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May 15, 2003

True Confessions of a JDate Addict

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/true_confessions_of_a_jdate_addict_20030516

Hi! My screen name is AMY (member no. XXXXXX) and I am a 32-year-old female and I am from VENICE, California, UNITED STATES.

My hair is DARK BROWN, my eyes are HAZEL BROWN. I am 5'3" (160 cm) tall. My body style is firm and toned. I am PHYSICALLY ACTIVE. I NEVER SMOKE and I DRINK SOCIALLY.

I am SINGLE (NEVER MARRIED) and I have NO CHILDREN.

I am CONSERVATIVE and I go to Synagogue SOMETIMES, and I keep Kosher TO SOME DEGREE.

I grew up in NEW YORK/JERUSALEM.

I am seeking a LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP.

I'd like to meet someone between the ages of 33 and 38.

I like DOGS.

I post the above information onto JDate.com, the largest Internet dating service for Jewish singles. It's been a year since I ended a two-year relationship I thought was "it," and I decide it's time to meet someone else.

But where? I am relatively new to Los Angeles -- one of the most solitary, lonely metropolises in America -- and "deciding" you are ready to date and actually finding someone to date are two different stories. In the year since I've moved here from Jerusalem via New York, I've met a few guys at synagogue, work events and random fix-ups, resulting in two short "dating episodes" that never made it to the relationship stage. Hardly promising, especially for someone about to turn 33.

I'm one of the 57 percent of Jewish women between the ages of 30 and 34 who have not had children -- compared to only 27 percent in the general population -- according to the 2002 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS). My friends and I are the reason Jews are not replacing themselves.

But it's more than the ominous statistics chiding career women to get busy; it's more than the parental pressure ("Anything interesting lately?" my father asks weekly, meaning men) and the community norms (most Jewish communities are focused on families). It's the creeping feeling that I can't just wait around for fate to intercede. Ayn somchin al haness, the Talmud says, meaning, "You shouldn't rely on a miracle."

It may take a miracle for me to get married, because like many of my single friends, we don't view "singledom" -- to borrow a phrase from singles' heroine Bridget Jones -- as a despicable state of being. Having watched our parents or our friends divorce or stay unhappily married, we're not sure that marriage is the optimal state. We fit somewhere between Jerry Seinfeld's eternally single and selfish crowd, and the women of "The Bachelor," the ABC reality dating show in which one eligible guy is surrounded with 25 beautiful women desperate to snag an engagement ring.

One day, when we meet the right guy, we'd like to get married. One day, when we're prepared to skip work because we were up all night with morning sickness, we'll be ready to start a family. One day, when we're financially secure and not running off skiing in Tahoe, partying in Vegas and lounging in the Caribbean, we're going to settle down.

But, as my father likes to remind me, "one day" might be sooner than I think.

"But JDate?" I ask my friend Julie in Jerusalem, incredulous. "You can't be serious -- that's like going to a matchmaker: it seems so ... desperate!" Julie says it's just another way of meeting people, and everyone is doing it. "Four of my friends have married people through JDate."

When I ask around, it seems like everyone -- acquaintances in San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, London, Melbourne -- is dating on the Internet or knows someone who is dating/engaged/married to someone they've met on the Internet.

So in April 2002, I sign up on JDate; with some 350,000 members, it's the most popular of the Jewish singles Web sites (others: Jcupid.com, jsingles.com, Frumster.com, JuJme.com). I choose a Jewish Web site over a general one like Match.com or Nerve.com, because I am so traditionally, culturally, psychologically and emotionally Jewish that I never seem to fit with anyone else. JDate boasts more than 1,000 marriages/engagements since its inception in 1997. The Internet might have been an economic disaster, but it's revolutionized interpersonal relationships, changing dating for better and for worse.

Over the next six months, I receive e-mails from more than 250 men, correspond with about 60, and date about 30 of them. JDating is like a parallel universe, a bustling underground populated by people whose online lives are nearly as demanding as their daily jobs. It requires constant e-mailing, instant messaging, phone calls, meetings, follow-up e-mailing, more meetings and, finally, the messy business of purging failed dates from the system -- and getting purged yourself. It's taking up all my time: I can't stop looking at the Web site. If dating is a numbers game, surely this will increase my odds.

According to the NJPS, there are more single Jewish men than women (30 percent of the guys are single vs. 22 percent of the women). But usually, it doesn't feel that way. Until now.

