You wouldn’t be the first couple to be more machmir than their family
I’m your typical Bais Yaakov graduate from a regular mainstream family. I’m not sure whether “struggle” is an accurate word to describe my relationship with tzniyus, because I’ve always persevered. It probably would be more on target to say that laxity in tzniyus is a real yetzer hara for me.
I’ve set certain gedarim for myself, like never walking out of the house with my legs uncovered, and although it’s been very tempting (for example, on vacation), I’ve maintained my standards.
So here’s my dilemma. I was just redt to a really suitable sounding boy who is very “normal,” has good, solid hashkafos, and seems to be on my level of frumkeit.
The problem is that his family is more lax in halachah than he is. When my parents looked into the family, they found out that most of his sisters are not makpid on covering their legs all the time and aren’t careful with other details as well.
I’m not here to judge anyone. What they do is between them and Hashem. My question is this: After spending so many years fighting and winning this battle, is it crazy to throw myself into an environment that doesn’t support the sensitivities I work so hard to sustain? Or should I just be grateful that I was redt to such a great boy and stop being ridiculous?
You’re not being ridiculous at all.
If there’s one thing I hope I’ve given my readers over the years, it’s the understanding that behind every question there’s so much more than meets the eye. It’s tempting to dismiss questions about minutiae as small-minded, but a deeper look reveals that the concrete is often a symbol for a more significant dynamic.
It sounds like your journey with tzniyus has been an intensely personal one. You’ve worked on something that is a real nisayon for you and you own your successes. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. We each have our personal tests and how we fare with them is our life’s work. So any decision you make has to be made in the context of recognizing what this dilemma means to you.
The hardest choices are between right and right. (I can’t take credit for that line but I do so love it.) Setting yourself up for continued spiritual growth is clearly a laudable goal. Getting married to a good, solid boy is also a great idea. You worry that one will come at the expense of the other. Let’s see if, in fact, that’s a valid concern.
The major unknown is this: Will being in a family that has looser standards of tzniyus directly affect your shemirah of this mitzvah? The likely answer is yes. Over time, as we’re exposed to more, our sensitivities become dulled. This is why we spend untold amounts of money to send our children to schools that reflect our values and to live in neighborhoods that mirror our choices. We’re aware that our surroundings strongly affect us. And the more intimate the surrounding, the greater effect there will be. So there’s strong evidence to back your concern.
But is it inevitable? Are there ways you can strengthen your ability to stay true to your journey? I believe that answer is partly about you and partly about this boy. Many families successfully house members with varying levels of stringency in matters of kashrus, Torah learning, tzniyus, and other areas. You wouldn’t be the first couple to be more machmir than their family. One of the main determinants of success is whether or not the family is growth oriented and is respectful of each member’s personal journey.
Your job is to discover how this family relates to one another. What is the family culture vis-a-vis growth? While they may not be makpid on this area of tzniyus, they might excel in other areas of halachah or avodas Hashem.
A family that values closeness to Hashem and personal growth will not be threatened by your personal she’ifos, assuming you adhere to them in a nonjudgmental and humble way. They can value each person for the type of avodas Hashem they bring to the family table. And if you can return the favor, and see each of them as engaged in their own personal growth, there’s room for everyone to stay true to their values.
Of course, this is where the second piece of the equation comes in. This boy himself must truly appreciate and support your aspirations. A husband is a key factor in his wife’s tzniyus. If he delivers subtle messages that your strength in this area is not that important to him, or even conveys that he wouldn’t mind if you were more lax, it will be almost impossible to withstand the pressure. But if the two of you are adamant about not slipping, and together you institute safeguards around this mitzvah, such as mentoring and ongoing learning, you’re much more likely to be successful.
How can you know for sure where he really stands? Honestly, you can’t. You can only assess how consistent he is in safeguarding his own ruchniyus and the values that are important to him.
To recap: Will you be influenced? Probably. An environment of mutual respect and a culture of valuing growth can strongly mitigate that, but only if your potential husband unequivocally backs you.
Should you go for it? You need to decide that after answering these questions, keeping in mind that none of us is static and that many factors play into the evolution of our ruchniyus.
May your desire to continue growing serve as a zechus in helping you make this important decision.
Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a columnist for inshidduchim.com. She also lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at email@example.com.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 659)