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To be Single and Jewish and Female in the Internet Age

She has been on so many dates that she’s starting to think she has exhausted all of the single Jewish men in Chicago in their 20s and early 30s. “My biggest fear is that I’m going to be set up with someone that I’ve already been set up with.”

Indeed, Cindy Urman’s concern is not entirely unfounded. The 24-year old, who works as an entertainment P.R. associate, is regularly set up on blind dates. She attends singles parties thrown by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF). She has posted her profile on Jdate {www.Jdate.com), the largest online Jewish dating site. And she once attended a session of SpeedDating, where she rotated through seven potential dates in one evening. Even so, Urman says the pickings are slim and the proceedings sometimes grim. “Eighty-five percent of the time, the men are not what I want.” So she’s relaxing her criteria for a mate to include men in their mid-tolate-30s.

Feminism has brought with it an unprecedented independence for women. Women marry later, move to communities away from their families, and have the ability to be economically self-sufficient. All of these factors contribute to the freedom women have to choose a mate, but may also have added to the difficulty of finding venues to meet that ideal partner.

Modern Matchmaking

The Jewish community certainly has not lagged in its invention of modern methods to match Jewish singles. After all, Jewish ritual stresses marriage as the central event of a Jew’s life and young, single, heterosexual Jewish women are especially primed to continue the Jewish faith. The yenta may be dying out, but one need only skim Jewish papers around the nation to find the yenta’s substitute: singles events with names like Matchmaking Marathon, Matzah Ball and Utopia Jewish Singles Events.

Singles events make no pretense about their purpose, nor do those who can afford to pay up to $ 125 to attend them. Strictly heterosexual, these events ostensibly remove the questions of whether he is single or coupled, Jewish or non-Jewish, gay or straight. Many also remove the initial awkwardness of approach. In addition to the much-hyped SpeedDating technique. Matchmaking Marathon dispatches professional matchmakers to facilitate meetings. And at Jewish singles parties, as at old-fashioned college mixers, participants often drink in order to loosen up.

For those like me, a 25-year-old New York writer, or Amy Lewis, a 32-year-old elementary school teacher, who say we would never set foot in an event labeled “singles,” there are activities planned by Jewish community and cultural centers, synagogues, and “young leaders” divisions of Jewish philanthropies and arts organizations. While not explicitly targeted to them, such activities are often swarming with young, single Jews. In fact, 1 have a confession to make. I met my boyfriend at a Jewish Community Center literary reading. And Amy Lewis met her husband at a Sukkot hike sponsored by Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue. While neither of us was particularly looking at the time, we both struck up interesting conversations with single Jewish men with whom we exchanged phone numbers at the end of the event.

From Fear to Boldness

There’s a perception among some young Jews that limiting one’s dating to the Jewish community makes things safer and easier Maybe that’s why 200 attractive young men and women turned up last spring for one of Utopia Events’ biweekly parties for young New York Jewish singles. Pick-up lines and phone numbers were passed freely. One couple spent the evening making out as if they were at a high school dance. Three female friends traveled in from New Jersey with high hopes; at the only other Utopia Events party they attended, they ail met men they dated for months. One of the women was still dating, but accompanied her friends to the party “just to look.”

Cindy Urman admits that Chicago’s JUF-sponsored singles parties are “meat markets.” “I don’t feel a sense of community, because it’s every woman for herself out there. We’re all competing for the same guys.” Yet Cindy continues to go. “It makes it easier to know that any guy I meet there is going to be Jewish.”

What’s amazing is that the shame and fear that used to exist around placing personal ads, attending singles parties, and meeting people on the Internet have faded over the years among women of all ages. “I used to think that people who used online Jewish dating services or who went to Jewish singles events must be desperate,” says Cindy. “Now I see these services as vehicles for meeting people who are committed to finding someone Jewish.”

“More people are willing these days’ to go to singles gatherings, confirms Angele Zebley, 29, who works at Utopia Events. Rather than viewing the Internet as competition, Zebley adds, “Online dating services have taken away the stigma from the dating scene.”

The Jewish Bridget Jones Type

Both the feminist movement and the Internet allow women to be more assertive about “just looking.” While romantic movies starring females swept off their feet by a dream partner still draw tears from women, most recent films depict women taking matters into their own hands. The recent hit novel (and movie) Bridget Jones’s Diary shows the anti-heroine pursuing more than one man at a time to determine which one will last. Bridget Jones is supposed to typify the independence of the 21stcentury female, as evidenced by this personal ad that ran recently in New York magazine: “Bridget Jones Type—Without the British accent. Jewish professional, 48, female, seeks smart down-to-earth professional gentleman for whatever.”

