I like to ask long-term couples where and how they met—always a good remedy to a boring conversation. My best friend met his wife through friends. After the second date, they knew they were going to get married. Recently, I met a couple that met by chance, both driving cross-country, essentially at a gas station in Arizona. A housemate of mine in Jerusalem, a German convert to Judaism, fell in love with the Israeli-Arab woman two floors above us. They are together now. Her family, including her brother, who I worked with in a left-wing political youth group, wants them both dead. Love in the time of backward misogynist cultures.
Things are never so adventurous for me, despite what you might imagine. It was always the singers and musicians who wooed successfully, not the dancers. Nijinksy only got ambiguity. As a break-dancer, I get bupkes, more or less.
That’s fine. I’m not looking for my soul mate, or a secretary, just interesting people who might be interested in me. Despite my local fame, this is more difficult than you might think. I’m too poor to date local professionals, too Jewish for Seminarians. I’m too PhD to date MPPs, and I’m too old to date undergraduates, though Lord knows I’ve tried.
My friendships with the women in my life are more important to me than sex. Consequently, I rarely make the first move since I don’t want to queer the friendship. An Israeli friend of mine tells every girl he goes out on a date with, “Ehhmm, I am a fem-ee-neest and never make the first move.” Because he’s a cool Israeli, he can get away with that. If I said this, I would be tagged as cowardly. So I Platonically endure with the women friends to whom I am attracted in greater or lesser degrees. I harbor crushes stoically, like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
See, I’m a picky eater, and a picky dater. Like Seinfeld, I can write a person out of dateability on the smallest human tics, such as:
Rude to wait-staff
Rude to homeless person
Doesn’t read books
Curses like a Teamster
Uncurious about Phenomenology
Boyfriend calls during date
Dyes dark hair red
Oddly formed mole
Boyfriend calls after date
Despite this pickiness and the fickle Fates, I do believe that one has a higher chance of meeting compatible lovers when one plans these things out. There is the hellish practice of speed-dating: five minutes to talk to each person in an orgy of first impressions. It’s instrumental rationality at its most embarrassing. In my perfectly ordered world, we would just send resumes, with pictures, to each other. And so, last summer, at the urging of a friend, I tried on-line dating.
Let me start with the bad. J-Date. The J stands for Jewish. There must be M-Date somewhere, though it would be hard to see what women look like through their veils. I tried to get in on the Bangladeshi dating scene, but I stuck out a bit. Better to convert a South Asian beauty than put up with the lacking creativity of the “chosen” women on J-Date.
J-Date makes it hard for you to seem anything but ridiculous. The options of categories they give you are inane. “Perfect first date.” Everyone says dinner and a movie. “What you’ve learned from past relationships.” Everyone says communication. The first sentence of your “About Me” paragraph is displayed, along with your age, and picture. Smart marketers will make sure that those first few words are eye-catching and witty. No one does it. Instead, the average first line reads: “Hello! I am a 30 year old attractive, single Jewish woman…” These redundancies are supposed to catch my eye? This marketing mistake usually goes on to say “I love life” or “I love to laugh” or “I live life to the fullest”. I swear, this is what they write! What do these things MEAN? This is why there is a demographic problem in the Jewish community. (My profile says: “Athletic, academic, activist.” No one has contacted me.)
Every girl on J-Date wants good conversation and someone with a sense of humor. Besides barely able to contain their desire for marriage and children, they secretly want height and deep pockets. Selfish genes. I have composed whole stand-up comedy routines with the aim to seduce, and let me tell you, humor doesn’t work. Women want tall men, not Woody Allen; it is a scientific fact.
On the other side of town… Nerve.com is a web-magazine dedicated to smart articles about sex, erotica, and all that. You can even find Peter Singer’s review of a book about bestiality. Its on-line personals are part of the “Spring Street Network” the same personals linked to other cool websites like NYTimeOut, the Village Voice, The Onion, and Rottentomatoes. (I recommend it for you undergraduates once you leave the seething hothouse of college life and friends-with-benefits.) Nerve.com makes clear what you’re doing. Both parties are intent on some sort of hook-up, preferably a witty, casual, smarty-pants hook-up. From the comfort of your computer, you first get to see what the person looks like, how they write, how they come off on within certain parameters. The categories you fill out are designed for maximum cleverness by professionals (“The five items I can’t live without;” “Favorite on-screen sex scene”), and you can be assured that most people who put up profiles satisfy some minimal hipness requirement. You can then buy credits that enable you to initiate a correspondence via email, or even voicemail. Not wanting to be like that guy in Swingers who second-guesses his own phone messages, I emailed a few interesting profiles, some grad students at Rutgers, a reader of The Nation in Southern Jersey, even a tall blonde in the Princeton-area. All to no avail. Was it my delivery? My breath? Should I have been more formal, more forward, less self-deprecating, less name-dropping? The only person that contacted me was a right-wing lesbian doing research on dating.
Having no luck in a 50-mile radius of Princeton, I reconfigured my profile to NYC. Boy do I love the Big Apple! It is crawling with single left-wing Jewish girls who appreciate an educated, and poor, man.
The first week I was virtually relocated to the NY dating scene, I met two great people. One was a beautiful left-wing yoga practicing medical student from Ohio. She “interviewed” me. We went swing dancing and had a great time. She was looking for “the right person;” some time after our second date, I got hosed. What was it for? Cursing like a Teamster? Shyness? Honesty? I never found out, alas.
The other person’s profile said “lefty geeks, I want you!” Hey, I thought, I’m a lefty geek. And indeed, she wanted me. Our first date was the Dissent Magazine annual holiday party at CUNY. Over copious wine, we gaped at famous socialist writers like George Packer, Marshall Berman, and Mitchell Cohen. We had a great time, she wasn’t rude to the wait staff, and she made sparkling conversation. A perfect date.
Wilhelm Reich posited a theory that the reason that fascism caught on in Europe was because men were not having proper orgasms. Today, married couples with children are more likely to vote Republican. Is there a connection? I would advocate a life of childless serial monogamy to fight the forces of evil. Affairs as ordered and regular as a palm pilot are now possible in the age of on-line dating. The net provides an endless, spaceless supply of people potentially interested in you. But what about love?
There is no such thing as “true love” as we imagine it, but plenty of people still put their faith in it. There is endurance, admiration, companionship, and camaraderie, but why look for love? It is epiphenomenal on “compatibility.” The Jewish tradition doesn’t believe in the idea of a single soul mate you were meant to find, but in a soul mate “type.” What better way to target types than by cruising the appropriate on-line dating services? As Linda Hamilton says in Terminator 2, “There is no fate but what we make.” Avoid catastrophe, date selectively.