December 8, 2005
A Single Problem
I have a perfect record in setting up my friends on dates: I have struck out every single time. I am 0 for 20, maybe worse. Only one relationship that I tried to initiate made it past the first date. That one lasted for four years and ended in tears, anguish and confusion. The only thing those two friends agreed on in the end is they would never accept my offer to set them up again with anyone, ever.
Two years ago, the last time I tried to set a friend up, I called her Sunday morning to see how Saturday night went. There was a pause on her end of the line. "Do you," she said, "even know me?"
The problem is, I know far more wonderful Jewish single women than men. They are in their 30s and 40s, ready and eager to marry and start a family. They are smart, accomplished professionals. They have good senses of humor. They range from attractive to drop-dead gorgeous, from economically independent to loaded. And this is all they want: a nice, eligible Jewish guy in his late 30s or 40s.
No big deal? Judging from their experiences, such a creature is as rare as a Narnian efreet.
I know that on a sociological level, this oft-discussed problem has consequences far beyond one woman's thwarted desires. The Jewish population is in decline, and our inability to breed at least at a replacement level is the usual suspect.
The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, conducted by United Jewish Communities, revealed that more than one-half of American Jewish men and more than one-third of American Jewish women ages 25-34 are not married.
Even among Orthodox Jews, who are far more likely to marry younger and bear more children, the numbers of unmarried Orthodox adults today are far higher than they were several decades ago.
Compared to other Americans, Jewish women marry later, and are more likely to be childless. In all, 42 percent of the Jewish adult population is single, and 30 percent of Jewish households are single-dwellings.
These statistics are the fodder for so much expert debate and the inspiration for every kind of singles outreach from SpeedDating to Friday Night Live to the upcoming round of holiday-themed "young single" parties. (Ten years ago, those parties were advertised to 20- and 30-somethings. Now I see the age has crept up to 40- and early 50-somethings.)
But I see the problem on a much more personal level every week. My friends want to find someone. The dating game gets old. The war stories, like all war stories, are better savored from the vantage point of the victor. At a certain point, the Howard Stern factor kicks in. A successful Jewish man in his 50s can date 20- or 30-year-olds. So the options for a Jewish woman in her early 40s grow ever more narrow.
I don't know why that is. My sense is that finding the right mate has always been difficult: see any Shakespeare comedy, see all chick lit, read any Singles column in this paper any given week.
Being Jewish makes it more difficult -- naturally -- because the pool is smaller (I didn't say "more shallow").
But that is the dilemma, and it is not going away on its own, or through holding fast or promoting orthodoxies that, in this day and age, have built-in limitations on their appeal.
One way to expand the pool is to pursue conversion. Numerous studies have shown that religion in the home is the woman's domain: if she wills it, it is no dream. Synagogues, community and educational centers and Jewish leadership should offer all the resources and support at their disposal to a woman committed to Jewish life who enters into a relationship with a non-Jew. The acceptance and joy she finds in her faith will embrace her children and her spouse as well. Free counseling, loads of useful materials on the Web, even drop-in centers will help turn what we are conditioned to think of as loss into opportunity. The Reform movement's new emphasis on conversion in interfaith relationships (see page 18) is a major and welcome step in this direction.
As for the rest of us, in this season of giving, resolve to give a single friend the gift of one blind date this year. One good fix-up for each person on your list. Do it --because Lord knows I can't.
Last month I attended a wedding in Westwood. The bride and groom met on JDate. Evidently, on JDate, you get messages from people who read your online profile and are interested, but you also see the e-mails of people who've checked you out and passed. The bride read the profile of one such man. He had read about her, seen her picture, and decided she wasn't the one.
"I saw you saw my profile," she e-mailed him soon after, "and decided not to contact me. You're making a big mistake." By waiting for some fantasy digital woman to drop into his inbox, he was missing out on an opportunity to get to know someone real and terrific.
Impressed by her chutzpah, he e-mailed her back. They went to Hawaii on their honeymoon.
The moral of this story is twofold. One: Jewish men should realize they are missing out on plenty of wonderful women. And two: Amid the dry and bleak statistics, there's can still be a happily ever after....