In April, the New York Times launched a Sunday personals section with its own SJFs (Single Jewish Females). Why now? Because love, or the search for it, is a guaranteed source of advertising revenue, the one thing that can be counted on to weather the storms of political movements, cultural fads, and dot-com downturns.

Logging On

Personal ads, however, are no longer the way of the thoroughly modern single. Internet dating sites are the place to go to find the largest pool of single men out there. Despite persistent rumors of a man shortage, recent U.S. census data show that single men in their 30s outnumber single women. Of the 50,985 Jewish-identified members on Match.com {www.match.com), one of the largest online dating sites, 51.2% are male.

Until she logged on to Match.com, where she eventually met her husband, Monica Lasky, a 34-year old lawyer living in Chicago, assayed many of the ploys that young women are encouraged to try. She took pottery and Latin dance classes, joined a hiking club and volunteered for political campaigns. While Monica enjoyed the activities, “in terms of meeting people, it was exhausting—and not very efficient.” After being set up by her mother and her mother’s friends on “godawful” dates, including one that began with a phone conversation in which the man asked for her dress size, Monica finally decided to take matters into her own hand—and into the present day. “I found I was able to do far better on the Internet, setting myself up”

One of the biggest present-day obstacles facing singles is lack of time. And that’s exactly why online dating sites are so popular, says Fran Greene, Director of Flirting and Dating for Match.com. “You can log on in sweatpants and fuzzy slippers at 11 p.m.” L

What’s a ”Dating Resume”?

Match.com’s website adds that its online dating service offers “viable solutions” for singles. Cindy speaks of the “pool of qualified candidates” at singles events as well as her “dating skills.” All of this talk of efficiency, qualification, and skill makes it sound like dating has become a job hunt rather than the hunt for a soul mate. In fact, Fran Greene’s advice is to “approach finding love as you would the job of your dreams.” Taking on the tone of a human resources executive, Greene adds, “You should never leave your search up to chance.”

“Waiting makes me frustrated,” says Cindy Urman, “so I try to hurry it along.” Cindy created her Jdate profile to stand out, in the same way that a job seeker writes a punchy cover letter to catch the attention of her potential employer. In response to the question, “What do you expect from a relationship?” Cindy’s profile reads, “I expect to be treated like the goddess of the Jewish religion that I am.”

Monica Lasky, when asked to choose a tagline for her Match.com profile, described herself as a “Smart, Sexy, Savvy SPF, Vibrant & Vivacious, Seeking Fellow Traveler for Adventure in Chicago and Beyond.” Monica’s husband, Jonathan, was drawn to her profile because she listed interests similar to his—progressive politics, intellectual conversation, ethnic food, and travel— and so he began an e-mail exchange that quickly led to a first coffee date. On the third date, Monica met Jonathan’s dog, Cassady, the inspiration for his online name, “anon.Cassady18.” One year later, Jonathan proposed to Monica in the same cafe where they spent that first date. (Note: Even in the Internet age, it was the guy who proposed marriage.)

Narrowing Down

But even if the woman is in charge, how does an online romantic narrow down the immense possibilities, especially since everyone online presents him-or herself as desirable? When Cindy Urman processes a search on Jdate for a Chicago man who fits her basic criteria, Jdate brings her 413 eligible men. Monica Lasky received an “overwhelming” number of responses to her Match.com profile, so she created a form rejection letter, which began, “Thank you for taking the time to respond to my profile. I appreciate your interest.” Some women claim that it’s easy to do an initial screening because many men who respond to postings are obviously inappropriate, either because of their age or geographic location.

After narrowing down her two-week search based on location, Jewish observance, and commitment to a long-term relationship, one woman said she found seven men. She was attracted to one man’s profile because he had posted a photograph of himself with his bubbe. “I knew that he must respect the women in his family and that his family was important to him.” Another woman checked for spelling mistakes. Cindy pays attention to how much effort it appears a man put into writing his profile, and she favors wit. Monica Lasky was drawn to the “playful tone” of husband Jonathan’s profile.

