Life & Culture

Searching for love in a toxic world

“I am under an absurd amount of pressure from my parents to meet someone. And my grandma piles it on, too. She says she’s worried she’ll be in her grave before I’m under the chuppah.”


A photo message pings on Maya’s phone. The picture is of a young man and the sender is her mother’s sister, Sonia.

“I already know this person,” she texts back.

“Any good?” replies Sonia.

“Good for what?” responds Maya.

“Nooky? Boyfriend?” answers her aunt within seconds.

Maya is 32 years old, university educated and has a good job. She owns her own flat, drives a nice car and fits most people’s definition of physically attractive. She is also a committed Jew who is actively looking for a long-term Jewish partner.

Actively really is the operative word. On average, Maya goes on two dates with Jewish men every week. “It sounds a lot, I know, but I work on the law of averages,” she half-jokes. “I am under an absurd amount of pressure from my parents to meet someone. And my grandma piles it on, too. She says she’s worried she’ll be in her grave before I’m under the chuppah.”

In fact, her parents and grandmother set up many of Maya’s weekly assignations. Others are arranged by friends, her parents’ friends and through family members like Sonia. In general, dates coordinated by her family are the least successful of Maya’s trysts. “Not much thought goes into them, to be honest,” she says. “The thinking tends to be: you’re single, he’s single, therefore you are a match.”

Until a couple of months ago, Maya also met potential suitors through Jewish phone dating apps such as JSwipe and JCrush. But at the moment she’s having what feels like a much needed break from online Yiddishe dating. “It got beyond dispiriting,” she says. “I ended up feeling utterly disposable. Many of my Jewish girlfriends feel similarly. Dating apps delude people into thinking that there is an endless choice of potential partners out there. They effectively encourage a culture of rejection.”

And in her experience, Jewish men do more of the rejection than Jewish women. “When it comes to the actual date, there is definitely a breed of spoilt and rather self-important Jewish man who seems to think he can do better than the woman who is sitting in front of him. I have met him more times than I care to recall. Women, meanwhile, tend to be more forgiving about men’s looks. It’s not their highest need.”

Yes, looks. Physical attraction is, of course, part of romance. But in a Jewish dating scene where it is now entirely normal to find your beshert online and in which people, therefore, know relatively little about each other before they meet in the flesh, the social media profile pic has assumed a disproportionate importance

Maya’s friend Lucy compares today’s Jewish dating scene to flicking through an Argos catalogue.

“You think, ooh, I like the look of that kettle, but I’ll just look at the others on the next page. And then I’ll check out the page after that. There is no incentive to discover the person behind the photo.

“Basically, you’re judging a person’s partner potential on entirely physical grounds. That’s why people use filters to make themselves look younger and slimmer, and why some even post pics that look nothing like themselves. The pressure to look alluring is massive.”

Unsurprisingly, JSwipe founder, David Yarus, demurs. “The truth is that when you are at a bar, you are also most likely approaching someone based on physical attraction rather than presumed intellect,” he says. "That level of depth is revealed through conversation and shared experience."

“People share quite a lot of information on their JSwipe profiles, from interests and education to mutual friends and level of Jewish observance. There are plenty of ways to paint a pretty robust picture of who you are. People who don’t take the time to read through someone’s profile, who use the app whimsically, probably behave similarly in real life."

He also points out that JSwipe, which boasts over a million users worldwide, billions of monthly swipes, millions of matches, thousands of relationships and hundreds of marriages has enhanced and streamlined the experience of Jewish dating. “We set out to bring the latest technology and innovation in online dating to millennial Jews, in a fun and friendly way,” he says about the app which launched over Passover 2014. “Some would say there is now the paradox of choice, meaning there are so many options that it becomes difficult to choose. I'd rather be struggling with many amazing people to consider than struggling to find someone."

The problem is, says Talia, 36, that many of those “amazing people” are not actually that serious about finding their significant other. Desperate to marry and bring Jewish children into the world, she’s been dating through social media for the past five years.

“Yes, you can now live in London and cross with people in Bristol and Birmingham who, in years gone by, you would never have met. But it has also made the whole business incredibly casual: dating other Jews is as easy as swiping right, and, conversely, rejecting them is as easy as swiping left.”

Jonathan, 25, agrees. “I used Tinder, Bumble and JSwipe constantly when I was at university, and would swipe pretty absentmindedly. If the woman seemed reasonably attractive, I’d swipe right. I think that’s how most men, Jewish or not, treat dating apps. Then one day I found myself on a bus swiping in full view of the people sitting next to and behind me, and it made me stop. Suddenly, it just felt inappropriate.”

And, arguably, ineffective: now happily coupled, Jonathan met Sophie through mutual friends. If their first encounter had been via a Jewish dating app, would he have swiped left or right on the woman who is now his girlfriend? “Right. But she’d have definitely swiped left. Looks-wise, I’m not her usual type,” he says.

Although he was spared that particular humiliation, Jonathan has endured his share of bruising online dating encounters. “A Jewish girl and I were approaching a date, and a couple of days before I texted her to finalise the details, but she didn’t text back. The uncertainty didn’t feel good. Then on the day of the actual date, she blocked me on Whatsapp. It felt pretty horrible. She could have just politely cancelled.”

But he didn’t let things fester for long. “It wasn’t personal,” he says. “The Jewish dating scene is just rather superficial.”

Maya agrees. “You can’t fret about rejection,” she says. “There could be countless reasons why you’ve been turned down. Your shoes, your conversation, or the guy might be seeing four people at the same time and have just forgotten about you. Whatever the explanation, you can’t linger on the rejection. My most used word these days is: next.”

Esther, 41, isn’t so philosophical. “All I want is to meet a nice, normal Jewish guy. My self-esteem has been crushed by the community’s toxic dating scene. I don’t go to shul any more because everyone in my age group is wearing a hat. I feel like a freak.”

She also skips shul because she is not overly enamoured of her rabbi. “The other day, I told him that I am going to start dating outside the community because he has not helped me an iota. And all he said was: shush, close the door, not in front of your parents.”

Maya has also sought the help of her rabbi. “He was sympathetic, and set me up on two dates, but neither worked out. One guy he suggested was just too young for me, and the other was just not on the same page. After that, I just felt too humiliated to go back and ask him to arrange date number three.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of the UK’s Reform movement, introduces Jews to each other with passion and purpose. “I was introduced to my husband by an aunt, and I still stand by the old-fashioned introduction. Some of my colleagues are frightened to get involved in case it doesn’t work out, but I say bring it on, take a risk.

“Social media seem a very transitory way of assessing someone. It doesn’t match people to reality. And it doesn’t sound as humiliating for the men as it is for the women.”

She also thinks the community as a whole should be more resourceful about helping Jews who want to meet each other romantically. “The most important thing to extrapolate from this is that people like being Jewish. Why are we not celebrating this?”

Why indeed, asks Maya. “From my early 20s, I’ve imagined my life with a Jewish husband and two children, and that’s not how things have turned out. But I have to remain positive. It shows on dates if you are not.”


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