed? Are you smiling or posing for a mug shot? The onus of finding the right picture is not just on women.
Not only do we have to be careful about how we represent ourselves, but as the persuer we also must express care in not jumping to incorrect conclusions about who the other person really is. We get so caught up in having to look perfect all the time that we don’t connect with people as human beings. The sad truth is that some men never get to see regular “normal” girls, as they are constantly inundated with unrealistic ideals for the perfect woman. Especially with the separation of men and women in Orthodox circles, many Orthodox guys will only see perfectly made up girls at weddings or on first dates, giving them a false expectation for the reality that lies within aside from societal influence of beauty.
Some people put so much weight on the interpretation of the profile picture that it reminds me of how people over-analyze a first date phone call. You answer the phone wanting to make a great first impression, and when you hang up you immediately start assessing the potential of the date based on a few awkward comments exchanged when planning a time to meet. You wonder: Was there chemistry? Was he flexible? Did he initiate? Was he too soft? Too aggressive? Most of the time you can’t really know a person from a 30-second phone conversation and you also can’t really know a person from a two-dimensional picture.
In a short phone call, as in a short glance at a picture, we can get caught up in the expectations in our minds, making it difficult to really see the person for who they truly are. While there are many benefits to having a shidduch picture, getting caught up in them can be equally detrimental. A shidduch picture should provide another avenue for getting to know a person; not a barrier as to their very essence. A true match is a deeper soul connection, way more than skin deep.