By: Donny Steinberg | Opinions  | 

This Is Not Only About Dating, Believe It or Not

Throughout the 1930s, when Americans thirsted for an inexpensive escape from the economic horrors, LeRoy Robert Ripley rose to the occasion and surpassed all expectations. Ripley travelled to 211 different countries recording man’s most outlandish accomplishments to launch his first book that started it all - Ripley’s: Believe It or Not. His popularity skyrocketed as he hosted his own radio show, established nationwide freak-show Odditoriums, and, after his death, his enterprise produced a viral TV series. The Ripley Entertainment company, now just months short from celebrating its centennial milestone, captured the world’s attention for so long by revealing the individuals who stand out. Being different, with all one’s blemishes and knacks, weaknesses and talents, is the portal to ingenuity and is what people continue to love.

Recently, I have just gotten my feet wet in the dating world and was surprised by the shidduch resume phenomenon. From a guy’s perspective, I would like to share some of my impressions and suggest how it reflects on a greater societal trend.

Unlike Ripley, who promoted the ordinary to be extraordinary, the shidduch resume deflates the extraordinary to simply ordinary. I quickly came to avoid resumes because (aside from the fact that one cannot accurately compress a 22+ college-educated developing ben or bas Torah into a short 5-7 sentence blurb) many Orthodox women describe themselves on the resume as the same, and misleadingly flawless, woman.

Unfortunately, many shidduch resumes use (redundant) illustrations to depict the same pixel-perfect woman such as “really smart, very studious, and successful in school. She’s frum and takes yiddishkeit seriously.” They use humdrum descriptions such as “Looking for someone who has motivation and positive approach to learning but sees the value in a job and the outside world….” Aside from my pet peeve for misusing “but” for “and,” unless your pool of guys learns in Telz or Brisk, this essentially describes a large portion of the frum “YU-type guy,” let alone a majority of the larger Orthodox world too. These descriptions do not paint her unique picture and can and should either briefly be added in or, more impactfully, be mentioned by the one presenting the resume. Yet, they all say it, with not much else. I find it mind-boggling that when job applicants write their professional resume, their agenda is “How can I stand out?” yet, when it comes to dating resumes, their agenda, it seems, is “How can I blend in?”

Friends know to not share resumes with me anymore and that I prefer a sensitive and real conversation about a prospective suggestion instead. However, I understand that resumes are an unfortunate reality and even though I avoid reading them, many still do. So how can we improve them?

Capturing what makes us unique is difficult – especially when obliged to put it in a concise text – but imagine if resumes focused on answering questions such as “What are you passionate about?”; “What is something you are trying to improve on?”; “What motivates you?” I am not suggesting adding weaknesses and struggles – though we all certainly have them. Essentially, say what makes you special; and everyone has something.

I realize that some of the above questions are personal and that one may not necessarily want them online. However, one should look to strike a balance between being understandably reserved and also personal. Breaking out of the resume template allows the reader to consider her personal picture instead of resorting only to her actual picture.

Unfortunately, this behaviorism of coming across as generic seeps into dates as well. I have often noticed, and heard from others too, that many women – like on their resumes – come across as all the same. Perhaps it is because they seem to cater their opinions and responses to what they think the guy is looking for; certain opinions are stressed, while other less “attractive” ones, such as controversial hashkafic views, are softened. I presume that women would argue the same about many men, and that we men are just as guilty.

Both the same “perfect” resumes and the generic dates lead me to speculate that this conformity reflects on a fundamental lapse in our society. This is not only about dating, believe it or not. This is about being genuine – all the time.

Intentional or subconscious, it seems that many people all around us are forfeiting their individuality out of fear of isolation. I know many people are overly cautious to express their political opinions, if they have one at all, because they are concerned that their social circles would not welcome them if their opinions were not the popular view. Plastic surgeons, intensive weight loss programs, and name-brand outfitters who increasingly advertise their “indispensable” products as mechanisms to achieve what society deems as ideal beauty also come to mind as instances of the aforementioned societal trend. It is human nature and vital to feel accepted, but hiding ourselves behind the masks of conformity is cowardly and does not bring us closer to authentic social acceptance.

God creates every individual beztelem Elokim (as commentaries expound) – uniquely in His image. We are all created with our own mosaic of looks, habits, passions, idiosyncrasies, aptitudes, and shortcomings. We should strive to live our entire lives maximizing that responsibility of being individual and not opting to comfortably blend in.

Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard professor and author of The Pursuit of Perfect, teaches “We may have been taught that … feeling shy and nervous about opening ourselves up emotionally and physically was uncool and shameful.” Ben-Shahar continues, “Unlearning the lessons of childhood and early adulthood is hard, which is why it is difficult for so many of us to open ourselves to the flow of emotions.” Imagine if we all felt confident being a little more vulnerable. Imagine if everyone felt comfortable expressing to our friends, colleagues, mentors, and strangers our real eyebrow-raising opinions, family struggles, mental health challenges, theological questions, and quirky hobbies – without feeling like or caring if we are being judged. We all have baggage. I am certainly not saying everything has to be public, but I am saying that not everything has to be so private. Complexity and shortcomings are what make you and me human; they are what make you and me individual. Perfection is not a Jewish value; it isn’t even a human one. Why taint ourselves by portraying ourselves as such?

Confusion and uncertainty is uncomfortable, so we look to fill that void by quickly putting people – and ourselves – in (albeit flawed) boxes. Some may feel, “I am a registered Republican, I can’t be known to support position X.” Or, “I am in YP and so I must speak with a certain jargon,” “She went to that seminary, so she must be X religious but not Y hashkafically,” and so on. We then question when people deviate from these “boxes.” We should all do what we believe in and not hold ourselves back because of how others might view us. If others judge us, that is their problem, not ours.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I thrive on doing my own thing and thinking in my own way; I also work on not shying away from expressing this mentality along with comfortably sharing my own shortcomings and insecurities. I also strive not to box (which is a feel-better word for “judge”) others or myself based on institutions we attended or communities we come from. We are all complex, and with the proper confidence, we all can and should be different.

I am not saying we must be different for the sake of being different. We do not have to be like Edna Price, who would swallow 12 swords at once and remove them one at a time, or like Lothrop Withington Jr. who swallowed 25 live goldfish to win his student election (though, Noah Marlowe, I’m counting on you to follow in these footsteps), or like two brothers in Russia who slapped each other’s faces for 36 hours straight. I am saying we should aim to be real about who we are and not sacrifice that for anything – especially when it comes to something as important as finding our shidduch.

I am new to the dating scene and maybe I do not fully comprehend the unfortunate stress and worry that women and men face. My hope, though, is that women should consider giving their resumes a little more spunk – guys love that. And when dating, we should all try a little more to express our genuine selves. My hope is that we should all be who we want and not let anyone box us into conventional paths. Robert Ripley exemplified and shared with the world that people love those who are different. I implore us all to introspect, find what makes us different, share it with the world, and be the greatest individuals that we were born to be. People will accept, respect, and love you more because of it – believe it or not.