A precarious position

Being single is a precarious status, one that can disappear or reappear in a moment.

Many people enjoy the stage of singleness, feeling a sense of freedom and independence that often diminishes in a relationship. Others carry it like a burden, constantly plotting an escape.

Many fall somewhere in the middle by accepting blind dates, trying online dating and attending singles events – attempting a positive attitude while conducting their search for the “right person,” willing to settle down, but not willing to settle.

I’d like to think I was somewhere in the middle.

Since October 2001, I’ve been sharing my experiences of Jewish singles life in Phoenix.

My first column was about the concept of a soul mate, and from there columns touched upon matchmaking, Internet dating, long-distance relationships, Speeddating, challenges of being single and Jewish in Phoenix, reality TV, relationship roles, dating after divorce, evaluating potential suitors by their CD collection, intermarriage and rejection hotlines.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve gotten a variety of responses from the columns, ranging from disbelief that I would want to share so much of my personal life to camaraderie to anger (How dare I insult JDate’s new policies?). A few times I was “caught” by fellow daters who saw themselves in my columns (although I never used names).

For the most part, the responses I received were positive and it was wonderful getting letters from readers, from California to Aruba, expressing that they could relate to the content of the columns. It was also great to hear from the locals – from singles who were also immersed in the same world to married couples who enjoyed reading about experiences of today’s singles.

If this is starting to sound like a “good-bye” column, in a way it is. Previously Jewish News ran a syndicated singles column that eventually turned into a “planning for the wedding” column. Although I’m not quite there yet, it’s headed in that direction and I think it’s important to have a section of our paper devoted to those still in the trenches of singles life.

So now the spotlight will turn away from my own life and onto the singles community. Beginning in June, Jewish News will have a section devoted to local Jewish singles. We are now accepting submissions about singles life in the city of Phoenix.

Thanks for letting me share my dating experiences – now I look forward to hearing about yours.

This article first appeared in the May 14, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Finding local love

It’s amazing how something can be so similar, and yet be so different.

Last month I attended a national conference in Washington, D.C., that was similar to a regional conference I attended last year in San Francisco – both were organized by United Jewish Communities and both had a mission to get Jewish young adults more involved with the greater Jewish community.

Although this year’s conference was more than double in size and featured a larger scale both on programming and social levels, its goal was the same. But for me, the entire tone of the conference was different because in San Francisco I was single, and in Washington, D.C., I was not.

Although the conference isn’t touted as a great big singles party, the majority of participants did appear to be single.

Here are some observances, from a no-longer-technically-single point of view:

  • The single people stayed up partying in the multiple suite parties hosted by a number of city contingencies until an average of 3 a.m.; married couples disappeared around midnight. My boyfriend and I were somewhere in between.
  • Instead of attending the “Find a mate after 30 using what I learned at Harvard Business School” session, I attended “Leadership in these times of peril.”
  • It’s easier to meet people when you’re single. Men don’t approach a woman with a man at her side – and vice versa – and singles don’t want to waste time talking to someone who’s unavailable when there is a whole roomful of possible partners.
  • It’s easier to concentrate on what speakers are talking about when you’re not constantly scanning the room, mentally evaluating potential mates.

National conferences can be a good motivational tool – there’s always a chance that if you haven’t found local love, there’s a chance you’ll have better luck when your romantic possibilities include Jews from all over North America.

But even if sparks fly between you and a guy from Miami, it’s not much different than a weeks-long enjoyable JDate e-mail interaction – it’s difficult to translate both of these scenarios into everyday life.

Eric Goodman, founder of MazelCity.org, a Web site highlighting Jewish life in Arizona, decided to add a local matchmaking service after hearing numerous complaints from friends about other online Jewish dating services.

“It seems many of the other online Jewish dating services are not fulfilling the needs of the singles community as well as many of us would like,” Goodman says. “And I say ‘us’ because I have also had personal experiences with these services.”

Starting today (Friday, April 9), local Jewish singles can sign up at www.match.mazelcity.org and the service will be available beginning April 25.

The sign-up process includes filling out a form, answering a questionnaire and writing a few essay questions. Pictures may also be downloaded to the site.

For now there’s no charge for Arizona residents, but if the service expands to cities in other states, there may be a minor fee, Goodman says.

After April 25, members can search the site and contact people with a secure e-mail through the MazelCity matchmaking system. The online matchmaker also offers an optional “double-match” feature. This makes sure both parties are interested in meeting each other before the initial communication can be made. The request for this feature mainly came from single women, Goodman notes.

Hopefully, local singles will sign up on this Web site and increase the likelihood of finding a local love. At the very least, they’ll save on airfare.

This first appeared in the April 9, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

The challenge of defining marriage

I’m finding fewer and fewer things to write about in a singles column since I’m not technically “single” any longer.

I mean, I’m not, not single – according to the definition “characteristic of the unmarried state” – but I’m also no longer looking around in the wide world of singles.

I’m not sure what to call this particular state.

It’s beyond “dating.” A “monogamous relationship” sounds too scientific. “Part of a couple,” maybe? Yes, that sure rolls smoothly off the tongue.

Maybe it’s the recent efforts to define marriage that has led me to this attempt to define which stage my relationship is in and the direction it is going.

Actually, perhaps defining marriage isn’t such a bad idea since there seems to be so many versions of it.

Looking around at relationships around me, it’s kind of frightening to think about the future. One couple I know has recently separated (one of the “oh, they’re perfect for each other” couples that has been married only two years). And they’re not the only “perfect” couple whose marriage has deteriorated. It happens all too often.

Looking at my current relationship, I feel it has careened so effortlessly through the past five months and part of me wonders, what could ever go wrong? Then I remember all the struggles that life often slams in your face and I wonder how that would affect us. I see how other couples deal with life’s ups and downs, and some don’t fare very well.

For instance, some couples’ relationships seem to thrive with children while others seem barely able to stand up to the strain.

Consider a couple I’ve recently met. The woman works days and the husband works nights to avoid daycare for their children; the result is they only see each other for a few hours a week. Yet, they seem happy, although tired, because they’re both working toward the same goal and can count on each other.

The life of another couple – a trendy, fun couple always ready for a night out – changed dramatically after a child arrived. The wife switched to mom mode, willingly foregoing nights out to stay at home with the baby. The husband didn’t shift his priorities quite so quickly and the trendy, fun couple no longer got along quite so well.

With more than half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s justified to be concerned about these kinds of things.

What is the definition of “marriage”?

I decided to Google it, since the trusty search engine seems to have all the answers.

One of the definitions was “it’s an institution in which a man loses his bachelor degree and a woman gets her master’s.”

Hmmm… That’s not really what I had in mind, but I did like the definition of “a set of cultural rules for bringing men and women together to create a family unit and for defining their behavior toward one another, their children and society.”

Although that definition isn’t very romantic, and ignores some of the aspects often deemed important today in deciding whom to marry – chemistry, attraction, employment – it has a long-term sound to it.

After all, isn’t the main goal of marriage to build a life with somebody? And build a family unit, if that’s what you both want. If that’s the underlying goal, then it makes sense to choose somebody that wants the same things, not somebody who merely makes a good Saturday night date.

Whether you define yourself as married, single or “part of a couple,” struggles will still exist in your life, there’s no way around it. But things seem to usually work out for the best in the end – and inevitably provide plenty of good writing material.

This article first appeared in the March 12, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Navigating dating

Married at 20, a widow at 56. It’s been awhile since my aunt’s been on a first date, and things have changed.

She recently dipped her toes into the ocean of dating and then decided to just jump in.

Her son-in-law helped her choose a new computer and get connected to the Internet. At first she wasn’t sure how to get online or enter a Web site address, but before long, she was navigating Jewish dating sites like a 21st-century dater.

During a recent visit, I met her most recent suitor – of four days – but he was history by the end of the weekend. I witnessed her over-the-phone sayonara and was very impressed with her courteousness yet firm tone. Not bad for her first break-up in 36 years.

After the phone call, she hopped back online and did a search on one of her dating sites. That night she had a date for coffee, which drifted into dinner, and an additional dinner date with somebody else later in the week. She also planned to go to a singles Shabbat service with a girlfriend the upcoming weekend.

I admire her steadfast determination to throw herself into the dating scene. It’s not easy to start dating after marriage – and she was married five times longer than I was. Her marriage was a happy one that she didn’t expect to end, but the direction of one’s life often is out of one’s control. Her positive outlook is inspiring.

In just a few short weeks, she’s become an expert on Jewish online dating: learning the rhythm of small talk, weeding out suitors she’s not interested in and feeling the frustration of waiting for the “I’ll call you” phone call.

In fact, it was from her that I heard JDate and JCupid recently merged; I had no idea.

Although one can learn about online dating from others, it’s one of those things that you have to experience firsthand to really understand.

If the idea of dating online seems too intimidating, the recently published book “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating” (Ten Speed Press, $14.95 paperback) by Evan Marc Katz may be helpful.

Topics include tips on writing essays, selecting a photo for your profile, writing memorable introductory letters and selecting whom you want to date. The actual titles of the chapters are a bit catchier, respectively: “I’m tall, smart, funny, down-to-earth, handsome and hopelessly uncreative”; “That’s you?!”; “Hey you look cute. Check out my profile”; and “No, no, maybe, no, no, no.”

The author was a customer consultant at AmericanSingles and JDate and founded the world’s first Internet dating consulting service, E-Cyrano, in 2003.

Although that does give him credibility, he does live in Los Angeles and therefore may not understand the logistics of online dating in a community like Phoenix.

Here’s advice for those ready to embark on online dating in Phoenix’s Jewish community: It’s not as anonymous as you may think.

One time I was at a Raw Kaballah Shabbat dinner and realized somebody across the table was talking about a guy I had just started corresponding with via e-mail. I remained silent, but before long, it was clear that every single woman at the table had dated him in some form or another.

Luckily, my boyfriend Ron was only on JDate a few months before I met him. He hadn’t dated any of my friends and I haven’t noticed any glares of hatred headed his way when we’re in public. Although we’ve run into people he or I had gone on dates with, there really haven’t been any terribly awkward moments.

So if you’ve recently found yourself back in the dating world after a decades-long hiatus, don’t be embarrassed to try online dating. As Katz says in the title of his book’s first chapter: “What kind of people do this? You, your neighbor, your mom and everyone standing in line at the supermarket.”

This article first appeared in the Feb. 13, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Confessions of a compulsive planner

During a recent visit with my grandmother – who just turned 91 – she shared her philosophy of life: She’s just happy to be alive and takes each day as it comes. Although I admire that attitude and realize its importance, somehow it gets lost in practice when it comes to my own life.

As 2003 wound down and January 2004 loomed closer, the more stressed I became that I didn’t yet have my appointment calendar for the new year. I was nervous to make any plans because I didn’t want to overlap any commitments.

When I finally purchased my new “Daily Planning” book, I felt a strange sense of restored calm and I prepared to start planning.

Thumbing through the crisp, white pages of the new medium-size black book is somehow comforting – a whole year full of possibilities.

Of course my first impulse when I see the white pages is to begin filling them up. I go through the calendar and scribble in birthdays of family members. Then I jot down any other commitments, such as already scheduled meetings or trips. It’s an annual routine; I’ve done it for years.

Luckily my boyfriend doesn’t seem to mind my eccentric planning habit and doesn’t flinch as I read off our weekly plans, as he also enjoys being busy with a variety of activities.

Although it should seem obvious, I’m realizing how important a common lifestyle goal is to a relationship.

For instance, I tend to fill my week with a variety of activities, and luckily, Ron enjoys that as well. A typical week for us could include seeing a play, attending a Shabbat dinner with friends, going hiking, cooking dinner while watching a “Friends” rerun and going to a bar to hear live music. I realize for some that would be considered overscheduling and downright unappealing.

I find it fascinating that there are such a variety of lifestyle preferences and I’d like to think there’s somebody for everyone.

For example, friends of mine just got married. Their priorities seem to be traveling and the outdoors. They are so well suited for each other that they’re both passionate about mountain climbing, which strikes me as a very unique passion. (And it all started with her JDate tease “How about a date?”)

My cousin and her fianc‚ (also a successful JDate match) are both avid sports fans. Their home is filled with sports memorabilia and their conversations are often peppered with what player did what in whatever game.

On the other hand, there are couples I know whose interests and hobbies are very different from one another, but their main goals are the same, which makes their relationship successful.

Obviously, a lifestyle choice is only one aspect of a relationship and can change with time (for instance, when babies arrive, priorities often change). I suppose that’s the real challenge – if the couple shifts priorities at the same time.

I guess there is no magical formula to what makes a relationship work – no master check-off list to make sure all the elements are present. Although that would make it easier, I suppose that would make it less magical.

This article first appeared in the Jan. 9, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A time of transition

I suppose it’s like riding a bike – you never really forget.

After 2 1/2 years of frenzied dating, I find myself now in couple mode. Just like the transition between married life and singlehood required an adjustment of attitude and expectation, I’m quickly learning that alterations are also necessary from singlehood to couplehood.

It doesn’t come without its challenges.

For instance, time management.

I’ve recently been accused – jokingly, I think – that ever since I met Ron, I don’t make time for my friends anymore.

The truth is, I’ve been frantically trying to juggle everyone.

With all the time I spent dating and attending singles events, I assumed that once I met someone, I’d have a lot of extra time. Obviously I didn’t have as many dates as I’d thought, because there’s not much extra time.

Maybe it’s just that the obligations increased. Rather than just finding time to go out with friends, I need to find time for us to go out with my friends, with his friends, and our own friends individually (as well as time for just us, of course). Then there are errands, exercise and puppy duties. Add family obligations and that time-consuming thing called work, and there’s really not that much time left in the week.

Being part of a new couple is like being in a state of limbo. The majority of my friends are single and it’s not appropriate for me to attend singles events with them anymore. Since we’ve only been dating a little more than two months, we haven’t yet developed any couple networking either. We’re still in the introductions stage – I’m slowly meeting his friends and family; he’s slowly meeting mine.

So far the big merge hasn’t happened yet – where his friends have met mine – but my dad did meet his mom over Thanksgiving weekend.

Luckily there are organizations, like the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, that cater to both singles and couples. So all of you who are either in the newly single or newly coupled – or established in either – come see all your friends at Mazelpalooza. (It’s a shameless plug, because I’m one of the co-chairs, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention it: 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, at Sanctuary Bar, 7340 E. Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale. Get your tickets before Dec. 19 for $20, $25 afterward. It’s best to purchase them in advance so you don’t have to wait in line: www.jewishphoenix.org/calendar/calendar.php).

This will be my third Mazelpalooza; and my life has been a little different each time: At my first one, I was completely single. The next I was kind of dating somebody, but still looking. Now I’m going purely for the fun of seeing everyone I haven’t seen as much as I used to.

Although every year usually has transitions of some kind, this one has been full of major ones for me.

In 2003, I became a first-time homeowner and a parent to two puppies, adding enormous new responsibilities to my life.

Sadly, our family said goodbye to my grandfather and an uncle, both leaving significant gaps.

I suppose that everyone’s life is touched each year by both positives and negatives – may 2004 weigh more heavily with positives for everyone. Happy New Year!

This article first appeared in the Dec. 12, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Idealistic about obstacles

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

–Alfred D’Souza

Maybe it’s that introspective haze I find myself in each year near my birthday, but I’ve noticed lately the delicate balance between taking control of your life and realizing that you don’t really have any control.

