I come from a traditional Modern Orthodox type of family. I went to those types of schools and camps, and I was very popular. As is common with that lifestyle, I had boyfriends during my teenage years, and I wore jeans and shorts. In my senior year of high school, one of my Hebrew teachers recommended a seminary for me to go to in Israel before starting college. My parents thought it was a good idea to have a gap year of all Hebrew studies, so they agreed.
It was a great experience for me. I not only fell in love with the land, but I also became much more religious. When I returned home, my parents were not too crazy about my transformation. I dressed totally different. I got rid of my old clothing and started wearing only clothing that covered my knees, elbows, and collarbone, too. I told my mother to buy only chalav Yisrael dairy products, and I was always checking the hechsher of everything I ate.
I made friends with girls in college who were just as religious as me, except that, in their case, that was how they were raised. They had an easy time finding dates, and now most of them are married. Now that I am finished with school and working, I am very serious about getting married. I went to a few matchmakers, and they told me that the type of guy I want is very hard to find because I am a “flip-out.” I don’t mind being called that, but shouldn’t that mean that I am a good catch?
Before you think that I’m picky, here is what happens. Modern Orthodox guys think that I am too religious for them, and yeshivish guys won’t date me because my mother doesn’t cover her hair and wears pants. I asked her to change her style, but she refuses. Whenever I complain to people, they all tell me to find a guy who is just like me. But I don’t know where to look and what to do. What does someone like me do in such a case? I really want to find my bashert and build a Jewish home.
In the last two decades, your type of situation has become very common. Children raised in traditional and Modern Orthodox homes are spending a year or two in Israel following high school, and they return more spiritual and modest in the way they dress. While the teachers in those seminaries are very pleased with the transformations, they do not realize the challenges that their students must face when seeking marriage.
Equally problematic is what becomes with the relationship between the child and the parents. As you refer to your upbringing as “traditional Modern Orthodox,” I assume that keeping the traditional Jewish laws was a given in your home. Upon your return, it was you who decided that your parents start altering the food products brought into the home. There are many parents who do go along with that, as in your case. But in most cases, the buck stops when the child expects that the mother will start covering her hair. It becomes a major clash when the child wants to find a shidduch but is faced with disappointment specifically because of how the parents live their life. And that is your story, too.
I imagine that you assumed that your move to the right would be a welcome aspect in shidduchim. However, when it comes to marriage, things are different. The reality is that when you get married, you are not just marrying the person you choose; you are, in essence, marrying into their family. Your parents will be the in-laws of your husband, and the grandparents of your children, which also means that your parents and husband’s parents will become related, too, in a sense.
Here is where it gets sticky. There are people who are not comfortable with what they don’t know. They prefer, if possible, to marry or have their children marry someone on their hashkafic level. Yes, there are many situations where one set of parents is different than the other in style of dress or level of religiosity. And even though it seems that everyone gets along with one another, there are clashes that go on behind the scenes, from the type of wedding to how the couple will raise their children and the schools they will send them to. Any variance in hashkafah will cause at least some bit of strife. Intelligent people recognize that and therefore prefer to find a match similar to themselves.
Just so that you don’t feel alone in your situation, guys who come from backgrounds such as yours and have “flipped out” oftentimes go through the same dilemma. And here is why. It comes down to the parents. The young ladies they meet might appreciate them; however, the parents usually step in and dissuade the shidduch.
Another factor is that, believe it or not, there are guys who might feel intimidated by you. You come across as someone who possesses clarity of vision. That makes you far stronger than your more conventional peers. There are people who, although they were raised more to the right in terms of upbringing and yeshivas and camps, will oftentimes question their religious identity. Deep down, in the innermost recesses of his soul, such a person may feel a little threatened by your elevated level of religiosity. Before he even meets you, he may feel that he pales in comparison with you. In his mind, it is as though you might be overqualified for the job! Such a guy might believe that your elevated level of spirituality will get in the way of his ability to feel an emotional connection to you, and he therefore will automatically decline you as a match.
You convey the image of a refined young lady. That is a credit to your parents. It is also evident that you come from a happy, loving, and supportive home. That, in and of itself, makes you a choice candidate for shidduchim. Use that to your advantage.
When you meet a matchmaker or anyone who is involved in shidduchim, you need to be completely upfront. Explain that although your parents appear modern, they did send you to a more frum seminary. Emphasize that your parents are very supportive and proud of you, and that they would like for you to marry a guy who is just as religious as you. The reason you need to verbally express these points is so that people understand that there are no inner-family conflicts to be concerned about.
When you are on a date with a young man who was brought up differently than you, be open and forthcoming about yourself, despite the strong temptation to pretend that you are just like him. I feel that, in a way, there is a part of you that might even be a bit embarrassed by your upbringing and the way your parents live their lives. However, it is very important not to pretend to be someone you are not.
That said, the guy you are on the date with should understand that you are proud of the path you have traveled and the decisions you have made, especially since you feel they are correct ones. How can you make that happen? Try to steer the conversation towards your dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Do your best to speak in an animated tone about how this did not come naturally to you, but you were so enamored by what you learned that it became a passion for you.
In order for you to master that game plan, you need to recognize that the way you were raised is an integral part of who you are and who you have become. Whoever you will end up marrying must welcome not just you, but your background, too. A guy who cannot do that is not right for you.
Whether he is Modern Orthodox, yeshivish, or anything else, the guy who will eventually become your husband should be a man who has depth and is capable of appreciating someone like you. Of utmost importance is that you don’t ever lower your standards, G-d forbid. On the contrary, you should expect no less than a man who is compatible with you in his commitment and dedication to Torah life. You deserve to marry the type of guy who is worthy of you.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com.