Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I have read many of your Aish.com columns and have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and ideas about the dating scene today. I am 23 and have been finding the whole dating environment quite difficult to maneuver. Unfortunately, there aren't many opportunities to meet -- although the singles are plentiful, the leaders of the community are just not "taking the lead" and the resources are not being used to their potential.
I have tried the matchmaker route as well and have not had success there either. Perhaps you can shed some light, offer ideas, or suggest people to contact?
Unfortunately, we have to agree with your assessment of the situation. It isn't just the alarming fact that 38 percent of Jewish adults are single. There is also the alienation many singles feel within a tradition that places great emphasis on families. Plus the fact that tens of thousands of Jewish singles would like to get married but are having trouble navigating the dating maze in a way that can lead to happy and stable marriages.
Yet we believe the Jewish community should not be waiting for its leaders to act. It is certainly within our abilities to address these issues on a grassroots level.
Since our field of "expertise" is helping Jewish singles achieve their goal of marriage, we'll limit our response to suggestions that might help you develop resources for successful dating, and to suggestions that the Jewish community-at-large can implement to help you and other marriage-minded singles.
Social events. Many Jewish singles need more opportunities to socialize in an environment that is conducive to marriage-oriented dating. This serves the dual purpose of enabling potential spouses to meet each other face-to-face before a formal "first date," and of enabling singles to develop wider social circles that can help them with networking.
Since Judaism values modesty, mixed-gender events must be carefully planned so they do not become undignified. SpeedDating.com is a good example of a highly successful program that is structured in a way to preserve the dignity of the participants, while respecting traditional Jewish standards. Further, there are a number of cultural events and adult-education programs that allow for some amount of socializing afterward.
Many readers might ask: What is the problem with unstructured mega-mixer-type events? As dating advisors, we object to them because we feel they encourage a casual attitude toward dating, whereas Judaism prefers that men and women focus on marriage-oriented dating. Furthermore, the social contacts people tend to make at mixers are often based purely on chemistry, which is a poor indicator that two people will be compatible. In fact, the vast majority of dates between people who first meet in mixer-type settings don't lead to satisfying courtships, and therefore don't lead to marriages. Two more reasons why we dislike large, unstructured mixers is that many people are uncomfortable with the meat-market atmosphere that prevails, and a large number of really great men and women are not able to display their fine qualities in such an environment.
In the past, we've encouraged singles to explore other avenues to meet. You might want to become involved in a community service project, and to consider joining an enrichment class or musical group. These endeavors will give you a chance to enhance your life -- while expanding your social contacts to include people who might have a brother, sister, cousin, best friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc. who could be a great match for you.
Married friends. It's very important for singles to develop friendships with married people their own age or a few years older. These married friends can be a great resource for advice, referring you to dates, and general role-modeling of how you'd like your future home to be.
In addition, we recommend that you become involved in a local synagogue that has a number of married couples close to your own age, rather than in a synagogue that primarily serves the singles population. And by volunteering for some synagogue activities, you can become more integrated into the fabric of the community, and can develop friendships with married couples.
In addition, the very fact that you are in an environment where you can observe happily married couples who are close to your own age is subtle encouragement that marriage is a goal that you, too, should want to attain and can attain. You'd be surprised how much one's environment plays in expectations. Many singles who live in communities where the majority in their social circle are singles, unconsciously or consciously adopt an attitude that they have "all the time in the world" to settle down. Many, upon reaching age 30, 35 or 40, decide to focus on getting married, only to realize that this goal is much harder to accomplish because they have lived largely self-centered, semi-adolescent lifestyles for their entire adult lives. This is not a criticism, as much as an observation of reality that we as professional dating advisors have seen in hundreds (if not thousands) of instances.
Social networking. We believe that "social networking" is the number one way for singles to meet dating partners that are well-suited for them. Unfortunately, few singles know how to develop or use a network to their best advantage. Many continue to rely on the belief that they'll simply meet good dating partners, when the truth is that the further removed a person is from college-age, the fewer opportunities s/he has to simply "meet" dates.
To compound the problem, many of the people who could be facilitating matches for their single friends and family don't understand how to perform that role. If you are willing to be proactive, you can build a network for yourself and guide people how to best help you.
Presenting yourself. Before you engage in networking, you need to strategize the most effective way that your friends can "suggest" you to prospective dating partners. We have found that an ideal way to do this is to take a few evenings off to evaluate your strengths in a wide range of areas, as well as your short-term and long-term goals and expectations. The evaluation process involves writing down your thoughts, and then reviewing and thinking about what you've written.
