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Dating the ugly duckling

Dear Rabbi Bernath,

A friend of mine tried to introduce me to someone, but I looked her up on Facebook and I didn’t find her good looking. How do I get out of it?


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Dear Mike,

In the world of matchmaking and relationships, this question is the 800 lb. gorilla — you know, the one that nobody wants to talk about. It makes men uncomfortable and offends women.

Almost every time I give a class on relationships, I open with a poll: how much do you want to be offended? If the answer is “not much,” then by all means, skip to the international news and don’t read my answer.

Now let’s get started.

We live in strange times. Stranger than that, we are not even aware that we live in strange times. If you ask a preteen about the era before high-speed Internet could be accessed through a device that’s sitting in everyone’s pocket, their answer will wax prehistoric.

This is an extreme example, but it’s true for love, too. Most of us aren’t aware that marrying for love is a relatively new concept that only became mainstream in the past few centuries (despite examples in the Bible); that generously proportioned women were considered more attractive than thinner ladies during much of history; or that the majority of marriages throughout human history were likely between cousins. (In other words, marrying someone to whom you’re not related is kind of new and weird, in the big picture.)

Currently, in North America, our culture is heavily influenced by celebrities and the films, music and other types of media that they create. Therefore, most young people learn about relationships through romantic comedies and celebrity gossip websites.Besides the obvious problems these create (like two-hour-long relationships that end “happily ever after”), they teach us to expect that the person we marry will be fantastically good-looking.

I came across a New York Times piece that discussed the ultimate formula to gauge how long a celebrity marriage will last. There were four factors, but I’ll reference two here: 1) the number of times they were mentioned in the tabloids; and 2) their status as sex symbols (higher levels correlated with early divorce).

This is what it comes down to: when choosing a life partner, the criteria is subjective. If you care about religion or philosophy, then aligned values will rank high on your shopping list. But many of us don’t care and will get married without ever asking basic questions about values.

If physical looks matter to you, then please be honest about it. You have the right to make that your dealbreaker.

But superficial people tend to engage in superficial relationships, which can, and often will, end easily. So if you’re putting a heavy value on looks, please don’t end there. Recognize that you’re making a concession to the culture in which you live and insist on something deeper, as well, to bind the relationship.

Or better yet, refine yourself. Step out of the celebrity culture for a bit — detox, meditate. Instead of looks being №1 on your list, maybe it should be №2 or №3.

It is very important that you be attracted to the person you marry — it’s a part of human nature. But sometimes it’s the other person’s personality and sense of humour that creates the magic. We are attracted to so much more than what we see with our eyes.I’ll sum it up for you like this: experience trumps everything. A little while back, for one year, I exclusively set people up on blind dates. I’ve never had as many couples get married in any year since.

So my advice is to go for a cup of coffee, maybe two. You may be surprised by what you see.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath

Have a question for Rabbi Bernath? Email him at

Originally published at on February 22, 2018.

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