Dates from Space
by Ophira Edut


To Jews, you're not just "single" (adjective), you're "a single" (noun), meaning eligible flesh ripe for matchmaking by a yenta or a Jewish newspaper's classified section. The idea of enrolling in a Jewish singles service always made me feel like I'd be joining a nation of individually-wrapped American cheese slices coming together to form supermarket-ready packs of 16 or 32. And in many ways, it's just that contrived. Panicked about soaring intermarriage rates, Jews cling to old-country matchmaking rituals--putting the pedal to the shtetl to ensure our intra-faith coupling.

For years, I shunned this frantic pursuit of Jewish man-flesh. Chemistry and common interests cemented my relationships more than hazy memories of "Adon Olam" lyrics. I also felt too loud, too "fat," too attitudinal around American Jewish guys--a Queen Bee whose drones preferred their nectar from a WASP nest. Why hard sell myself to the locals, I figured, when the goy-boys were begging me to throw them a curve? My enthusiasm for the brothas plunged further at 24, when my first Jewish boyfriend dumped me with the Semitic death sentence: "You're acting just like my mother." I was too stung for a sequel.

That is, until Jdate.com came along. I was 27, finally recovered from Portnoy's Complaint, and living in Manhattan. Suddenly, I was surrounded by hot Jewboys who had seismically shifted after crossing the threshold of 25. Egos receding with their hairlines, they were checking me out on the street and seeking a Jewish woman of substance.

When I realized that I could use the Internet to anonymously pick through thousands of eligible Jewish guys, I figured, why not? No huge rejections would complicate things; it was just another avenue to meet men. It would be a joke, an experiment, something to write about. And before you could say shidduch, I was uploading my Amex digits, a JPEG photo, and a painstakingly crafted set of personal essays describing my "perfect first date" and "things I've learned from past relationships."

I didn't just go on one or two dates, like any normal skeptic would. I stayed for a year--paying $19.95 a month--and went on about 20 dates. By the time I retired, I was emailing between five and ten guys a month, rejecting countless others, and even began to recognize photos that popped up in my advanced late-night searches. Jdate became more than the breezy science project I told people. It was hope. It was flight from my fears of being alone and undesirable. It was the quest for what could be different when dating a Jew. Eventually, it was an addiction. In my first month, I got 3-5 email solicitations a day, praising me for my wit and attractiveness. Then, I had a good first date with a cute, leather-panted Brooklyn writer named Aaron. Once I got over my shock that a down-to-earth, appreciative Jewish audience was in the tristate area, I wanted more.

I had some bad dates, of course. The New Jersey boy who, half an hour into our first and last date, invited me to have bagels at his parents' house the next morning. The sharing of an uncomfortably viscous appetizer with an agitated stockbroker who was practically a soprano--and I'm not talking about the HBO kind. The dude who showed up with more crust on him than a loaf of split-top wheat. The dude who didn't show up at all.

But hope springs eternal on Jdate. If a date sucked, I could head home, log on, and sift through a hundred thousand other prospects. And most of the guys I met were cool--much cooler than I expected. Although no relationships materialized, I befriended some fellow writers, a hip-hop DJ, and a San Francisco engineer who collected Vespas and went to high school with Snoop Doggy Dog. Whether by coincidence or not, these fellas shared my ambiguity over Jdate, and my distaste for the scene's breeding pressure. Most had only dated a couple Jewish women, if any, and were similarly mystified by what internal motivations led them to Jdate.

Was it age, or some biological force? Maybe, but none of us were looking for the marriage-and-kids package anytime soon. So why the hell did we care about dating Jewish? Would it really make life easier? We didn't go to synagogue, and our parents' kitchens provided ample sustenance for major Jewish holidays. Would we have common values? Again, not sure. Every goy-boy I've dated has appreciated the Sunday Times and a bagel brunch as much as the next future Jewish husband. Or maybe it would make life easier, in a way. I don't want to be the family member responsible for the loss of time-honored Jewish traditions. Age is bringing me the weighty recognition of this responsibility. Yet, I'm bed-of-nails uncomfortable with the idea of leading a Kiddush, fire-bombing chametz from my cupboards at Pesach, or reciting Torah portions. An equally distraught Jewish mate could be a comforting companion, a partner in crime for the bumpy road trip home.

On the flip side, an intermarried friend says that her Christian husband actually makes her feel more Jewish, because she's constantly explaining Jewish traditions she never understood. I don't know which would be a bigger pain in the ass: performing contrived Jewish rituals out of familial duty, or paging through the Dictionary of Jewish Literacy to find the origins of the word "chutzpah" for my goyishe mother-in-law.