In general, these dating profiles seem to work best when both men and women post their photographs, and many women report getting no responses without a photograph. But beware of fraud. Nina Judd, who used to administer the Boulder Jewish Singles Profiles, a nonprofit dating service in Colorado run by the Boulder Jewish Community Center, warns, “So many people in Boulder like dogs that one person borrowed a friend’s dog for the picture!”

Over 50

After searching profiles on Jdate, Judy Fish, a 58-year-old divorced woman in South Florida, chose seventeen men who met her criteria. None of the six men who responded would agree to communicate further unless she uploaded her photograph, which she did. Judy then went on a date with a man who, it turned out, had posted a photo taken ten years ago. “I wanted to write back and say ‘What chutzpah! Do you think you’re some god?'”

Anne Kohn, a social worker and former singles coordinator at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan, speculates that “finding a job might be easier than finding a partner,” especially for older women. Judy has few opportunities to date because she works full time and looks after her mother, whom she moved to Florida to live with. Judy posted her profile on Jdate in January. So far, no men’ have responded.

“It’s hardest for women in their 50s and above,” says Anne Kohn, who had difficulties planning singles events at B’nai Jeshurun for older men and women. “Men don’t want to be pegged into that age group

” But Leslie, 54, disagrees. A lecturer at an Ivy League university, she reports that she had no problems meeting men of her age online. “There were days I had a lunch date and a dinner date, with two different men.” Leslie recently married a man she met on Goodgenes.com, an online dating site for faculty and graduates of Ivy League and other top-ranked schools. Leslie’s is a classic Internet success story. She narrowed down her search to focus on certain desirable characteristics but “tried to be open to meeting even those men I thought were imperfect matches.” One of the characteristics she remained flexible about was geography. Her husband lived 430 miles away, and her chances of meeting him through any other medium were obviously pretty slim.

Face to Face vs The ‘Net

Does modern dating—with its anonymous parties and Internet sites listing dozens of criteria and encouraging faceless communication— lead to unrealistic romanticizing? Yes, says Nancy Slotnick, founder of Drip, the Manhattan coffee bar that helps people make a match. “You need to meet to know eighty percent about a person; otherwise, there’s a tendency to idealize.” Fran Greene doesn’t think so. “Online dating services are a godsend. They enable you to fall in love from the inside out.” However, Greene does encourage users of online dating services to make their transitions quickly from online to phone to in-person communication, relenting, “Not meeting in person quick enough can lead to false intimacy.”

One woman—we’ll call her Susan—had been set up on countless dates by friends and family, but always found it awkward to explain to each well-meaning matchmaker why “their half-brother or grandson whom they obviously thought adorable was not good enough.” That’s when she turned to Jdate. After going on thirteen dates in two weeks, during which the staff at the local Starbucks came to know her well, Susan became an expert at the quick and efficient date. Her tactic? She recommends that you plan to meet only for a short time, like a half an hour, on a first date. This way, you have a built-in excuse if the date doesn’t go well.

Obviously, there are certain safety concerns to keep in mind when meeting someone that you’ve been corresponding with online. “You have the rest of your life to be alone together,” says Greene, so the first time “meet in a public space and let someone know when and where you’re meeting.”

Give Love A Chance
Most singles cite fear as the biggest obstacle to meeting someone, and New York City is perceived as an especially difficult place to date “There’s this idea that there’s always something better, someone else,” says Deborah, 31. “People find one little thing that they use as an excuse. I know I do it.” Deborah, who has an active social life, has never had problems finding a date. Through the Softball team at Makor, the New York cultural center for Jews in their 20s and 30s, Deborah dated five men. “This one man was nice, attentive, attractive, and a great kisser. But two or three times, he said things that were really ignorant, and I was turned off completely.

“A huge roadblock for singles today is that they are too exacting about what they want,” says Fran Greene. Her advice is to be more flexible. “You might have a stereotype that you won’t date someone who’s divorced, but it happens. Everyone has their own story.”

Nina Judd says she ended up being “like a mother” to many of the people using Boulder’s Jewish Singles Profiles, a dating service that allows paying members to search in person through hard-copy profile books of other members. For a time, Nina ran the service out of her house, where “sometimes I’d be cooking dinner and the singles, who were often lonely, would ask my advice,” A lot of the singles that she met, especially women, were embarrassed to attend singles events and found online dating services too anonymous. Nina says her motherly touch acted “as a buffer.”

