’ve been a tomboy for most of my life: my uniform of choice a sweatshirt a denim skirt and a tichel. My kids will soon be in shidduchim. While I do know how to clean up for a simchah and how to dress professionally I do not look like the women of my community who go grocery shopping fully made-up and wearing what I consider a Shabbos outfit. I’ve been accused of wearing slippers to go grocery shopping which I will neither confirm nor deny.

I fear that my failure to conform with the socially accepted fashion program will kill shidduchim for my kids who actually do conform more with my community.

Do I torture myself through their dating years in essence not being authentically myself or just say “This is who I am” and possibly risk having my kids lose out on matches with the types of families they want because I’m selfish.

Happy in Slippers
Fancytown USA

Dear Happy in Slippers

How about a pair of fancy slippers? Then everyone would be happy.

I’m kidding but I’m not. What I’ve discovered in the great process of getting older and wiser is that many “or” sentences can be changed to “and” sentences with a much happier outcome. We often see dilemmas in black and white and feel we have to make decisions that are this or that. When we discover the wondrous gray that includes this and that we experience an integration that feels very right.

So what are the conflicting forces here that beg for reconciliation? The first is the conflict between doing what feels right to you and doing what seems right for your kids. The second is a more universal conflict between the need to be oneself and the need to be part of a greater whole.

On a pragmatic level there seems to be a conflict between your need to respect your sensory preferences and the preferences of the community. When you use the word “torture ” it leads me to suspect that changing your style is more than just a cognitive shift; it would entail actual physical discomfort.

Let’s start with the last first partly because you like to do things differently and partly because this is the most easily solved. No one should feel tortured to accommodate another. Assuming you do decide to make some changes they need to work for you hence the fancy slippers.

So now let’s look at the bigger question: Do you have to make any changes? Do you need to sacrifice your “self” for your children so they can get the “right” shidduchim? And honestly will it actually make a difference?

My guess is that if you exchange your tichel for a custom sheitel people will still know it’s you. If you’ve been an individual your whole life comfortable in your own skin it’s going to look awfully suspicious if you suddenly don a whole new persona. Imagine what it will do for shidduchim if people think you’re suddenly part of the Witness Protection Program.

Chances are your life has been a representation of the individual (free spirit?) that you are. I bet that for all their external conformity at least some of your children have adopted your sense of individuality as well. When this is so much a part of who you are it shapes your family and will steer the shidduchim that are appropriate for your children. There are people out there who will see your style as a maileh not a bedieved.

But let’s assume there’s a significant portion of the community that would not consider your child because of you. How much responsibility do you own for that? In my mind there’s a distinction between the people who are authentically comfortable in their own skin and the people who make a career out of letting others know they are different — the professional nonconformists. I do believe that when we’re part of a community there are certain norms that we adhere to out of respect; after all we chose to be part of that community. We can do what we want but then we can’t be surprised if people exclude us. (Hurt yes. Surprised no.) Are you within those hazy lines of “being myself” and still being normative?

I might get a lot of backlash for saying this but I do believe that as parents we have the obligation to contain ourselves — not deny ourselves not suppress ourselves but contain ourselves. How we express ourselves needs to engender respect not scorn or ridicule. You can wear a hat but it doesn’t have to be the pink hat with the blue feathers.

Bottom line: can you shift your thinking from “Torture myself or risk losing” to “be myself and still give my kids a reasonable chance?”

You know fancy slippers so to speak.

Hatzlachah finding that balance

Originally featured in Family First Issue 568. 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 inshidduchim@mishpacha.com.