Either way, all this existential confusion made Jdate a dry gulch in my "horizontal horah" department. I've been known to screw first and ask questions later; yet, I went no further than an awkward goodbye kiss on the cheek. It was like having both of our mothers there, nudging on either side, "Go on, hold her hand, Steven," or "fix your blouse, Amy. And sit up straight!" Nothing causes more performance anxiety than to wonder if you're going to marry someone when you're just trying to get to know each other, or make out on the sofa and -- who knows? -- maybe never see each other again.

With all these rules and stressors, no wonder so many of us are dissing each other for non-tribal mates. Dating Jewish has become so compulsory that the element of choice has disappeared, taking desire with it. There is nothing sexy about the eternally-hovering pressure to outfit one's parents in "Ask Me About My Grandchildren" T-shirts. And I'm simply too American to sacrifice my individuality to carry on some ambiguous bloodline. Besides, it's bizarre. Hasn't anyone else noticed the irony of enforced homogeny among a people who were killed because they didn't fit the credentials of a so-called master race? Tradition is important, but please.

Ultimately, my traditionalism is half-baked and private, anyway, a minor artery supplying my Jewish flow. My identity comes from my Israeli father and his family in Tel Aviv, my teeming bookshelves, the negative space my Jewishness creates in contrast to my multiethnic friends. Last Chanukah, I kindled my menorah alone, mumbled what I remembered of the bracha, then lit a cigarette off one of the candles. I couldn't pull of the parentally-approved cheese without nodding to my inner bad-ass.

If anything, Jdate taught me the importance of grooving on this personal Judeo-irreverence. I can't date a Jewish man unless I feel free to misbehave on my own terms. I have loved and lived with a Yoruba priest, a motorcycle-driving anti-racist skinhead, a college football star, an uptight chemical engineer and a dreamy boy-poet. I've done the zodiac and tasted the rainbow. My world has no place for the possibility of a Jewish boyfriend unless I also save room for the opposite.

This attitude bonded me to my Jdates, but more as comrades on a shared philosophical quest. We're all struggling to figure out what the hell this Jewish business has to do with our personal lives. And we're all still hoping, in a tiny way, that our soul mates do end up being Jews -- if only so we can stop trying to explain a part of ourselves that we don't understand anyway.

My Jdate experience has a strange, almost storybook ending. It involves Aaron, my first Jdate, who's exclusively and happily dating a non-Jewish woman. We hang out once a month or so, and he's enlisted me as his official companion to cheesy Jewish events that we dare not visit alone. At one party, I met an Israeli hottie who has since become my boyfriend.

We have nothing in common -- on the surface, that is -- and Jdate's computer wouldn't have matched us in a million years. Yet, if there's anything matchmakers--computerized or real--can't predict, it's chemistry.

During my year on Jdate, I watch the site's membership nearly double. Obviously, that proves that single Jews want these services, even if we're not sure why. As a girl whose wits outmatch her tits, I appreciate that Jdate connected me with intelligent, thoughtful Jewish guys--and helped me screen out the legions seeking workout partners, stay-at-home wives, and Yankee season ticket holders. I now consider Jewish men equal contenders in the love game.

Still, I doubt I'll ever be a regular patron of Jewish singles services. There's something a little too practical about hooking up with a well-matched set of data. I want a boyfriend, not a resume. But if the season gets dry or my social prospects dim, I can't say I wouldn't log on again.

I'd like to channel my experiences to help those gentlemen whose return on their Jdate investment may not be meeting quota.

1. Blurry photos = bad. If your face looks like a CAT scan, a Rorschach inkblot, or a FBI fingerprint, I'm off the case faster than you can say "Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective."

2. Ditto for photos of your professional school graduation, particularly shots with cameos of your parents. If I wanted to see men in gowns, I'd take in a drag show at Lucky Cheng's in the East Village.

3. Ditto again for pics of you hugging a child or fluffy dog. Actually, I may be an unpopular voice here. Those probably appeal to plenty of women, whose family-life fantasies you are deliberately stoking with these obvious images of procreation and pets. But if you really don't intend for us to grow old opening Kal-Kan together, let's just try to establish an interpersonal connection before we throw in the dependents.

4. One last ditto for the "oops is that my college girlfriend's arm cropped out at this frat party photo from 1992?" shots. First impressions last. Don't stamp my brain with the image of another woman's hands on you before mine even get there.

5. If your muses include Andrew Dice Clay, Adam Sandler, or Ludacris, I urge you to resist quoting their work in your profile. Yes, there are lots of opportunities to sprinkle in SNL references, and we gals may have laughed just as heartily at them. But your delivery only serves us a vivid picture of you as an obnoxious, pimpled Bar Mitzvah boy who ignored us to play Mortal Kombat with his cronies. Besides, wouldn't you have to stop and wonder if we peppered our profiles with cliches like "Favorite Activities: Chanukah gift-wrapping, scuba-diving, planning names for my children and checking my email, like, COMPULSIVELY in case you write back!" Sometimes, honesty is not the best policy.

(appeared in premiere issue of Heeb: The New Jew Review)