What ever did we do before online dating? It is hard to imagine that, before the arrival of JDate and the like, young Jews depended on finding partners through such unreliable methods as introductions, mutual friends and — shock, horror — chance meetings at parties.
These days, potential partners are just a mouse-click away. Or at least, that is the cliché. And there seems to be enough truth in it for hundreds of thousands of people to conduct their search for love online.
There are currently 110,000 UK singles registered on JDate, the most popular Jewish dating site which allows users to filter a mate by age, occupation and level of religious observance.
There are more than 750,000 JDate members worldwide. Other sites aimed at Jewish singles include JMeet, JSingles, and the delightfully named Jewish Mingle.
Jo Barnett, a life coach who specialises in dating advice, ran the Jewish Marriage Council’s Connect agency for two years, and has recently published an ebook on the secrets of successful dating. She says the Jewish dating scene is very different to the non-Jewish one.
“People tend to have higher expectations and what they want is set in stone. The girls want a successful and family-minded man with a sense of humour. How attractive a woman is is high on the men’s list — whether they’re attractive or not themselves.”
Barnett points out that there is an art to compiling site profiles. “A lot of people, especially on JDate, focus on their job. Someone’s job is important but you need to focus on what else you can bring to the relationship. Use adjectives like “compassionate” or “adventurous” to convey your approach to life.
Ex-JFS student Daniel Harris, 24, runs a relationship blog and is launching an online digital magazine. He says he “hated” building his online dating profile. “It was strange and awkward talking about yourself in that way — but you just have to go for it.”
Has he found a girlfriend as a result? “So far, I’ve made a good friend out of it, not a girlfriend.”
Martin, who did not want to give his surname, has recently rejoined JDate. The 29-year-old, who works in television, has been on around 15 dates and seen five girls “more than once, but nothing serious has come out of it.
“I try not to talk about my career online, because I don’t want people to judge me on what I do. I’ve been on quite a few dates but a lot of it is the same sort of thing with the same sort of people. Sometimes you see profiles which have been on the site for 10 years.”
The problem of overfamiliarity is a common theme. In such a small community, singles soon find themselves struggling to find fresh faces to date. Matthew Tune-Cohen, from Leeds, notes: “There are not too many options out there.”
Even so, the problem is less acute for men because there are more single Jewish women than men — according to Barnett, the ratio is a staggering four to one.
“It means that men can be pickier and women take dating more seriously,” she says.
Former Hasmonean student Mandy Cohen, 23, runs the Love Untangled relationship blog. “Girls I’ve spoken to tell me that they are a lot more serious than the men. A lot of men online seem to be looking for a fling, while the girls are looking for someone to marry. A good friend of mine went on a date, but he was clearly just looking for sex.”
The selection of photos on profiles is another contentious area. For some, the temptation to use an over-flattering image of themselves proves irresistible, with disastrous results
“Keep photos up to date,” advises Barnett. “There’s no point putting deceptive photos on your profile because when you eventually meet your date you’ll be viewed as a liar.
“But do use photos taken when you were out and having fun — people are attracted to others who are clearly enjoying themselves. And narrow it down to only two photos, otherwise you’ll look vain.”
Rabbi Mendel Cohen, of the Saatchi Synagogue, has a more serious concern for dating site users than appearing a little vain. “JDate — or even Facebook — is terrific if it allows people to meet each other,” he says.
“But it can sometimes seem impersonal — people don’t always ask the important how and why questions that need to be answered. I know Jews who have successfully met partners through it, and others who say it’s just a direct debit out of their account.”
It may seem that online dating is now the first choice for Jewish singles, but there are still people resisting the trend and placing their trust in an old-fashioned introduction through family or friends.
Danielle Cohen, who is in her early 20s and works for a charity, says she refuses to date online.
“I would rather meet someone naturally. I think family and friends are much more reliable sources for finding potential dates.
“There’s also another problem with dating sites. Since the community is so small, your admirer is bound to be a friend’s friend of a friend. Since everyone knows everyone, there’s a risk of being labelled a serial dater or desperate. I would consider signing up a little further down the line, when I’m older. You do hear of success stories.”
Middle-aged online daters might wonder why younger people need to resort to their computers. Richard Lynn, a 48-year-old journalist, joined the ranks of online daters after his divorce. “For men of my age, computer dating is essential because you rarely meet suitable single women in the normal way of things.
“In your early 20s, though, virtually everybody you meet is single. But perhaps computers dominate life so completely now, that it’s the first thing everyone turns to.”