Friday, July 16, 2010

FABULOUS GIRLS PART I: NOT FROM NOWHERE


(Sorry about the screwy formatting in this post. Blogger isn't being cooperative today.)


At the beginning of 2008, I got a call from Simona Fuma, who was the Israel editor of the World Jewish Digest. She had an assignment about singles, and wanted me to do it because I'd written about various issues relating to Jewish singles in the past, for The Jewish Week of New York.


The assignment was this: Given the perception among many Jewish women and matchmakers that it is more difficult to find a "quality" man than a "quality" woman, my job was to find out:


a) Is this perception correct? Is it, in fact, harder for Jewish women to find a partner than for Jewish men?


b) If the perception is incorrect, what accounts for its widespread nature?


c) If the perception is correct, then why is it harder for women than for men?


The topic hit a personal nerve because I myself was 35, single, and often the recipient of news like "Sorry, Sarah, I can't think of anyone good enough for you" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up but the guy has a long list of people trying to set him up so it might be a while" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to present your profile at a matchmakers' meeting the other day, but they have a rule now that you can only present men, because everyone has a long list of women and there aren't enough men to set them up with."

(This is beside the equally oft-repeated statement of "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up with someone but he will meet only thin girls," which, while annoying and frustrating, doesn't necessarily indicate a widespread problem for all, just a problem for me and other not-thin women. Perhaps that is an article for another day.)


From the start my goal was to base conclusions not on anecdotal evidence (though I got lots of that, too, from singles I interviewed) but on information provided by sociologists, Jewish demographers, directors of Jewish dating websites, and well-known matchmakers. The "experts" I interviewed included:

  • Steven Bayme, Director of Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.

  • Sara Brownstein, dating coach who was also a popular matchmaker (focusing on unaffiliated Jews) in Los Angeles until her aliyah a few years ago.

  • Dr. Steven M. Cohen, sociologist of American Jewry; research professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR/New York and professor at the Hebrew University Melton Centre for Jewish Education.

  • Dr. Sylvia Barrack Fishman, sociologist of American Jewry and professor at Brandeis University

  • Danielle Jacobs, COO of SawYouAtSinai.com and a founder of JRetroMatch.com

  • Evan Mark Katz, dating coach and self-styled "America's Leading Dating Expert."

  • Michael J. Salomon, Ph.d., member of the psychology faculty at Hofstra University and author of "The Shidduch Crisis."


It emerged quickly that the perception is, indeed correct; it IS harder for Jewish women to find Jewish dates than it is for Jewish men to do the same. Here was my "nut graph" (the "thesis paragraph" of the story):

What is commonly referred to as the Jewish “singles crisis,” and in Orthodox communities as the “shidduch crisis,” appears to affect women more drastically than men, both practically and emotionally. Both statistical and anecdotal evidence . . . paints a picture of a dating scene in which many more women than men attend Jewish singles events; more women actively use Jewish dating sites; matchmakers are flooded with applications from women; and single Jewish women in their late 20’s and 30’s are panicking. . . . As well they should be, sociologists say. As difficult as the “dating scene” can be for many men, it is often more challenging for the fairer sex, especially in the Jewish community.

But the reasons given by each expert, while often overlapping, covered a wide range of social phenomena. This isn't happening because of X, or Y, or Z, but because of X and Y and Z all "cascading together," as one interviewee put it.


Because of the nature of my assignment, my story focused on all the reasons that Jewish men aren't dating Jewish women (or aren't dating Jewish women their own age, or their own level of education, or who have the same religious values as the men's parents, etc.) The paper got letters complaining that I was putting the blame for the "singles crisis" exclusively on men and not at all on women, which had not been my intention at all.

In fact, I did interview two experts who blamed the women for their own problems, and included a quote from one of them. More about this later.


The end of my article gave suggestions of what individuals and the community can do to lessen the "singles crisis." The suggestions all came from the "experts," not from me. Among them is the recommendation that women be more open to dating men who are much older than they are, so as to remove the obstacle of the "age squeeze," a phenomenon which I'll discuss in depth pretty soon and which, the interviewees said, is a big problem especially in the Orthodox community. But it raises the question of what "settling" is, something I wish to address here in the blog.


That's it for now. Have a Shabbat shalom.

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