Life & Culture

'Just call me Yente!'

Lockdown has been tough for singletons, says Aimee Belchak - but she's changing that with a new approach to dating


Profiles of heads. Faces of woman and man. Date and the epidemic. Coronavirus. Love in the distance. Family relationships. Husband and wife. Vector flat illustration

Ask any Jewish singleton in their mid-twenties why they’ve not met someone yet and they’ll probably tell you the dating apps are shocking, and the only match they got this week was Tom from Tunbridge Wells who isn’t actually Jewish but thought he’d try his luck on JSwipe anyway. Your great-aunt will then ask why you’ve not met anyone at a party. Little does she know the dances she went to in her day have now turned into Jewish social gatherings where people mix only with their friends — no luck there either, Aunty Ros.

If you thought the pool of Jewish singles in London was already niche, throw in a global pandemic! Meeting someone feels nigh impossible. Weddings should be a hotspot for singletons to meet eachother, but — although I’m not missing the “Please God by you” comments — sadly, most 2020 weddings were postponed. I predict the latter part of 2021 will be wedding season (and then some), so watch this space.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant we’ve pressed pause on most aspects of our lives, and the dating game has entered a whole new world of socially-distanced walks, and virtual dates. I guess those who have persevered with dating (legally) through the pandemic are mirroring the dating experience of the shidduch world.

I’ve been on only three first dates myself in the past six months, but I have set up more than 400 of them. When the pandemic meant a pause in my career in theatre, I had to think of something else to do. In July 2020, The A-gency was born — a dating agency for Jewish singles, based in London, aged between 22 and 36. The concept? Blind dates. In an attempt to take finding love back to basics, The A-gency is something different, no online profiles, no photos, and no swiping in sight.

I match people based on their sign-up forms, photos, a phone conversation, and my intuition. I then arrange all the logistics of the dates to ensure they remain a complete surprise until the very last moment. The individuals receive an email five minutes before the date to find out the name of the person they’re meeting, so no chance to check them out beforehand. In lockdown all the dates are online — or maybe a walk in the park — and for the month of February I am working with World Jewish Relief to raise some money and awareness of the charity, so all dates will be virtual and we are delivering date packs.

Overnight with my new venture I became a matchmaker, dating agent and therapist, all rolled into one. My mum only refers to me as Yente these days, and my friends tell me everyone asks them, “How is Aimee’s dating agency going?” Well it’s going pretty well so far: 12 success stories and more in the making. I am so thankful that hundreds of young singles are trusting me to play matchmaker.

I admire all of my clients who are pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and going on a blind date. This is something we millennials aren’t used to. With a few taps on our phones we can find out pretty much everything about someone; from a cheeky Google search, and a social media stalk. So yes, I respect those on my books who are willing to sacrifice the vetting of their dates, and leave that part to me.

As the dating agent, I’m able to use my own dating experiences and what I’ve learned from my clients to advise on any situation that may crop up. I think I’ve covered every eventuality at this point from matching up cousins, to dealing with a date mixing up their timings.

My role as therapist is an interesting one. I think those who aren’t in the dating game forget what comes with playing it. Rejection is inevitable and heartbreak is very possible. I spend a great deal of time voice-noting my clients with a pep talk before and after dates. Confidence in the dating world is like no other. You need to be thick-skinned but somehow also wear your heart on your sleeve. If vulnerability and resilience had a baby, it would produce the kind of confidence one needs when dating.

A hot topic in the world of dating right now is ghosting. For those who have never heard of this term, lucky you. Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly, and without explanation, withdrawing from all communication from them. In true millennial fashion we’ve managed to set a dating trend that has normalised ignoring someone after a date. This has a huge impact on modern day dating.

I make everyone agree to adhere to our no-ghosting policy. I am trying to encourage people to communicate better. People mainly ghost for two reasons. First, they think by saying nothing the other person will get the picture that they aren’t interested and it will hurt someone’s feelings less than spelling it out. Second, it means they get to avoid the uncomfortable conversation which comes with rejecting someone.

However, ghosting feels so much worse than receiving a message of rejection. I also think as the Jewish dating world is so insular people talk and you can get a bad name if you make a habit of it. I’ve started a podcast as a spin-off — Yente Tells All —and in one popular episode I discuss the matter in detail.

The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone and we’ve all had to navigate this new way of living. It is safe to say that the landscape of dating has shifted, and jumping in and out of lockdowns has impacted how we date and, more importantly, if we date. Slow-blooming relationships can’t exist in this current climate, so those relationships taking shape right now are happening more quickly than normal. There is definitely an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to dating at the moment. I am confident that this will shift again post-lockdown.

What are people looking for? I think everyone wants the same thing but in the same breath, something totally different. Ultimately, you want to meet your person. They aren’t perfect but they are perfect for you. That unexplainable feeling when it just feels right. Sometimes a match is so aligned on paper but when they meet there isn’t that extra feeling, that spark. Sometimes I make a more rogue, risky and rebellious match and sparks fly.

Being attracted to someone is very important to people (despite their all agreeing to blind dates!). Similar religious levels are important. That imbalance can be a complete turn-off for some.

So, what do I think is in store for us singles when normal life resumes? I imagine that there will be a renaissance! All those Halloween, Purim and Christmas Eve parties we once dreaded will be the hottest tickets in town. I can only hope that we are keen to socialise with new people at these events and we’ve not forgotten how to interact face to face.

Don’t worry though, if anyone is nervous at these social gatherings, I’ll be there to partake in some rogue match-making.

While I am looking forward to this interval in my theatre career being over, I am appreciating the challenges of my new vocation. If The A-gency produces even one marriage — of course I am hoping for more — I’ll be able to look back in years to come on this crazy time and know I had played a part in helping two people find each other.

That is something pretty special.


Want to have your shot in The A-gency’s February pool?

Signups are open now on the website:

Instagram: @AimeeBelchak

Podcast available on Spotify & Apple: Yente Tells All



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