Displayed before me on my screen are dozens, no -- hundreds -- of single men. Single, Jewish men in Los Angeles. It's like going shopping. Blond men, short men, brooding guys and muscleheads. Who says that all Jews look alike? I go to the JDate home page, do a quick search ("30-35 year old, L.A., single/divorce, Conservative/Reform/Traditional") and presto! -- 500 pictures pop up.

Signing up on most singles sites is free, but if you want to contact someone, you have to subscribe (JDate is $23 to $28 per month). If you just want other subscribers to contact you, all you need to do is type in your screen name (samples: Superjewboy, Imustbenuts, badboyCEO, LovesLawyerin, or, most commonly, David) and list your age, marital status, profession, education, religious level, political views, languages spoken, musical tastes, cuisine preferred, physical activities, activities you enjoy, personality traits, pets, smoking and drinking habits and astrological signs. Easy, right? But what matters most -- just like in the real world -- is the picture.

When I see a picture I like, I click open the accompanying profile and read the basic information, but the best way to weed people out is through their personal essays. The topics:

1. More about me.

2. More about my perfect date.

3. This is what I consider a perfect first date.

4. My perception of an ideal relationship.

5. This is what I've learned from past relationships.

Most people are not Hemingway, and so their answers start to sound the same:

"I like to work out."

"I am equally comfortable going out to a nice restaurant or staying home and watching a video."

"My perfect first date would be where we click and don't want the night to end."

"My ideal relationship is one where we are best friends but can spend time apart."

"I've learned from my last relationship that communication is important."

Since I am a writer, I have to do better than that:

"This is what I consider a perfect first date. Anything better than my performance at the last one -- the guy picked me up at a bachelorette party. All the girls ran to the window to see who he was, and I was so embarrassed, I ran out of the place -- and I tripped and fell flat on my face. But it gets better: Turns out my father, who set me up, actually approached him at a shiva for his own father. So my perfect date would be lacking those two things. Maybe an activity -- Scrabble? Bookstore? Hike? Air hockey?"

I post a couple pictures, and within the first weekend I get 20 e-mails. The JDate e-mail format has a congratulatory tone, like you won the lottery:

Dear AMY,

Congratulations! A member of the JDate.com network, Michael (member no. XXXXXX), would like to contact you!

Michael wrote:

Hey there, Amy --

I'd love a wee bit of air hockey sometime.

Hoping this finds you well and happy --

Cheers,

Michael

I can immediately discount the obvious no-gos: the 45-year-old divorcee with three kids, the Orthodox ba'al teshuva (too religious for me), a man named "Goytoy" (JDate cannot guarantee that everyone is Jewish, and in fact, many non-Jews participate because they want to date Jews) and a doctor whose picture showed three cats crawling all over him. Yuck.

I hit the "decline contact" button for these people, who will receive a standard letter: "I looked at your profile, and I don't think that we'll make a good fit." Ten to go.

I click on Michael's profile, and as the basic information pops up, I wait for his picture to download. The moment of truth, like opening the door on a blind date. Whew! He seems attractive, but it's hard to tell in the thumbnail picture. A 37-year-old musician, Michael is kind of sitting back, his longish brown hair boyishly curling up to his white collar, as a smile cracks the corners of his mouth, impishly Tom Berenger-ish. He loves Scrabble and word games and over the next week we e-banter, exchanging cute puns (I check my e-mail every 7.2 minutes) until we finally exchange numbers. And because it's Los Angeles, and this is the second millennium, we are both too busy to meet for a few weeks until one Sunday, somehow, instead of meeting for air hockey, we meet for -- brunch.

The outdoor garden at the World Café is sunny and warm. Michael is wearing his white button-down shirt, but he's -- compact. Like a shorter, chubbier, more wrinkled version of his picture. Where is that languid, leonine grace I saw in his photo? If I squint, I can see the resemblance. As he tells me about the song he's writing, his take on religion and that he's spending more time on the East Coast with his nephews, my brain begins to wander -- I'm missing that zingy, sharp guy with the longer hair who I knew on e-mail.

This ain't him.

The whole ordeal with Michael has taken three weeks. At this rate, I'll never get through any of my messages, which have increased to about 50. I check periodically -- every half hour at work -- and there's more piling in.

But do different rules of etiquette apply to dating on the Internet than dating in the regular world? I ask around and sure enough, it turns out most people are e-mailing, speaking to or dating many people simultaneously.

So I start responding to the overflowing messages in my inbox.

There's Ari, a professor who, in sepia-toned photos, looks warm and ironic (he has one eyebrow raised). His profile says: "More about my perfect date: A highly evolved, compassionate Jewish woman bursting with joie de vivre, and blessed with profound beauty. Too much to ask for? OK, I'll settle for someone who is like me -- warm, empathic, smart and cute. All types may apply."

