It was my father's 40-something silver-haired divorced friend Phil ... who fixed me up on a date with his young friend. Because it was Phil, my parents decided to let me go out with the boy, whose name sounded something like Chaim Pumpernickel, a character in Hebrew literature, and now that's how I'll forever remember my first blind date.
I dragged my cousin along to make it a double blind date -- one we wanted to leave as soon as we spotted the young men. Let's just say they looked nothing like the suave Phil, and seemed to have nothing fascinating to say, except to discuss the movie we'd all gone to, "Police Academy" No. 3 or No. 4 or whatever it was up to was in the mid-1980s.
I wonder where Chaim Pumpernickel is now. Probably married with umpteen kids and living in the 'burbs, watching some other movie sequel ("Rocky VXII?"). I think of him this Valentine's Day because I just finished Susan Shapiro's book, "Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic: How to Meet and Marry Your Match" (Delta Trade Paperbacks, $12).
At first glance, Shapiro, the author of two other memoirs ("Five Men Who Broke My Heart," and "Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex"), doesn't seem like the best person from whom to take dating advice.
After all, she didn't marry till she was 35 (quelle horreur!) and here's what she said about her courtship with her husband: "My courtship with Aaron was often awkward and agonizing. At times he did anything he could think of to avoid getting too close, including not calling me for two weeks at a time. I broke up with him and started dating other guys so often that when I called my parents to finally tell them I was engaged, they said, 'To whom?' The ring Aaron picked out was too tight and made my finger turn red and swell. I gained 10 pounds and felt lethargic and out of it the entire engagement.
My sister-in-law had the first grandchild of the family on the day of my wedding, which I spent feeling confused and resentful. I was too tired to have sex that night anyway. Our Jamaica honeymoon wasn't all that romantic either. I hated the hotel we picked, and we continually argued over my smoking in the room...."
As my grandmother would have said plaintively, "Oy vey!"
But, on the other hand, Shapiro points out that she has been happily married to her husband for 10 years, while many of the storybook romances and weddings she's witnessed have fallen apart. Moreover, she's fixed up countless couples, with 12 marriages to her credit. Her advice is simple: Get fixed up by a trusted friend. That's the way Shapiro met her own husband. Through an informal matchmaker. Yes, it seems that old-fashioned Jewish tradition -- nearly made obsolete by the Internet, the lack of communal life, people too busy with their own lives to bother, and independent singles who don't want meddlers in their lives -- is making a comeback.
About time, if you ask me.
"Why, people must fix you up all the time!" is a common refrain I hear, and I want to laugh: In my five and a half years in Los Angeles, I've been fixed up maybe half a dozen times. And twice by the same person. Look, I'm not saying it's all everyone else's fault. I'll admit that the offer, "I have someone for you: I think he's about 50, never been married, lives with his mother," often makes me cynical -- OK, hostile -- to outside offers. And it's true that my line of work, writing about my personal life, might not make me the person people first think of with a potential shidduch. But still. I'm not talking only about myself. I'm talking Shapiro's advice: People need to be fixed up by other people they know. "Romance Counselors" she calls them.
Not everyone can be a matchmaker. And not every match that's offered is one that should be taken up. But if you're either a single person of, ahem, a certain age, or a well-connected, well-meaning yenta (or the male version of the interloper), you should consider Shapiro's advice and get, or become, a matchmaker.
"Don't go it alone," Shapiro advises.
Isn't that the point of being part of a community?
So this Valentine's Day (not a Jewish holiday, I know, I know), forget the diamonds, the chocolates or, conversely, spending the night alone with a bucket of Häagen-Dazs.
Find yourself a matchmaker and make them make you a match.