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JewishJournal.com

May 4, 2010

Fish in a Barrel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/fish_in_a_barrel_20100504

A year ago, I decided to sign up for an online dating service.

Don’t bother calling my wife — she already knows.

At the time, jewishjournal.com was considering many different avenues to expand its online and print singles market, and I wanted to see for myself how the sites worked and the audiences they attracted.

But how do you sign up on a dating site if you don’t want to date? It’s not like I thought the second my profile appeared, the hordes of eager women vying to e-mail me would crash the Internet, but I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time.

My solution was to create a profile of a single Jewish man so unattractive, so unappealing, so heinous, that not a woman in the world would be tempted.  I clicked the boxes that put me at grossly out of shape. I listed myself as an unemployed and uneducated. For average income I clicked the lowest number they offered — less than $15,000 a year. 

Under “Willing to relocate?” I wrote “No.” “Do you want children?”  “No.” I wrote that I drink regularly, smoke “frequently,” and the word my closest friends would use to describe me best is “dull.”

The coup de grace, I figured, was the box asking me to give the best possible pitch for myself.  Here’s what I wrote:

Older man seeks woman. I live an hour from L.A. and don’t have a car, but the right woman would figure it out.

Ladies, take a number!

I figured a profile like that would allow me to explore how these Web sites work, without attracting the attention of a single searching female.

Within a week, I had a dozen e-mails.

Jewish women — mostly professional, all of them far more attractive than my avatar —  asked to get in touch. Every day I checked my in box to find that someone thought, “We may be a match.”

I asked a single woman friend of mine how my ad could possibly have generated anything other than a visit from a County Mental Health professional.

She asked me what age range I listed.  I said 25-45.

“I bet the women who responded were all between 40 and 45,” she said.

I nodded. 

“Yup,” she sighed. “There aren’t a lot of choices out there.”

The fact that Sunday is Mother’s Day got me thinking back about my foray into the reality of modern Jewish dating. There are too many wonderful Jewish women out there who want to be mothers, who could and should be mothers, but who can’t seem to find the right guy.  It’s a deeply personal loss for them, but also a loss for us, their fellow members of the Tribe.

I’m not one of those hysterics who believe the Jewish people is dying out or dissolving into intermarriage and assimilation. In a week where the actress Sandra Bullock — not a Jew— announced that she had a mohel circumcise her newborn son, it’s clear Judaism still has much to offer this world.  But as much as I am impressed by how the core values and rituals of Judaism resonate in the larger culture, I realize that Judaism without Jews, while a distant possibility, is not as desirable or sustainable as Judaism with Jews. For that, we need Jewish mothers.

But Jewish women face this enormous challenge on the way to becoming mothers: finding the right man.  The odds are not in their favor, and time and biology conspire against them. I asked an attractive, single 40-year-old woman if Internet dating has made it easier to find the right guy.

“Sure,” she said. “But it’s also made it easier to find a lot more of the wrong ones.”

Religious and nonreligious Jewish communities have devised numerous programs — from speed dating to good old yenta-intensive matchmaking —  to try to solve this problem, but we all know it persists. The only people who seem to benefit from it are Jewish men, who, frankly, have a lot less competition. I know unmarried 50-year-old shlubs who paw like finicky housecats through unlimited JDate profiles of attractive, accomplished women aged 35-40.

One divorced friend of mine has a sensitive way of describing it.

“It’s like dating fish in a barrel,” he said.

Men hold almost all the cards here. Many Jewish women who want to get married and have children will not find a Jewish man — that’s a fact. But I don’t see why we accept that fact as fate.

A few years ago, I wrote in this space that one solution was to sanction interdating — encourage Jewish women to find non-Jewish men interested in both love and marriage who might, at some point, convert. That vastly deepens the dating pool (not to mention the gene pool), and, among other benefits, injects a lot more competition into the system. It may not have been the ideal solution, but it struck me then — and still does now — to be better than the all-too-common alternative: no husband, no kids.

Those who oppose the idea say it will lead to intermarriage and, therefore, assimilation.  It’s an argument that has its parallels in the immigration debate: Those of us who want to see comprehensive immigration reform believe that offering a “path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants will ultimately enrich our country and encourage people to become good Americans.  In that sense, maybe the interdating idea is better than not-so-bad.  Maybe it’s the way to increase our numbers and the happiness of unmarried Jewish woman.

Why not create a “path to Jewishness” that begins with dating?  Interdating has existed for centuries, in reality; why not codify, organize and condone it?  The alternative isn’t just fewer Jews, it’s more loneliness.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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