Could this be something special? I e-mail Ari that I'm a dark-haired Jewess! And he e-mails me, and I e-mail him, and how perfect is this? We attended the same summer camp. What a great story for our grandkids. I quickly make a Saturday night date for sushi (more food).

Without the sepia tones, Ari's tone (and I don't mean his skin color) is rather flat, and he's short, too. Oh, and by the way, he's not 39, but 43. And he's very eager to know everything about me: "What is your theory on love? Why did your parents divorce? How religious are you?"

I'd like to ask him questions but I can't remember his profile (Reform? Dogs? Divorced? Likes Chinese food?). Although he's kind, smart and Jewishly involved, he's too -- intense. He leans in to kiss me, and reflexively, I give him the cheek.

"Have you ever been out on more than one date?" my father asks. His not-so-subtle implication is a reproach: "You're too picky." I prefer the term "selective." When you reach a certain age, shouldn't you be able to ascertain fairly quickly what you like or what's good for you? I like to think that I'm actually getting better at the process.

So I don't call back Alan after our first conversation in which he discloses he saw "Lord of the Rings" twice, which is six hours too many. And I cancel on Brian, because I run into him a day before our date, and he is mean to the shopkeeper. I don't go out with Josh, because I realize we already went out once, but I hadn't recognized his picture. And I agree to go out with Eric, even though he lives in San Francisco, because he makes me laugh on the phone.

In person, Eric's hair is thinner than his photos, and, of course, he's shorter (is it only Jewish men who lie about their height?), but we're laughing until the middle of dinner, when I realize my tofu wrap is actually chicken, and I freak out about eating non-kosher.

"What's the big deal?" Eric says, and it turns out he's never even been bar mitzvahed.

You'd think that religion wouldn't be a big problem on JDate, since everyone is Jewish, and most people write that they'd date people from secular to Conservative or even Orthodox. But it's a different story in real time, for me, too: On another date, Seth said he "didn't know Shabbat was more than Friday night." How could you be Jewish in a major city and not know this? I can't date a secular Jew, even though I said I would on my profile.

Who cares? There are so many other guys to date: Daniel, a human rights advocate who is so skinny and frail he looks like he'll crumble if I cough. Jonathan, a Republican lawyer -- who turns out to be exactly that: politically incorrect. Steve, a computer programmer who writes me poetry online, but in his Hawaiian-print shirt and sneakers, turns out not to really be the poetic sort and is more interested in explaining the Internet to me as if it were 1995.

Some weeks go by in a dating haze. Adam? Two Davids? Marcus? I think I'm e-mailing a British doctor, but it's the Persian businessman; I confuse their stories ("Didn't you say you were from Philadelphia?" "You mean, you're not an orphan?"). Meanwhile, I plot all my free time around first phone calls, first dates, second dates, e-mailing new people, etc.

But eventually, the merry-go-round is no longer exhilarating; it's just tiring. In the real world of dating, the wide-eyed 19-year-old soon grows into a practical 35-year-old -- but online, maturation occurs much faster, and cynicism sets in quicker, too. ("He just started JDating," one veteran JDater tells me about a newbie who is meeting two girls in one night and e-mailing six more. "Just wait, he'll calm down in a couple of months.")

Aaron is the first JDate I really like -- one of the first times I'm not forcing it to get through the evening. What's so different about him? Is it that he's my physical type? Or is it that we are at a black-tie event? The candlelit room, the attentive waiters and the alcohol add an aura of romance. Aaron tells me his Internet dating adventures.

"Everybody lies," Aaron says. "That's why I don't bother reading profiles anymore."

"You didn't read my profile?" I squawk, outraged. Here I thought we had all this chemistry, that he was responding to my clever profile, that he was interested in me. "So you just went by my --?"

"Looks," he says. "I liked your picture. Cheers." He downs his martini and takes my hand. I don't know what to say to this. But I agree to go out with him the following night.

A word about sex and JDating: As in the real world, it happens. Sometimes it happens on the third date, sometimes on the first one -- even on JDate there are people online only interested in one thing, and they usually type in: "I am looking for A FRIEND." There's no real difference between picking someone up at a bar or hooking up with someone you meet online, except with the latter, you have a false sense of security that you won't catch a disease or get raped because, after all, this is JDate. But just because someone can spell and went to a Reform temple, doesn't mean that you know him or can trust him.

Suddenly I'm back in the real world of dating. Aaron doesn't e-mail and doesn't call. I'm no longer the confident, brazen woman of profile No. XXXXXX who isn't dependent on one guy, because she has 20 guys wanting to go out with her. I'm my old self, waiting for the phone to ring and also stuck checking my e-mail.

I return to my inbox -- not that I ever left -- but my heart isn't really in it. Why hasn't Aaron called?

"People are just not accountable on Internet dating," notes Adeena, my best friend in New York, who also dated 25 people in three months. The men were different in New York -- more piquant, sharper -- but her experience was similar. One of her first JDate encounters was with Gary, and they'd had such a good time that he asked her out on the date and they even set up a time to meet -- and he never called her again.

Adeena's accountability theory isn't about the people dating online, but the medium itself.

"There's nothing holding anyone together," she says. "It's not like a fix-up, where you both know someone, or where you meet at a party and there's some chemistry and some initial conversation." "But what about someone contacting you online?" I ask. "And the e-mail conversations? Isn't that like meeting at a party?"

"No," she says. "Because they're not talking to you, they're talking to a concept of you based on your picture, and after you meet -- if you ever meet -- there's no obligation to call, write, do anything polite, because there was nothing there in the first place."

Adeena's not bitter, just realistic. She actually has a JDate on Sunday.

"It only takes one," my father says. But who? Maybe I'm not attracting the right type of guy, and by dating only the men who contact me, perhaps I don't go out with the type of man I want. So I go online to pick out my own: Jake has floppy, sandy hair, cherubic cheeks, and what my grandmother might call khen, boyish charm. He's a producer transplanted from New York -- and after a year in Los Angeles, his birthplace alone is enough to make him compelling: He's got that New York edge.

I have given up on anyone looking like his picture, so when a guy walks by the Hollywood cafe (how ironic that he chose The Bourgeoisie Pig) looking exactly like his photo, I'm a bit startled. But I can't tell what he thinks of me. I do this now; internally size up the interaction while it's occurring, like a sportscaster: "And he's looking at his watch, and he says it's time to go! Oh, great save! Jake kisses me on the lips and asks me out again!"

The kiss makes me forget the 20 other dates before him. Finally.

Yet, somewhere around my fourth date with adorable Jake, I realize the boy is probably not for me -- he's an atheist with a type-A personality -- but do I only have to date for tachlis, for marriage purposes? I'm like a roving bird, not necessarily looking for a nest in which to settle down, but perhaps just a comfortable ledge to take a rest.

Alas, Jake is not my respite. He is actually not my anything, because I don't hear from him for three weeks.

Dating is about making yourself vulnerable, an emotionally risky process that becomes even more daunting with age. By dating so many people at once, I thought I'd be inuring myself to rejection. But maybe I'm just making it worse by getting dumped so quickly and so frequently, and by dumping so many others.

In September, the weather begins to cool and so does my enthusiasm for dating, with all its questions. "How long have you lived in L.A.? What do you do for a living? How is your experience on JDate? Do you want another drink?" My social life is one big dating party, where all the guests start to sound the same.

When I start to get into fights on my dates -- Alan insults my job ("My grandmother reads your newspaper"); Shawn tells me he "feels negated, like you're not hearing me" -- I decide that it's time to quit.

I'm going to suspend my JDate membership right now. I go to the Manage My Account section at JDate. For the first time in six months, I look over my essays, what everyone's been responding to all these months: "I'm a journalist and marathon runner," I had written, as if that defined me -- and I guess it did six months ago, before I started on this dating adventure. The girl in the profile comes off as smart, sassy and independent, like she doesn't have a care in the world, like she doesn't even need a date. Which is probably why so many of the guys who contacted me were commitment-phobic narcissists -- athletic and humorous, like I'd requested, but lacking an integrity so crucial for my ideal mate. But they were not responding to me, just something I wrote one late, lonely night.

So I'm not sorry to pull the plug on profile No. XXXXXX. But before I do, maybe I'll just do one last search -- just to see who's out there. Hey, who is Laurence? He's pictured playing with his dog, pitching a ball, and he has deep laugh lines like he knows a good joke on the world. Laurence is a high school teacher and a poet. What did he learn from his past relationships?

"I've learned some survival techniques, and I've found a little faith; you love, and love ends -- and you suffer and somehow you love again. I'm looking forward to one that keeps going."

That could be me! Our love will never end, Laurence. Maybe I'll contact him. This is the last guy. Really. I promise.

A version of this article appeared in Moment magazine, www.momentmag.com .

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