Why I went on a date on the BBC

By Natalie Samuel, February 16, 2012
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Social Suicide. That was my instinct when I was forwarded an email looking for people for a BBC3 documentary on dating in the Jewish community entitled "Young, Single and Religious". Why on earth would anyone expose themselves to that level of ridicule?

Then I thought about it, and I questioned why that was the case. Why has dating become a taboo among young Jews? JDate, a phenomenal concept that connects singletons in a sometimes disparate community, is sneered at, with members decried as "desperate". Speed dating is a cardinal sin.

Rather than accept the fact that this is how people see things, I decided to pay it no heed. I ignored the warnings of concerned friends and amused acquaintances and agreed to participate. "Why?" so many asked. My answer: "It doesn't matter what people think. I'm single, and I date. That is not desperate. That is normal human behaviour."

The programme wasn't a "dating show" in the mould of Blind Date or Take Me Out. It was intended to offer an insight into the religious and social considerations of young British Jews. No matter your religion, dating isn't easy. Social media has connected us like never before, but on a superficial level, especially when it comes to members of the opposite sex. We meet a potential date, add them as a "friend" on Facebook and forget about them instantly. Or we have an aimless conversation using Facebook's "chat" function and then forget them. Or we see an unflattering photo, or spot that they are friends with an ex, or, worst of all, notice their awful spelling, and decide that they are "not for me".

Dating is difficult. People are busy. The number of male friends I've spoken to about women they've liked but haven't bothered to ask out is staggering. We live in a world where women rightly demand to be treated as equal, but where dating is concerned, still expect men to make the first move.

Am I happy with my portrayal? It could have been worse. Amardeep, from the Hindu episode, gave his time for free and went through an inconvenient process to give the producers an insight into a sensitive area of his life. The BBC responded by humiliating him in the edit, highlighting his lack of success with women rather than the religious elements of his journey. Indeed, much of the criticism I heard about my involvement was related to the media's treatment of the Jewish community. The media is not out to debase Jews. It is, however, utterly insensitive to religion. BBC3 wanted to call the documentary, "Desperately Seeking Soulmate", because using the word "religion" in the title was off-putting. So why bother making a programme about it in the first place? The motivation was offensive, and their alternative title was humiliating. They backtracked and it became "Strictly Soulmates" when participants threatened to withdraw.

There are elements of my portrayal that I felt were disingenuous. I hoped that I could use the programme to give an accurate representation of the modern Jewish culture that I am proud to be a part of.

I agreed to visit a matchmaker, who was lovely, but it wasn't realistic. Someone of my level of religious observance would never have a shidduch. Much of the filming focused on my relationship with Judaism; my search for a synagogue after moving to London, making cheesecake on Shavuot.

This was all cut. It's clear that entertainment will triumph over accuracy on this sort of programme. How was the show received? If I'm queuing for a green card next week, then not well. But I hope you'll be able to spot me with other young Jews in White House Express on many a Saturday night to come.

Natalie Samuel appeared on 'Strictly Soulmates'

Last updated: 10:11pm, February 16 2012