Life & Culture

The technology helping us to find love at first swipe

Faced with family and peer pressure, we are using new apps to find a partner


Dating is difficult. Finding the right person for you is an emotional rollercoaster of break-ups, tears and seeing your friends get engaged while you stay single.

And it’s even more difficult when you are Jewish (see our case studies below).

The pool of potential dates is smaller and the pressure weighs heavier. For young members of the community trying to find someone who they connect with — and who shares their religious values — while friends, relatives, colleagues and assorted synagogue-goers constantly enquire about their dating status can be hugely frustrating.

As a result, the stigma of online dating, so prevalent five years ago, is dissipating. Singles are warming to the possible source of soulmates presented by smartphone apps such as JDate, JSwipe and JCrush.

“People are meeting less now face to face. Technology gives you access to people outside your vicinity and social circle,” said matchmaker and dating coach Suzie Parkus.

“We’ve given the community the right tools. It has become mainstream and the way to find someone Jewish” — David Yarus

“People are working longer hours so their time is more valuable. If you are commuting to work you can be flicking through people on JCrush.

“If you do the same thing at an event you have to work your way through the room and that’s exhausting and unnatural. With online dating you get to ‘meet’ more people in less time.”

The pressure of work, combined with the close-knit nature of the Jewish community, makes it harder than ever for many singles to meet someone.

“There’s a lot of pressure on you as a young professional Jew to succeed in your career, and also a lot of pressure on you to meet someone,” explained one male teacher in his twenties.

“It’s incredibly hard to do anything at all outside work, let alone dating.Even as someone with a supportive family, there’s still a lot of pressure.”

He said parents who may have married at a young age decades ago find it difficult to understand how their children can remain single into their forties, or older. The burden of living up to parents’ expectations is making some singles consider moving abroad.

“In a tight-knit community everything you’ve done sticks with you, so the clean slate of a new place is very appealing,” the teacher said.

For many, dating apps make it quicker and easier to find a potential partner.

Sarah, a 24-year-old north-west Londoner who met her boyfriend online, explained: “Everyone’s so busy working that there’s not really time to meet people the traditional way.

“Going up to talk to people at events can be quite a daunting experience. It’s easier to find that confidence online.”
So how are Jewish dating apps making a difference?

JSwipe is a Jewish version of Tinder, which allows users to swipe left for no and right for yes on photos of other users in their area. If two users swipe right on each other, they can send a private message.

Since its launch in April last year, this method of connecting people has resulted in more than half a billion swipes and around seven million matches — which have led to 10 engagements and two marriages.

According to JSwipe’s New York-based founder, David Yarus, the success of the free app has been indicative of the wider shift in dating attitudes.

“It’s what our community needed, and we’ve given them the right tools to do it. It’s become mainstream. For Jews, it’s the solution.

“It’s the way to find someone who’s Jewish, who you share passions with.

“It gets the uncomfortable question of religion out of the way, and then you’re able to meet thousands of Jews interested in finding someone.”

Mr Yarus rejected the idea that his app promotes superficiality. “It is primarily aimed at millennial users.

“We say: you don’t have enough time to go on blind dates or to be set up by your grandma. Instead, date across the world, with Jews at your fingertips.”

Karin McDanell, a London-based dating expert who organises singles events — including Jewish-themed sessions — said the use of technological innovations was indicative of how times had changed.

“In our parents’ and grandparents’ times, women would not have been working as much and would have organised events.

“But you’re less likely now to find that your aunt has organised for you to meet the fun daughter of her best friend.

“People have less time for that kind of thing now. That’s why the niche sites are answering that need.

“People are now more direct, more open about what they want, because they are time-poor.”

Michael Egan, chief executive of the company that owns JDate, said modern services were crucial for a generation of busy youngsters.

“Singles today are always connected through their mobile devices and now, through the JDate app, our members can more easily engage with our communities regardless of whether they have just seconds or hours of time to do so.”

Case studies

‘I feel the odd one out’ - Laura, 30-year-old, single

My mum has a picture of me on her iPhone, and she often shows it off to potential suitors. We had a conversation recently where she said: ‘I met a guy for you on the plane to Israel and gave him your name and number.’ That’s happened a few times.

It doesn’t matter how modern I am as a woman, that I have my own job, pay my own bills, haven’t had a boyfriend for ever and do everything off my own bat — it all gets thrown into the wind.

If your friends are more religious and traditional, you’re the one who stands out. We also put pressure on ourselves a lot. If you’re a female and single you feel all the pressure because you think your friends are so far ahead.

The other week I was at a Limmud event. A lot of older women who I didn’t know came up to me to ask if I was single. They corner you, they’re very direct. I could have said anything and it would have led them on to ‘I have a nice son or grandson for you’.

It’s just a bit invasive and unnecessary. I try to avoid them or make a joke, but often I have to walk away.

It can be very offensive initially. It makes me feel like the odd one out, which you already feel if you’re single and everyone else is married.

It feels like they’re judging me and think I’m really behind because I’m not married at 30. If I go to shul, people ask if I’m single. When you’re a Jewish woman it’s difficult, because you get it in the ear a lot more.

It can be really tough if you’re having a bad day, because you have real life going on as well as dating. But you’ve got to just have a Jewish sense of humour about it and shake off the negatives.

As far as my mother goes, I just have to laugh it off. Every Jewish parent worries: whether I’ve not married yet or I don’t have a coat or umbrella, or I haven’t had a biscuit — there’s always something.

But that’s the joke: all the pressure, the friends, the grandmas — if you flip that on its end and really look for someone, and you’re happy to let your love life be other people’s agenda as well, you can absolutely meet someone. It’s a catch-22.

Dating in the community is also really awkward. I’ve bumped into people I’ve been on dates with at a shiva. You bump into them at weddings and dinners because they’re friends of friends.

I’ve never had a Jewish boyfriend apart from one Israeli. I won’t get involved with anyone seriously because I know how people gossip, and it puts me off. But I do want a Jewish boyfriend, so it’s a conflict.

I’m happy, but it doesn’t mean I’m not looking. It’s a balance between being independent and wanting a boyfriend — someone to make me a cup of tea when I come home, to take me out to dinner.

‘Online dating? It’s uncomfortable’ - Jacob, 23, single

Some sites are better than others, but the whole online dating situation is awkward, uncomfortable and hit-and-miss — mostly miss. The thing about online dating is it’s very superficial, and hard to look past a picture.

JDate wasn’t right for me because the people were too old, and JSwipe isn’t very good because I know the majority of the people on it. I’ve had about 10 matches on JSwipe. Five were people I knew who just wanted to have a chat, which was infuriating. JSwipe is especially superficial, which I don’t like.

Dating in north London is a big problem, because everyone knows everyone, so people can make a judgement on you without knowing you.

The incestuous nature of this community is creating big problems for young people.

In terms of trying to find someone offline, I went speed dating and it was awful. Turnout was very low and because it was Jewish I knew half the people there. And it was an absolute rip-off as well.

There is more pressure in the Jewish community, because you’re expected to get married and have children.

As a professional working long hours, I have barely any spare time, which would actually make JSwipe okay because it’s so quick. Travelling an hour from my workplace to a small speed dating event is incredibly inefficient. It’s not a good use of my time.

‘Communal events are a mixed bag’ - Sarah, 24, in a relationship

Dating is difficult. Especially in the Jewish community, because it is so small, and therefore it can often feel like you are constantly meeting the same people at each event.

It can be very difficult to meet someone, because there are lots of Jewish events all the time but they tend to be quite cliquey, and if you go to Friday night dinners the people tend to be more religious.

Community events can be a real mixed bag. Sometimes they’re disappointing, overpriced with bad food. They’re still good to try, as you can meet nice people that way — or at least I’m sure lots of people do. I never found anyone I particularly liked.

I started using online dating last summer. It’s very mixed, because you get a load of weirdos and lots of sleazy guys. As a girl, you get sent messages no matter what, and they are mostly not great.

You have to try to be active and seek out people who you think will be nice. I certainly like online dating at the moment, because I am seeing someone, and have been for about three months. Things are going well. I’m happy with him.

I think it’s ridiculous that there are still some people who think there’s a stigma around online dating, who don’t want to use it because they think it’s weird. There’s the potential to meet so many more people than you would do otherwise.

That’s especially true if you go on sites like JDate where you have a proper profile — you can hopefully find someone you have a lot in common with, who wants the same things.

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