So many singles seem to focus on the obstacles in their lives rather than appreciate what it is they have.

Rather than enjoy the benefits of singledom – freedom, independence, more time to spend with friends and do things they love – they lament their single status and let it overwhelm them.

I understand that, but at the same time I’m realizing that life’s too short to wait around for something to happen (i.e. the “right” person to walk into it). It’s still important to be open to love, but at the same time, you can’t put your life on hold waiting for it.

Sometimes when I hear a college freshman recite her future plans – including details from academic major and career to the age she’ll start having children – I have to refrain from insulting her idealism.

I prefer to think of myself as an optimistic person, but a few doses of reality and dashes of difficult experiences tend to dilute idealism.

A few minutes of the evening news send reminders that a life could change in any given second, such as stories about flash floods or fatal car accidents.

Because my generation has faced more open doors than any other when it comes to choices in life, I think in some ways it has had a detrimental effect on other aspects of our lives, including the dating scene.

We’ve been taught that we can be whatever we want, accomplish anything we want – get whatever we want. So when it comes to dating, why should we expect anything less?

Because you can customize your car, your CDs and your body parts, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always expecting to get what you want out of life and out of other people.

But is that realistic?

Life is complicated. Every situation provides an opportunity for you to decide how to react, but you can’t necessarily control the situation itself or avoid the obstacles in your path. Of course, it’s still important to make the best decisions you can in life because every decision does have some sort of impact on your future.

At times the obstacles are what make life more memorable – they are catalysts for improvement. You hear stories about it all the time: A man’s flight is delayed and he ends up missing out on a big business deal, then meets his future wife at the airport the next morning.

A woman gets into a fender bender and meets her future husband at the coffee shop across from the auto repair shop.

Two people who have given up on love meet at an all-night diner, each having just left from a terrible blind date.

Hey, these things could happen.

Or maybe I just still have a little bit of idealism left.

This article first appeared in the Aug. 8, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Might as well live in a cornfield in Iowa

It struck me last week that there’s a large chance I’m not going to ever celebrate my 68th wedding anniversary.

I’ve blown that chance because even if I get married tomorrow – highly unlikely – I would be 101 when that milestone rolls around. I suppose you never know where medical technology will be in 2071, but it doesn’t seem very realistic to count on it.

When my grandparents met, my grandmother was 22 and my grandfather 27. They celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary last month. As the story goes: They met on a Friday, went to a movie on Saturday and were married on Sunday. A life decision made in three consecutive days and they were together until my grandfather’s death this year on July 1.

Sixty-eight years. Since my divorce, I haven’t even made it past a six-month period. And it’s not just me (I admit, I do feel some consolation in that).

The majority of people my age weave in and out of the dating scene at an alarmingly fast pace. They disappear for a month or so then reappear at the next Jewish singles event. A seemingly rare – distressingly rare – amount get out. Why is this?

Last week while clicking through the few channels on my non-cable TV, I came across one of the most recent reality TV dating shows: “The Dating Experiment.”

Basically, strangers place their romantic lives in the control of a red diary that gives them instructions that they must follow. The participants relocate to a temporary home and rely on the diary to progress their relationship – it dictates the type of date they go on, as well as some of their actions.

Something about this appealed to me. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could rely on something other than our own thwarted judgment in relationship matters? Wouldn’t it be welcome to have a diary appear on our doorstep dictating the next move that would be best for us?

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from a handful of single Jewish women about how bleak the Jewish singles scene is in the Valley. All of the conversations touched upon the possibility of moving out of state – mainly to New York – to meet their mate. Or even out of the country – to Israel.

I understand their lament and definitely commiserate, but at the same time, it makes me angry. Why should we have to uproot our lives and move away to meet someone? Although Phoenix certainly isn’t the Jewish singles Mecca, it’s not like we chose to live in a cornfield in Iowa – Phoenix is a major metropolitan area with a somewhat thriving Jewish community.

