Portrait of the author:
Skimming the Hamodia this week, I found a letter responding to a Reader’s Forum article about the habit of comparing girls to animals for purposes of shidduchim. The bochur wrote that he got the same question about his (male) roommate recently and didn’t see why it was unreasonable; chazal compare people to animals all the time.
Intrigued, I dug through the newspaper stack to the previous issue, and found another letter to the editor by a woman who agreed with the Reader’s Forum writer that our girls are being degraded by these terrible questions; she got the same animal question last week, closely followed by another humdinger: “What cemetery are her grandparents buried in?”
Now really curious, I dug down through the papers further, mentally blessing my father for not recycling them yet. Finally, I uncovered the Reader’s Forum piece.
It was written by a young lady in shidduchim who was answering some questions about her friend. After a little chat the mother asked, “What animal would you compare your friend to?” The young lady was horrified. How dare this woman compare her friend to an animal? The mother went on to ask, “And can you list all her chesronos?” The young lady thought angrily, “Because your son is perfect?” and terminated the call.
She used this as a springboard to write 200 words about how dehumanizing the shidduch process is and how little respect girls—I mean, young women—get. She says she feels like chattel being eyed for the market whenever she attends a wedding, but until now, nobody had ever vocalized the unsaid but understoond status of young ladies of marriageable age.
I feel bad for her. She has such a large chip on her shoulder that she can’t see around it.
The questions “What animal would you be?” and “What’s your greatest shortcoming?” are classic job-interview questions. The propriety of treating marriage as a job is not a subject for this post. But this mother didn’t deserve the rage directed at her. She wasn’t calling anyone an animal and she wasn’t suggesting that her son was stooping to date this girl. She was just attempting to gauge—albeit in a misguided way—the temperament and character of a prospective match.
That aside, since three people wrote in saying they received the same “animal” question regarding shidduchim, it seems clear that we must prepare an appropriate answer.
For job interviews, the right answer is always “cat.” Cats are neat, poised, independent, and always land on their feet. Employers like that. I’ve used it. I’m employed.
As for the “chisronos” question: the best strategy is to name a real failing that won’t come into play in the job you’re seeking. For example, if you’re interviewing to work as a salesman, lament your inability to work on a team.
But employment isn’t the same as marriage. Cats are too independent for marriage, while dogs are too reliant. Besides, they drool and need to be taken for walks. Not exactly how you want your prospective mother-in-law to think about you. So I asked my family to come up with my shidduch fauna persona. It took a bit of thought. My mother suggested “seal” because they come with very little baggage by way of connotations. At the very worst, they always seem to be enjoying themselves and they can balance balls on their noses. For a future-housekeeping career-woman, being able to balance something on one’s nose can be a valuable talent.
My father suggested “mare” because they’re calm, can both work and be motherly, and are associated with a horse’s power, versatility, and beauty without the connotation about eating like one.
Working out my chisronos is taking a bit more thought because the nature of marriage is that very few things don’t come into play in it. In the mean time, I’ll let all my references know that my animal alter ego is a mare.
Portrait of the author in the kitchen: