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.

No play if you don’t pay

Timing is everything.

JDaters happily corresponding with one another on the site’s online e-mail system shouldn’t necessarily take it personally if the other party recently stopped writing.

Well, maybe just a little bit personally. Maybe it was too early on in the “relationship” for the other person to fork over the $28.50 it now costs to respond.

That’s right, JDate has changed its policy.

No longer is it free to read an admirer’s message – nor can you even find out who wrote you. Until recently, if you weren’t a member, you could read the message, view the profile, reply on the site, participate in chat rooms and even make an initial contact by sending a “tease” (choosing from a selection of cheesy one-liners). Now nonmembers can still search the site and send a “tease” to someone, but that’s about it.

Why this new “pay to reply” policy?

“Ultimately, it’s going to provide our members with a better experience on the site,” says Matchnet.com spokeswoman Gail Laguna.

She explains that this new policy requires members to purchase a subscription in order to reply to e-mails and enter the chat rooms. Previously, members only needed to purchase a subscription if they wanted to contact someone.

Once she explained the chat room issues – some people would go in chat rooms to try to sell products or promote things, rather than to find a relationship – that part made sense. I’ve never been interested in chat rooms, so that doesn’t bother me.

But it still doesn’t make sense that you have to “pay to reply” or even to see who it was who wrote.

A friend of mine has been notified that she has 11 messages in her JDate in-box, but she’s not a member so she now can’t even see who wrote her – or what they wrote – unless she pays to become a member. That’s a big risk, considering they could all be variations of “I liked your profile, hot mama. Give me a call sometime” or “Hi, I’m not Jewish but I’ve always liked girls with dark hair.”

If this “pay to reply” policy had always been JDate’s policy, I would have given up a long time ago. Initially I may have paid, but finances and frustration would have caused me to cancel my subscription after a month or two. I’ve never been a member and, luckily, I took myself off about a week or two before this new policy was enforced.

Removing oneself from JDate may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, in today’s world of Internet dating, that signals a heavy-duty commitment.

Since I first started using JDate, I’ve always been hesitant to remove my profile, even when dating somebody. (I wasn’t active on it during those times and none of those “relationships” lasted more than three months.) A few times, I’ve been surprised to see people actively on JDate who I knew were living with somebody or even engaged.

But this time, it took only two weeks of dating someone I met on JDate before I realized that I wasn’t really interested in meeting anyone else.

About a month ago, I was looking through the listings and among the familiar faces, I saw someone new. He looked cute, so I perused his profile. He seemed intelligent, I liked what he had to say in his essays – and saw no spelling or grammar errors. Next, I blew up each of his pictures on my computer screen. In the last one, he was holding a guitar and had a dog at his side. That was it. I had to write.

Since I’ve never been a member, all I could do was send him a tease. I chose the least tacky one, simply “I loved your profile, what do you think of mine?” He wrote back the next day and we had nice e-mail conversations on the JDate onsite e-mail for a few days. When he gave me his regular e-mail address, I wrote him at that address, but didn’t hear back.

Being much bolder in dating these days, and recognizing that our e-mail rapport was much better than others had been, I decided to ignore the possibility that he stopped writing because he had already decided I was a freak, and rewrote him on the JDate e-mail. It turned out he didn’t get that other one.

None of this would have happened under the new JDate policy.

For instance, I still could have teased him, but I would have had to pay $28.50 to read his response. Sadly, I can’t say for sure that I would have done that – what if the response was negative or downright weird? Would it be worth it?

Timing is everything. When I told my JDate guy that it was the photo of him with the guitar and dog that propelled me to write him, he said he had intended to replace that photo with another, but broke his finger playing basketball that day and never got around to it.

This article first appeared in the Nov. 14, 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.