Do you still look as you did on your dates? Why not?
It’s odd. When people go out on a date, they pay all sorts of attention to the most superficial aspects of themselves. For instance, they may concentrate intensely on how their hair looks. Hair? Why should anyone care about how their hair looks when the issue at hand is the holy endeavor of selecting a partner for the lifelong project of building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael? What has hair got to do with it — combed, not combed, in a headband or in a ponytail — who cares? Surely this is not a consideration.
But, of course, the hair is a consideration — as is the suit or dress, the shoes, the posture, the makeup or lack of it, the way one chews one’s food or sips one’s drink, the height, the accent, and a host of other superficial factors. In fact, the whole shidduch may rise or fall based on such trivialities. (“Ma, I don’t want to go out with him again. I don’t like his hair.”)
Marriage Changes Everything
Few people have to be taught the importance of these superficial aspects of self on a date. Almost everyone instinctively knows that they must put their best superficial foot forward in order to convince someone to sign up as their permanent life partner. They know that they’re selling an image, one that must be attractive and pleasing. “Look, here’s what you’ll get — someone handsome/beautiful, dignified, put-together, someone you’ll be proud to be seen in public with, and someone you’ll enjoy having around you all the time.”
Unfortunately, however, there is no instinct to win over someone you’ve already won over. Now, several months, years, or decades into a secure married relationship, spouses don’t even believe that superficial aspects matter. “That’s for when you don’t know each other — it’s not for marriage. Now your partner has plenty of reason to appreciate and love you; you don’t have to ‘sell’ yourself anymore. Marital love is much deeper than that.”
Some Things Never Change
Whether we like it or not, we’re human till the day we die. We never get tired of good food, a good night’s rest, the beauty of a sunset, or the pleasing aspects of human appearance. And when it comes to appearance, the majority of us are fairly easily pleased: clean, respectable, and healthy-looking are basic criteria that appeal to most people.
Basic as that short list is, it cannot be assumed to be present in all spouses. Now that a married person is comfortable at home, he or she may very well neglect one or more of the items on the list. It doesn’t seem so important now to brush one’s teeth twice a day or manage other aspects of hygiene. We’re heimish here. It doesn’t feel important to dress up anymore — what’s wrong with slouch clothes that are oh-so-comfortable? Does it matter that much if they are a bit torn, soiled, or badly fitted? We’re at home alone, right? And as for healthy-looking — well, you know, we’re not as young as we used to be so how healthy-looking can we expect to be already? But you love me, right? So it doesn’t matter anymore, right?
Keep Your Promise
Courtship is supposed to last 120 years. Blessed is the couple that follows that sage advice from our Sages. Imagine a man and a woman who — decades later — are still making a point to behave just as they did when they first met — speaking nicely, looking good, being thoughtful, kind, and considerate! They are true to their advertisement of themselves: “this is what you’ll get when you get me.” How happy they must be.
Indeed, the closer we stay to the promise we offered, the happier we will all be. Did you try your best to look great back then? Then do it every day now as well. Were you careful to comport yourself with dignity and respect? Then do it every day now as well. (Of course, if someone agrees to marry you when you showed up wearing unkempt clothing, sporting messy hair, and making rude noises — then I suppose you can carry on that way now as well, too.)
Maintaining standards of attractiveness throughout marriage is important. Of course it takes more effort to do so than to let everything go. But this is nothing new: successful outcomes in learning, business, parenting, and every other aspect of life are linked to some sort of effort. There are consequences for slacking off in marriage just as in any other part of life. But most importantly, there are rewards for continued effort — in This World and in the World to Come.