Drip

“The first hardest task for anyone who is single is finding a place to meet people,” says Fran Greene. “Everyone thinks of New York as a huge city,” agrees Amy Lewis, “but the truth is that people do not usually leave their eight- to ten-block radius.” The second hardest thing, continues Greene, is “once I’m in the venue, how do I do it?”

Nancy Slotnick, 34, got the idea for Drip in 1996 when she was single and searching, unsuccessfully, for places conducive to meeting someone. “A lot of people go to bars but don’t walk up to someone that they’ve been checking out,” says Slotnick. “Drip’s designed to mitigate that.” In fact, the name Drip does not refer to that last drop of coffee, but to the feeling of awkwardness sometimes experienced by single people on the lookout. “Everyone feels like a drip when they’re dating,” says Slotnick.

Drip charges you $10 to add a personal profile to the dozens of binders scattered around the cafe. They are labeled Men for Women, Women for Men, Women for Women, and Men for Men. Once you’ve selected a potential partner from the binders. Drip’s staff does all the work for you. They find out if the other person is interested in you, then schedule a time for the two of you to meet at Drip or at one of Drip’s affiliate cafes, now opening in cities around the Northeast. Slotnick; didn’t originally have a place for the 31,000 singles who have completed Drip’s profile to indicate religion or religious preference in a mate. But Jews went ahead and drew Stars of David on their forms. “Matchmaking is in our culture,” says Slotnick. “Everyone who has a Jewish mother has been set up on a blind date.”

The Persistence of those Stereotypes

In fact, the stereotypes that Jewish men have about Jewish women and vice versa seem to be more persistent than the stereotypes about singles on the lookout as desperate or crazy. “I see two kinds of Jewish men,” says Deborah, 31, who hasn’t dated a Jewish man since college. “Short, balding, husky guys with dark hair and glasses. Nice, but nerdy and totally unattractive. Then you’ve got the tall skinny guy who’s also nerdy but who plays on a basketball team. He thinks he’s cool because he’s tall. Investment banker types.”

Men are angry at women for not giving them a chance,” admitted Anne Kohn, the former singles’ program coordinator who now leads intimacy workshops. “And women feel like men are seeking a certain look and don’t give them a chance.” And no matter that the method of meeting may be very 21st Century, after the two of you decide to date, the serious “relationship work” is not much different from what it was in the pre- Internet era. (A little tougher, maybe, because you probably don’t have friends in common to buttress your judgements of one another) After the first flush of intimacy, say experts involved with the \ decades-old “Making Marriage Work” program at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, you still have to decide what’s important to you beyond what you’ve each listed in the online resume: Can you actually stand being alone indoors together on a rainy day? Is this particular human being your beshert (intended)? “Even a breakup can count as a success,” says one counselor who works with couples, if it brings you closer to knowing what you really want—or don’t want—in your significant other.

Anything Can Happen
Despite her impatience, Cindy, who never lets a dating opportunity pass her by, admits that “Ultimately, it’s out of your hands. There are all of these options, but you still need old-fashioned chemistry.” Cindy thinks that in her parents’ generation, “there were so many more opportunities to meet someone.” With the advent of personals, online dating, and singles events, it seems that there are more venues to meet someone today, but it’s harder to be discriminating. In Fran Greene’s opinion, “Finding true love has not changed. What has changed is the way people are used to meeting people.” “I’ll probably end up marrying someone I meet on the street,” Cindy banters. That’s no joke. Nancy Slotnick, who has built her empire around matching people, this summer married a man she met on a street corner. “We made eye contact and started talking as if we knew each other.” In the 21st Century, anything can happen. Even love at first sight, and in real time.

Rebecca Metzger is a poet and writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y.


Meeting your Bashert

by Rebecca Metzger

Bumping into your bashert (or “intended”) on the street doesn’t happen to everyone. Here are some ways you can take matters into your own Hands.

Online Dating Services open the pool up to those outside your immediate geographic area, allow easy searching and communication 24 hours a day, help you narrow down your choices, and provide more information than personals ads. Try the following dating sites: www.jdate.com; www.matcti.com (can specify whether you are looking for a Jewish partner) www.jqs.com; www.jewish.com/personals

Jewish Community Centers and Synagogues sometimes offer discreet matchmaking services, but you won’t know until you ask. Alternately, sign up for a sports team, a class, or a lecture (You never know what might happen.