If something is “meant to be,” shouldn’t it “be” regardless of where we live?

At the end of each episode of “The Dating Experiment,” the diary tells the couple that they must “part forever.” But after they separate, the diary gives each of them the opportunity to write the final entry – placing their destiny back in their own hands.

Although this may sound far-fetched, I guess in some way, that reality show does represent life. We are offered opportunities at love and the situations are created, but the final decision is up to us.

This article first appeared in the July 11, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

A glimpse of online dating

“You look familiar. Are you on JDate?”

I don’t know why I felt the online dating service was anonymous; I, too, recognized some of my fellow partygoers’ faces from their tiny onscreen photographs. Yet, acknowledging this recognition was still disturbing.

Nearly 2,000 Jewish men and women in the Valley have profiles posted on JDate, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all available, as profiles remain on the system indefinitely unless removal is requested. So it shouldn’t be a shock to run into others who are interested in finding a Jewish mate at functions designed to offer that opportunity.

As the number of online dating services grows, the more it seems that this method of dating is here to stay, so, although it may seem awkward at times, Jewish singles may as well use it as a way to meet one another.

The standard procedure in online dating is posting an accurate description of yourself (more on that later…) and answering questions in essay form, such as what you consider the perfect first date and what you’ve learned from past relationships.

Members can then read through profiles to learn about people’s hobbies, likes, dislikes and philosophy of life. And, if available, view their photograph.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what the person looks like, due to blurry or improperly scanned photos – or not being photogenic.

This should be the perfect opportunity to look beyond appearances and focus on the person, but this usually isn’t the case.

“We do notice that the odds are probably eight or nine times better if you have a photo posted that you’re going to get a reply,” says Scott Gordon, founder of the online dating service Jewishcupid.com.

From those who I’ve spoken to on the dating front, I’ve heard the same general comments about online dating. Following are some of the issues they’re dealing with – of course, they wish to remain anonymous (it’s a small Jewish community).

Although most people admit honesty is important in a relationship, some seem to overlook that it’s also important in online dating.

This includes writing the initial profile.

“We tell people to be as honest as they can be,” Gordon says. “It only hurts yourself if you list yourself as petite and you’re 40 pounds overweight when you meet the person.”

Gordon says the best thing about online dating is that it’s a great icebreaker.

“It’s definitely made it easier to meet new people,” he says.

For example, he notes, you can e-mail 10 different members and whoever replies, replies, but in a bar you’d have to gather the courage 10 times to walk up to 10 different people to strike up a conversation.
Although that may sound convenient – beware.

An e-mail that reads “Hi, I liked your profile. Write me and let’s chat” probably won’t get as warm a response as something a little more personal. It’s a good idea to at least pretend you’ve read their profile.

It’s not very flattering to reply to somebody’s vague message and receive the response “What’s your profile number again?” – as if they’ve just written each new member of the opposite sex and can’t possibly remember which one you are.

Also, interrogation and intimidation isn’t advisable either. If declined by someone you’ve written, it probably won’t win him or her over to write them back to insist they go out with you or to question their reasoning.

And then there’s the rejection. A common complaint people have is being ignored after sending an initial contact letter. However, Gordon points out that some people prefer to be ignored, rather than straight-out rejected, because then they can tell themselves, “maybe they never got my e-mail.”

Once a connection between two people is established, singles have different ideas about the next move.

While some people feel more comfortable exchanging several e-mails and then moving on to several phone calls, others prefer to meet as soon as possible (in a public place, of course).

One friend of mine, after conversing with one man for several months via e-mail and telephone, finally met him and found they had absolutely no chemistry. Now, when there are sparks of interest during the initial correspondence, she wants to meet as soon as possible.

That is an important point – although online dating may be a convenient way to meet new people, it’s no substitute for the real thing.

This article first appeared in the Nov. 2, 2001 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.