Many say they must first see a photo, others say absolutely not, and some don’t care – or at least don’t care enough to make a big deal of it. There are two issues here at play, and I will analyze one at a time: 1) The halachik or chasidishkeit aspect of it, and 2) The psychological aspect.
1) As a Lubavitcher seeking to act in a manner the Rebbe would approve of, simply ask yourself “what would the Rebbe say?”. To me it’s obvious the Rebbe wouldn’t want singles sending pictures to each other – even if done through an intermediary. I can’t imagine how anyone who is familiar with any of the Rebbe’s teachings could think otherwise.
If it’s the parents who want to see a picture, then to you I say the following: If your child did not demand to see a photo, he or she is doing the right thing. Aren’t you embarrassed to be more (openly) shallow than your child? Besides, this is a subjective issue, and you could be turning down suggestions who aren’t to your “taste”, even though they can be perfectly acceptable to your child. Don’t try and live vicariously through your child, especially at a time when you should be allowing him or her to become independent and make independent decisions.
Some singles will respond saying they aren’t yet holding on such a level, or the times are changing, “so what do you want from me now”? Simple: Nobody is saying to marry the person without seeing him or her, you’ll see them soon enough when you go out. I understand that we all have our shortcomings, ta’avos, and we aren’t all perfect beinonim of Tanya, but it doesn’t excuse us to broadcast them to the general public. True, you may have to “waste” a few hours one evening when even from the moment you see them you know it’s not shayach, but is it not worth it to save another Jew from embarrassment? Ahavas Yisroel doesn’t mean you have to marry someone despite not being attracted to them, but at least be as sensitive and kind as possible while turning someone down. And they certainly do not need to be informed it’s because of something over which they have little control.
Others will say “even if mitzad the chassidishkeit aspect I would be willing to forgo seeing a picture, however, it costs hundreds of dollars to fly for a meeting, how can you expect me to pay that when I don’t even know what she looks like?” That brings us to the psychological aspect, which is of course applicable even to those who do not need to fly to another city or country in order to meet a potential shidduch.
2) As a necessary condition to being mature enough for marriage, one must be able to choose the right partner. To properly choose a compatible partner, you must be able to assess your compatibility objectively. This doesn’t require a high level of chassidishkeit – anyone who wants a happy marriage should be able to realize this and act accordingly.
We only meet after doing a lot of research because we do not want to be charmed into feelings of compatibility when there really isn’t any, or conversely, to not be turned off to a truly compatible partner based on superficiality without first really getting to know them. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons secular marriages are failing nowadays. In the secular world people only date a particular person because of a good feeling towards the other, whether it stems from looks, charm etc., and not because of any logical compatibility. Things that truly matter are glossed over because they’re seeing through rose-colored lenses. Superficiality is the cause of their meeting and foundation of the relationship, and that’s why it’s so prevalent that they’re doomed from the outset.
A similar phenomenon applies to even just seeing a picture. When you see a picture, you will automatically make a judgement about the person based on what you see in front of you, and the person it is most difficult to persuade to change their opinion once they’ve passed judgement, is yourself. There are three possible reactions to seeing the picture:
1) A good feeling towards the person, and a desire for things to progress. Remember that nagging issue that made you hesitant to go ahead with the shidduch? Funny how it doesn’t bother you so much after seeing their picture. Hopefully in that case you’ll realize when you meet in person that you aren’t compatible. But there is no guarantee, and these feelings can easily last for the duration of the 7 – 10 dates until engagement, and they can also affect how you process new information you receive as the dates go on . True, there is no guarantee you won’t be similarly affected once you meet in person, but it’s less likely being that there will not have been that moment when you consciously put on that rose-colored pair of glasses. And, you can at least be somewhat reassured by the fact that you decided to meet this person solely based on your perception that the two of you are compatible. There is also the possibility they don’t look as good in person, which can instantly give you a negative attitude towards them – even if they would have been “good enough” had you met without seeing the picture – due to their not meeting your expectation.
As a side note, I’d like to mention that for similar reasoning you shouldn’t do fun activities for dates – at least not the first few. You don’t want the enjoyment of the activity to give you artificial feelings of compatibility. Of course there must be hamshachas ha’lev, but that determination should be made once you’ve already decided you’re compatible in all other areas that matter, because it’s extremely difficult to make that decision objectively once there is hamshachas ha’lev.
2) A feeling of indifference towards the person – not particularly positive and not particularly negative. Even if you do go through with setting up a meeting, and the person really is a good match, it can be difficult to decide to marry because you’ve already determined that the person doesn’t give you feelings of elation. The problem is you made that decision even before meeting, and you did not give a fair chance to the possibility you’d have felt differently had you judged the whole package at once, which is only possible in person.
3) A Negative attitude towards the person i.e. “no chance I’d marry him/her”, and the decision to not meet. The problem with this is a) there is still the possibility, however slight, you’d have felt differently had you met in person, and b) you didn’t know they’d be in this category when you requested the picture, and they could have just as easily been in the first two categories I mentioned – and most people are.
If you don’t have to pay for expensive traveling to meet, then there’s no excuse to request a picture. The worst that can happen is you’ll waste a few hours on a date you know is going nowhere. That’s certainly better than landing in the above-mentioned pitfalls, not to mention the real possibility of embarrassing another Jew when it’s easy enough to avoid it. However, even if you do have to pay for hefty travel expenses, I’d like to put it in perspective: You’ll spend many thousands of dollars on your wedding IY”H, so why wouldn’t you spend a little extra on something even more important – making the best possible choice of whom to marry? If you want to save money, don’t spend a lot on dates. There’s no reason to spend so much money on someone you may not even marry. It’s better to save that money and spend it on your wife.
P.S. I’m a 23-year-old bochur, and I do not live in N.Y., so I can speak to those who do have to pay for travel. See you in the comments!