Get Away on vacation with a group of Jewish singles. Club Getaway (www.clubgetaway.com] offers a weekend at their Kent, CT camp called Bagels and Jocks. J-Walking bills itself as “exotic adventures” for Jewish singles (www.jwalking.com).

Go Public. Ask your friends to set you up. Hang out at your neighborhood’s various cafes, museums and bookstores. Allow the chemistry to happen. (Amy didn’t meet anyone through Drip’s dating service, but she DID get a date after striking up a conversation in Drip’s cafe)

  • Want role models? You can view the “True Story of How Monica and Jonathan Met,” including copies of their online profiles, photographs, and initial e-mail exchange, at www.monicaandjonathan.com.
  • Find out the male-per-female ratio in any geographic area from the 2000 U.S. Census website at www.census.gov. Just click on Fact Finders and enter your address.
  • Want some dating advice? Check out “Frankly Fran” at www.matchscene.com or “Ask Your Lovecoach” at www.lovecoach.com.

The Man Who Came to Dinner

by Rachel Kranson

I was introduced to the man I married right in my own apartment, not through the Internet or at a big party, but in a way that seems almost quaint in this dotcom age.

Here’s how it happened: We (a small group of New York women in our twenties) used to have regular pot-luck Shabbat dinners. What mattered was not necessarily the ritual—some people would continue to hang out at the apartment after dinner and others would go to the movies, or dancing— but the fact that people were meeting one another, and having actual conversations instead of screaming over the music at some bar The snowball principle was in effect at these gatherings. We would invite over some friends, always letting them know that they could bring whomever they wanted—it didn’t even matter if we had enough chairs. Some of the people would inevitably invite us back to dinner at their apartments, and then their friends would invite us over as well. Pretty soon, we had our own fluid community of eligibles, all eating (usually) delicious homemade food and talking in the most heimisch and comfortable of environments.

My partner was a friend of a friend; he came over for dinner one Friday night, and never really left.


Continuity? or Jewish Interruptus?

by Rebecca Metzge

For those young Jews who can’t afford the cost of wine-and-cheese gatherings or large dance parties with liquor and music, or for those who are not heterosexual or just not interested, the Jewish community doesn’t seem to have much to offer. For all the recent talk of continuity, young Jews interested in Judaism as a religion or culture, rather than in Jewish marriage as an end in itself, will find only the occasional class, lecture, activist group or cultural event. Those who do not fit into the category of young professional lawyer, banker or doctor often say they feel they live on the periphery of the agendas of organizations like Federation, whose young professional groups do not include a place for artists or activists and whose costs can be prohibitive.

Even for those on so-called professional tracks, the cost of singles events in one’s early career is no small cash. At 24, Cindy Urman admitted to having to budget carefully in order to afford the $40 Hanukah party thrown by JUF, but she consoled herself with the thought that her money goes to charity. Think again. Parties such as the one Urman attends are usually not raising money for charity but merely covering costs.

Danna Bodenheimer, a 26-year old New York Jewish lesbian who was once the president of her college Hillel, now says it is so hard to find venues to meet lesbians that further limiting her specifications to Jewish would make dating almost impossible. “I would prefer to meet a Jewish woman,” says Danna, whose many part-Jewish ex-girlfriends she met through friends, “though my parents would rather I meet a non-Jewish man.”

Do events like film screenings, softball games and lectures geared to young people really foster Jewish community involvement? Robin Gorman Newman, author of How to Meet a Mensch in New York, laughs when asked whether those featured in Kosher Meet, a documentary film that tracks the lives of young New York Jewish singles on the make, will continue their involvement In the Jewish community after they marry. Commenting on whether men who turn up every week to New York’s Hineini Torah study, classes at Alsh HaTorah and B’nal Jeshurun’s Shabbat services will continue to do so once they met their match, filmmaker Rebecca Raphael says,” For many people, a ring on the finger is the end of the torture of dragging themselves to these Jewish events.”


First Date Precautions

If you’ve never met her/him before, take precautions on a first date. Here are some suggestions from practiced online daters:

  • Do not get picked up at your home or office.
  • Arrange to meet in a public place.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you will be and when.
  • You do not have to give out your last name or phone number if you don’t want to, and you may want to block your phone number through caller identification.
  • Carry a cell phone, if you have one.
  • Plan for your first date to be short—as short as 30 minutes. You can always stay a little longer if there’s chemistry between you.
  • If you feel uneasy during your face-to-face meeting, leave by cab or by public transportation rather than on foot or in your own car.