I remember laughing at a cartoon (New Yorker magazine?) years ago of a yuppie-looking man and woman meeting at a party, both with expressions of obvious excitement on their faces. The thought-bubble above the man read: “Sex object.” The thought-bubble above the woman read: “Meal ticket.”
Obviously, a match made in heaven.
While that image was intended to poke fun at modern romance and mores, I want to use it here in just the opposite way.
If you’re immersed in a yeshiva or an intense Torah environment for any length of time you are constantly hearing, correctly so, that there is more to life than the physical. By the time it comes to dating there can be pressure, internal as well as external, to downplay your physical needs.
I’ve had more than one person ask me: “Is it really important to be attracted to her?”
This may have been more true years ago, but there are those whom BTs put their trust into who might answer, “No,” or, “As long as s/he’s not repulsive,” or not answer at all.
My typical answer is: “If you’re asking, it probably is.”
Years ago I heard the story of a sincere baales teshuva who declared, “I need a guy who’s earning at least $70,000 per year.” Some disparaged her, but her best advisor said: “If that’s what you really need, it would be wrong and dangerous to deny it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating viewing your spouse as a sex object or a meal ticket. However, if you come from certain level of comfort, then chances are you will not be able to hack the lifestyle of the Chofetz Chaim.
I’m talking about balance. Listen to your rabbis and rebbetzins about the value of living a materially modest lifestyle. Listen to them when they emphasize the importance of middos and character in choosing a mate. They’re right. Just don’t forget, material boys and girls born and bred in the material world will typically have needs for material comforts no matter how much they deny it.
And baalei teshuva are prime candidates for such denial. We make so many spiritual strides so quickly that in our enthusiasm we can easily forget or deny that we are physical beings too.
The Rambam had adversaries in the Sultan’s court who argued that animal nature could be changed. The Ramban insisted it couldn’t, so his adversaries persuaded the Sultan to banish the Rambam if they could prove it. After weeks of training cats to serve meals like human waiters, the adversaries smugly led their cats into the Sultan’s chambers on their hind legs carrying trays of food just like waiters. The Rambam watched stoically nearby with a sack in his hands. When the Sultan asked him if he could refute the visual evidence, the Rambam calmly opened the sack and let some mice inside free. The cats immediately scattered, dropping their trays all over the Sultan’s nice table and zooming off in hot pursuit of the mice.
Don’t deny human nature. Control it. Manipulate it. Minimize it. Harness it. Suppress it, if need be. But don’t deny it. It’s not a healthy thing. For your body or your soul.