Some of the areas to consider when thinking about your goals include: spirituality, creative expression, education, career, social life, involvement in community, and the type of family life you anticipate -- including the contributions you and your spouse will make to housekeeping, child rearing, and family finances.
Next, identify the four most important qualities that define you as a unique person. Also, list the four most important qualities you would like your future spouse to possess. It may take a few evenings of serious thought and writing for you to be able to clarify where you are at this point in your life, and the direction you would like your life to take, in light of the person you will someday marry. You will need this level of self-awareness to begin networking successfully.
Building the network. Imagine that you are in the middle of a circle, and all the people you know are mapped along concentric circles surrounding the center. On the first circle, list your immediate family and any siblings' spouses. On the next, your "extended family" members. Other circles can include your closest friends, (current and former) teachers and rabbis, neighbors and coworkers, people you know from synagogue, clubs, classes and community activities, relatives and friends of your relatives and friends… You get the idea.
One matchmaker advised a now happily married friend of ours that: "You've got to set aside your ego when you date for marriage." She's right. The first few times you approach someone to ask for their help will be the hardest and will require a certain amount of assertiveness. However, you've got to marshal your courage and approach the people in your social circles, beginning with those who are closest to you and easiest to approach.
Getting referrals. You can develop a variation of the following presentation for those who are not your closest friends:
"Ruth, I really enjoy the exercise class we take together, and one of the reasons is that I've met some great people, like you. I'd like to ask if you are willing to help me with something that means a lot to me. I would like to get married in the near future, and I'm building a network of people who may know of someone who might be a good person for me to date. I think very highly of you and would like you to be part of that network, by thinking of the people you know now or might meet in the future whom you can suggest to me as potential dating partners. Would you consider doing this?"
If Ruth agrees, arrange for a time that the two of you can talk. You will need to articulate the type of person you are (describing the four qualities that make you unique), as well as the qualities of the spouse you're looking for. Discuss the direction you would like your life to take over the short- and long-term. Finally, the two of you should discuss the practical steps how to proceed if she thinks of a potential dating partner for you.
References. We also recommend that you ask a few people you are close to, and who have good judgment and discretion, to serve as references for prospective dates. At least one of them should have known you for a long time, even if you haven't been in close contact in the recent past. You should discuss with each reference this same information (qualities, goals, etc.).
Job search. Does this scenario still sound a little intimidating? If so, imagine what you would do if you needed to find a new job. Wouldn't you be highly proactive -- calling all your social and business contacts, describing your talents and what you are looking for, and asking them to keep their eyes open for you? If you want to marry in the foreseeable future, then put as much energy into networking to find a good spouse!
Matchmakers. We know that our final suggestion -- using a matchmaker -- is a touchy subject for many people who imagine some horror scene out of Fiddler on the Roof. In our experience, the best matchmakers have good interpersonal skills in that they know how to listen to what their clients are saying; try to get to know their clients' views on life in general and the direction they would like their lives to take; have insight into issues that singles face in general and the concerns of their clients in particular; know how to guide a client through the dating process; can give constructive criticism in a kind way; can give emotional support; have good organizational skills; and devote enough time to their avocation to be effective at what they do. (Some of the individuals who call themselves matchmakers may lack some of these qualities, or may have once had them but have become burned out.)
We conduct a training course for matchmakers that has helped many learn what it takes to do the job well. We've met a number of people we would heartily recommend, and others whom we are not overly enthusiastic about but who have made a number of successful matches. The list of matchmakers on our website contains a disclaimer that it is merely a compilation of information about matchmakers who serve the Jewish community and is not an endorsement of their services. (Go to www.jewishdatingandmarriage.com and click on "matchmakers.")
If you find a matchmaker whom you like, respect, and believe to be talented at what s/he does, we'd appreciate your passing along a recommendation that we can share with others. (We won't use your name or publish it on our website). In addition, if you've had a strongly negative experience with someone on our list and believe that person is a disservice to others, please let us know.
Finally, we believe that all of us, whether married or not-yet-married, should be on the lookout for suitable prospects for our single friends and should follow through whenever we get a sudden burst of inspiration that "he might be a good match for her." Too often, these inspirations die because they are not followed through. Imagine the great mitzvah of helping a fellow Jew find his/her lifetime partner and build a Jewish home. And if you help others, surely this is a sign that you will be helped, too.
May you find your match soon!
Rosie & Sherry